drawn this meander in my diary before. It's a perfect ox-bow in Coxley
Beck. The loudest sound here in the wood on this dull December afternoon
is the trickle of water.
I stopped on a bench a few yards away when I set out on my three day
Mist over Langsett walk just over a year ago. The sketch I drew
from the bench became the first drawing in my Sushi series of
I'd like to set off and walk again. I've an idea for doing a drawing
project closer to home in the valley but I have mixed feelings about it.
Today I just feel 100% that I would like to walk and walk and walk. I
guess I have a deep need to get away from the developer's theme park that
Wakefield has become. Would a subject that has hurt me so much give a
raw edge to my work? Stop me being too complacent and comfortable in my
drawing? Would those feelings add a layer of meaning to the drawing or
would they stop me seeing properly? I don't feel it's fair to burden a
drawing with a political or campaigning message - that seems to belittling
whatever it is that I'm looking for in my drawing - but I wouldn't want
to dodge it either.
Or should I go with the feeling that's drawing me on this afternoon and
accept how little I can achieve in trying to conserve what's left the
countryside I love and just wander, on and on, amongst the moors of the
Pennines and Peak District, where there are still wide spaces with a quality
of wildness about them?
On the Langsett walk I stopped here for my regulation 20 minute drink
of water (some good advice I'd read about walking) at 7.50 a.m.. It's
3.10 p.m. now. I take an drink and, not having a water brush with me,
blot the drawing with my fingers.
Stoneycliffe Wood, 3.25 p.m., 4°C
Part of this looks like a horse's head, part like an elbow carrying a
tray of drinks. The birch was probably bent by snow as a sapling. It's
over 30 feet tall.
Amongst fallen birch leaves by steps in the top wood, these wood
sorrel leaves make me think of shamrock and of spring, when their
white flowers appear.
Grazing and Grockling
rabbit dashes off across the field as I get to the foot of the inclined
plane (a former mining wagonway) near New Hall. A couple of miles from
home I feel as if I'm on the edge of another world: the sheep grazing
remind me of our leisurely 82 walk through the Dales last April.
The sheep are bleating reassuringly, the pheasants grockling in croctchety
Those dark firs on a ridge that the pheasants are in remind me of the
wilds of Northumbria. As I set off striding out again the sheep suddenly
notice me and they run off to join the rest of the flock.
The Light from the Stable
As I get to New Hall Farm the cattle are lowing, ducks are quacking,
geese are grazing, the farmer is loading huge rolls of straw onto a trailer
and there's a soft warm light over the bullocks in the barn which are
feeding on hay from a manger.
Perfect for Advent.
This dip reminds me of my travels when I was working on my Britain
sketchbook for Collins (1981). I remember working long days in quiet rolling
landscapes - for instance around Watership Down - then walking miles to
get back to my bed and breakfast but this quiet rolling landscape is just
15 or 20 minutes walk from home.
Mistiness blots out Netherton on top of the the far ridge, except for
the sparkle of a few street lights. An old forked, ivy-covered ash by
a gate behind me begs to be drawn. Perhaps another day. It reminds me
of what we've lost.
It might be 15 minutes to get home, if I wasn't tempted to stop and draw
this view looking back up the valley after I'd dipped down between the
cottages of Toad Hole and gone past the pheasant pens, lonely except for
the angrily pitiful barking of a dog that's been left in charge there
for the night.
By now I've found my water brush, amongst the pens in a back pocket of
my art bag, which makes converting my art pen drawing into a quick pen
and wash sketch a whole lot easier.
I was thinking how quiet it was half an hour ago. Now that darkness has
cloaked the wood and copses, it's far from quiet. As a man with a dog
and a mobile phone comes towards me a wave of pheasants bursts into grockling
alarm, filling the air with a noise that sounds a bit like someone trying
to start a car with the choke pulled out but also something like corks
popping. But it's so loud that it seems as if the pheasants are using
the sound system from a rock concert to broadcast their improvisations.
I don't see them flying, which adds to the eeriness of the cacophony.
There's a possible owl - a call that is more of a wail and I wonder if
I've heard the call of a fox.
While the pheasants do their best to dispel any sense of peace, the landscape
itself appears more harmonious, now every drop of colour has gone from
it and tangly masses of bare branches become simplified into looming bulks
of tone - like sleeping whales.
It really is getting too dark to draw, or even to see properly and I've
got some of the muddiest paths to negotiate as I come back past Coxley
Dam. Is this another man on a mobile phone ahead? No it's an isolated
All alone, and feeling blue
As I pass the house at the end of the lane a security spotlight bursts
into life. It's a welcome help to guide me alongside the muddy ruts and
I become aware of my shadow, 30 yards ahead of me on the track that rises
gently along the foot of Sun Wood. My woolly-hatted shadow is swinging
his arms and striding along like me but he doesn't seem to be getting
far. I wonder if I'll catch him up. Yes, he seems to be stuck at the edge
of the lane by the fence and I get nearer and nearer to him until he's
nothing but oblique hints of movement on the rails of the fence.
And then he's gone.
I know how he feels.
As a wildlife illustrator I always timed my trips into the wood to make
the most of the day's light but if you see the wood only by day you're
missing a lot of its atmosphere. As I struggle along a narrow bridleway
with a trenchlike rut worn by horses and subsequent erosion I'm using
my imagination and memory to pick my way along in the gloom.
By the time I'm back at the lower end of the wood the main light is the
fuzzy halo of yellowish sodium streetlighting seen between dark bare branches
of the trees. A stretch of the stream, dammed by a fallen willow log,
reflects the glow, opening up an unfamiliar space below me as I walk on
the steep bank alongside.
Compared with the warm light in the stable, this is more like Celtic
twilight; it reminds me of the way our ancestors saw certain pools as
a way into another world.
This frisson of other worldliness is soon dispelled when I emerge from
the bottom end of the wood onto our lane. Twinkling lights drip from gutters,
a giant red-nosed Santa's head smiles from a garage door and Philippa's
new inflatable snowman on her front lawn isn't quite fully inflated yet.
He's slumped slightly forward, his long carrot nose protruding from under
the brim of his hat and I could swear, from his woozy swaying that, although
it isn't five o'clock yet, he's already had a bit too much to drink.
Richard Bell, email@example.com