Towers in a landscape
Guardian Country Diary, Wenlock Edge
by Paul Evans, first published in
The cooling towers of Buildwas power station rise behind trees beside the river Severn. They stand like monstrous mushrooms, eerily silent. I remember when they were built, I had friends who worked on their construction and heard tales of men who fell to their deaths from them.
The towers rise hundreds of feet from the Ironbridge Gorge and were once cloud machines, drawing river water into the power station, turning it to steam by burning coal, driving turbines, forming clouds to drift away and condensing into rain inside the towers to return to the river, or so I understood.
There was always something mysterious and monumental about these towers, which felt bigger than the purposes of engineering and more akin to earthwork rings of iron age hillforts and megalithic standing stones. There is something very powerful about the circle in the landscape and as the reasons for them being there fade from memory, they become more enigmatic, more magical.
Buildwas power station has shut down. No more clouds; no more coal trains over the Edward Albert bridge built of cast iron from the furnaces next door in Coalbrookdale in 1863; no more atmospheric pollution drifting as far as Scandinavian forests, this being one of the dirtiest power stations in Britain.
A chiffchaff struggles to synchronise his two-beat song in sallow willows opposite the cooling towers in Dale End Park. Deer droppings and hoofprints on a steep muddy bank from the river show deer have crossed the Severn only last night. The water is as glassy and brown as a beer bottle, and the speed of the current is betrayed only by a mallard travelling much faster than someone on a bike.
The migration journey of the chiffchaff and the bravery and strength of the river-crossing deer are of themselves wonderful stories, and long may they continue as the cooling towers remain silent. Perhaps the towers will be demolished, but now, watching the freedom of clouds and the unfettered river, they stand for something much more essentially human than industry.
Paul Evans is the author of Field Notes From The Edge, Journeys Through Britain's Secret Wilderness and Herbaceous:
Field Notes From The Edge a Journey into Britain's Secret Wild...through the in-between spaces of Nature – such as strandlines,mudflats, cliff tops and caves – where one wilderness is on the verge of becoming another and all things are possible.
Herbaceous is gardening with words. It is a book of audacious botany and poetic vision which asks us to look anew at our relationship with plants and celebrates their power to nourish the human spirit. - See more at: