I have been on holiday in the Lake District – a place I haven’t visited for nearly twenty years. It is an environment that I don’t know very well and is about as different from the North Norfolk coastline as it possibly could be. We had fantastic weather – a rare occurrence for this mountainous area – and the views from the tops of the fells were staggeringly clear and far-reaching.
Even though it was dry practically all week (we had 20 minutes of rain, but that doesn’t count) there was water everywhere. It pools silently in clear, deep tarns and between rocks, and gushes with bubbling force down precipices and gullies. On the tops of the fells water is retained in boggy areas. Mossy, grassy vegetation acts like a sponge to soak it up until it can’t hold any more. As saturation point is reached it drains away to seep or tumble or plummet from the tops of the mountains down any conduit it can find to the bottom – gravity is always in evidence here. Walking is wet as you tramp across the tops or climb slowly and steadily up a rocky path that is more stream than walkway. Good, solid, waterproof boots are a must and Gortex is a wonderful invention.
Experiencing a new environment and then beginning to understand it takes a long time – for me it is the personal familiarity of a place and an empathetic comprehension of the changes that occur within it that lead me to make artworks. But small appreciations and ‘noticings’ of a new place bring some understanding. The elements – wind, water, air, land – are of course the same whether by the sea or on top of a mountain. Each is continually in motion and it is the way in which they interact with each other that creates a unique environment.
‘When the snows melt, when a cloud bursts, or rain teems out of the sky for days on end without intermission, then the burns come down in spate. The narrow channels cannot contain the water, which streams down the hillsides, tears deep grooves in the soil, rolls the boulders about, brawls, obliterates paths, floods burrow, swamps nests, uproots trees, finally reaching more level ground, becomes a moving sea…..the most appalling quality of water is its strength.’
Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain