1. Bowness Moss on the Upper Solway Firth, 1868


Heat shimmers above the domed mass of moorland; the white puffs of cotton-grass hang limply amongst spiked yellow asphodel and the sticky crimson spoons of sundews; grasshoppers chirrup intermittently, and a dragonfly buzzes a lizard drowsing on the warm peat.

Half-a-mile to the North, the two ends of the new viaduct are striding on thin black legs towards each other, across the sea that glimmers between the English and Scottish shores. The whistle of a steam locomotive, and continuous clanging and hammering from the bridge, shake the still air.

Here, out on the Moss, the sweating navvies work silently, almost in unison, cutting into the peat, lifting the heavy, dripping spadefuls onto the banks. They wade in murky brown water, often skidding on the smooth cut surfaces, the wooden boards on their boots squelching at each step.

Lads chivvy horses that pull waggons, laden with sleepers and faggots, on temporary and uneven rails, and as the ditches lengthen each side of the future permanent way, water drains into them from the peat and flows towards the Firth like rivers.