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 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.

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