Perceptions of the Historic Landscape
A Survey at Beacon Fell
As part of the outreach programme of the European Pathways to the Cultural Landscape (EPCL) project a trial questionnaire about the historic landscape was carried out on 6 June 2002 at Beacon Fell Country Park. The aim of the survey was to talk to visitors about their general perceptions of the landscape and to establish opinions about what is important and why.
A day during school holidays was deliberately chosen and with the exception of the early morning when several local people walking their dogs were interviewed, most of the respondents throughout the day were visitors from outside the area. The weather was very sunny and dry and many people referred to the weather when talking about the landscape, often stating that their responses might not be so favourable if it was blowing a gale and raining heavily. This may therefore be a factor to consider when looking at the results of future questionnaires that may not be carried out in such clement conditions.
In total 23 questionnaires were completed, but many of these were the result of talking to a group of two or more people, so at least fifty people were spoken to over the duration of the day. Most of the people that we interviewed visited the area to walk, sight see and to have picnics. This is however to be expected as we were at a County Council run Visitor Centre, which is designed to attract exactly this sort of tourist.
Not everyone interviewed was able to identify a favourite location as for many this was either their first visit or one of the few times that they had ventured into this part of the county, which is interesting in itself. Of those that did specify a favourite location - Beacon Fell, the Vale of Loud, Pendle, Bleasdale and the Bowland Fells in general were listed. One group of retired walkers who had been visiting for many years actually felt that they could not identify a favourite as to quote `love it all'. However, most people agreed that an overwhelming reason for nominating their favourite location was peace and quiet. Those that were familiar with the area thought that the best views of the landscape could be seen from Beacon Fell, Pendle Hill, Jeffrey Hill, Longridge Fell and Whitendale Fell. One respondent even identified the view of the field patterns as a reason for appreciating the view from Jeffrey Hill.
Everyone agreed that it is important to preserve the character of the countryside, as it is `our future', and `important for everyone'. It is also `for everyone's enjoyment' and `if it is allowed to be destroyed then it is irretrievable'. As these were mainly visitors from out of the area, few were able to identify areas in need of conservation and restoration. Suggestions made included `individual farms', `access', and `fallen trees', while some respondents thought that the area was well managed and in good overall condition. The main threats to the landscape that were mentioned were the changes in farming practice and the planting of conifers.
When asked to score the importance of attributes of the historic landscape, woodland, track ways and stone walls were identified as key features, while field patterns, archaeological monuments, field barns and cairns were thought to be the least important, and many were unsure about what exactly these features were. A surprising result was that most of the people interviewed thought that churches had less importance in the landscape than old buildings. When asked if there were any attributes that had been missed out a large proportion said that rivers were an important feature. Rivers had deliberately not been included as they are natural features, rather than human shaped attributes of the historic landscape, but this shows that for most people there isn't a distinction between the natural and the manmade landscape. Another valid suggestion made by two respondents was that pubs are an important attribute of the landscape.
A question was asked about local legend as this can be an interesting way of understanding how things were interpreted in the past. However, very few respondents were aware of any myth and folklore in the area, other than the story of the Pendle Witches.
The respondents were asked to look at two photos - one of a typical upland view and the other a typical lowland valley landscape. They were then asked to choose four words to describe each view from a list of words. Most people described both the upland landscape and the lowland river valley as `peaceful'. Other common words used to describe the upland moor were - isolated, calm, natural, free, solitary. Common words used to describe the lowland river valley were - quiet, calm, managed and natural. The response to this exercise was improved by talking the respondents through what they saw, and offering alternatives. Again this was an aspect of the survey that was very much influenced by the weather. Few described the view of the upland moor as windswept or cold, yet some mentioned that if it were a colder day, then they would probably have chosen differently.
One question was directed at gauging how well the major historical and archaeological sites across the survey area are known. Out of 23 respondents just 4 had visited the Bleasdale Circle (the site of a Bronze Age timber circle), 4 had visited Browsholme Hall (the stately home of the Parker family with an Elizabethan façade and a Regency wing), and 7 had visited at least one motte and bailey castle in the Lune Valley. The most popular site was Stonyhurst College (an impressive building dating back to the 16th century, now a Catholic Boarding School), which had been visited by 11 of the respondents. These low visitor numbers are likely to reflect the fact that a large proportion of those interviewed were new to the Bowland area. However, just over half were aware that there is a Roman Road running through Bowland (14) and that there are numerous industrial sites dotted throughout the area (16).
The overall opinion of visitors was that the Beacon Fell Country Park had excellent facilities and it was for this reason, especially for those with small children, they had chosen to come to the Park. One respondent suggested that a children's play area would be useful at the visitor centre and just one person thought that litter was a problem.
The results of the day provide an interesting insight into the perceptions of visitors to the Bowland area. The trial day proved to be most successful and it is now intended to carry out a further questionnaire on market day at High Bentham, where the perceptions of people who live and work in the local area will be sought.