Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Aspects of the Sunset

On Sunday the sun did its trick again. The paths and the forest were overcast by a gunmetal sky, tinted with the marbling one gets in December, of blues and greys. Then by the forest path that twists around the pines with the little lean to in the middle of all that vivid verdant moss, (the perfect setting for one of our stories), the battleship sky gave way to a thin strip of gold. It had happened before more than once. All the time, whenever on higher ground, the strip of light visible, now to the right, then to the left as the path turned. Sometimes out of sight behind a rise or trees, and then appearing again, steady. It deepened by the time we reached the challenge trail, or rather the Witches' Forest, all plunging stream bed down below into pitch blackness, followed by the Fairy Wood with its delicious pale greens (even now), and then the strip had gone pink, then copper, as we came to the Enchanted Forest, all mystery and splendour, all the way down to Tree Henge, the massive blasted monolith of a tree with its great arms reaching out to encompass, and huge fallen trees and moss covered logs, all dark and livid. The sky turned dazzling gold, as the sun finally lowered into the strip not covered by cloud. And I knew that I was too early - that the soul-uplifting incredulous shafts of copper that would light up the Forest giving to it the reason to call it truly Enchanted, was yet to come. That I would be gone by the time the dream-light came to that place.

And so it was - out of time, when the Sun came out of the cloud fully, I was at the Hawk Observatory. And here was a different view of the sunset altogether! From the intimacy of being inside a favourite painting, the privilege of being at the perfect moment inside one's favourite film, instead all around me were shades of pink and gold, and the copper light lit up the circle that forms the Observatory prominence - our shadows long in the heavenly dark orange light, and in the vales below - one on side where the sun had already set, a hundred shades of pale lilacs, blues, greens, fading into coming mist, and where the sun still lingered, the levels of the hills and the contours of the vales were all rose and peach and damask...the whole place, like the sunset in the Forest below was beyond description or compare.

Today, walking home, far beneath and miles away from the Haldons, but with them and even the Belvedere visible in the distance from some places and parks, there was the same strip of winter sunset - the same overcast sky with its tones of blue or pink just beginning, and the strip of yellow turning to gold. when the sun appeared, I could see that the sun would set on me long before it set on the Belvedere, and I watched that sunset as if in a film - here was the thin light over the city, cut away to the light in the sacred Forest, cut away to the full panorama at the Hawk viewpoint...three views of the same event, and I knew that it would soon be dyeing the Tower pink, and lighting up the dark interior of the wooded path...

Meanwhile it turned many grades of coral and cerise over the church tower and beyond the trees stark as ironwork...

Sunday, 14 November 2010

The Magic Paths

It was a dark day to begin with, and on the ridge there was a range of weather to be seen - in the centre of the panorama, between two hills, it looked as though volcano smoke was merging the land with the sky - somewhere far off, the rain was torrenting down...then the estuary was beaten silver, and the hills, woods and fields were deliciously clear towards the Sea...elsewhere the reds were starting to fade from the earth, the soil looking paler, and greenery was mixing with greys and purples of the trees who had lost their leaves.

