I saw a rainbow from the cliff tops today. A big, full arc of intense colour. One end was out at sea and the other dropped down in front of St Agnes Beacon, disappearing into the undergrowth. Why do we say there’ll be a pot of gold at the end? Surely it’s obvious the rainbow itself is the treasure?
Katie and I stood transfixed. “Like a child’s drawing”, she said.
I was a teenager when I came to the realisation that if I wanted to do something badly enough I’d better get used to doing it on my own: not everybody likes what I like and people don’t always want to join you if they do. It’s hard when you’re painfully shy as I was to put yourself out there, but I figured if I didn’t I’d have no fun at all. And no one to blame but myself. So I’ve ended up doing a lot of things on my own over the years; going to the cinema or the theatre, going for a meal, joining a class, or my running club…
Please don’t talk to me when I’ve just woken up. Actually, probably best to leave it for an hour and a half. Do not request a hair cut, even if it is “just a quick one”; don’t ask “have you got 80p in your bank account? There’s this Sonic the Hedgehog app I’d like”; please don’t request my help to decide how you can best waste £50 to make your new xbox controller work on your pc; in fact, just stop asking me anything. All I can hear is noise, and I really don’t like noise when I’ve just woken up.
“Why are you still in your pyjamas? I was planning on a long walk today, how am I going to do that now, if you’re not ready to leave? You were supposed to be meeting your friends at 11, it’s almost midday.” “What time do you want picking up? 4 o’clock? Well, that’s not gonna happen, I’m going to the Roseland for a walk, I told you.” And so it goes on…
I pull into the lay-by at Wrinkling Lane (don’t you love that name?) near Trelissick
Good concentration is still eluding me at the moment. How do you manage to focus when the creative things you usually do take time and thought? Do you have a strategy?
Mine is to do something physical, raise the heart rate (considerably) with a speed walk, a run or a bike ride (although I haven’t been motivated to get my bike out of the shed for the last couple of weeks…) and that seems to help for a short while afterwards. I’m also focussing on purposely small creative projects like these landscape sketches and the ones below. If I can produce a drawing that I can finish in an hour or so I feel like I’ve achieved something; working on bigger pieces, or ideas that take a lot of clear thinking leave me feeling frustrated and down, so my policy has been to put them on the back burner for a while.
I’ve been thinking a lot about walking lately (thinking as well as doing!) and most of the few sketches I’ve done have been made in a book when I’ve been out locally. This lonely hill, St Agnes Beacon, seems to be constantly in my line of sight! It’s not a large hill, but it’s distinctive and one that I’ve run, walked and biked over. From the top there’s a 360 degree view of the coast and countryside: dramatic cliffs and distant headlands, wind farms, villages, small networks of fields edged with stone hedges and stubby windswept trees. It feels raw, exposed. A tiny bit of wildness. I feel constantly drawn to it (no pun intended!).
Another piece of inspiring wildness near home is on a section of the South West Coast Path towards Perranporth. Cligga Head is a spectacular granite outcrop. Vast sheets of rock look like they’ve been snapped, leaving shards rising from the sea 90m below. The area is rich in rare minerals and the cliffs are riddled with mining tunnels; tungsten was mined as recently as the second world war. A quarry on the cliff edge breaks open the rock to reveal intricate folds and layering: you can literally see what ‘molten‘ means. But what draws me most to both these places lately are the colours.
The Beacon is swathed in heather and gorse, a deep vibrant purple and acid yellow when it’s in bloom, fantastic earthy burnt siennas once the flowers have died back. The colour on Cligga Head is jaw dropping. Iron has stained the cliffs a pinkish blood red; the colour seems to drip, ooze from the rock as though someone had been over it with an over-laden paint brush, full of watery alizarin paint. Next to it are rich, deep yellow ochres that I haven’t seen anywhere else except Peru. There are cliffs that are soft white, pale grey, pitted and knobbly. Some rocks are scarred with green copper and the layers of bright lush green moss, lichen and pink thrift are settled on them all. It’s a dynamic palette laid out before me and I can’t get enough of it – and frustratingly the palette of soft chalky pastels I have can’t be made to capture what I can see! Neither does the sketch for that matter – I plan to go back and do some more soon. (When I did this one my hands got too cold, despite wearing gloves, and guess what… I lost concentration!)
