Tag Archives: Geology

Village Walks – Blow Wells and Watercress Beds

Old Watercress Beds 01

One of the positives of the lockdown is exploring discovering and researching our own local area.  We have lived in the village of Healing in North Lincolnshire for over two years but have really seen very little of it but with wider restrictions on travel we have been exploring the lanes and bridlepaths nearby.

Today we walked in a different direction because I wanted to find the redundant watercress beds which I had read were once numerous here and about.

Cress Cottage

The area was perfect for watercress production on account of the many underlying aquifers which brought spring water with a slight alkalinity, perfect for watercress from the chalk layers in the nearby Lincolnshire Wolds, just a few miles to the south. As well as the natural ‘blow wells’ bore holes were sunk to bring this pure alkaline water to the surface.

‘Blow wells’ are a type of groundwater spring and are a unique feature of North Lincolnshire. A blow well is a type of groundwater spring, which is seldom (if at all) found across the British Isles except for the coastal margins of Lincolnshire.

This a simple geological explanation (simple because I am not a real geologist).

Rain falling and percolating through the chalk of the Lincolnshire Wolds creates underground streams that flow under the marshland towards the Humber Estuary and becomes covered by impermeable compressed clay.  Under this heavy boulder clay the groundwater is under great pressure (artesian) and in certain conditions, where there is an opening in the clays from the chalk to the surface and there is sufficient downward pressure from the heavy soil above, the groundwater emerges – a ‘Blow well’.

Blow Wells Diagram

Today Anglian Water Company supplies water to North Lincolnshire by sinking bore holes several hundred feet deep to release the water from the chalk below (abstraction) before it flows away into the Humber and out into the North Sea.  Water here is not provided from surface reservoirs.

The watercress beds were built with a slight gradient and water was directed through a channel into the highest end and then allowed flow gently down the length of the bed before leaving through a narrow opening at the lower end. The watercress was gathered by hand and put onto wooden trays before being taken to a packing shed where it was divided into bundles, labelled and then the roots cut off. The bunches were then packed into wooden baskets, known as chips and transported by away for delivery to customers. The severed roots were returned to the watercress bed where they were replanted.

Healing Station

The site is near Healing Station, and much of the watercress produced was transported by train to towns throughout the North of England. However, as British Rail cut back on their freight services in the 1960s, the watercress trade at Healing was badly affected as it was much more difficult to get the cress to the town markets early enough by road (there was no motorway link until 1983) so commercial production of watercress at Healing finally came to an end in 1970.

Healing Station today is a village stop with infrequent trains but a hundred years ago was a busy commercial station with a goods yard  and a steady turnover of freight.  All gone now of course.

There is no watercress farming now either and the site is a nature reserve but watercress continues to grow in the dykes and drainage ditches that drain the land.  Kim challenged me to pick some for our salad but the ditches are steep sided and challenging and the water a little dirty so I got some from the supermarket the next day instead.

Water Cress in Dyke

Bagged watercress

Weekly Photo Challenge: Ephemeral – The Weather in Iceland

Iceland Car Hire Volcano Damage Insurance

In the United Kingdom we generally refer to our weather as ‘changeable’  but having visited Iceland I would have to say that it is ‘reliable’.  In Iceland the weather changes by the minute – sunshine, rain, sunshine, rain.  You certainly can never be sure in Iceland!

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Iceland, Parliaments and Tectonic Plates

Iceland Norsemen Þingvellir

“The Þingvellir National Park is a haven of peace.  Drunkenness is inappropriate here and disturbs other visitors.  The National Park reserves the right to expel inebriated visitors.”                                                                                 Þingvellir National Park visitor guide

As we approached the National Park, one of only two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Iceland, the road clung like velcro to the side of the picturesque lake Þingvallavatn, the largest freshwater lake in the country, that looked mean and moody under the heavy grey skies and whilst we would have preferred blue sky and sunshine this greyness seemed strangely appropriate to the location as we stopped at a lay-by and disposed of our empty beer cans.

(Only joking).

