If you are looking for the genius loci of Stroud, it has to involve water, and as water moves and flows in a constant reinvention of itself, it is a fitting initial symbol of Stroud and the Valleys. To understand the effect of water around us, locally, we have to have some basic understanding of our local geology: we can slice open our scarp to reveal the layers of rock and time, stretching from the heights of Minchinhampton down to the River Severn. I thank the Stroud Museum for giving me this sort of Ladybird understanding, with their excellent displays; I have had minimal interest in or understanding of geology before, but I do recommend a visit to Stroud Museum, if you are geologically illiterate, like me.
So, what did I discover? Well, on the top, we have Great OoLitic Limestone; dropping down to Rodborough, we find Fullers Earth Clay; then we drop down to Lower Inferior Oolite Limestone; then Cotswold Sands; then Upper Lias Clays (we are now at Stinchcombe, King’s Stanley and Wotton under Edge); we then get to the Maristone Platform and the Severn and Lower Lias Clays.
The springs that occur where limestone meets clay attracted early settlement, with wells subsequently dug away from the spring-line. This combination of rocks and clays has produced the history that will later follow, after our spring-line wander lust, in other ways too. The steep valleys caused by erosion have produced the fast flowing streams and the consequent cloth trade, with their quaint hill-climbing patterns of settlement. It is true to say, therefore, that our first search for our genius loci should involve some walking or cycling around the spring-line, writing and photographing the springs as we go. As Robert Macfarlane said in “The Old Ways, A Journey on Foot”, “This book could not have been written by sitting still. The relationship between paths, walking and the imagination is its subject, and much of its thinking was therefore done - was only possible – while on foot.” It will be the same for us – although we might well bike as well as walk, but just like Macfarlane, we might well have Edward Thomas and Flann O’Brien as company too.
Or, just like Rob Young, in “Electric Eden”, we might hear Caliban reminding us to
“Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometimes voices,
That, if I then had wak’d after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that, when I wak’d,
I cried to dream again.”
It would be good to declaim this by a spring’s harmonies when out walking, and then cup spring water in one’s hands, reminding ourselves, like Rob Young, of Blake, once more:
“Hold infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.”
And if the walk to a spring, once named or featured on an OS map reveals nothing of its issue, then we could speak two lines from John Clare:
“There once were springs, where daisies’ silver studs
Like sheets of snow on every pasture spread;”