Archive | April, 2013

Aughertree Fell and pencils, Cumbria,

16 Apr


Zena Kamash kindly sent me directions to a site at Aughertree , near Ireby in Cumbria, where there are Bronze age and  Roman settlements at the centre of an extensive field system. I was staying near by ,with some old friends and thought I could try and draw these , if the weather was kind..

When looking at the map , it was not clear to me which was the best way to approach the site. I found out later that the settlements were on uncultivated common lands , but not realising this at the time , I found myself walking up a long drive towards a farmhouse surrounded by trees that seemed to be the closest approach. As I got close, a little nervous, feeling that I had better introduce myself, in case the settlements where on farm owned land ,I noted that the farm house looked a bit dark with drawn curtains. The bungalow next door had , however , a car parked outside it . After a knock at the door , I waited, heard a low rumble , then the door opened , I felt  a blast of central heating and a dark haired man , with a pale face looked at me. Explaining that I wanted to draw the settlements, he said , a little startled , that he didnt see it would do any harm, to just climb over the gate, but he had never been there himself.

Slightly puzzled by this , as I walked up the hill behind the bungalow, I was thinking how similar to a human cry sheep sound like at times, when I realised that what I was hearing was a human voice , shouting urgently.  A female figure was waving at me, down below by the gate. It turned out to be a very friendly farmer , who was worried I was going in the wrong direction, and redirected me. She said that very occasionally , an archaeologist comes by , but no one much else, then she added slowly, that she sometimes sits on her hill and looks down, thinking how strange it is, that people have always worked the land , like her. The man in the bungalow was a tenant, who had rung her immediately ,evidently.


I drew on two separate days, with a view of the farm in the background, the threat of the rain making me work as hard as my hands would allow, it seems impossible to wear gloves and draw. An extraordinary landscape, shapes , patterns emerging as the light changed. Never enough time.

On our way down south, we stopped in Keswick and visited the Derwent pencil Museum, I was intrigued that, according to the museum : the first ever graphite was discovered in the Seathwaite Valley, Borrowdale near Keswick , around 1500 AD. The story goes ,that after a violent storm, shepherds went out to see their sheep in the morning and found a number of trees blown down, revealing dark material in the subsoil. At first, they thought it was coal, but it would not burn, but they then found it to be excellent material for marking sheep.

The simple pencil ( and paper ) that I have chosen to be the way to ‘record England’ , as part of the EnglaID landscape project actually seems to have originated in the land itself, and conveniently in Zena Kamash’s case study area.

Graphite , again as described in the museum’s literature , was first wrapped in sheepskin, it was then the Italian’s who developed a wooden holder. I was reminded how sheep have played another part in writing and drawing when I thought of a trip to the Bodleian library with Lesley Smith , a senior tutor in Politics at Harris Manchester College at Oxford University . She kindly showed me exquisite ,early hand written and drawn vellum bibles, pointing out small holes , neatly sewn by monks, which had been made by summer ticks eating their way through the sheep hide , on an otherwise perfect smooth surface. I was amused to think that a flock of sheep had turned into a bible, which in turn described sheep and shepherds . Maybe there are similarities with the graphite , that makes the pencil , that in turn describes the land from which the dark rock came .

ImageOne more fact learnt from the museum, the HB degrees on a pencil stand for H : hard and B : black , ( why not soft ?but it does sound better) ,H has more clay mixed into the graphite, HB is not a standardized degree, so different pencils will mark in their own way.