Once the hills were part of the Haldon Estate - the Belvedere a focal point, the old pictures show it not surrounded by trees...was it a folly landscape? It was certainly partially constructed with artifice. And at some stage the Forestry Commission took over. In the nineteen eighties what came to be known as 'The Magic Path' sculpture trail was made and was wildly popular, and then fell into ruin and then legend. The hills were regulated with lines of Forestry Commission pines, yet wild all the same because the trackless woods and the stony roads, the mudbath 'paths' were only used by a few...And now building on the sculpture trail of the rebranded 'Forest Park' for leisure and tourism, are more and more trails. Some paths or parts of the original sculpture trail have been closed for some time, but recently, new paths have been opening all over the place. My initial thought (like many, being suspicious of change in a much loved landscape) was that there would be no woods left, if paths kept being made, especially ones parallel to one another! where one can see and hear anyone on the other path where they run alongside...But that was before I had ventured along them. Technically these new paths are cyclist's paths, but it's hard (having used the Forest when most of the time key parts of the track were ankle deep in mud, and there were only a few horse riders, green wellied folks training their gun dogs and the occasional dog walker) to feel that anywhere is off limits. I always get off the trail and keep an ear out for cyclists using these new 'adventure' trails, plunging into the mud or hanging onto a tree, to let them pass.
And some of those new paths! are not to be missed for worlds. Into a witchy wood of hanging darkness, thick black netted trees latticed together to make a thousand shadows as the land steeps away to the left. To the right, twisted trees and spectacular stumps of trees, and roots and a couple of weeks back, the fly agarics. After a dark walk where the clouds blocked out brightness and the damp woods dripped, and the brightness came from the flaming larch needles that carpeted parts of the floor...along the quieter path, the sun suddenly came out - exquisite golds shafted between the thick black branch-veils, lighting up a tree hung with hundreds of rain drops. Far below, electric green was visible - a long strip of moss was illuminated below by a shaft of light, framed perfectly by the tangles of black undergrowth and trees. Then there was light on the tops of trees that came into view, greens, remains of fiery golds...and at the juncture we crossed, to the newer part of the path that winds farther away, down from the Hawk Observatory on the hill above. And there the deep shadowed woods were alive with copper light, as ray after ray of late sun lit up the darkness like spotlights in a some dream of a sunlit sunset forest...some picture book fantasy of fairytale loveliness and nightmare intensity - a never-to-be-forgotten light that holiday brochures promise us, but really are simply a stunning moment captured by a good photographer with an expensive camera... The kind of scene you promise yourself will be yours one day when you have realised your dreams, and achieved what you set out to do...the light that seems like some symbol of beauty, success, romance, everything the heart desires...the dream light of nature in a state of perfection that could never improved upon, admired enough, nor wondered at too long or too often.
What, I wondered through the lush summer and the leafy part of Autumn, could be the use of winter? The early sunset in unearthly black forest answered me. Could any time but November have yielded quite such a surreal experience?

Later, at the Hawk viewpoint, the golden blaze of sun opened out against the gathering darkening grey, the view all glinting emeralds and blue slate, and to the right, misting blurring everything, the clarity and low sun about to be eclipsed - it was going to pour down! Down the Forest Lover's path, back to the Belvedere, and out into the last moments of rose gold and pink, before the rain came down. The Hills they did it again...perhaps these new paths are also 'magic'?

Friday, 22 October 2010

Cobwebs and Toadstools

Despite having been so hot and dry over the summer there are mushrooms in the Forest, and having seen a variety of fungi this last couple of weeks, at last, on the new bike trail (far too good to only be for cyclists!) running parallel to the main trail past the 'Fibonacci Spiral') there at last was a fly agaric, the size of a sideplate. It was upturned, like a blown out umbrella, a pale red with white dots around the edges. A treat, though nothing could ever compare with the most spectacular fly agarics of the Haldons (or anywhere that I've seen, although that same season boasted some amazing one at Virginia Water in Surrey too) just off the road that runs along the main ridge. They were the size of dinner plates, big, perfectly toadstool shaped mushrooms with large clear white dots on deep even red - the sort you'd see in a fantasy film or on a pantomime stage set or in plaster as a shop window display. Truly spectacular and unforgettable...But back to the current season. Just beyond the toadstool was the kind of reason for which the path was made. A huge black cavernous thing looking like a cross between a huge boulder and a small cave - all covered in moss and thick cobwebs - it was only on getting closer and the other side of it, that I saw what it was - a tree root system of a large uprooted tree which had fallen some time ago. It had created a small natural cave of dripping twisted tendrils and matted overgrowth in dark greens. In one way it was very grotesque, but in the old sense of the word - grotto-esque. Startling, sinister, spooky, especially in the swirling mist that made a sudden and sutumnal change from the bright blue and gold.
I was impressed when I thought of the rangers of whoever designed the trails, with their knowledge of the hidden paths more like animal tracks through the forest, and all the places between the paths, and then the idea that they could bear to share some of their secrets and build a new public trail beside some of their choicest architectural treasures. I can only thank them for such public spirited generosity! I sometimes venture off into the woods of course - but there is a lot of forest up there, and I'm often pushed for time, and have to get round a circuit in two hours and so, so hadn't done more than peer down toward that particular slope thinking 'at some point, I must...' Also, of course the old path before any of the sculpture trails was practically impassable in places when it had rained at all, so the memory of that also often keeps me to the made paths.
This new path however is truly a sensation!

