Episodes

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01Flint20180108

Alan Garner sparks with flint, the stone that has enabled human civilisation.

The writer Alan Garner sparks with flint, the stone that, perhaps more than any other, has enabled human civilisation. It's a stone that has featured in some of his novels, such as Red Shift, where the same Neolithic hand axe resurfaces across different times to haunt his characters. And it is time and evolution that he looks at in this essay: "My blood walked out of Africa ninety thousand years ago. We came by flint. Flint makes and kills; gives shelter, food; it clothes us. Flint clears forest. Flint brings fire. With flint we bear the cold."

Alan's essay is the first of five Cornerstones this week in which different writers reflect on how a particular rock shapes both people and place.

Producer: Mark Smalley

Image: Courtesy of the artist Rose Ferraby.

01Limestone2014021820140901

Sue Clifford, co-founder of the arts and environment organisation Common Ground, reflects on what England's limestone landscapes mean to her, the way water has carved out vast underground cave systems.

This is the first of four essays in which writers reflect on the way their bedrock geology has shaped their favourite landscapes. Limestone, as Sue Clifford says, is not only the stone of choice for many of Britain's architectural landmarks, but in the wild it also supports a wealth of flowers, creating its own micro-climates in the klints and grykes that characterise karst scenery. Limestone, she acknowledges, rejoices in its own specific vocabulary.

In the other essays, the walker and geologist Ronald Turnbull addresses sandstone, the sculptor Peter Randall-Page describes what it's like working with Dartmoor's obdurate granite boulders, and the Welsh poet Gillian Clarke writes about Snowdonia's slate.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

01Northern Lights - Cornerstones: Scandinavia's Samiland2015120720170731

Poet John Burnside explores his fascination with the Sami landscapes of northern Norway.

As part of Radio 3's Northern Lights season the award-winning poet John Burnside explores his fascination with the Sámi landscapes of Finnmark in northern Norway, reflecting on how they're shaped by ice as much as rock.

Winner of both the 2011 TS Eliot Prize for Poetry and the Forward Prize, John Burnside has returned time and again to find out more about the resilient culture of the Sámi people of northern Scandinavia. Here, he considers the wild beauty of Sámiland (or Lapland), describing a region at such variance with the Santa-themed tourism flogged to visitors.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

As part of Radio 3's Northern Lights season the award-winning poet John Burnside explores his fascination with the Sámi landscapes of Finnmark in northern Norway, reflecting on how they're shaped by ice as much as rock.

Winner of both the 2011 TS Eliot Prize for Poetry and the Forward Prize, John Burnside has returned time and again to find out more about the resilient culture of the Sámi people of northern Scandinavia. Here, he considers the wild beauty of Sámiland (or Lapland), describing a region at such variance with the Santa-themed tourism flogged to visitors.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

01Quartz20170109

Walker and writer Linda Cracknell is drawn to the luminosity of the quartz she finds on Ben Lawers near Loch Tay. It's her local Munro, and is one of Scotland's most popular mountains. The appeal of quartz, she realises, goes back time out of mind. Linda's aware of dozens of decorated quartz pebbles that have been found around Scotland, many of them in Orkney and Shetland. Smooth and comforting in the hand, were these pale, luminescent stones charms of some sort, were they used for healing or slingshots, or were they perhaps part of a long forgotten game?

Linda's essay is the first of five this week in which different writers reflect on how a favoured location is determined by its underlying geology.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

02Cornerstones - The Canadian Arctic20170803

Travel writer Sara Wheeler recalls her time visiting Canada's Arctic region.

'Rock talk' is what the travel writer Sara Wheeler recalls of her time cooped up in cold, billowing tents with a horde of geologists well north of Hudson Bay up in Canada's Arctic. That and the unforgettable smell of drying socks. Visiting a geoscientific mapping project whilst researching the circumpolar Arctic had its highs, as well as its lows. Besides the socks was the extraordinary encounter with a browned circle on the ground, an old Inuit tent ring. In the middle sat a flinty limestone tool, which had probably lain there for 5,000 years since it had last been used to scrape seal hide.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

02Lewisian Gneiss20180109

The writer Sara Maitland conjures with Lewisian gneiss, two-thirds the age of the earth.

The writer Sara Maitland conjures with a rock of ages, Lewisian gneiss. Two-thirds the age of the earth itself, and the oldest stone in the UK, it makes up parts of the Northwest Highlands and the Western Isles. It's part of this week's series of Cornerstones - nature writing about rock, place and landscape.

Sara reflects on how the gneiss began its slow journey across the face of the earth more or less where Antarctica is today. It is still moving northwards, at about the same speed as our nails grow. 'Gneiss' comes from the German word meaning to sparkle, and Sara wonders whether it's this quality that convinced Neolithic builders to construct the Callanish stone circle on Lewis from this distinctive, ancient stone.

