The oil painting continues. This is Red Pike reflected on Bleaberry Tarn, above Buttermere in the Lake District. In June I headed over for a night of sleeping out, running and swimming. I bivvied on hte fellside just below the tarn, this painting is based on a photograph I took about 6:30 in the morning, on my way up the Pike.
Over the past couple of months I've done four paintings of Lake District landscapes and now my head has moved on to scenes from journeys I've made over, around and into the Cairngorms.
I think this has been influenced by Nan Shepherd's poetry, which I've recently been re-reading. In particular the poem Embodiment, from her collection In the Cairngorms, in which she explores and discusses how the way mountains (and indeed everything else) look is purely down to light. Her words are stunning, captivating. They make we want to look and then paint and paint.
I've been painting some more and really enjoying myself. These new ones are scenes from the Lake District - Upper Eskdale on a sunny spring morning, Striding Edge at sunrise on a cold day in December and moody light on Crinkle Crags during a November run in the Langdales.
As I mention below, the desire to paint in oils comes to me, stays for a while and then goes again. Hopefully it stays a while yet as I am having a great time doing it.
At the moment I have a few more scenes from Lakes I would like to paint, and maybe after that I will move on to some from the Scottish Highlands.
On Wednesday evening this week I headed over to Buttermere and bivvied for the night just below Bleaberry Tarn. I woke up to a beautiful summer morning, made a cup of tea next to the tarn and hung around taking photos as the sun lit up Red Pike. One of these photos may form the basis for my next painting :o)
It's been just over a year since I last painted in oils. Something I love to do, but the urge to do so seems to come and go. I have learned to go with it, do it when I feel like I need to, let it be when I don't feel the spark to do it.
My mum has recently spent a week visiting my aunt (her sister) on South Uist, up in the Outer Hebrides. I love it up there, it was kind of bittersweet when the amazing scenes they were seeing kept popping up on WhatsApp. Part of me was really pleased they were up there enjoying themselves, another part of me was jealous, wishing I was up there too.
These feelings - tensions - and the lovely photographs brought the spark back. As soon I saw one particular image on WhatsApp I knew I had to try and paint it. Here's the result. The location is Rubha Aird a’ Mhuille, the western most point on South Uist. This is looking south across the bay. While I wasn't up there with my mum and aunt, I have been there many times, it's a beautiful place.
I'm glad my mum had such a good trip - like most of us she's not got away very much in the past 15 months. Also glad to say the spark is still with me, I have a few more oil paintings in mind to do over the next month or so.
I had a great bike ride early this morning, off-road over the back of the Otley Chevin. It's spring, the trails are drying, lambs are in the fields and the trees are budding.
I think one of my most favourite things nature-wise this time of the year is the return of the curlews. As I cycled along this morning I heard a few. I recorded one calling to send to my mum (who loves curlews) then I thought I'd put it here too. Feel free to have a listen :)
It's been a while since I added any news. Last time was midwinter, now it's spring. The mornings and evenings are lighter and the air warmer, I can't remember another time I've been more appreciative of this.
Apart from a two-month blip (coinciding with home-schooling...) I have been writing mountain stories since last September. I've put three of these online and now have an additional eight, a book's worth. Written almost entirely in lockdown or some kind of movement restriction, Mountain Stories is a book of memories and sketches of some of my past journeys in the Scottish Highlands and Islands.
Through this time I have missed the mountains, reliving old journeys through my writing and sketching has been enlightening in that I've realised just how powerful memories can be. I have written and sketched Skye's Cuillin, Assynt, Knoydart, Mull, Kintail and a number of other highland regions and islands. Always self-propelled, my mode of transport varies between walking,running, cycling, sea-kayaking or some combination.
Visiting and writing of these places has also led me to explore their history and culture, the folklore of the Highlands, some of which make their way into these stories.
The image here is a scene from a cloud inversion I saw during a run along the Five Sisters of Kintail. We are working on the cover design for Mountain Stories at the moment and this will be part of it.
Mountain Stories will be published this autumn by Little Peak Press, who will open pre-orders over the next couple of months. In the meantime you can read the three online stories here and a related piece I wrote for The Guardian here.