It was mid afternoon when we arrived at Þingvellir and although the sun was poking through now and again the light was beginning to fade on the site of the historic Icelandic National Assembly.  This was called the Althing and was an open-air assembly that represented the whole of Iceland that was established in the year 930 and continued to meet for eight hundred and fifty years or so after that.  Over two weeks every year, the Assembly met at this site and set laws, handed down punishments to law breakers, dealt with nagging wives and bad husbands and settled neighbour disputes.

It continues to have deep historical and symbolic associations for Icelanders and the site includes what are said to be the remains of the Althing itself – fragments of around fifty meeting rooms built from turf and stone.  There is Icelandic pride in the association of the Althing to the tradition of medieval Germanic/Norse governance, known through the twelfth century Icelandic sagas and resurrected and reinforced during the fight for independence in the nineteenth century.

Interestingly the Parliament of the Isle of Man, which claims to be the oldest continuous Parliament in the World is called the Tynwald which is a word that originates from the Old Norse Þingvǫllr.

This history and the powerful natural setting of the assembly grounds has given the site iconic status as a national shrine and on 17th June 1944 thousands of Icelanders flocked to this place for the historic foundation of the modern independent republic of Iceland.

Iceland Landscape

We walked past great fissures in the landscape where the land is literally tearing itself apart in a sort of messy divorce settlement.  The famous Almannagjá is the biggest of them and is evidence that here the tectonic plates of Europe and America meet and are in continual conflict with each other as they are drifting slowly apart at a rate of 3mm per year, which may not sound a lot but in geological terms is almost as fast as Usain Bolt!  The relationship between the plates is fractious, they rub together, they pull apart and they allow the molten centre of the planet to come rushing to the surface.  Iceland averages a major volcano eruption every five years.

There were few visitors and the site had an eerie beauty, ringed by black mountains with deep lava chasms, delicately balancing rocks looked set to topple over at any moment if anyone should so much as whisper, cold satanic lakes with deep secrets, sharp cobalt rocks and impatient waterfalls with exploding water cascading down the graphite walls and shattering into a thousand droplets of fine mist as it collided with the next stage of the river bed and continued its surging journey.

The National Park was founded in 1930, twenty-one years before the first UK National Park (the Peak District in Derbyshire), to protect the remains of the parliament site and was later expanded to protect natural phenomena in the surrounding area. It was the first national park in Iceland and was decreed “a protected national shrine for all Icelanders, the perpetual property of the Icelandic nation under the preservation of parliament, never to be sold or mortgaged”.

After we had walked along the ridge and to the waterfalls we returned to the car and debated the route home.  The shortest route was by another gravel road but even though we were appropriately insured we didn’t really have the stomach for that again so we choose the longer tarmac route which took us about an hour to get back to Reykjavik.

It was still relatively early when we returned to the hotel and with the sun now making a belated afternoon appearance Mike and I went back onto the streets and walked for a while through the residential areas of the city before making our way back to the cathedral and the Leif Ericson statue and then through the city where we found a bar with ‘happy hour’ prices followed by a stroll to the seafront and the Sólfar Suncraft statue and then back to the hotel where Kim and Margaret were ready already for evening meal.

We didn’t have a great deal of debate about this and all quickly agreed to go back to ‘Harry’s Bar’ but there was a problem when we arrived because there were no available tables because all of the people that had pinched our rooms at the Best Western Hotel next door had been recommended the place for their evening meal.  So we booked a table for a little later and walked back to the ‘happy hour’ pub which was a bit further away than we actually remembered and then we had to rush our drinks to be sure of getting back in time for our table.

We needn’t really have worried because the place was beginning to empty as people made their way to waiting coaches to go off on a search for the northern lights and the tables were not refilling at the same rate as they were being vacated so we had a nice second leisurely meal and even though there was a mix up over the orders and the final bill we resolved to come back a third time tomorrow evening.

Þingvellir National Park Iceland

Weekly Photo Challenge: Lost in the Detail

Giant's Causeway Northern Ireland

Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland:

O, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant”                                                                                                                                          William Shakespeare, ‘Measure for Measure’

When I visited Northern Island I knew that there was one special place that I had to see while I was there: The Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim on the north-east coast.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Unique

Giant’s Causeway Northern Ireland

When I visited Northern Island I knew that there was one special place that I had to see while I was there: The Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim on the north-east coast.

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