Bounded, dense, impish, intense … the Isle of Wight

Bounded, dense, impish, intense … all words which surfaced in discussions about the Isle of Wight when Miranda and Anwen met up with local researchers to discuss the potential shape of the Englaid project case study.

Binstead beach, north Wight
Binstead beach, north Wight
St Lawrence beach, south Wight
St Lawrence beach, south Wight

During a fleeting visit, we traversed the island, trying to absorb its tremendous variability. We traveled from a benign north coast, where England felt so close and where wooden trackways, fish traps and post alignments have been assembled in the intertidal mud since the Neolithic period, to an almost malevolent southern one, where Iron Age and Roman burials have been recovered, numerous ships have been wrecked, and where the sea was whipping itself up into a weekend storm. We were struck by the strong presence of the geological basis of the island, running broadly in strips from east to west. Yet it was also clear (and became more so through our discussions with researchers) that the east and west of the island had distinct characters – closed and open, respectively, in feel.

Lines made with undercliff clay and sandstone
Lines made with undercliff clay and sandstone

We focused on some of the island’s fabrics – clay, sandstone, limestone, chalk, flint. Miranda drew lines with beach clay and mudstone.

Sandstone outcrop, Brighstone
Sandstone outcrop, Brighstone

This fiery sandstone outcrop caught Anwen’s eye as we flashed by.

Pebble in the undercliff clay
Pebble in the undercliff clay
Pebble made from undercliff clay
Pebble made from undercliff clay

We were impressed by the force represented by the sea and pebble battered clay along the undercliff coast – pebbles pressed into the clay and even clay pebble pummeled out of its matrix.

Flint, sandstone, limestone, chalk, clay - farm building at Alverstone
Flint, sandstone, limestone, chalk, clay – farm building at Alverstone
Clay, flint and limestone rubble - Brading Roman villa
Clay, flint and limestone rubble – Brading Roman villa

Also striking was how materials gathered from across the island’s landscapes were assembled in its architecture – in Roman villas and more recent farm buildings. The Isle of Wight landscape, and islanders’ relationships with this landscape were apparently condensed within its buildings.

Isle of Wight researchers
Isle of Wight researchers

During our very productive discussions with researchers Frank and Vicky Basford, Becky Loader, Rosie Edmunds and Owen Cambridge we were able to crystalise some of these thoughts. We discussed the rapid rate at which finds data, particularly coins, are currently being produced on the island; how having a distinct edge (the coast) had affected the character and development of the island’s archaeology; and how islander’s contacts with mainlanders on both sides of the Channel had toed and froed over our study period. We came away armed with further lines of enquiry to follow, a plastic bag of bluish clay, some rapidly penciled line drawings, and an appetite to return for a more sustained visit!

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