(This blog post written was written nearer the 20th of Sept, but only posted in Oct.)

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Last Days of Summer

What a beautiful Summer it's been! And many visits to the Forest have been paid, but no blog entries as the Summer has simply been so busy. Each walk in the Haldons stolen and then on returning, it was time to pack to go off somewhere else, or catch up on neglected e-mails and admin.
Many times were spent rehearsing for shows, discussing plans, and therefore not completely giving oneself to the Forest. But today (though there are two more things that needed thinking about this week), I cleared my mind, and went around the paths often in silence, drinking in the greenery - slightly untidy for the first time since May! with the first fallen leaves, and the scents - still aromatic and smelling still of summer, but with a slight dampness telling of coming Autumn.
The Summer was intense and glorious, and many gigs meant going to allsorts of other places, but while there was no time to pay tribute in blog posts, I can testify that the Haldons kept their place and held up high when set against the staggering beauty of Shotover Hill above Oxford on the loveliest rose gold summer evening and twilight, Port Meadow with the sun setting on Oxford canal, the Thames at Laleham, ridiculously picturesque despite being so near the built up sprawl of London, all its houses and barges elegant and not ruining the views; and more appropriately, every hill with woods and a fine view encountered over the summer.
The previous time, just two days before, was the low golden light of a summer evening or an early Autumn late afternoon, a coppery light making the greens mellow and antique, rich and glinting like old wine in an old classic glass. The view from the ridge exact as a panoramic painting by Uccello. This time a cold night had edged the deep green with tiny rims of tawny - just some, but enough to scatter the paths.
That meditative quality returned, at last and it was so good to be a part of its great quiet.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The Den

An afternoon stolen again, away from festival work, between the Buddhafield (Sunday) 'festival stomach' (till this morning) and the Hatherleigh (tomorrow). Just time in the forest, absorbing the green, which STILL feels an intense treat after the long cold, dun and sere winter... Everything in full leaf, though the rhododendrons and the foxgloves that came after them are now well and truly over... The howling cold wind has gone from the Belvedere this last month or two, and the ferns have gone from unfolding fronds to towering shrubbery. Three deer were on the road today, the one that cuts the main sculpture trail in two. It's amazing how such large creatures disappear so quickly into the undergrowth, their legs like the shadows of small trees, and fur the colour of leaves in darkness.
The landscape was a mixture of green and yellow (as it had been dry for so long before the rain this last week), but much greener that it has been for the last month or more. The Den - the exquisite little 'Hansel and Gretel' house without a roof, made of solid oak on the path not far from the 'storytelling chair' has been moved from that now closed path, to 'the Hub' near the Gallery/cycle hire/cafe etc area. It's been given a tiled roof, which is a bit strange, and now is all 'civilized' with a path to it on a green and pot plants! instead of being a dark half wild thing, set in a dark clearing like a surprise. It looks more loved or cared for in a way, but less visited! More like a sculpture and less like somewhere one sits and finds and discovers and hides in... I think I preferred it in a more obscure setting, just coming across it. It came after the other sculptures (mainly made in Germany) and was made in Devon. It's a beautiful structure, made of delicious oak, smooth and solid to the touch, special to walk through like a long arch to another realm. Wonderful to sit in as though pretending it's a real house of fairytales (as many did when sited in its previous glade).
As ever, the hills cleared the mind of all the daily detritus, with their clear views of Moor on one side, and Sea on the other...