The other Cornerstones essays broadcast on Radio 3 this week hears different writers reflecting on how other rocks shape landscapes and us, such as flint, North Sea oil and gas, gypsum, which is the main constituent of plaster, and the clay bricks that define our urban landscapes.

Producer: Mark Smalley

Image: Courtesy of the artist Rose Ferraby.

02Millstone20170110

Time and time again, the Derbyshire poet and climber Helen Mort is drawn back to the Peak District's Stanage Edge, famed for its millstone grit. Deeply satisfying to ascend, she reflects on how the millstones carved in situ were transported to mills around the UK. That is, until the fashion for white bread led to the bottom dropping out of the market, when British millers adopted the use of French millstones that didn't stain the flour a dull grey colour. Hence the rather surreal presence of finished millstones littering the cliffs below Stanage Edge, today a symbol for the Peak District National Park.

This is the second of this week's five essays in which writers reflect on how places that matter to them are shaped by the underlying geology.

Helen's latest collection of poems, 'No Map Could Show Them', celebrates the role of women in climbing, many of them overlooked pioneering Victorians who scaled the Alps in their hooped tweed skirts.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

02Northern Lights - Cornerstones: The Canadian Arctic20151208

'Rock talk' is what the travel writer Sara Wheeler recalls of her time cooped up in cold, billowing tents with a horde of geologists well north of Hudson Bay up in Canada's Arctic. That and the unforgettable smell of drying socks. Visiting a geoscientific mapping project whilst researching the circumpolar Arctic had its highs, as well as its lows. Besides the socks was the extraordinary encounter with a browned circle on the ground, an old Inuit tent ring. In the middle sat a flinty limestone tool, which had probably lain there for 5,000 years since it had last been used to scrape seal hide.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

02Sandstone2014021920140902

The walker, writer and geologist Ronald Turnbull reflects on how some of his favourite landscapes across the UK are softly shaped by sandstone. The ease of carving it, he says, accounts for its attractions to mankind across time.

This is the second of four essays in which writers reflect on the way their bedrock geology has shaped their favourite landscapes. The sandstone that characterises his home in Dumfries, Ronald Turnbull says, is similar to the sandstone of North America, Siberia and elsewhere, because it was all created as part of the same hot, desert landmass millions of years ago.

In the other essays, Sue Clifford, co-founder of Common Ground reflects on limestone landscapes, the sculptor Peter Randall-Page describes what it's like working with Dartmoor's obdurate granite boulders, and the Welsh poet Gillian Clarke evokes the human stories shaped by Snowdonia's slate.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

03Coal Mines20170111

The writer and broadcaster Paul Evans traces a family line back through Shropshire's seams of coal. Chawtermaster Peake is the collier ancestor who hewed coal from Coalbrookdale, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. Paul evokes Peake's Wood Pit near the Wrekin as it is today, abandoned in the 1970s, after having been scraped out by opencast mining. Nature is now reclaiming the site, but Paul reflects on the irony of the climate change that ended the Carboniferous period when the coal measures were laid down, contrasting it with the changes being experienced today as we enter the Anthropocene.

This is the third of this week's series of essays in which writers reflect on how locations that matter to them are shaped by the underlying geology. Paul Evans, who lives in and writes about Shropshire, contributes to the Country Diary in The Guardian. His latest book is 'Field Notes from the Edge'.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

03Cornerstones: Greenland Caves20170807

Gina Moseley describes leading a team of cavers into an unknown cavern system in Greenland

Geologist and climatologist Gina Moseley led a team of cavers into an unknown system of limestone caverns in northern Greenland in the summer of 2015. Her findings will keep her busy for a long time to come. She describes what it was like wriggling into these remote spaces, knowing they were the first people to have ever done so. This in a place where the rest of the world's population of 7.3 billion people lives well south of their northern latitude.

The wonder of being there contrasts with the work that lies ahead of her, to analyse the flowstone in the caves they came to sample, and to find out what it tells us of previous times when the earth's climate warmed up, just as it's doing again now.

03Granite2014022020140903

For 25 years the sculptor Peter Randall-Page has worked Dartmoor's obdurate and unforgiving granite boulders. He reflects on what it's like trying to wrestle with it: "granite is stuff personified, quintessentially dumb matter, it is what the earth is made of, congealed magma, planetary and galactic, inert and unintelligible."

