Alec Finlay – I Will Make My Love a Bower

Alec Finlay – I Will Make my Love a Bower

 Duke’s Wood (I)




Duke’s Wood, poem and photograph AF, 2012

The first thought that I had in terms of Duke’s Wood, before I’d visited, was to follow up my interest in an ancient woodland form, the bower.

During the road north, a journey around Scotland guided by the Japanese poet Basho, Ken Cockburn and I visited Glen Etive, which branches south-west from Glencoe. We had paired the glen and the mountain at its head, Buachaille Etive Mor, with Basho’s Mount Gassan, and were following the traces of Naoise and Deirdre, as far as the mouth of the loch, where she would have looked out for his sail returning from Eire. Now there is a jetty there for felled spruce.

On the way back up the glen we took a little walk toward Deirdre’s Tigh Grianan, ‘sun-bower’. Ken poemed this episode, playing on the Badlands scenario of the runaway lovers:

the loch bends deep
between the mountains
towards the glen’s fastness

Deirdre and Naoise
exiles happy a while
in the badlands

thriving as trees
on steeps beyond
the deer’s reach

as berry-laden rowans
sheltered in the gorges
cling with sturdy roots

as birches’ gusts
bend and harry
minting leaves of gold

betrayals and sorrows
and deaths and it’s said
they returned

as swans
a muted assembly
at Camas na Cùirte

‘i.m. the apple trees / of the sons / of Uisneach’,
poem & photograph Ken Cockburn, 2010

I was touched when Ken took out an apple that his ex-wife, Tamsin, had given him, grown on her Pilrig allotment, and suggested we plant three seeds in memory of the apple trees that were said to grow by Deirdre’s bower.  On the journey we visited many such places of myth – nadokoro, Basho calls them, places of name – and found their ordinariness. In the same way, the act of planting was everyday, over in a trice, poking my fingers in the peat, feeling the chill bog swell up. Later I poemed the planting:

we pick three tawny pips
from a ripe red apple
for the three sons of Uisneach


poking finger-holes
in the peaty ooze
wetted by Allt Fhaolain
in the lee of a rock
among rowan and birch
for arbours and ardours
we plant three apple seeds
for the love of
the three brothers

There’s no bower to be seen here; the hillside is wild and treeless, with deer fences and scree. And what of the ‘sun’ aspect of this mysterious shelter, what does it mean? In some texts it is just a rock for sun-bathing, by a waterfall, in others a summer house, “thatched on the outside with the long-stalked fern of the dells and the red clay of the pools, and lined within with the pine of the mountains and the downy feathers of the wild birds; and round it was the apple-garden of Clan Usna, with the apple-tree of Deirdre in its midst and the apple-trees of Naisi and Ainle and Arden encircling it.”( The Boys’ Cuchulain, Eleanor Hull)

In ‘North of the Tweed’ MacDiarmid celebrates another ancient glen where Deirdre is said to have had a bower, somewhere in Glendaruel, : ‘’Thinkna’ that I’m ungratefu’, wi’ nae mind / O Deirdre and the fauld o’sunbeams yet, / Or canna on bracken slopes abune the bog / The orchis smellin’like cherry-pie’ (To Circumjack Cencrastus, 1930). The fold is a beautiful image, a secrecy which itself still holds its secret. No-one knows for certain what these sun-bowers denote – they are no more than names on the map – but it is possible that they relate to a seasonal rite of fertility. They tend to be on slopes or rises, offering a calendrical or transhumant view; perhaps they signify a grove, a place to harvest crab apples for the summer herdsman – although the association hints at a female rite – or are they place to gather? Are bowers a female equivalent to the male ‘grove’ of the druids, each true to a body of knowledge?