It's nearing midwinter. My local paths and trails are the muddiest and slippiest they've been for ages but I am still enjoying getting out and about. There is something about this time of year I love and it's not Christmas. Maybe anticipation of the shortest day and what this means for renewal. After this year I think we could probably all do with some of that.
Since the first lockdown and now in tier 3 West Yorkshire, I have been writing mountains stories and sketching some of the mountains I write of. A kind of displacement, I'm finding remembering, writing about and sketching mountain memories is a good way of getting to them when they are more or less physically out of bounds.
I recently wrote about this for The Guardian. So far I've put two mountain stories on their own webpage on this site here and I'll put another one online before Christmas. This new one's all about the mountains of Lochaber and a bike ride I did around some of them on Christmas Day 12 years ago.
Geoff Cox and I enjoyed launching and talking about the inspiration for our new book Traceless at Kendal Mountains Literature Festival in November. It's still online, if you missed it you can still see it on catch-up until the 31st December.
Since Traceless was published in October my co-author, Geoff Cox, and I have been excited to see its reception. We are launching Traceless online at this year's Kendal Mountain Literature Festival and I'm very much looking forward to that. You can book tickets here, there are loads of great events on.
Last week I put another mountain story online. This one's been inspired by the Outer Hebrides and the hills of South Uist. I am enjoying writing these, doing so is bringing back memories of time spent in some of my favourite places. There's likely a few more to come over the winter.
It's been a pretty busy time writing and making books. I've been really pleased to contribute to UKClimbing's collection of Crag Notes. This one - Marked Stones - is all about the gritstone boulders and outcrops on and around Rombald's Moor - their climbing, history and the fascination I feel for them.
Over at Little Peak Press we're also just finishing off preparing Geoff Cox's and my new book Traceless for print. Sub-titled Exploring the spirit of fell-running, Traceless is inspired by running over and around the Lake District fells, you can find out lots more details and pre-order here.
I have just had a week of the quiet beaches and fells of Northumberland with my family.
I've spent time there before but not all that much time in the hills. This trip we stayed up high in them, close to the Scottish border.
It was great to explore them on foot and by bike, as well as hang out at the beach in the sunshine. My job has been busy throughout lockdown, it was great to have some time to unwind. I also got a bit of new writing done along with some final editing of my latest book project Traceless.
Last year I started up a small independent publishing press - Little Peak Press.
Rich and and his 15-year-old son Tom are well-known for their cycling adventures. Over the past decade these adventures have got bigger and bigger, culminating last summer in a ride of the Tour Divide, the 2745-mile bikepacking route that travels the length of the North American Contintental Divide from Banff in Canada to Antelope Wells on the US border with Mexico.
Now Rich has written a book about these adventures. Called 22,000 Miles, we have just finished with the final edits. It will be published in October, it's live from today on Kickstarter for 30 days. On the Kickstarter you can order the book as well as a host of other limited editions. This Kickstarter will hopefully support the publication of 22,000 Miles. It's an an amazing story, one that in editing I have found incredibly inspiring - my itch for cycling long miles in the mountains has returned in earnest!
I had a few talks planned for this summer with bookshops and other places. As they're not going ahead due to the pandemic, I thought I would venture online to do them.
The first one is going to be about my book A Cycling Year. I will talk about the bike rides I did as part of it, the inspiration for them (including writers and artists such as Marie Hartley, JB Priestley, Eric Ravilious and Edward Thomas), show some of my paintings that form illustrations and also read from the book a little.
The talk will be online and attendance is free. Everyone welcome! If you'd like to attend please register with eventbrite and a link to the Zoom talk will be emailed to you a couple of days beforehand.
Just recently I have become a bit obsessed with gritstone. As I write in my recent article for UKC, I had wanted to be climbing it by now. Hopefully soon I will again.
Instead I have been painting it. In 2012 I painted a few gritstone crags local to me in watercolour and then dots in ink. Just recently I have started to want to explore painting grit close-up in oil. Just about finished, this new painting is a close-up of one of the faces of Little Almscliffe, a gritstone buttress that sits to the north of Stainburn Forest near Harrogate, a few miles as the crow flies from the larger and better known (for climbing at least) Great Almscliffe.