Peter's is the third of four essays in which writers and artists reflect on the way their bedrock geology - their cornerstones - have shaped their favourite landscapes. Peter Randall-Page realises that he's worked his way back through geological time to work with granite: "beginning with the relatively young sedimentary limestone of Bath, through the metamorphic marble of Carrara to the most ancient material of granite."

In the other essays, Sue Clifford, co-founder of Common Ground reflects on her favourite limestone landscapes, the walker and geologist Ronald Turnbull addresses sandstone and the Welsh poet Gillian Clarke addresses the human dimension of mining Snowdonia's slate.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

03North Sea Oil And Gas20180110

Esther Woolfson contrasts Aberdeen, the 'Granite City', with its oil and gas industry.

The writer Esther Woolfson contrasts the solidity of Aberdeen, the 'Granite City', with the decline of the North Sea oil and gas industry, on which its economy has so relied since the 1970s. It's part of this week's series of Cornerstones - nature writing about rock, place and landscape.

Author of 'Field Notes from a Hidden City', about her encounters with Aberdeen's wildlife, Esther reflects on the city's relationship with the North Sea hydrocarbons industry, and how much the city has been affected by the waning oil boom. She contrasts the city's big, public granite Victorian edifices with the slow creation in past milennia beneath the seabed of the oil and gas hydrocarbons which have powered the modern world.

Among the other Cornerstones essays this week, the writer Alan Garner reflects upon flint, the stone that has enabled human civilisation, and Sara Maitland considers Lewisian gneiss, so much a rock of ages that it is two thirds the age of the earth itself.

Producer: Mark Smalley

Image: Courtesy of the artist Rose Ferraby.

03Northern Lights - Cornerstones: Greenland20151209

This summer geologist and climatologist Gina Moseley led a team of cavers into an unknown system of limestone caverns in northern Greenland. Her findings will keep her busy for a long time to come. As part of Radio 3's Northern Lights season she describes what it was like wriggling into these remote spaces, knowing they were the first people to've ever done so. This in a place where the rest of the world's population of 7.3 billion people lives well south of where they found themselves standing.

The wonder of being there contrasts with the work that lies ahead of her, to analyse the flowstone in the caves they came to sample, and to find out what it tells us of previous times when the earth's climate warmed up, just as it's doing again now.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

04Cornerstones: Siberia20170809

Daniel Kalder conjures the vast landscapes east of the Urals, where taiga becomes tundra.

Daniel Kalder conjures up the vast landscapes east of the Urals, where taiga becomes tundra. Siberia is more a state of mind than a place, given how the term encompasses not only the endless forests of the taiga but also that which lies beyond them, where the trees dwindle, diminish and finally give way to the tundra's ceaseless realms of permafrost. As part of Radio 3's Northern Lights season Kalder, a travel writer who's lived in and travelled around Russia, reflects on how ice and wind vies with geology to shape these memorable tracts. And in that land of ice, not just the cryogenically preserved woolly mammoths, but is it true that former Soviet apparatchiks are buried with their medals, in full state regalia?

Producer: Mark Smalley.

04Fire Rocks20170112

'Igneous rock' presents a pleasing contradiction for the novelist Sarah Moss. Fire rock, flaming stone. "At the centre of everything" she says "is stone, is liquid, is flame, elements out of their element." In this essay, Sarah explores the nature of the igneous. She's drawn to basalt and dolerite, the fire rocks that created Antrim's Giant's Causeway and Lindisfarne in Northumberland.

This is the fourth of this week's series of essays in which writers reflect on landscapes that matter to them, shaped and underpinned as they are by their geology.

Sarah has lived in Iceland, a place she recalls being as if liquid rock "had frozen in movement and then been haphazardly covered with turf and birch and rowan". Her latest novel is 'The Tidal Zone'.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

04Gypsum And Alabaster20180111

Archaeologist Rose Ferraby gets to grips with gypsum, the key mineral in plaster.

The artist and archaeologist Rose Ferraby gets to grips with something that is always around us, but which we almost never stop to consider: gypsum, the chief constituent of the plaster on the walls around us. It's part of this week's series of Cornerstones - nature writing about how rock, place and landscape affects us.

Gypsum's use dates back to at least the ancient pyramids of Egypt. Rose explains how gypsum, being highly soluble, is responsible for the notorious sink holes around the city of Ripon, frequently causing subsidence and damage to homes. She also considers alabaster, a soft, luminous stone composed of gypsum, and which was used to stunning effect for medieval memorials and sometimes even in place of stained glass in windows.

Among the other Cornerstones essays this week the writer Alan Garner takes flint, the stone that has enabled human civilisation, and Esther Woolfson contrasts Aberdeen's granite solidity with the decline of the North Sea oil and gas industry, on which its economy has relied for the last forty years.

Producer: Mark Smalley

Image: Courtesy of the artist Rose Ferraby.