45 hokku-label (Grianan nam Maighdean) 2 copy
Grianan nam Maighdean, sun-bower of the maidens, Skye
Photograph Ken Cockburn, 2010

On a later trip to Skye, working on a new project about viewing, I climbed An Dùn Beag, the remains of a fort set beneath the Quiraing. Two years before my friend Maoilios Caimbeul, who lives in sight of the fort, had guided Ken up the nearby path that passes Grianan nam Maighdean, the sun-bower of the maidens.

sun cradle, photograph AF

Another friend, Eddie Stiven, who lives near Dun Grianach, ‘The fort of the sun’, in Glenelg, thinks of bowers as trysting places; their shelter protecting lovers and outlaws – as in the old ballad, ‘Betsy Bell and Mary Gray’ who, ‘built them a bower on yon burnside / 
They theeked it all o’er wi’ rushes’.

Stepping away from the mytho-poesis of these Neolithic Highland landscapes, I liked the seeming modesty and ordinariness of Duke’s Wood.  It’s conceit is the way it hides its technology – oil – as if in a fold. Could this be a place to find out more about bowers?

When we went for our first walk I was reassured; the wood felt the right kind of place to investigate the tradition. I also realised that the bower would only exist when it belonged to lovers.

As we walked along the path Aaron pointed out an old hawthorn that had grown entwined, one smaller trunk curling tight to the main trunk. I chose to see that twist as the wood agreeing. To begin then, in words and into woods, with a definition and some old poems about wood and and trees.

‘I will make my love a bower’, trad., photograph AF, 2012

Noun, a pleasant shady place under trees or climbing plants in a garden or wood; literary a summer house or country cottage; literary a woman’s private room or bedroom.

Verb, shade or enclose (a place or person): (as adjective ‘bowered’) the bowered pathways into the tangle of vines

Origin: Old English búr ‘dwelling, inner room’, of Germanic origin; related to German Bauer ‘birdcage’

for Duke’s Wood

b  o  w  e  r

bow down & enter


the tree grows
by long division
& logarithm


there’s nothing to their shapes
but what the trees themselves made


Potter saw the branches
put forth blossom

though he didn’t live
to taste the fall’s plum


the branches
share their quiet
liking for lichen


                          the hazel’s for dividing

                               bows that bend                                    a wand to point


Cushat Wood

(neighbour to)

Crow Wood


trees shrink
from sunrise
til evening
& then they swell
in the night


the pine stands
inside the cone


which came first,
this path
or those trees?


the more trees
the fewer flowers.

the more flowers
the fewer trees


other people
are lights

the dark trees

drawing bower (crop)
word-drawing (bower), AF, 2012

Dukes Wood Project Artists

Over the next few months each of the Dukes Wood Project artists will publish short texts relating to their initial ideas for the project in the run up to a re-curation and re-design of the Dukes Wood Oil Museum with Kobberling and Kaltwasser in June/May followed by the residency programme commencing in June this year.


Dukes Wood Project Artists:

Alec Finlay – Dukes Wood Research Residency Artist


Alec Finlay is an artist and poet. Much of his work reflects on our interaction with nature and considers how we, as a culture, or cultures, relate to landscape in an era of climate change.


Stephen Turner – Dukes Wood Research Residency Artist


Stephen Turner’s work is concerned with aspects of time and the dialectics of transience and permanence. His work often involves spending long periods in odd, abandoned places, noting changes in the complex relationship between nature and the man-made.

Web: ,

I.B.I (Institute for Boundary Interactions) – Dukes Wood Research Residency Artists


The Institute for Boundary Interactions (I.B.I) is an interdisciplinary research collective that uses science, technology, art and design to explore the complex connections between people, places and things.


Alison Lloyd – Dukes Wood Walker in Residence


Since leaving Arts Council England in 2010, as Head of Visual Arts, East Midland’s Office, Alison has led walks for galleries, festivals and artists, as a way of developing her own practice through walking. In October 2012 she registered for a PhD at Loughborough University, School of Art, English and Drama.

The topic area is the ‘poetic’ experiences of place, specifically, ‘Mountainous country, where walkers (visual artists and outdoors men and women) are dependent upon themselves and remote from any immediate help’.

Do women experience nature differently to men, or seek a different type of nature for their experiences.  Do women artists (writers and visual artists) respond to and notice and record different aspects of nature to those embedded by men in nature literature, romantic painting, contemporary walking artists, and the world of the outdoors men and women.