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Spring at Last

At long last the trees are coming into leaf in more than a nascent way - the sudden clouds of bright lime green made the Forest electric in parts, with a vital green fire. At the Hawk Observatory, the trees that spent the winter as burgundy or purple or claret, and finally a grey-brown, had come alive at last, and were peridot green. The stark beauty of the path to the Belvedere, where all the hills had been framed and foregrounded in an intense latticework of branches and graceful silhouettes of trees, like a canvas lashed and shot through with an overlayer of paint marks like cracks or threads, giving it a violence, was transformed by clouds of pale viridian... And everywhere the landscape was softened, all the harsh shapes and bleak colours becoming blurred at the edges, and richer in tone and shade.
The view from the Ridge seemed brighter, darker, clearer. The view from the Observatory even more so - so many more details visible in the clear air. Rather than greys or pale blues or olive greens, the hills were deeper sea blues, the greens more velvet, the purples in the hills not the branches.
It came - after the cold five months of winter - like a miracle. And I saw every flower and new flush of green with a wonder as if I hadn't seen many Springs before. No wonder they used to worship the Spring as a God.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Easter Fundraiser for CCANW

Over the weekend I was up in the Forest again, and at last there were some flowers - the red rhododendron-like tree on the path up toward the Belvedere - striking and extravagant in both height and colour. But still the land seemed sere and dun. To the perceptive eye, buds were visible on the trees, new green beginning here and there on the grass, but to me it still looked wintry and bare - as if real colour had yet to appear and flood the landscape with warmth, intensity and sudden variety.
The view from the ridge was so clear that it looked opaque at the edges, because some of the hills were so far off, and a layer of cloudy mist hung between the estuary and the hills beyond, looking like smoke squiggled onto the sky by a painter drawing a cartoon.

But I was also there to check some things with CCANW the gallery and the Ranger's Office, for a fundraiser which I and my co-performer are hosting in aid of CCANW next week, so it wasn't all losing oneself in the landscape. The performance is on Easter Monday - traditional marker of the change to Spring.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Message from the Trees

In the Haldons, through the light, now pale gold against a watercolour blue sky as Spring gets nearer, these words came to me - 'Don't bother searching for meaning - there are only two purposes in the world - one is to have fun, and the other is to be useful. They are all that matters.' By which was meant that to have fun is being happy, and to be useful is to help others achieve being happy and having fun - and that seemed to encompass everything that mattered, as to be an aid worker is to provide food and shelter and medicine to those whom you hope will again one day smile.

That's what the trees told me anyway.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Co-ordinates of a Metaphysical Map

The forest was looking majestic again despite the complete absence of leaves still, although some buds were visible. The snow on distant hills of Dartmoor looked like spilt paint on the land canvas, dripping downward toward the grey-blues of the hills without snow.
It struck me as I looked out at the ridge over the constantly transforming scape that part of why the forest is so special is because of its peculiar position. It looks one way to Dartmoor, and the high tors with their rocky stacks, and all the treasures both hidden and evident. Yet to the south it looks to the estuary and to the Sea, to another ceaselessly shimmeringly changeable placeless place - Exmouth beach and cliffs, the sensational coastal path running before, through and beyond them. And yet above on the hill, stands the Belvedere. From many parts of Exeter lying in the dale below, that tower itself is visible. And so in some way, more than geographical or topographical, the Forest lies at the heart of the landscape, connecting these powerful places that pull so many toward them in a way that seems almost spiritual in a Kandinsky-like sense. As if it was the centre of a soul compass where the arrow or gnomon has its turning point, where it can point in any of the key directions. Or am I waxing too lyrical? Yet whether swinging on the hammock looking up at the sky, or hypnotized by the views or lost in some storybook of a wooded path, the Forest exerts its power.

Even when rehearsing for a performance or going through a workshop plan, the Forest startles you. Today it was the green sky that lay between the wine fields, the dark mint woods, the watery blue hills and the navy-grey clouds. The turquoise horizon so un-blue that it was instead the lime green one sees in paintings...

