Scottish referendum: The view from the border

Image copyright Alan Knox

Anyone travelling overland across the border that divides Scotland and England would be hard-pressed to note where one begins and the other ends, though it was not always so - the remains of a large wall are testament to that. But whatever the outcome of the Scottish referendum on 18 September it will be just one more twist in the often violent history of the border region between the two countries. Scottish photographer Alan Knox has produced a fascinating piece of work, entitled Debatable Land, in which he explores the paths that run along and cross the border.

Here Alan Knox offers an insight into his timely project.

As Scotland seeks to question its relationship with the United Kingdom and Europe in 2014, my intention in photographing the core paths of the Anglo-Scots border was to represent them as ones which may be continually re-read in a political climate where regional sovereignty comes increasingly into conflict with European federalism.

The Debatable Land took me on a journey through the four border counties, encompassing numerous return trips over a period of six months. The overwhelming sensation I felt whilst photographing much of these remote border pathways was of a deafening silence. In September 2013, I had photographed the rally for independence in Edinburgh where the roar of the crowds echoed the excitement millions of people in Scotland feel at the prospect of independence.

Walking these rural ditches, rivers, B-roads and bridges, the eerie calm meant this debate sometimes felt like it was taking place in another world, yet it is these very roads which could come to mark the physical embodiment of the democratic will of the people. It was this sensation of silence I hoped to convey in my series, allowing the viewer to reflect on the memories of division and reunification these paths contain.

Image copyright Alan Knox

My journey was often shaped by advice from local residents on which path my project should take. One conversation with a long-time resident with great knowledge of Berwickshire led me to the Union Chain Suspension Bridge, the oldest working bridge of its kind in Europe. Originally built as a symbol of the strength of the union, it now lies in a state of disrepair and under threat of closure. Underneath the bridge, the morass of withered trees seemed to poignantly reflect the wider political climate.

Image copyright Alan Knox
Image caption Union Suspension Bridge

Tens of thousands of commuters cross the border every day for work. Fellow ramblers I met regularly delighted in letting me know I was walking with one foot in England and the other in Scotland. Others were eager to tell me of their unease that the road which lay at the end of their garden path could one day become an international boundary, such was the importance of these roads to their livelihoods. Doomsday predictions of border controls were not taken lightly. At no point did I meet anyone who stressed their identity as either English or Scottish, instead their identity appeared derived from an affinity with the people of the border regions and their shared history.

Image copyright Alan Knox
Image caption Horncliffe

In places, the border becomes increasingly inaccessible, even by foot. The harsh storms of late 2013 meant fallen trees often blocked the path which led directly to the border, leading to unexpected finds. Abandoned caravans in a disused quarry, tree trunks which had fallen as if to form a Saltire cross. At these locations the border could not be defined by a single, figurative line but by entire forests, mountain ranges, estuaries and rivers, expanding to form a liminal space which lies between both countries.

Image copyright Alan Knox
Image caption Newcastleton Forest
Image copyright Alan Knox
Image caption Caulside
Image copyright Alan Knox
Image caption Bailies' Burn
Image copyright Alan Knox
Image caption Coroner's Meadow
Image copyright Alan Knox
Image caption The Clappers
Image copyright Alan Knox
Image caption Newcastleton at Christmas
Image copyright Alan Knox
Image caption Marshall Meadows Bay

All photographs by Alan Knox, you can see more of his work on his website.