Anne-Mie Melis – Dukes Wood Research Residency Artist


Anne-Mie Melis work explores the visual nature of plants and their role in an increasingly technology-infiltrated world. Her main inspiration is science, focused towards plant biology and engineering. She uses a variety of media; large-scale architectural botanical drawings on paper, assembled objects, composed from plant parts or pruned shrubs, dried plant specimens, stop motion animations and photographs.

Web: ,

Kobberling & Kaltwasser – Dukes Wood Project Special Commission


Public space is under siege: pressure to consume, growing control and more and more traffic are threatening to change the picture of our cities dramatically. The couple Folke Köbberling and Martin Kaltwasser have been elaborating their idea of an artistic and architectonical aesthetics of resistance against this take-over since 1998.

They confront consumerist ideologies with alternatives: structural intervention, artistic statements, actions and theories. In doing so, the artists make use of streets, squares, bridges, parks and interiors as operational spaces. And the material they use is always obtained from urban resources: things that have been thrown away, garbage, donated things.


Dan Robinson (Mud Office) – Dukes Wood Research Residency Artist

dukes cabin

Dan Robinson is based in Leeds where he makes and teaches art and design. He works with photography, drawings, text, websites, events, objects and installations. Many of his projects are collaborative and unfold in relation to specific settings, architectures and organisations. Various semi-fictional enterprises are sketched out and tested as possible spaces for creative and critical thinking. These wider project narratives are mediated and re-told through images, writings, posters and print.

Dan is also a partner at Mud Office. Formed in 2005, MUD OFFICE is a collaboration between artists Dan Robinson (Leeds) and Charlie Jeffery (Paris). The way they work and the things they produce, result from the specific contexts they are invited to work in and the resources that can be found there. Their previous work has involved forming a band, establishing a temporary cafeteria, manufacturing furniture, making architectural interventions and turning a hunt cabin into a broadcast studio.

For Dukes Wood Dan is currently developing designs for a hunt cabin – bird hide – projection booth.

Web: ,

 Louise K. Wilson – Dukes Wood Research Residency Artist


Louise K Wilson is a visual artist who makes installations, live works, sound works and single channel videos. Processes of research are central to her practice and she frequently involves the participation of individuals from industry, museums, medicine and the scientific community in the making of work. Her current research uses the medium of sound to ask philosophical and material questions about the spatio-temporal physicality of certain sites and our perceptions of them.


 Joanna Dacombe – Dukes Wood Learning Coordinator


Jo Dacombe’s approach is socially engaged practice in the public realm, using art interventions in public space through a variety of media. Her works, temporary or permanent, aim to explore the notion of what makes a space a place. Jo undertakes commissions as well as generating her own projects.

Her current interests include mapping, walking, connections, public space, modes of travel, change and sense of place. She uses a variety of media, temporary and permanent, to engage people in the public realm and to create a dialogue about the experience of space and place.

Into the Woods

‘Our English woods are a complicated and sustaining myth. We yearn for traces of the original tracts of greenwood. We grow to understand that human activity in these islands had denuded the tree cover fairly significantly even during prehistory, but nonetheless we retain a strong imaginative attachment to our woods, especially as places for hiding and as places beyond the codes and authority of the day.’

– Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts, Edgelands

2013-01-11 15.09.50

My first encounter with Dukes Wood was on a cold, dreary Sunday afternoon in the late autumn of 2011. It was one of those days where the air felt wet without the need for rain, as if a layer of the atmosphere had dropped earthwards veiling everything in a thick, heavy mist, giving all a sense of ethereal otherworldliness. The resounding feeling on entering the wood was one of perfect stillness, a kind of untouched serenity that would surely be broken by my presence. As if the slightest human disruption would stir the entire place into a brief, jolted frenzy of commotion. Like clapping ones hands beneath a tree full of nesting starlings. It was exactly what I had hoped for, everything I had expected and anticipated from this tiny pocket of the Nottinghamshire countryside – steeped in obvious, but as yet unexplored, natural and cultural history, brimming with narrative potential, quaintly charming yet strangely eerie – an exemplary English wood.

