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‘Holt Bridge On The River Dee’ By Richard Wilson RA


Near where the Romans made pottery and tiles

from the rich boulder clay the Ice Age brought,

a fourteenth century eight arch sandstone bridge

spans the River Dee, Afon Dyfrdwy,

linking Welsh Holt and English Farndon.

The bridge’s stones are from the same quarry

as Holt Castle’s, the first the invaders built.

Three centuries later the Roundheads took it.


Occasional salmon from the Atlantic

navigate the industrial detritus –

found downstream below Chester, upstream

above Ruabon – to spawn in the shallow,

white waters of the river’s upper reaches.

But here the current flows tawny and deep –

past grazing dairy cattle – its banks choked

with sweet-smelling Himalayan Balsam.

On the Farndon side are Triassic cliffs

from when the earth had one continent.

Ancestral dinosaurs hunted here.


Richard Wilson, known, although born in Wales,

as ‘the father of English landscape painting’,

and acknowledged an influence by Turner

and Constable, has, of course, in part,

romanticised the scene. The middle distance –

the bridge, which a drover and his beasts

are crossing, still then with its gate tower

– the horizon – marked by the hills and mountains

of the Clwydian range – and the light

itself are the Welsh Marches to the life.

But the foreground seems more Campagna

than Cheshire – the side from which he has painted

the scene, from somewhere above the cliffs,

below which sheep graze and, on top of which,

are four figures, one female and three male,

framed by an Italianate-looking tree and bush.


Perhaps they are shepherds and a shepherdess.

Certainly, the youngest male is playing a flute.

But there is irony in this eclogue.

The older three are staring at the painter.

One, a staff or gun strapped to his back,

has climbed up the cliff to get a better look.

The remaining two are a rather portly

Daphnis and Chloë. The former lies prone,

his legs crossed at the ankles, one hand

propping up his head, the other holding

what appears to be a pair of sheep shears

or a broad-bladed knife. He seems affronted,

his mouth gaping. His Chloë – in a blue dress

and white smock, her legs tucked under her –

has one hand placed both possessively and

protectively across his back. She shields

with her other hand, her eyes from the sun,

to see more clearly what has caused her swain’s

self-righteous, tongue-tied rage.




© Copyright David Selzer
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