Maybe I’ll go back tomorrow; I want to go for a longish walk of 12 miles or so, but haven’t planned where yet. How about you, what will you be doing this Easter Sunday? Apart from eating chocolate! Hope you have a lovely day.
Last night I slept in the open. No companion, no shelter, just me, my sleeping bag and a book (Macfarlane’s The Wild Places) on top of a hill overlooking the sea.
Before the sun went down I wandered along the coast and made a few pastel sketches of St Agnes Beacon, the hill I slept on. They’re rudimentary; my hands began to get too cold too quickly, so I packed up and headed up the hill to watch the sunset unfurl over the sea, before I snuggled down inside my sleeping bag to read by torchlight.
As I flipped through the sketchbook this morning I realised I’d picked up an old one. A very old one. One of the earliest sketches was from 1996:
Still looking at telegraph poles 18 years later. Curious.
I’ve been walking a fair bit of late, around 30 miles a week or so over 4 or 5 days; I keep asking myself why I’m doing it. I feel like I’m looking for something but I don’t know what. Answers maybe? But to what questions. I know that for me walking’s a time to notice things, like today as I was walking down a steep grassy hill in the finest mizzle. I was looking at my feet, transfixed as the water saturating the grass flung from my shoes in a silvery spray with each forward step. It seemed like something and nothing
I’m on one at the moment. As in right now, this very moment. I could talk shit for England. An hour ago I could have cut my arms in despairing loneliness and hopelessness. An hour before that I was on a massive high after a short trail run. Then it just hit me, a punch in the stomach to remind me and bring me down to the floor where I belong. I feel a painful absence, a strong sense of someone missing, like I’ve been cut loose but I don’t know why. I ask myself what I did, or do wrong and I can’t find the answer.
I can’t sleep, even though I know I should try. What’s the point, I’ll just lie here fidgeting, sighing, face wet with tears staring at the ceiling. Actually, fidgeting doesn’t really describe it. Throwing myself around in deep frustration is more like it. So here I am, thinking about crap and letting it flow through my fingertips. I’m trying to ‘censor’ myself, tidy up my thoughts by writing; but there’s a lot of shit in my head tonight that no-one wants to hear about – forgive me if I don’t make sense. I’m sure I don’t. I hardly know myself what I’m on about. I’ll change the subject.
I’m reading books about walking at the moment. Well they’re not really about walking in the usual sense, more like walking as a vehicle for something else. Long distance walking. They thread stories of who we are through the landscape, connect us with the past through geology and archaeology. With each step the walker seems to find a connection, a root growing from the past to the present. It’s interesting to see where that root comes up to the surface. Every one comes up somewhere different. I’m not just enjoying these books, I’m learning. I think that’s the interesting part. I know so little about the archaeological features that shape the landscape I feel like I’m missing out. I look at rock formations and I think about how I could use them as metaphor – but I don’t know anything about the geology that caused them. I look around me with the eyes of an artist, and not a landscape artist at that. My work has always been about relationships at the root: I look at the landscape as a way to understand relationships. Sounds weird, and like something that needs some unravelling. Or investigation. Or is one the same as the other?
I have a new project brewing, but I want to write something rather than make something visual. Well at the moment. And there, I’ve said it, it’s out in the open. I want to write. And not crap like this.
The wind’s getting up. I feel a little calmer. Sleepy. Maybe I’ll fidget less if I try to sleep now. I’ve got to be awake again in 5 hours. I wonder what it would feel like to sleep with someone curled round me for 5 hours. I used to love that feeling of security, touch, warmth. I just listen to the wind now. Goodnight.
I think of my footsteps in yours sinking in the sands one becoming another
We’re on to a new map, but my map of the area is holed and creased with the ink thumbed away to nothing in places. It’s been just a few weeks since I was last here, a beach stomp at Godrevy before the storms. It didn’t have the purpose of this walk and the further west we get on this particular mission the more excited I become. I’ve lived here 30 years, it goes to say I’ve walked significant parts of the coastline in that time
Sea water and rain pool on the rocks like spilt milk, reflecting the white misty glaze that washes the sky. Miles of sand floats on beyond the horizon, the clear edge of the land invisible, caught under thick, tumbling clouds. We watch the sunlight break through in silence. It creates a shifting tracery across the sand reminding me of light falling through high stained-glass windows onto the stone floor of a mediaeval cathedral.