Friday, 19 February 2010

Quality of Light 2

This time however, the daylight was peach - as the unexpected sun lit up the emeralds of the moss, and tinted the path and tall trees with a roseate softness. The path as soon as one gets off the main quarry-like road (FC track used for logging), and the hill winds upwards, it's the Forest Lover's Path, a fantasy of soaring trees that no photograph (not even those by the wonderful professional photographers who take it) seems able to capture. In mist it looks like a film set, in summer like a painting, and an awful lot of the time, simply like some kind of dream. It had been chilly, so I wasn't expecting peach. Nearing the rhododendron tunnel (an extraordinary feature, and one which used to be feral! but is now managed and sometimes cut back, since the paths became made up and 'all weather'), the trees turned out some purple to blend with the peach into that orange/purple light that always so amazes me (and is more often to be seen on horizons or high in the sky, that in sudden moments on an enclosed path).
On the ridge, the view fell away into valley after dale after range of hills, to a glassy estuary, all burnished like a mirror - it turned in swathes from silver to gunmetal to pewter to silver again, and what was remarkable was that the clouds above did the same. They hung like vast curtains above the estuary, and shimmered silver to pewter to grey to silver again. I often say I've never the view like that before, but it does change continually. Just as the beach at Exmouth, due to the tide, the sands, the weather, is almost never the same twice, so the view from the ridge changes with the seasons and the weather in a way that sometimes leaves me surprised still to recognize familiar landmarks. It is so absolutely transformed by light, mist, shadow, and cloud. The hills can look much higher some days, on others you can see many more ranges of hills...sometimes the ploughed fields are electric in their ruby red, sometimes the forests shine green, more often a shade of blue...and in its entirety, the view is both not to be fathomed even with video, and is frequently frankly beyond any comprehensive or explanatory description. This time on the farthest hills was snow, which looked like icing above the lower hills before them which had none.

Even the Belvedere changes from snow white to ivory to cream to bone...to cotton wool-edged in mist, and from spectral nightmare to summer picnic fantasy to fairytale picturebook to a dream of some other reality to a symbolic aspect too intense to speak of freely...Not including of course its actual identities as historical building, tourist attraction, folly, viewpoint etc..

On the 'Adventure Cycle Trail', the sky turned dark - gone was the delicious sunshine. I had seen on a hill behind, a dark cloud looking like rain, and wondered if it would come our way. It did, as the cathedral of straight black pines in a long straight path came over even blacker, and white confetti fell from the sky. But it was hail, a light hail, though enough to be a mild blizzard. Kindly, the air was too warm for it to remain hail, and also kindly, being hail, it bounced off coats and so didn't make one wet. To travel through the white on black woods was a privilege of its own, and by the turn in the track where it goes to another view, it had stopped, and the sun had again graced the forest. Mind-blowing.

Later on the side of the trail after the hammock - what bliss it is to lie there staring at the sky, always thinking that much more time should be spent lying there or on grass in a favourite field under favourite trees, staring up at the sky...after that the light went silver - this time I knew it must be the trees that were mostly responsible. It was a beautifully Victorian antique silver with a hint of gilt. Pure elegance to set off the delicate filigree of the lattice-branched trees...

Qualities of Light 1

Earlier in the month, there was an intense light that can only be described as burgundy - the locus of it was at the Hawk Observatory point, where the land falls away in folds of trees, bare in the season of darkness, but with clouds of wine red coming from them. Painterly and Medieval tapestry-like, they glowed dark jewel red, and much of the path on that side of the trail also glowed with the red quality - despite the fact that the sky was gunmetal grey and many of the taller trees were silver. When I asked the painter - how would one go about depicting that burgundy light? he said maybe painting the whole canvas red first, and then painting the colours of the grey cloud and mahogany trees over it...yes, I could see that.

There were some trees on the path above the escarpment, the bark was peeling and the sun lit up the silhouettes of the trees a crimson amber. Haloes of the trees - a remarkable effect and not one I'd seen there before.

