Poetry Month, April 2018: Ravenscar, The Town that Never Was: 2 Poems & More about Ravenscar
Ravenscar & its place on the MapClick thumbnail to view full-size
Ravenscar sits between Scarborough and Whitby on the east coast of Yorkshire, in the north of England. The name derives from Ravensker, the rock of the raven, from the Viking word 'sker'. Other similar names are Ravenseat in Swaledale, the seat or hill of the raven and Ravenglass in Cumbria, taken from the Celtic ‘Rann Glas’ meaning the part share of land belonging to someone called Glas. Much of the English language derives from Scandinavian and Celtic influence.
These two poems are inspired by the unusual story of this town, described below.
Raven & Rose
Raven on rock-scar way above stormy Sea,
surveying foam-decked Air, Fret moving in, stealthy.
Watching Raven, seeped hair clamped on brow,
sits Rose, black-cloaked, claw-fingers clasping rounded
head of cane, ebony eyes searching mist now,
for what? - memories of unreachable sounds.
Voices promising a place to live, play, rest; home at last.
But Voices faded, broken promises like Frets
passing out to sea on the tide. Rose’s death came fast.
Black Raven on rock, Black Rose on Fret, both rose to meet the mist,
drifted out as One above stormy Sea and Surf,
away from earthly Scar.
The Town that Never Was, that’s what they say today.
Great idea, eh? - resort above the cliff-tops, miles away!
Sharp descent, steep steps, slip-slap o’er even sharper rocks,
to reach the beach - at last soft sand? - oh no, what a shock!
Rocks, rock-pools 'twixt the slime of algae left by tide and time.
Whose bright idea was this to build resort sublime?
Great panoramas of sky and mist, a grid of houses paid for,
conveyance proof with bills of sale - the land just sits, no doors
waiting to welcome, roads to guide them, just drains to take the rain
from grass-topped paths, some gateways, all prepared in vain.
Flawed vision, lack of money, no chance of having fun.
Instead a let down clientèle, bosses on the run.
The likes of Rose had no redress, no sun and fun and lollies,
just bare land, views of grass and scrub, a legacy of folly.
- scar: a high rock
- fret: a sea mist, coming and going swiftly
- folly: i) a building constructed for fun, on a whim; ii) silliness
- 'twixt' - or betwixt, used to mean involving two things (between two); 'twice' has the same derivative; also a general archaic word for 'between'
Why 'The Town that Never Was'?
Ravenscar is a lone village built on spectacular cliffs. Victorian developers devised big plans for the village to rival Scarborough and Whitby, wanting to turn it into a popular resort. It had a costal train line, bracing air and panoramic views.
A North Eastern Railway poster billed it as 'Twixt moors and sea, midway between Scarborough and Whitby' with a 'Magnificent Undercliff and Hanging Gardens', claiming that it was the 'most bracing health resort on the east coast, 600 feet above sea level'.
The fact that it was 600 feet above the sea, atop a steep cliff and that there was no sandy beach, all added to its failure as the new resort. A set of steps was built down the cliff but they were not easy to negotiate. Who would want to buy a plot in such a position? A good view, yes, but that's all!
Plots were sold but apart from a few streets and buildings the resort never came to fruition, due to the development company going bankrupt. It was thus referred to as 'The Town That Never Was'. The railway line closed in the 1960s and all that remains is a dramatic headland with a clifttop hotel, amazing views in all directions, and several walking and cycling routes.
More about Ravenscar
Its history encompasses industrial heritage, a wartime radar site and rich coastal and countryside scenery.
The original settlement, Peak, was a simple farming hamlet. The 17th century brought industry to the coast and alum, used as a fixative for dyes in the textile industry, began to be extracted from the shale. At its height in the 18th century Peak Alum Works was a huge operation; remains of the quarries, shale tips and the factory buildings can still be seen.
Ravenscar was also the site of a World War II radar station, acting as part of a coastal defence system established in 1941.
There is a reinstated rocket post, once used in practice exercises by coastguards, as well as scenic walks taking in wonderful panoramas, clifftop meadows with abundant flora, and woodlands, farmland and ponds.
Fylingdales Moor rises above Ravenscar. It is a conservation area managed by the Hawk and Owl Trust, a haven for wildlife. You might be lucky enough to see a merlin, the UK’s smallest raptor, or a seal colony at the bottom of the cliffs. There are Bronze Age archeological remains on the moor. The local Clevedon Way is a popular walk, encompassing much of the above.
Conspiracy of Ravens?
These are the largest of the raven species; the species is the genus ‘Corvus’. The only difference between ravens and crows is that ravens are larger.
There are several collective nouns for ravens, two of which are ‘an unkindness of ravens’ and ’a conspiracy of ravens’. This seems to reflect their apparent ferocity and their verbosity when roosting in great numbers. The terms are slightly less derogatory than the collective for crows - 'a murder'!
Don't Let them Go!
Ravens at the Tower of London
There is a saying, a superstition, that the Tower of London and therefore the kingdom will fall if the six resident ravens ever leave. It is said that Charles II first required the ravens of the Tower to be protected.
Today, there are seven ravens at the Tower (maybe one's ageing and they need a spare!) - Hardey, Thor, Odin, Gwyllum, Cedric, Hugine and Munin, who live next to the Wakefield Tower. They consume 6 ounces of raw meat and bird formula biscuits soaked in blood each day.
Let's hope no one ever lets them out; we need all the luck we can get!
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Ann Carr