04Northern Lights - Cornerstones: Siberia20151210

Daniel Kalder conjures up the vast landscapes east of the Urals, where taiga becomes tundra. Siberia is more a state of mind than a place, given how the term encompasses not only the endless forests of the taiga but also that which lies beyond them, where the trees dwindle, diminish and finally give way to the tundra's ceaseless realms of permafrost. As part of Radio 3's Northern Lights season Kalder, a travel writer who's lived in and travelled around Russia, reflects on how ice and wind vies with geology to shape these memorable tracts. And in that land of ice, not just the cryogenically preserved woolly mammoths, but is it true that former Soviet apparatchiks are buried with their medals, in full state regalia?

Producer: Mark Smalley.

04 LASTSlate2014022120140904

"Slate is our stone, from the quarries of Snowdonia", writes the Welsh poet Gillian Clarke in her Cornerstones essay, "just as the coal in the grate is ours, from the south Wales coalfield. We tread on slate every day." For her slate was inescapabable, ubiquitous: "In city, town, village and upland farm, we sleep under Welsh slate. Rain sings on it. It roofed every house I have ever lived in."

Gillian's is the fourth and last of these essays in which writers and artists reflect on the way their bedrock geology - their cornerstones - have shaped their favourite landscapes. "To this day" she says, "the sight of slate-tips in rain never fails to fill me with awe, such an unbearable weight of angles and shards, of greys, purples, silvers, broken pieces of sky, so many deaths, so much lost life. So much geological and human history."

In the other essays, Sue Clifford, co-founder of Common Ground reflects on her favourite limestone landscapes, the walker and geologist Ronald Turnbull addresses sandstone, and the sculptor Peter Randall-Page tells us what it's like working with something as unforgiving as Dartmoor's obdurate granite boulders.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

"Slate is our stone, from the quarries of Snowdonia", writes the Welsh poet Gillian Clarke in her Cornerstones essay, "just as the coal in the grate is ours, from the south Wales coalfield. We tread on slate every day." For her slate was inescapable, ubiquitous: "In city, town, village and upland farm, we sleep under Welsh slate. Rain sings on it. It roofed every house I have ever lived in."

05Clay Bricks20180112

Poet Fiona Hamilton contrasts clay's different states, before and after it's baked hard.

The poet Fiona Hamilton contrasts the different states of clay before and after it's baked hard. The satisfying tactile quality of clay squished in the hand, compared to the dry ordinariness of a brick. It's part of this week's series of Cornerstones - nature writing about how rock, place and landscapes affect us.

Mud bricks are as old as civilisation, and have been used throughout the world, but in England they underpinned the Industrial Revolution, enabling the rapid, cheap construction of mills, factories, terraced housing and the bridges and viaducts of an expanding rail network. Whilst bricks are mundane and ubiquitous, they derive from the deposits left across large parts of England after the last Ice Age, and so are surely the youngest 'rock' of all.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

05 LASTChalk20170113

Poet Alyson Hallett reflects on why she's drawn to chalk landscapes and in particular the large horse at Westbury in Wiltshire. It's a soft material, she realises, that is given to drawing and mark-making, found in the caves of Lascaux as well etched into her memories of her school classrooms.

This is the fifth of this week's essays in which writers reflect on how landscapes that matter to them are shaped by the geology that underpins them.

'And stones moved silently across the world' is the name of a project Alyson has been undertaking since 2001: she's engraved those words upon four particular stones which are now placed in different continents. It's a project that began, she explains, when her grandmother came to her in a dream and told her to visit Cader Idris in Snowdonia.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

05 LASTNorthern Lights - Cornerstones: Alaska2015121120170810

Jason Mark visits northern Alaska and reflects on the impact of our lust for hydrocarbons.

Environmental journalist Jason Mark visits Alaska's remote northern rim, and on the shores of the Arctic Ocean at a barbecue with Inuits, he reflects on the impact of our lust for hydrocarbons. Whilst the ice melts beneath them, so the search goes on for oil in these northern parts. He tries to grasp what he sees as the bitter ironies of climate change, confirmed by his encounters with Inuit hunters and others who describe how much the weather is warming.

Producer: Mark Smalley.

Jason Mark visits Alaska's remote northern rim, and on the shores of the Arctic Ocean at a barbecue with Inuits, he reflects on the impact of our lust for hydrocarbons. Whilst the ice melts beneath them, so the search goes on for oil in these northern parts. As part of Radio 3's Northern Lights season, Mark tries to square what he sees as the bitter ironies of climate change, confirmed by his encounters with Inuit hunters and others who describe how much the weather is warming.

Producer: Mark Smalley.