The next time it was the hills by the gate down from the Belvedere - the landscape was like so many dreams I have had - a Tolkienesque supernatural quality, the dark blues of the hills or patches of forest, the darkening sky like the threat once (in 'The Lord of the Rings') they leave the Shire for a road with who knows what about to descend. And every distant hill seems to speak of Weathertop.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

'Art, Ecology and Economy' Exhibition

How amazing. A Haldon blog I kind of half pictured would be about the trees and the weather, the hallucinogenic qualities of the Forest and the Hill...but sometimes one finds something else altogether on the Haldon Hills...
I was waxing lyrical about the reflections visible on the estuary miles off, as the day was so clear and the tide must have been in far away, and had just finished the 'adventure cycle trail' part of my route, when we saw and remembered that CCANW the art gallery had it's new exhibition opening. It was packed! as it often is, but we peeped round the door, and there was just enough room for a couple more, and as the wonderful wood artist who has such an excellent range of photography art cards, Sean Hellman was part of it, of course I went in. The exhibition 'Art, Ecology & the Economy' showcases some of the sustainable applied arts - from musical instruments fashioned from wood to felt and wool goods from local sheep to beautiful bird mobiles - allsorts of wonderful things made from resources found in the landscape by the creative industries (artists) and made sustainably, with reference to care for the environment. A fine idea, and one very much in tune with the ethos of the Collective (see weblinks to the right) I belong to. Which is all about making useful things from locally sourced (and in our case recycled) materials, showing people that they can have many quality goods that don't have to have a massively complex production process involving being shipped miles and undergoing polluting manufacturing processes. Environmental arts and crafts that are actually a serious engagement with making things people want without trashing the countryside, not 'just a load of treehuggers' or things that are only good for souvenirs. And that's part of what this exhibition was about, so I was doubly interested.

I was just buying some Sean Hellman cards (as I had meant to keep the ones I bought before, but people's birthdays etc. had got in the way!), when to my delight and surprise, I saw someone I hadn't seen for some time, and had lost touch with - a friend who had given me a big break some time ago, and also was inspirational and supportive in the founding of Spoken/Written Bulletin S.W.! (see weblinks). I could hardly believe it - we greeted each other like the long-losts which we were, and swapped news, and told one another how well the other looked - I was so pleased and so amazed. Imagine you have liked someone, been grateful to them, then for various good reasons, they have dropped out of the scenes in which you have been acting - you haven't heard about them, but have been wishing them well, hoping they were alright - and then out of the blue, there they are, looking well and being full of life. We had both had an experience since we had last met of the life-changing variety, and knew what the other meant by it, and that too bound us up in those moments where we hardly saw what was around us, but only focussed on catching up, on renewal. It was marvellous.
After we parted, I went around the rest of the trail dazed...unexpected marvels at the Haldons in a different way...

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Secrets of the Forest

I think of the friends who I have brought here to share this path and the friends who I have not. Mel looking with a willow artist's eye at the shelters, Jo with his wood artist's eye appraising the sculptures, both always thinking of what and how they would do things differently, admiring and mentally augmenting in turn, imagining how they would have done it...Si through a wasted landscape after it had been cleared looking like the moon...and others.
The light is again looking the colour of pale copper summerlight, but it seems misplaced amongst the dark browns, rusts, intense mahoganies and darknesses of the winter forest. The beautiful tiles that remain are all broken. Those tiles! On the path off the ridge with the view that extends for miles, to the sea and all hills of distant counties...on that path, between the arched seats like upturned boat or a whale's ribcage (where we storytellers once finished a storytelling walk with the end of an abridged Epic of Gilgamesh) and the sculpture of a giant hanging xylophone-like structure, just off the path - were the tiles...Beautiful and striking, and (bizarrely, but the magic of this forest IS just that - inexplicable), despite being wholly artifice, they fitted exactly with the Haldon spirit once uncovered.