But what is meant by such a phrase? What does a place have to have in order for it to be conceived as such – as both true woodland, and a truly English woodland at that? For most, an image of woodland is one of relative wildness, if not full-blown wilderness. It evokes thoughts of an idyllic return to nature, an atavistic reawakening of our innate primordial hunter-gatherer instincts, ‘going back to nature – not just to ‘the natural world’, but to their own true nature, as creatures of the wild woods.’(Farley & Symmons Roberts – Edgelands) Of course this view, albeit a common and rather appealing one, is wholly romantic. Perhaps we are so comfortable with, and equally so protective of, our woods because they are instances of wildness that seem approachable, convivial, somehow perversely tame, domesticated even? This is hardly surprising, owing to the fact that the vast majority of our woodland is in fact very closely monitored and scrupulously cultivated, very much influenced if not manipulated by man.

2013-01-11 13.56.46

The view adopted by the modern sensibility of an image of nature as a beatific ideal, precisely formed, well behaved and perfectly presented, ‘Nature as a reified thing in the distance, under the sidewalk, on the other side where the grass is always greener, preferably in the mountains, in the wild.’(Timothy Morton – The Ecological Thought) This is of course a myth. Such a notion derives from this very attachment to a sense of ‘imageness’, a tendency towards a framing or picturing of our surroundings following a tradition of artistic representations of the natural world – the relatively recent phenomenon of landscape, the notion of the picturesque – looking like a picture. It also comes out of man’s sustained intervention in the land, through methods of farming, agriculture and industry, that has come to shape our countryside as we know it today – the rolling hills, the thick hedgerows bristling with life, and the seemingly arbitrarily occurring dense clusters of trees – all products of a sustained, historic interference with our environment. As such, it is wrong to think of our woodland, or indeed any part of nature, in terms of independence. Rather, it is essential to consider the interdependence and interconnectedness of all things, natural and man-made; a truly ecological view, one that includes human beings effect on the environment, both good and bad, in the complex mesh that represents a truly unified, symbiotic outlook.

The very specific natural environment of Dukes Wood is truly a case in point. It symbolises a wonderful cooperation between two things that might on paper be considered ideologically and ethically diametrically opposed – heavy industry, (specifically crude oil production) and wildlife conservation. However, as with most complicated agreements that carry their own set of social and political implications, the narrative of Dukes Wood is long, with many twists and turns. Once a dense and unmanaged woodland, it has long been a site of transformation as well as reconciliation. The oil industry came and went over a period of around 70 years and, at various stages throughout this time, undertook large scale industrial operations leaving in their wake areas of damage where entire sections of the woodland were lost.


These intermittent patches of openness formed the woods signature clearings and have given rise to a marked diversification in Dukes Wood’s ecological portfolio. Rare grasses and wild orchids that would otherwise never have found their way to the site now flourish and line the bases of decommissioned nodding donkeys that still occupy the clearings, like odd sculptural spectres of a bygone industry. The formation of Dukes Wood as you will find it today is the result of a long and fractious relationship between man and nature, one deferring to the other at various points in its history, like a game of tug-of-war complete with moments of recession and reinvigoration, depletion and rejuvenation. The conclusion is certainly not as simple as “nature prevailed”; as the unique ecology of the wood must surely give a degree of credence to man’s industrial intervention. It is the perfect illustration of co-dependency and interconnectedness, whether knowing and welcome or not.

‘Ecology includes all the ways we imagine how we live together. Ecology is profoundly about coexistence. No man is an island. Human beings need each other as much as they need an environment. Human beings are each others’ environment. Thinking ecologically isn’t simply about nonhuman things. Ecology has to do with you and me.’ 

