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.

Shadow, sun, moon

photo of Arant Haw in the evening

high on the hill, looking up to Arant Haw summit in evening light and shadow

At last the weather warmed itself enough to trek up the hill carrying outdoor painting gear. As well as paints and canvas you need a bag full of scarves, woolly hats and gloves to prevent the cold from seeping in as you sit still while the sun lowers itself. Huge shadows unfold themselves, draping down the hillsides like giant black backdrops. They make the foreground look even more unbelievably golden in the slanted sunbeams before sunset. Wearing their shadows the steep slopes become massive dark forms, quite terrifying in their glowering vastness. They seem to lean towards you as you fiddle about with boxes, a puny being attempting to set up a painting site clinging to a slippery grass perch on the hillside. One shrug of their shoulders and you’d be off.

hills in evening light, bright sun

evening sun bounces off the lens, looking down Crosdale

plein air painting spot in evening sun

dark shadow looming above my painting spot

After a winter break plein air painting skills are always rusty but there’s nothing like the elation of being the last person out on the fells on a brilliantly lit evening. There’s always excitement with every brush stroke even if the finished picture isn’t quite what you had hoped. Eventually, after the furious attempt to daub the view into its new life on the canvas has gone on for half an hour or more, you realise just how cold you are, sitting on your scrap of mat as the air around you chills. I’ve found the best way to stay alive, with blood flowing to all the relevant parts, is to have something hot to drink. So I crack open the flask of steaming cocoa I lugged all the way up and feel warmth returning to my fingers.

plein air painting tea break

a hot drink helps to stave off hypothermia as the sun goes down

Once the sun really starts to drop it gets much colder very quickly. You have to rush to pack up and keep moving to avoid numbness.

plein air painter setup

as the sun disappears it’s time to pack up and depart

While the sun was saying goodbye in the west I felt an eery ‘you are being watched’ prickle on the back of my neck and whipped round to see an old white face. Fire and warmth were ebbing away on one side as bright paleness entered the sky on the other, gleaming and peering at my activities.

moon over my shoulder

a white face …

moon rising

… peers over my shoulder

One last look towards the Lake District mountains and the invisible sea beyond, underneath a red strip of sky, and I was on my way down.

fading sunset over the hills

last glowing embers in the west

In the east the colours were gentler and the moon was already halfway up the sky. Not a breath of wind stirred as I made my way slowly and happily down the Gill towards home.

moon at dusk

misty pink clouds gather over the hills as the moon takes off