Monday 28 June 2010

Art, sun, stone, and playing with bows and arrows

Well, didn't we have a grand afternoon out! 

Belsay Hall, Northumberland, stands in beautiful grounds, with woodland walks, a quarry garden, a ruined castle, and, in recent years, has hosted a range of exhibitions that draw visitors even on days like today when England is playing for the World Cup. 

For the first time ever for me, I managed a visit on a day that wasn't cold and windy, and in consequence have a far less bleak impression of Belsay.

We began with the exhibitions in the Hall. It started well - two small boys tumbling out into the sunshine in fits of giggles, saying "We liked the big willie man best!"

And here is the 'big willie man' - Ron Muecks 'Wild Man' - although in Belsay he looked even more imposing, with a look of extreme discomfort and anxiety. We were unable to take photographs, but marvelled at the detail of all the sculptures; the eyelashes, the toenails, the utterly convincing portrayal of the human form, even when scaled up or down. These figures conveyed and elicited emotion, and left us thoughtful. We watched a video of the process of creating such incredible works, and marvelled even more.

Attendants pounced, snapping and snarling, if anyone strayed unwittingly over the viewing-limit lines. We were duly chastened. These were not people who seemed happy at their work, despite the cheerfulness and evident delight of the viewing public.

We walked through the Quarry Garden to the Castle. Birdsong, hot sunshine, and mounted photographs of Slinkachu's tiny, witty works, and in a glass case in the woodland, Tessa Farmer's little stuffed creatures and their tormentors, the malevolent fairies. These were rather disturbingly nasty, and we found we couldn't gaze for long, despite marvelling again at the scale and intricacy of the work. 

A wonderful juxtaposition of scale throughout: the towering arches through the quarry, the huge gunneras, figs and rhododendrons.

And some rather short people; this one (me) wearing that familiar expression of one who wonders what's taking the photographer so long.... it's point and click, for heaven's sake!

We emerged to find ourselves at a field where confident-looking people stood about nonchalantly wielding huge bows. Gulp! Those targets were impossibly, scarily, far away for us total novices! Perhaps we wouldn't bother, thank you....

But we had found the real archery competition, not the "Have A Go" fundraiser. That was safely tucked away behind the castle.

And we did have a go. What fun! A patient tutor from Ponteland's archery club coached us through the basics, and we didn't do badly. (Bumblevee, champion archer, don't shudder like that! We had never even held a bow before!)

Lynn, Annie, then me.

The targets weren't very far way. This was a Good Thing. See the yellow area in the centre? Two of my arrows are in there!

We wandered through the castle, to find that Mat Collishaw's zoetrope had broken down. A friendly attendant apologised, and sent us up the winding staircase to look at it anyway, and to poke around in the castle ruins.

But the ruins themselves were interesting too - even with floors, those stone rooms must have been perishing cold in winter, with only those small fireplaces, now used by nesting birds.

The return route through the Quarry Garden took us to Mariele Neudecker's huge, lovely replica of the Belsay sash window.

Three small humans reflected in the lower right pane.

And dwarfed by it.

The garden itself gives one a sense of being very small in the eyes of Mother Nature.

And finally, to the tearoom, for a cup of tea and a slice of butterscotch cake - let's take a picture... oops, too late! -   before driving home to our familiar-sized homes. Such a lovely day out!


Val said...

An intriguing place to visit and so many interesting things to see. A sunny day and having a go at archery, just what you needed after all the house sale preparation.

jabblog said...

A really fun-packed day (was going to say 'enjoyment-packed day' but that's just stuffy)
The huge man looks constipated to me or perhaps he's just got piles.

BumbleVee said...

yikes...lost my first comment. I hate this stupid mouse... just wave a finger over it the wrong way and swoosh....I'm on a totally different page and don't even know how to get back. Sigh....

I was on about it being a beautiful sunny day for you and the girls... and what fun it would have been to give the archery a go. You look like you are doing a great job to me! And, hey two in the gold? take up the sport! It's one of those things we can do well into old age. I used to shoot against two ladies well into their 70's who were really great archers. One went to the Olympics in her 80's finally....

I kind of like Big Willie too.... although, he does look a bit concerned at all those people looking at his ...uhm... Willie..... not one is looking up at his face....hahhahah..... but, I guess it's not often a naked man sits right out in public letting us look...... it must have been funny to see the reaction of the kids, tittering and giggling......
You only really get a scale and perspective when you do have a human in any photograph.... it's pretty amazing isn't it?

On the castle and trying to live in one of those in the winter.... ugh.... how horrible would life have been? I've always wondered about that. How on earth did anybody survive? It must have been warmer in a tiny cave with a campfire....

SmitoniusAndSonata said...

A lovely day out ! Pity about the exhibition staff . Still , I suppose , once you've heard all possible permutations of the Big Willy joke , the charm wears off .
You're obviously a natural archer . Handy to know , in the event of invasion .
Amd as for chilly castles ? I've always assumed they'd be fairly crowded , what with squires , serving wenches , men at arms , scribes , alchemists , lice and fleas . Packed in tightly and scratching in unison , they'd be cosy enough .

Titania said...

It looks more like an American national park than England! Thanks for the travelogue. What a lovely place.

SusanFrances said...

Sounds like a fab day out. Thanks for sharing ...the photos of the quarry garden are gorgeous. Like you, I don't think we ever went there in the warm!

the veg artist said...

Sunglasses! Up North! See, you do have lovely weather (sometimes).
'William' looks quite corpse-like. Spooky!

rogern said...

never realised that the glass sculpture in the garden was a replica of one of the windows, how silly of me! Glad you enjoyed the Slinkachu, a real pity that the Collishaw zoetrope was broken, it was really magical.

Catherine said...

What a wonderful trip you were on ~ thank you for sharing!

Friko said...

Pleasant day out, by your account. And a worthwhile place to visit.
It is always good to have a place for all tastes, gardeners, stately homes, art and, most important, a teach shop.

And you missed the football! Can't be bad.

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