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Dr Alistair Brown | Associate lecturer in English Literature; researching video games and literature

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Through exploring the psychopathology of Capgras syndrome, in which a patient mistakes a loved one for an imposter, The Echo Maker offers a sustained meditation on the ways in which we project our own problems onto other people. As a reflection on the mysteries of consciousness, the novel offers some interesting if not especially new insights into the fuzzy boundaries between scientific and literary interpretations of the mind. Read more

A Walk in Pictures: Bolton Abbey

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The day starts off unpromisingly, as we are woken at six by that sound of rain. I always find rain peculiar when camping, in that whilst a disincentive to emerge from the tent, this also provides peculiar proof of the success of the pitch, that the tent is waterproof and providing a defiantly simple home against all weather. There is also the less ideal fact that going to the toilet or making the morning cup of tea means getting drenched. By about eleven, it has eased off, and we drive towards Bolton Abbey, parking at the Barden Bridgecar park, where there is no charge; otherwise, parking on the estate leaves you £5.50 out of pocket. In spite of our awareness that the monies will be well-spent on the heritage of the countryside, this seems against the spirit and the art of rambling in nature.

On the other hand, this is a rich safari along well-maintained paths, through rugged and ancient woodland, following the course of the river Wharfe. Within five minutes of setting off, we have spotted our first kingfisher, which taunts us by flickering continually out of sight each time we almost reach his current perch. He is the essence of energy, a vital spark of blue; it is appropriate that kingfishers are the best sign of a healthy river, as something for which motion is such an apparent imperative can only be sustained by easy supplies of food. As if to confirm this observation, a few minutes later a heron pumps sedately overhead.

At a certain point, we turn away from the river and zig-zag our way up the contours of the valley, following the waymarked red route. Whether the red is for the danger of the precipitous drop that accrues to our left, or for the increase in cardiac activity required to climb it, I am not sure. As we move deeper into the woodland, however, the rain's earlier activities seem to have awakened something primeval; the perpetual mist seems to suck smell from the wet leaves and decaying undergrowth, and ferns surround us with their young spiral spines ready to unfurl into leaf over the coming weeks.

If the vegetation seems jurassic, it is apt that our next encounter is with one of the dinosaurs' ancestors. Ahead of us on the path, a rock stirs and lurches into motion; a common toad, unmistakable with his rough and dimpled skin, struggles his way into deeper cover (though not before I have had a chance to record the moment with a picture).

As we continue, we step from the Jurassic to the medieval. There, on the trees, peculiar "green man" masks entice us along, their porcelain eyes leading us, like Hansel, to a house made of sweets.

Or, at least, the ice cream shop. Here we pause momentarily, and I capture ducks skidding their way to the water; seen frozen in time, their landings are peculiar, like elderly gentlemen easing themselves into their seats, legs slightly ahead, wings reaching back to clutch to the air, but nevertheless landing with something of a drop and a lurch.

Crossing over the river at this point, our enticements along the path are no longer green men, but strange, fallen trees, with bronze coins inexplicably embedded in their trunks. Like uncanny growths, or perverted wishing wells, we are not sure whether they are acts of sculpture or vandalism.

Certainly, I am more excited by the discovery of one wholly-natural parasitism: this glorious fungal growth projecting from one mossy bough, the radial fans beneath them made clearly visible from this angle.

A little climb further on, and we reach our target. Seen framed through the trees as below, the abbey is a romanticist's misty, dreamy imagination set in stone, rooks circling the tops, a river beneath the abbey, and all long, long ruined.

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Posted by Alistair at 8:46 pm


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