Thursday 29 August 2019

Doll Tor

For many years I have had a passion for historically important sites reflecting our ancient history. Over the years I’ve visited hill forts at Oswestry and the Wrekin in Shropshire, various castles and fortifications across the country, churches, guildhalls and many different parts of our islands history.

In recent years I’ve made a conscious effort to journey to sites associated with our pre-Christian past and the ancient religions of our land. Much of these traditions are shrouded in mystery and are half known truths and stories at best, and many sites have been lost forever, to later development, to Christianity or just to the ravages of time. But a few still remain, and I have been seeking out these echoes of the past nestled within the landscape.

One of these I made my pilgrimage to last summer was Doll Tor in Derbyshire. I wasn’t expecting the site to have an especially profound effect on me, as lots of reading online played it down as small and not hugely remarkable.

First of all actually finding Doll Tor was a challenge in itself. I followed my infamous sat Nav to the nearest village; Birchover, parked up and set off on what looked like the right path. No, barbed wire and farmers fences, forget that route! Try another way, down a seemingly never ending lane. The maps saying it’s just on that ridge, but this is a farmers land! There’s no signs for a public right of way and the fields full of hundreds of cattle and their calves! Eventually I plucked up the courage and go to the farm to ask for directions. The farmer kindly let me cross through his field and pointed me in the general direction of Doll Tor. Off I went, but which thicket of woodland did he mean?! This one? No it’s entirely walled. This one?! No I can’t get in there either. In the mean time I found Eagle Tor and the strange landscape surrounding it, as well as a ruined stone cottage I decided I’d happily own. All nice finds but not what I was searching for! Finally in a corn field I saw a vague path towards another wooded area. On a hunch I decided to follow it. And surprise, there’s a gate in the wall around the woodland! I’d almost given up hope, but this could be it! And sure enough it was! A short way into the woodland there was a clearing and there it was; Doll Tor. A small but perfectly formed stone circle.

The atmosphere and feeling to the place was undeniably wonderful. I felt as if I never wanted to leave. I was so happy to have taken a chance on what wasn’t suggested to be a miraculous place, yet to me felt utterly magical and moving. I sat and wondered what our ancestors did here, how they felt, what was their world like? The Tor is part of a later site including burial cairns and various other elements clearly important to it’s function during the Bronze Age, but we can only guess at its full meaning and use now.

Doll Tor is one of those moving, curious places which draws you back, and to have no idea why really. And when I return now I know a much better route to access Doll Tor without having to hassle farmers and their cows! But ... I can’t help but think the journey of discovery and searching for the circle on my first visit was honestly part of the excitement and enjoyment of my unforgettable pilgrimage to find the lovely little site of Doll Tor.

Wednesday 14 August 2019

Fantasy Forest Festival

I first discovered fantasy forest festival entirely by chance on a Facebook post which was utterly unrelated. A bizarre way to find out about a new event, but, the instant I read Brian Froud was in attendance, it had my interest. Although a pretty long round trip for a day out it wasn’t possible for me to make both days, so, I bit the bullet and ordered tickets for the Sunday.

Upon arrival I was a little worried we would be the only ones not in costume, however there were a few of us (all be it utterly in the minority.) The happy, chilled and certainly hippyesque atmosphere was evident immediately upon arrival through arches covered in foliage and being checked in by some bright eyed ‘creatures’. The site of the festival; Sudeley Castle is very pretty, and intriguing. I had hoped since the festival was being held in the grounds we would be able to visit and explore the grounds in their entirety, alas only a segment was used for the festival and the rest fenced off. A bit of a shame as I would liked to have an explore, but a reason for a return visit I suppose!

Lots of interesting stalls lined the entrance to the festival, and a Glastonbury dragon resting, hinted of the fantastical beyond. The guest speakers at the festival had their own little enclave, with Brian and Wendy Froud, Anne Sudworth, Anne Stokes and Linda Ravenscroft all facing Terry English in his huge marquee with all sorts of fascinating armour and interesting movie memorabilia. Each of them was scheduled to give a talk throughout the day. Unfortunately I only had time to attend Brian Frouds, even though I was desperate to hear Terry English’s tales the long drive home meant we couldn’t stay late enough which was a real shame.

Never for a moment were you short of things to do. With 2 stages packed with bands all day, knights fighting, vikings battling it out, dragons wreaking havoc and stalls full of the weird and wonderful there was always something to entertain and amaze.

