On these terms, is Broughton wild? Well, it certainly has wild places, which are discussed below and there is evidence of self-will and wild acts, as described above, but is it wild? Not really – there are plenty of evident and implicit controls in operation in this locality, a lot of which I seek to enforce as a local street champion (am I an enemy of wildness?). However, there is also a quality of otherness or apartness, which chimes with some of the characterisations above. Equally, parts of the area have been treated in the recent past as something of a terra nullius – a slum that needed to be razed to the ground and re-imagined – and so this mixture of concepts starts to come together to speak productively to the nature of this locality and the sharply ambivalent feelings it evokes in me that are in turn played out through the dual practices considered here. Equally, it could be argued, as referenced above, that I encounter this place as wild and in need of colonising; if not terra nullius, then perhaps terra neglectus - requiring my activity to make things better.

In another appropriation of the term wild and one that is particularly applicable to my practices and interests in this locality, Anna Jorgensen (2012) defines wildscapes as ‘urban spaces where natural as opposed to human agency appears to the shaping the land’ (1). In using this term, she addresses ‘a continuum ranging from ‘wilderness’ to apparently ordered spaces, with different levels of wildness existing at multiple different scales in each locality’ (2). This is also explored in a 2007 article that Jorgensen co-authored with Martin Tylecote, which focuses on ‘wilderness in urban interstices’ and the ambivalent feelings created by these ‘loose’ or semi-wild places, citing ‘woodland, abandoned allotments, river corridors, derelict or brownfield sites and especially areas in which the spontaneous growth of vegetation through natural succession suggests that nature is in control’ (454). There are a number of interstices/wildscapes in Broughton, from overgrown empty plots of land to the river corridor, which fit this notion of loose or unordered spaces and where nature is the controlling force. For the purposes of this article, I am focusing primarily on the largest and most prevalent example – a wooded area, called Kersal Dale – as it has been the primary focus for my creative research in recent months.

Kersal Dale is a designated local nature reserve which took on its unique ‘wildness’ in the wake of major landslides in the 1920s, rendering the site unsafe for buildings so that the opulent riverside residences of the rich industrialists who had settled there, more than 50 years earlier, were abandoned and fell into ruin. Evidence of these houses and their grounds – tree lined avenues, bricks and stones and the outlines of structures – have now been beautifully enfolded in nature and made wild through the insistent growth and ‘natural succession’ of the plants that have flourished here.

They torch things here,

Kids maybe, a guy in a tracksuit, caught on CCTV and

I wonder about the appeal of fire and flame.

Bins in the park, burnt and melted into angular art,

Cardboard anywhere – set it alight.

Kersal Dale feels wild. It is difficult to navigate, as there are no maps of the reserve and the paths often become impassable after a lot of rain. It is also a fairly densely wooded area, in contrast to the wide-open fields that characterised this location before industrialisation. As Jorgensen and Tylecote (2007) point out, urban woodland can be simultaneously regarded as ‘the repository of numerous wholesome meanings’ and ‘a dangerous place … perceived as lawless, disordered … disfigured by the traces … [of] crimes and incivilities’. They cite a survey of residents’ attitudes towards surrounding woodland in Birchwood, Warrington New Town, where ‘a quarter of those who identified local green and woodland spaces as their favourite places in the locality also said that they would feel unsafe if they were alone in them’ (444). This ambivalence is resonant with my experiences and responses to the woodland of Kersal Dale.

'Wild' Broughton

Click to watch the video

Gavin Van Horn (2017) states that ‘there is no singular meaning for wildness’, but indicates that the word’s etymological associations with “self –will”, mean that ‘wild indicates autonomy and agency, a will to be, a unique expression of life’ (2), while also acknowledging that through usage, ‘a common set of connotations’ have arisen, casting wildness as ‘that which is forbidden, dangerous, or out of control’ (3). Van Horn also points out that the ‘word has been wielded as a blunt instrument, a way to characterize peoples and places as things apart … usually as justification for conquest’ (3), which corresponds with Anna Jorgensen’s discussion of the ‘annexation of the ‘wilderness’ or terra nullius by European settlers for their own exploitation and use’ (2012, 5). Wildness, through these theoretical lenses, can be understood in relation to otherness, apartness, danger and loss of control. However, it can also, as Robert Macfarlane points out, be seen as ‘an energy both exemplary and exquisite’ (2007, 31); a ‘quality of aliveness’ or ‘self-ablazeness’ – life happening and thriving on its terms.

Since starting this research, I have addressed my fears through regularly walking alone into the Dale, to sample the environment in a number of ways, through capturing short clips of video, sounds on an audio recorder and voice memos of my thoughts and experiences. Alongside this fieldwork and sampling of the woodland, I have also researched its past, developing a range of musical and vocal refrains in response. Very rarely have I occupied a place so very quiet and remote feeling in an urban environment, resonating with Jorgensen’s evocation of a wildscape as ‘a space in which there is a complete absence of surveillance, regulation and frequently, other people’ (2012, 9). The steep wooded hollow next to the river enfolds not just the ruins of the old houses, but also the walker in its abundance and feels quite ‘other’ - quite apart - when you are within it. My intermedial practices in and of the dale occupy this interstice, shuttling between its mystery and its threat, between its peace and loneliness, between the desire to encounter another in that space and the fear of the same.