A lot of it will be wrong, but just enough of it will be right

oil pastel plein air sketch, Skye sunset

A6 sketchbook plein air drawing in oil pastels, sunset over Loch Pooltiel

So much has happened I haven’t had time to write. I’ve been ill, in hospital, had surgery. All new things. My sister died today. Lots of difficult things, incompatible with a cool head needed to paint. I’ve been to Skye again and, mustering everything, managed to make some scrimpy plein air sketches. That was just after the last time I saw my sister. One of the sketches must become a larger painting. I hope it will work.

plein air sketch in oil pastel, A6 sketchbook, Skye evening

oil pastel sketch of Loch Pooltiel, early evening, plein air, A6 sketchbook

The river god is gone. The stream flowing through the rocks is unimpeded. Summer is over. There is deep snow up on the hill where I sat and painted in the summer evening air. Even then, the sky held melancholy feelings. Now those feelings linger in the pale blue over the distant peaks with their blank coverings.

plein air [ainting, Howgills, 9x12 inches

on the ridge near Crosdale, Howgills, summer evening, plein air painting, oil on canvas, 9×12 inches

The moon tonight deserved a painting. It sailed diagonally across golden waves of cloud, a huge yellow boat. Maybe my sister was sailing there, away from the thick frost and up into starlight. Perhaps this afternoon’s sunset was hers. It looked like an Edvard Munch painting, one where the sun’s globe had a path of white light beneath it so it resembled a figure, standing against glowing pink and orange.

The second tree and the river daemon

Settlebeck Gill view with rocks

at the start of the Gill walk, looking back down

Summer heat sent us to explore the river that runs, sometimes hidden, down a cleft in the fell. Walkers tend to take the top route that only occasionally overlooks our watery path and this means that, once we leave the fell wall behind, Tilly and I usually have the stream all to ourselves.

Welsh Springer Spaniel

walking companion

We always visit the first tree, a sycamore, that bears the scars of dozens of names. People obviously walk as far as this on summer days and then carve its trunk, which seems quite cruel. We never see them though, so hope that the tree spends most of its days unscathed.

sycamore tree in Settlebeck Gill

we reach the first tree

A lovely pool lies beneath the tree, dappled with sunlight. Tilly likes to wallow in it and I took her photo, only to see what looks like a second spaniel in the water. A trick of the light – but I’m not surprised because the whole of this place has a mysterious atmosphere. It would be quite in keeping to suddenly catch sight of a gnome peering through some ferns although, probably luckily for me, this hasn’t happened yet.

dog in pool with rocks and grass

the pool under the tree – but is there one dog or two?

After saying farewell to the first tree we follow the river upstream.

view of hills and tree

leaving the first tree behind us we climb higher

And the second tree appears.

tree, gorse, hills and sheep

the second tree appears inside its rocky cleft

In keeping with the mysterious theme you may notice something in the entrance to the rocky cleft, which I fancifully imagine as an almost-grotto, with the tree forming a kind of roof. It’s a vague shape that resembles a seated figure with lots of hair.

river, rocky cleft and tree

the entrance to the ‘grotto’ with the second tree

As you get nearer you see the river itself has assembled wood and hay to create this sculpted form, a seated ‘river god’.

river sculpture, figure

the river sculpted its own ‘god’ guarding the entrance to the ‘grotto’

river sculpture, wood and grass

a closer look at the grotto’s guardian

The river god seems quite benign so Tilly sunbathes, paddles and digs while I sketch.

sketching location

here I sat and sketched

I try to capture the direction and energy of the various forms in the landscape.

movement in a landscape, oil pastel sketch

first sketch of the ‘grotto’ in oil pastel, A6 sketchbook – trying to capture the movement

We scurry back down after a while when storm clouds begin to gather.

Settlebeck Gill stormy day

storm clouds gathering on the horizon – looking down the Gill

Returning to the same spot a few days later there has been a change.

river daemon sitting in front of waterfall

the ‘grotto’ seems to have a new guardian

I couldn’t resist altering the river’s sculpture.

river god sculpture sititng in ravine

looking down into the ravine at the river god

Maybe the gods were not amused because, while we were there, some rather strange signs appeared in the sky.

feather cloud and hill view

a giant feather floats across the sky, accompanied by other peculiarly shaped clouds

feather and egg clouds

more unusual clouds, this time resembling fried eggs, and their feathered friend

I sketched on regardless.

oil pastel sketch en plein air, semi-abstract

second sketch of the ‘grotto’, oil pastel in A6 sketchbook

Then we left, after one last look at the grotto daemon.

river god sculpture with sheep skull

an odd figure sits in the entrance to the ‘grotto’

This time we climbed even higher up the fell.

dark clouds, blue sky and hills

looking up to Arant Haw, with more curious clouds

After reaching the summit we descended, with ominous skies appearing once more.

photo of hills with approaching storm

more storm clouds are gathering over the hills

The thunder and rain held off each time, allowing us to return home safely, but the next time we visited the second tree the river had removed my addition to its artwork.