As well as countless incredibly impressive costumes paying homage to lots of heroes and characters, there was no shortage of fantastical creatures at fantasy forest either. With a tame lady raven totally stealing my heart, some lovely lupine dogs and even a couple of mermaids floating around!

In all fantasy forest festival was a wonderful, refreshingly different event where imagination was truly king. I hope that the event was a great success for everyone involved and returns next year bigger and better than ever for another instalment.

Saturday 3 August 2019

Brian Froud

In all my years I can't say I've changed a great deal honestly. As a child, books and films were some of the biggest influences on my life and who I was, and the same is still true today.
As a young, impressionable girl I remember my love of picking up beautiful books filled with wonderous pictures (again, nothings changed). 'In Search of Forever' by Rodney Matthews, 'The Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were' by Michael Page and Robert Ingpen (with illustrations by various artists) and 'Faeries' by Brian Froud and Alan Lee were the ones which have stuck with me all my life and left a lasting impression on me, as well as moulding me as a person.
So when by chance I saw that Brian and Wendy Froud would be appearing at Fantasy Forest Festival, giving a talk but also present all weekend, I knew what needed to be done.

As a child never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would meet these incredible people with off the scale talent in real life. And I admit, part of me still feels that way; disbelief. Meeting Brian Froud was a big deal, to 6 year old me reading about Kelpies and Redcaps for the first time, but also to aging Alice as an Artist herself.

Brian was certainly the most humble, down to earth artist I've ever met. I felt rather embarrassed taking my tatty old copy of  'Faeries' to him, but he signed it all the same, which was important to me as its been with me all my life, and I intend to keep it that way. He was more than happy to indulge my ramblings and also discuss the upcoming new 'Dark Crystal' series which Netflix are due to release, and we happily agreed on a passion for 'real' things and what they bring that CGI just cant.

Brian's talk was an incredible insight into his mind, methods and world. Clearly nervous and it would appear not particularly fond of public speaking, Brian immediately won us over jokingly asking if he could go home and he'd made a mistake agreeing to do this (though I do suspect there may have been some truth in his words), but he talked on about his work and the thinking behind it. He was truly in his stride when he got out a portfolio and began to share new artworks with us all. All previously unseen by the public, mostly painted in the last few months. I didn't fail to appreciate what an amazing, once in a life time opportunity this was. My eyes were out on stalks.

Brian shared pieces in his trademark style of a composition bursting with countless faeries, he discussed these pieces being quite 'flat', which I'd never actually considered before, but is entirely true. They were nothing short of stunning and moved me so much. I felt like a child thumbing through 'Faeries' seeing Froud's art for the first time. Then came pieces which were quite different, much more close-up, in your face faeries. Their personality really shone through, their naughtiness, their cheeky sidewards glances, their mystery. And though very different they are equally engaging and have the same curiosity-inducing, mystical beauty.   

Brian talking about his pieces in detail was fascinating. What different elements mean, and the fact one day he could simply no longer paint with watercolour washes anymore. It just wouldn't physically work, which is incredible! So started working in acrylic instead. His mention of 'The Green Woman' was also very intriguing as I am planning a Green Man series later this year myself, definitely food for thought!

For me, the most interesting insight was hearing Brian talk about being what being an artist is to him. Hearing him say he hates painting and its a total nightmare initially shocked me, but when he talked about wishing there was an easier way to get to the end result, without all the torture and torment, I began to understand what he meant. I remember for many years a hideous frustration at seeing what I wanted to create in my mind and not having the artistic skill to achieve it. While I'm not for a second suggesting Brian could ever not achieve what he put his mind to, art can be a difficult, heart wrenching thing. Something else I thought was fascinating was his comments that creating artwork is just constantly trying to fix what you're working on and resolve a piece, but knowing when to stop and not tip a painting over the edge meaning you have lots more fixing to do. A very true sentiment even though I never thought about painting like that.
Brian saying he thinks hes very boring and has no imagination was really quite baffling! He gave the impression its not really him creating these creatures, but they create themselves and come into being through their own will. He lets them take on their own personality and creates them all from shapes or lines, and doesn't seem to consider his own imagination to have any part in the matter.

Something which was honestly refreshing, was hearing Brian talk about his belief in Faeries. I think without this belief Brian couldn't really create the compositions which he does with such beauty and conviction. It is a wonderful thing to believe that there truly is still some real magic in the world, and Brian has helped capture that for countless people with minds wandering astray from the world which we live in. Brian may think he has no imagination, but I think him and Wendy have minds, and hearts nothing short of glorious.

Thank you to Brian and Wendy for their time, kindness and being absolutely wonderful souls!