poetry sign test – success!

A blog from Harriet Fraser and Rob Fraser, working on the Moss of Many Layers project.

Landmark day! After a year of planning, with research, poetry composition, design, engineering and finger-crossing, on Friday, together with Natural England Senior Reserves Manager Emma Austin, we headed out to Bolton Fell Moss to test the installation of a poetry sign. And phew, the install went perfectly! Hurray!

This is one of a set of seven signs that will be placed within sight of the boardwalk, which runs for a circuit of 3km. Together, the signs will form a seven-phrase poem that can be read clockwise or anti-clockwise, or can be read in couplets. Each sign will rust up, blending in with the colours of the bog.

A steel sign rises from a wetland area of a bog and has words cut into it, reading A Measure Of Healing

A tool for scientists

The support pole for each sign acts as a surface level rod, so the team monitoring the growth of sphagnum moss (and, very very slowly, peat itself), will be able to measure incremental change. The support poles extend down to the mineral layer beneath the peat, which is a marker of the end of the last ice age before peat began to form here. The range on chosen sites is 227cm – 578cm, reflecting different levels of extraction around the site.

Process, and first impressions

When you dream something up, then work through the ideas, encounter and overcome design challenges, and get to this stage, you think you know how it will look, but it’s only a guess. You only really know once it’s in …

We’re really happy with it – this first sign carries the qualities that we had hoped it would. The form and material reflect the industrial heritage of the site, where steel was used extensively in the machinery used for peat extraction, and angular shapes were common. The cut-out letters allow the signs to also have a softness, reflecting the softness of the mosses and grasses: as the light changes, or as you walk past the sign, the sign seems somehow to float, and the words are airy. It helps with the invitation for a pause – the words help to convey the ongoing story of this wonderful place, and perhaps for some will be a catalysts for thoughts, feelings, questions and further conversations.

This sign is the third in the sequence, if you follow the boardwalk in a clockwise direction; or the fourth if you walk anticlockwise.

Team work

Massive thanks to Emma at Natural England who has been a really important part of the evolution of this piece, and to Martin Lucas, engineer extraordinaire, whose attention to detail always pays off. And thanks to the rest of the Moss of Many Layers team – scientists, artists, conservationists, rangers – and the local community, who have all been part of the learning that inspired Harriet’s composition of the poem.

Two women stand either side of a steel sign that has words cut into it reading 'A Measure of Healing'
Emma Austin (left) and Harriet Fraser with the poetry sign

Opening yet to come

The site is a National Nature Reserve but will not be open to the public until later this year. Once the site opens, all the poetry signs will be in place, as will a new shelter on the central ‘island’. We’ll share updates as they happen.

A sign rises from wetland and grasses. Words on the sign read 'A Measure of Healing'

More information about the Moss of Many Layers project here.

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