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We have written here before about the pull of the stones at our ancient sites, and the passion that draws people to visit and write about such places.

(c) Andrew Johnstone
(c) Andrew Johnstone

Andrew Johnstone, a graphic designer by trade, has such a passion, and has recently spent a considerable amount of time in the Peak District National Park. An exhibition for MA Design graduates, held recently in Islington London, provided an opportunity for Andrew to showcase the results of his endeavours in this field, putting together a portfolio of products for which he is now seeking a publisher and distributor.

As he says in the preface to his book, The Prehistoric Peak, the central piece of his exhibition:

Despite being born and raised in England, my interest in British prehistory began after moving to Canada in 1991 when I was inspired by singer/songwriter and author Julian Cope who had begun his own inquiry into the subject, culminating in his two ground-breaking and highly recommended tomes on the subject of European megalithic monuments, The Modern Antiquarian (1998) and The Megalithic European (2004).

I didn’t return to live in England until 2007, so the only chance I had to visit these places was during infrequent trips back to Britain. What began as a casual curiosity very quickly grew into a keen interest and I started to realize, as Cope had himself, that a whole swathe of British history had been kept from my knowledge. At school we are taught that our history begins with the Roman invasion in the 1st Century Common Era (C.E.) and prior to that we were simply illiterate barbarians, but by visiting megalithic sites and reading as much as I could about them, it soon became apparent to me that this simply is not the truth.

Anyone who chooses to look into this aspect of our history will see that the builders of these monuments were far from backward or uncivilized. They had a complex understanding of the world in which they lived, based on millennia of living, studying and moving within it. Most of us will know of sites such as Stonehenge and Avebury, but what many don’t realize is that this land is inundated with the monuments of those ancient societies. I have long felt it a shame that we don’t celebrate the truly amazing civilizations that walked on these islands long ago. It is time we stepped out of this denial and into a new era of full and complete recognition of all our past. Thankfully, I believe we are.

[The] intention [of this book] is [...] to encourage people to go out there and see these places for what they are today, after all, they are often located in some of the most spectacular landscapes available to us in Britain today, which to me is reason enough. They make fascinating destinations for journeys that are about experiencing all the wonders of the world around us. Yes, the destination is certainly something to aim for, but sometimes, as the long process that has brought me to this point has shown me, it is often the journey that informs us the most.

First on the list of items in the exhibition is a large coffee-table book of stunning black and white images. Very stark, and very stoney, Andrew admits that the book was largely put together for purely personal reasons, to fulfill his own desire for such a book.

The majority of his efforts however, went on the companion travel guide, from which the quotation above was taken. This is a fantastic piece of work, detailing over 70 sites in the National Park in over 300 pages. Each site has been personally visited by Andrew, and has a full colour photo and map of the area, as well as diagrams of what can be seen at each site, straightforward directions and a full description of the site and surrounding terrain. For the exhibition, the volume is printed on high quality paper which is fully bound in hand stitched leather – a true ‘deluxe’ edition!

Peak_01

There is also a set of individual foldable ‘pocket guides’, one per site, containing much of the same information as in the main guide. These were nicely presented in a ‘box set’, but the idea is that each mini-guide would be available for sale within the immediate area of the site.

PocketGuide_01

All of the above were presented within a backdrop of some stunning full size posters depicting a couple of the sites in photographic, map and diagrammatic form.

It’s obvious from the care that has gone into the items than Andrew feels a strong affinity with the sites and as he explained to me, whilst visiting the sites for the book one day he had a realisation that “I was over there yesterday, over there the day before and will be there tomorrow, and suddenly the interrelationship of the sites clicked for me”, a true Road to Damascus moment that he wanted to convey that others may understand too.

If only that understanding could be bottled and presented (force fed?) to the official custodians of many sites across the country that are in danger of neglect.

Andrew hopes to show the results of his work in the Peak area later in the year. And I’ve already ‘pre-ordered’ my copy in the hope he finds a publisher soon!

Update: More information can now be found on Andrew’s web site, and we hope to have an article explaining Andrew’s personal perspective on his quest here soon.

Wake me up after the recession.

Wake me up after the recession.

 
 
It has been disturbing to read, courtesy of ‘Village’ magazine, the results of “a cursory examination of planning and zoning decisions”, in a number of Irish counties. Granting the possibility that this behaviour might not be universal (although the suspicion would have to be otherwise), the next time you read about a conflict between Irish local councils and heritage-minded citizens you might do well, nonetheless, to keep it in mind. Here follows a few brief examples:
 

In County Meath, location of the ongoing Tara controversy, councillors recently amended a local area plan, against the arguments of the County Manager, to allow a new road to run through an existing housing estate and to open up adjacent land for housing. It was claimed that residents of the estate, in a town which already had a large surplus of zoned land and who had each actually signed a petition against it, were in favour

In the same county two other councillors, an independent and a Green, pushed for the re-zoning of land, close to a major town, “against the advice of planning officials”. The article goes on to state that; “Across County Meath there is concern about the manner in which more than a dozen local area plans for various towns and village settlements are being railroaded through the council.” Who benefited?

In County Dublin, two prominent businessmen, who had paid almost €25million to the Revenue Commissioners after corruption investigations, stand to recoup much of their loss due to ownership of land that is included in Fingal County Council’s housing and commercial expansion plans. Lands were also re-zoned by councillors in County Wicklow, against massive local and planning opposition, after developers promised land for schools and a Garda station. Once the decision was made it was announced that this land would cost the taxpayer €1million per acre.

Several more examples are given, all following the formula of:

(1) Councillors make a re-zoning or planning decision, that goes against local opinion and that of planning experts.

(2) From amidst the intricate weaves of connections and ownerships, a developer, often a prominent supporter of some party, benefits.

Of course, Irish property prices have collapsed and many of these developers are now in serious trouble, yet the state has guaranteed the banks and the cost of any defaults will be ultimately borne by the taxpayer, via NAMA.

As initially stated, it is not advisable to expect individual cases to represent an overall behaviour, but you’d have to wonder. Costly commuter housing estates, being built miles outside Dublin, requiring motorways to cut a few minutes off journey time and that absolutely have to go along certain routes – who owned the land? It’s our landscape and our heritage, our descendant’s landscape and their heritage, that has been finely minced into the trough, with the National Monuments Act to ease the passage down.

Preservation by Record? Oh… that’s ok then.

Connolly, F.(2009) ‘Bad planning hasn’t gone away’ Village Issue 4 (June) 55-57

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