Limestone Country – Fiona Sampson

A wonderful addition to the monograph series from Little Toller, a wonderful publisher of both new and old writing which is essentially landscape based, Limestone Country travels widely across the globe exploring landscapes from here in the UK as far afield as Jerusalem. Based on first-hand experience, we begin by meeting the inhabitants of Perigord in France, long standing farmers and smallholders and their very much down-to-earth approach to life (especially evident in the chicken slaughtering episode), contrasting strongly with the urban incomers.

The second section of the narrative takes us back to Sampson’s past experience in Slovenia, a region very much troubled in more recent years with the complexities of human ethnicity, but underlaid with life lived very much on limestone, this time with a sadness which permeates like the water that forms the inhabited geography. Section three finds us back in the UK, at Coleshill, where Sampson casts her poet’s eye across a classically English rural landscape of country estates, again with a varied mix of characters both past and present. The final section nominally about Jerusalem effectively travels furthest of all in both content and scope.

Whilst a good deal of the books human narratives are very much based in the physical location, the author’s skill throughout is not only to lead us from place to place introducing us to the flesh and blood characters who inhabit them now and who have inhabited them in the past, but also to  skilfully interleave the stories with an enyclopedic range of fascinating facts demonstrating a not inconsiderable amount of research, but which are included unobtrusively in the highly pleasurable whole.

A very welcome addition to the genre alongside the likes ofg the likes of Roger Deakin and Robert Macfarlane.


Misterton Soss


The Idle is a managed river, and the surrounding land is reclaimed from marsh. The nearer the river is to the Trent, the higher the level of the river and the lower the surrounding land.

At Misterton, along Soss lane can be found two magnificent brick pumping houses, either side of what is known as the Mother Drain. Most of the large ditches and waterways in the region are referred to as drains. The Mother Drain runs parallel to the Idle for a good deal of its latter length.

Here the banks of the Idle are high, as the river cuts deep and the impressive earthworks are a haven for wildlife and wildflowers such as theres cranesbill/geranium. There are many footpaths which entice the inquisitive walker.

The only sounds are distant dog barks, and once again the twitter of swallows – thankfully still here as summer itself gradually departs.

P1000793 has this to say about the Mother Drain, and its creation in the reign of James 1..

During the reign of the latter, Dutch methods of draining were adopted in many parts of England, and great schemes were devised and carried through by the Dutch engineer Vermuijden. To his skill this county is said to owe the Morther Drain. But it is possible that this is to be identified with the Bycar Dyke of the Romans. It is deep and canal-like and runs alongside the Idle, but at a much lower level. The water from fourteen and a half square miles of fenland south of the Idle flows into minor drains and from them into the Morther Drain. About a mile up the Idle is Misterton Soss. Here there is a pumping station which raises the water from the low level of the drain to a height sufficient to enable it to flow away into the Trent. North of the Idle the drainage system is connected with that of the extensive area in South Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire known as the Levels of Hatfield Chase.

The two pumping houses are impressive structures, and have an interesting history. This from

These were erected to pump water from the Mother Drain to a higher level to allow water to drain to the River Trent. Each pumphouse housed a beam engine driving a 34-ft diameter scoop wheel working in a stone lined chamber to raise the water about 10 feet.
The south engine house is dated 1828 and is probably the older of the two, to judge by the style of building. The three elements – boiler house, engine house, and wheel house – are separately defined by their roof lines. The north engine house has a single pitched roof covering all three elements.
The north engine house dates from 1839 and in contrast to the south house has a single pitched roof covering all three elements. It too contained a beam engine, named Ada, but this does not appear to have been modernised as the later pump and engine in the south engine house was more powerful than the two beam engines combined. The pumps became redundant in 1941 when pumping from the Mother Drain was transferred to a new installation at Gringley, feeding into the River Idle.
Both pumphouses, with their accompanying boundary walls, are Listed Grade II*, having been upgraded from Grade II in recent years. The internal machinery is long since gone, and the complex has been sympathetically converted for residential use, maintaining the feel of the original purpose.

Thanks to Alan Murray-Rust




The chimney stack and impressive brick structures sit well in the tangle of willow, which is a feature of much of the Idle. The environment around the pumping houses is overgrown and tangled, creating a rather mysterious atmosphere.


In the distance further along the river can be seen the new pumping station.


The pumping houses are now a dwelling – and an impressive one at that. Here you can see the sluices linking the two houses either side of the Mother Drain.


The Mother Drain from the other side of the brick bridge, a mysterious tangle of vegetation often spans the deep cut of the drain, created by Dutch engineers, or possibly adapted by them from a Roman structure.



The climbing vegetation creates a lost-reclamed-by-nature feel, which along with the tranquility of the spot adds to its charm.


Impressive gates and original walls enclose the two houses.

This is an intriguing and atmospheric spot, and yet is really close to the buzzing centre of Misterton.

Flood Management

Almost a different season from the last post. A damp day, but the grass is dry and whispy, the leaves on the willows are rapidly turning and make a dry whispering in the wind. Spectacular slugs make their way from the undergrowth and twine and twist their way across the flood bank path. Fungus sprouts from the riverside trees, and lichens soften the concrete of the flood management barrier which allows the river to overflow in a measured way.
Will this winter see the barrier over-topped? A rare event in the past, but becoming more common. P1000762








The Bailey Bridge


P1000691The bailey bridge – a joining of two pieces of land with a structure of metal, timber and concrete, weathered and worn, sculptural and functional. Moss and lichens colonise the concrete, and twigs and grasses weave through the metal frame.

A place where in the shade, the fish jump for skimming insects, competing with  the swallows, but today there’s plenty to go around. The reeds and grasses are at their peak, providing perches for dragonflies, while the keen eye can detect the passage of grasshoppers, grass blades flickering and twitching in sequence as they leap from spot to spot.



The breeze lifts seed-heads to float and drift lazily, the chalky path bakes in the sun, a dragonfly basks for a moment, while a larger inhabitant stirs and rises silently from the bank, a heron languidly flapping its way skyward arcing over and behind the far bank.


A Sunday in August. farm vehicles are silenced, distant traffic is a weekday thing. After the pounding footfall of a jogger fades into the distance, the only sounds are the twittering of swallows, buzzing of insects and the breeze gently buffeting the ear.
A liminal place.