Before that, the path went under the arched seat and then wound about in a pretty story-book coil into the distance and beside a stream until it turned to both the giant rattle sculpture (now elsewhere) and the lovely keyboard xylophone (probably my favourite noise of the musical sculptures, the permanent ones along the trails organized by the Forestry Commission) - before finally meeting with the flat broad bridlepath/quarry-esque road. But then, lovely as that path was, with a fabulous tree all black and twisted and a genuine 'moment' in its own right to the left, and all the bracken and reeds' oranges in Autumn, the constant interest in the ever-changing stream, muddy or flowing, high or a trickle...the rise and then fall of the twining path...the stumps and silver birches that were characteristic of that path alone...it was closed. Closing a path currently means making it into a ribbon of gravel ridges, and shutting it off with a hurdle fence or other impediment. And so the sculptures were moved, and a new path was made.

The new path - in place of skirting heathland and being open, runs through dark trees in Narnian woodland, and the twists and turns come from another storybook tale. On the right before the pipe-like sculpture and after the hanging 'mask', was uncovered and made visible, just in the earth, exquisite octagonal tiles, terracotta colour, fitted together in a classic pattern interlocked by small square tiles of the same material. At first (last year) the section of some old path (from the fantasy of a folly landscape mentioned in a previous blog) made from them was to be seen. What delight! How charmed it was to find this fragment of a castle forecourt in the enchanted forest! Or so fancy made it seem. Heavy and well made, a magic path paved its way randomly through the forest, found only by the making of another different kind of path...all overhung by trees. For a short while I just enjoyed them, thinking of what else must once have been there, of why the original path had been built, of 'The Beginner's Way' (also called the Magic Path, much talked of but of which little remains, built years ago by the first? public art commissioned artist of the Hills, Jamie McCullough) and whether he had found and been inspired by them?
Then some were taken from the earth, piled up anyhow. And then they began to disappear. If I had thought it was the FC, taking them to restore them or to remake what there had been of the unexpected found court or whatever it was, then that would have been fine...but it didn't look like that. The path came into worse and worse disrepair - from looking like something just uncovered, but otherwise untouched and preserved, it came to look like a building site - the path prised open, stacked, and worst of all, broken. It was hateful, (and probably just as well I wasn't writing this blog then), as all the order and beauty was sacked. I don't know whether by policy or if it was simply raided by vandals or antique dealers. (The picture above is from last July when it was recently uncovered.)
Now only broken tiles remain, no good to anyone, just an echo to show how it must have and did once look.

What was their history? Why were they there, to what did they lead or of what were they a part? What parties were held by them or over them? What merry words spoken? I point out where they were to those I bring here.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Precursor of Spring

A stolen day, taken swiftly from the jaws of needs-must. The light this time was of a surrealist painting in Italian sun. The slanting sunlight shafted through the pines like lasers, and the moss greens still vivid looked as inviting as velvet cushions in Nature-the-stylist's corridors otherwise known as paths.
On the ridge, the fog rolled in from the Sea along the estuary, the patchwork of fields and woods, hills and perspectives was lit up and darkened according to the cloud, some in sun, some in shadow, the fields alternately green or dark blue. The fog beyond took on the shape of the hill it had just been on, and made the landscape higher, grander, as I have seen it do before.
Once the fog lifted so high and in so many places taking the hills as models, that the view toward Exmouth and the Blackdown Hills was transformed into a mountainous realm, of gentle drama - a rugged terrain yet with the watercolour light of shadow and slate blues.
Pre-occupied with serious work-related concerns, still the light through the trees went through me like a cleansing arrow of clear-mindedness, and the fog and rolling mists beyond, the sheet in the distance between wood below and hilltop above floating like a flying carpet...layered my consciousness with that meditative quality which the Haldons so often exercise. What is this place? Hardly another soul there, what is it's strange power? I could not deny its call.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