– (Timothy Morton – The Ecological Thought)

What Dukes Wood signifies is not only this interconnectedness, or interdependency between man and nature but also a coming together of people and place under the auspices of industrial work. It enables a kind of topophilic reading, one that acknowledges the affective ties between people and place, whereby place is given its character and its historical agency through utility, through working in and on the land. Not to be interpreted as a positivist conception of industrial capitalism, but rather as a celebration of the salutary sociological effects of industry and its ability to form strong and prosperous communities with a common aim and a shared reliance on the land. With the exhaustion of natural resources comes the loss of the industries that relied on them and, in turn, the fracturing and denigration of the communities that were built around them. Dukes Wood expresses the feeling of lamentation over the loss of a way of life and making a living, a symptom of so much of the industrial wasteland of Northern England, whilst simultaneously representing the salubrious effects of the evacuation of heavy industry allowing for a sustained period of nurture and convalescence.

Dukes Wood conjures an imaginative interpretation of the land; one that satisfies our search for a conventionally pictorial view – a framing of an idyllic scene – whilst also asking us to imagine those that occupied and lived on the land as ‘insiders’ and carved out permanent marks upon it. It is a place of memory, ‘Even the landscape takes on a different quality if you are one of those who remember. The scenery is then never separate from the history of the place, from the feeling for the lives that have been lived there.’(Raymond Williams – The Country and the City) Dukes Wood is also a landscape of hope and potential and should not remain fixed to this symptom of melancholia often associated with sites of memorialisation. We are encouraged, rather, to envision a bright future of natural conservation whilst commemorating the woods past as a clandestine military industrial operation. A mnemonic attachment to Dukes Wood only acts to strengthen the notion that the land signifies a rare and valuable example of the reconciliation between human progress and the preservation of the natural world. The two need not, and cannot ever again, be thought of separately if real progress is to be made. It is a model, not for hiding, but for the radical expansion and redefining of the ‘codes and authority of the day’ – a ground at once for remembrance and re-imagining. Perhaps art will go some way to helping us do this…

By Aaron Juneau – Dukes Wood Project Co-curator

A Brief History


It is impossible to discuss the human history of Dukes Wood without mentioning a crucial period of activity lasting little over two years. It is this unique story, which drew Ordinary Culture to Dukes Wood and initiated this Project.

Between 1942 and 1944 the Pudding Poke Wood & Dukes Wood were the focus of a top secret military intervention, nicknamed The British Project. Against the backdrop of WW2 on the heels of oil discoveries made near the village of Eakring, Nottinghamshire and with the British military facing a critical fuel shortage; C.A.P Southwell a representative of the D’Arcy Exploration Company, with the authority of the British government led a secret mission to develop Great Britain’s oil fields. This task took Southwell across the atlantic in search of skilled labor, equipment and expertise; a trip which lead to a famous collaboration with American Oil Company’s Noble Drilling Corporation & Fain-Porter Drilling Company.

At the height of German U-Boat activities in the Atlantic Ocean, Dukes Wood was producing roughly 60150 tons of oil for the British war effort compared to the 6002 tons produced in 1941. This level of productivity and efficiency would have been almost impossible if it were not for the famed ‘Oil Patch Warriors’, 42 seasoned Oklahoma Oil Men lead by Noble Drilling Corporations supervisor Eugene Rosser and his assistant Donald Walker. The ingenuity, skill and disciplined work mentality of these men helped the D’Arcy oil fields reach unprecedented drilling depths and opened up a vital fuel stream to the British Military’s air, sea and land campaigns across central Europe.


In March 1944 the contact between D’Arcy owners Anglo-Iranian Company and Noble Drilling Corporation & Fain-Porter Drilling Company reached its termination. In two years the American team had generated 106 wells, Ninety-four of the holes drilled were producing oil. This cooperation between American and British oil companies during the Second World War, and the continuing oil extraction that proceeded those years, left a lasting and visible impact on Dukes Wood.

Thanks to further cooperation by BP and Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, Dukes Wood is now a nature reserve and site of special scientific interest, a status some believe to be a direct consequence of woodland clearing carried out by the oil industry, clearings that are now inhabited only by rare wild grasses and a handful of green nodding donkeys.

Sam West – Dukes Wood Project Co-curator