When I have finished this one I will likely move on to another of Chevin Buttress. I have a photograph of it from years ago, in the summer after rain. The rock was an incredible deep reddy-brown colour, occasional streaks of a blue-green that was almost turquoise in the sunlight. I think I might have a go at trying to paint it, try to be bold and express all the colour and light I see.
If thinking of rock and memories of climbing is influencing my painting, it is also affecting my writing. Maybe it's also the influence of lockdown, unable to get to the mountains and living as we all are through the insecurities and strains of the pandemic, I am finding comfort in remembering past times in the mountains and on the crags of the UK, in painting and writing about them.
I am unsure that we will return to what constitutes 'normality' any time soon (and am not sure if I want to completely go back to the old normal, the pandemic has brought positive change intermingled with the tragedy). I am incredibly lucky to live in a place with forest and nature close by. Fresh air and sunshine in green open spaces has been a daily experience for me, and this is something, along with the painting and writing, that is helping me at the moment. The mountains and rock will come back. In the meantime I will keep painting and writing about them.
Time is passing in these strange lockdown weeks. Since last November until we went into lockdown in March I had been climbing a little, training with the aim of getting some strength back. I have also been sketching and writing about climbing - back to when it was the main thing I did with my free time, before I started to get heavily into cycling, fell-running and racing.
I had hoped that by Spring, with the advent of drier weather, I could get outside on the rock some more, start bouldering and climbing routes again. With lockdown that hasn't happened so far, hopefully it will soon enough.
Through this time I read, wrote and sketched a little, finding the more I did, the more I remembered about the years I spent climbing, the routes, the places, the memories. Here's the resulting piece on UKClimbing.com
I have finally got around to getting my newest oil paintings scanned. They are now up on their own page where you can also order prints.
I did these paintings last year after a summer holiday in Kintail in 2018, and also wrote a blog about how my head seemed to get back into oil painting during this holiday.
Sad news arrived yesterday evening - John Rawnsley, the founder of the Three Peaks Cyclo-Cross passed away on Christmas Day.
I first encountered John when I was 23 and doing my first ’Peaks. I found out after the race who he was, that he had won the first edition of the race and had ridden it over 30 times.
Since then I saw him through the years, at the ’Peaks, other cycle races and in his beloved Dales. A quiet man who always struck me as having an underlying steely determination, these last few months I have been finding about more about him and the Three-Peaks as, with my friend Jo Allen, I have started working on a book about them both. In November I wrote a blog about it and you can read it here.
Thank you John and rest in peace.
I have almost finished a painting I started back in May. Looking to Beinn Fhadda from Bealach an Sugaine, the painting on the left is the final of a set of four I have done after a summer holiday in Kintail last year. I blogged about how some of the running I did during this holiday helped to get my head back into wanting to paint with oils. Since then I have painted in oils sporadically and have this and the three others to show for it. In all of them I have been trying my best to capture the light I saw that week in the mountains.
The three smaller paintings on the right are scenes from a three-day run I did around the Cairngorms in June this year. This trip was welcome in so many different ways - a chance to run and sleep high in the mountains, and to explore some more of this stunning stretch of hills.
Finishing the bigger painting is going to have to wait a little longer as I am soon heading out to the Banff Mountain Festival where Waymaking has won an award. I still can't really believe I am going - back to the Rocky Mountains on a trip I didn't know was happening until two weeks ago.
Waymaking has won the 2019 Banff Mountain Literature Award!
This award really is a collective achievement of many ‐ I was one of four editors and over fifty contributors to Waymaking and I consider myself very lucky to be heading out to Banff at the end of the month to the prize-giving.
We started with the idea of Waymaking back in 2014. It has been quite something to help with and to see it grow beyond the concept to the calls for contributions, all the way through to a prize-winning book, beautifully designed and published by Vertebrate Publishing.
Last December I wrote a blog sharing my view of the next steps after Waymaking. Roll forward nearly a year and along with a couple of creative friends, I have set up a small (think micro) publishing house running out of Otley ‐ Little Peak Press. So far we’ve made two books and have another on the horizon. Waymaking showed us how mountain and adventure literature can be stretched outside of the established genres. We really want to explore this some more.