The Thaw

Having been up to Dartmoor the day before, it meant that one knew that the ice and snow must have melted at last. As last year, Telegraph Hill had been closed, the road that leads to the Haldon Hills from the east.
Up on Dartmoor, the landscape had been monochrome, and the roads turning to streams with borders of slush, as the suddenness of 7 degrees hit the frozen tors and moor. Around Widecombe there had been a shifting mist, sometimes turning to fog as huge amounts of melt water evaporated into the air. Stopping at Haytor Rock, on the way it been snowy, on the way back, huge patches of green showed new streams everywhere. The sheer amount of water meant that surely it would be sinking mud? No, the ground was hard, as if still frozen solid. Walking up the hill merely meant avoiding the many streams. At the top, as there was everywhere, a swathe of snow remained. It was untouched in many places, truly deep and crisp! and with a backdrop of the stone cliff. It was definitely snowball time! The crystal pure snow making wonderful instant compacted shapes. The fog lifted and drifted, darkening, and incredibly, within half an hour, the ground that had been firm turned to the mush that one had thought that much water should do. Boots splashed at every seemingly green patch of ground, and began to sink, where before they had not.

Up on Haldon ridge, it had melted almost entirely. The heaps of dirty snow were just where it had been piled to clear the roads. The paths were muddy, naturally, the adventure trail more of a stream, but the light was like a photographic studio. At a heady 10 degrees celsius, the Forest felt positively balmy in comparison to the previous wintry conditions, and many of the trees were livid green with mosses. Single dew drops hung from delicate branches in the thaw, and some of the barks of the thinner trees and saplings felt so mouldy and damp that they would imprint to the touch. They were shedding bark from the frosts, renewing themselves, perhaps?
Many of the most picturesque twists of roots and apoplectically writhen stumps were backlit with a soft dark light, their viridian greens sharply contrasting the with dark greys and browns and rusts of the January forest hollows. On the ridge, so much water vapour came off the pines that they looked as if they were smoking with a chill damp fire. The mist after thaw again.

On the path off the ridge that joins with the bridle path again, past the part where broken tiles (many tales of those!) lie recalling that lost folly landscape (that I have a fantasy was there), was a tiny palisade fence made of thin logs to the right. I went over to it - and it marked the top of a steep dip. Below in a beautiful shallow bowl of the forest, was an exquisite electric green tree, short, with its bare arms open in the shape of a many-fingered hand. There it was, the centre of a small fort, the ramparts defended with logs, the drawbridge the little palisade. A new feature - one of the amazing things about the Haldon Hills is not that they change so dramatically with light and shade, season, weather, time of day, but that there is always some new feature to be seen, whether by nature, an arts project connected to the Gallery, CCANW, or the Forestry Commission or - well, who knows? On one tree on the same path, there's a piece of bark hung up - which looks, whether by chance or design, exactly like a mask.

And then the day darkened - the cloud had come over the hill at last, and it began to spit a light rain. Back just in time before the heavier rains began...

Saturday, 2 January 2010

New Year's Day on the Hills

Yesterday, (being New Year's Day), the Haldons called again. Up we went, encountering a little ice only at the turn to the bottom ridge...and then on the track the ground was frozen rather than icy. The forest - ever surprising, had kept some chill out and the paths were mainly just muddy save where some stretches of shallow water had turned to ice, or there was frost on parts of the forest floor that flanked the paths.
The light was extraordinary, long slanting golden light like a summer evening. And being a crystal blue sky with such a sun, and the day that it was, there were plenty of people on the trails.

How different to last New Year's Day! When one almost had second thoughts...but went anyway, to see. The mist was thick, and there were no panoramic views to be had, but the whole forest was hung with an exquisite hoar frost. The paths were all clear of snow or ice, but the entire place was a winter wonderland, all delicate silvers and grays, an infinite lace filigree to wander through. The mist was all sudden shadows and breathy veils - plumes of steam seemed to rise from some pines below the main ridge. The ground was covered in icing, the woods all cake and chiffon. The clear rime glimmered like a thousand diamonds even in the subdued light of the shrouds of low cloud. And there was almost no one else there. As ever, it was completely transformed, the special effects of another season. Full of unexpected moments, and of dazzling beauty.

That was last day of the electric ex-Finnish postal van - left stranded partway between hill and somewhere warm! The rescue van came at last in the fading light as the temperature dropped to below freezing, and one was just beginning to think it would never arrive. When the snow came, Telegraph Hill (the road that leads to the Haldons) was completely blocked. And the wait was on to find another van...hopefully one that worked!