So I’m heading back to Banff 🙂I’ve been once before, staying for a few days prior to the start of the 2010 Tour Divide race. I’m looking forward to my visit, sight-seeing and exploring without a long race to prepare for. Along with going to the prize-giving ceremony I’ll be visiting the wider mountain film and book festival and running up as many mountains as possible.
Summer's over, we are well into September. I've had a fun if busy few months. Less time to run and cycle as I would like but those rides and runs I have done have been grand. One great thing this summer has been the bike rides I have done with my daughter. As she grows her bike has followed - she is really enjoying getting the hang of a bigger wheeled bike and we have been having more off-road adventures together.
This year we had our summer holiday up in the western Scottish Highlands and Outer Hebrides. I have written a blog about it and of the sketches I did while away.
My new book High Inspiration was published on Thursday and was launched last night at The Artworks in Otley. At the same time we launched Little Peak Press, the new independent press that has published High Inspiration.
Thanks to everyone who came along and to The Artworks for hosting - all the illustrations from High Inspiration are still on display, along with copies of the book and prints, feel free to pop by and take a look.
It was a fun evening, great to speak with everyone and I went home full of ideas (and wine).
Many thanks to Jo Allen for the photos.
Last week I spent three days running around and exploring the Cairngorms a little more. I have felt pretty drawn to them recently, reflected by the fact that the last Munro I climbed back in January prior to this trip was also the first mountain top we took in during this trip - Beinn a Bhuird on the eastern end of the plateau.
I was running with my friend Andrea Priestley. We initally planned to spend two nights up high on the plateau but decided to stay in Rothiemurcus forest on the second night, at Glenmore Lodge, as a storm was due to come through during our second day on the hill.
In the end the storm never came. Lucky for us, we just got very wet during the latter half of our last day, as heavy showers arrived in from the south. Starting at Linn of Dee on the south‐eastern side of the mountains, we first ran onto Ben Avon and then headed west to camp the night by Loch Etchachan. The following day saw us heading over Ben Macdui, Cairngorm, Glen Avon and Bynack More, before heading off into the wonderful forest of Rothiemurcus for a luxurious night of bed & breakfast, beer and chips.
On our final day we went west, into and over the Lairig Ghru, climbing the mighty Braeriach from the Pools of Dee, and then traversing the mountains south to Corrour bothy and the low path back to Linn of Dee via Derry Lodge.
It was a fantastic few days away. Something I felt I needed, topping up my batteries having not been to the hills for some time. The Cairngorms are a magical mix of high mountains interspaced with fascinating valleys, edged by beautiful Caledonian pine forests and full of life ‐ we saw mountain hares, a ptarmagan on her nest and all kinds of other birdlife in the forests. They are one mountain really, so old to have worn away to a high plateau, an artic tundra quite unlike anywhere else in the UK. At the moment I feel quite caught under their spell. I took a fair few photos from which I will paint in the coming months.
My new book High Inspiration has gone to print. It will be published on 27th June, I am taking pre-orders and these will reach those ordering early to mid-June. It has been very exciting to put this book together, I have been working with a great editor and designer and am very proud of how the book has taken shape. Hopefully my words in some way justify how it looks as Rhiannon has done an amazing design piece - it looks brilliant.
Over the past few months I have been working with Jo and Rhiannon as they have edited and designed the new book, writing new work less and painting a bit more. I don't have much time to do any of this but the time I do get I value. The latest painting I am working of is of Bhein Fhada in Kintail - here it is in its early stages, it will change a fair bit in the coming weeks. This is the fourth painting in a series I've done after holidaying there last summer. The light in the hills that week in Kintail was superb, I write about it and how it has inspired me in my latest blogpost.
Over the past ten years painting and writing have become increasingly important to me. High Inspiration has been whirling around in my head for the last five years. Now it's reached the print stage part of me feels that it's finished, but of course it isn't. Next up comes the hard work of telling people about it! For an introvert like me this is in many ways the hardest part...