Climbing into the clouds

"We got back to Llanberis ... with two very tired but proud little girls. They both made it the whole way on their own two feet. No doubt that's something they will remember into old age, the first time they climbed Snowdon"

Dad's diary - John Dudeney, 25 May 1987

Pyg track snowdon wales
Climbing Snowdon 25 May 1987, with Liz and Mum (Dad's photo)

Climbing Snowdon 25 May 1987, with Liz and Mum (Dad's photo)

Dad was right, the memory of climbing Snowdon at 6 years old stayed with me. Fuelled on chicken soup, I clambered rock by rock, through the mist to the top, then looking down on the clouds, seeing the land below as fragments slowly emerging and connecting.

So when BP commissioned me to do a painting on stratus clouds - I wanted to retrace this defining memory and draw from the great mountain.

I set off from the YHA at 7am, foolhardily carrying 3ft sheets of paper, gently ascending the miners track in high winds under low damp cloud. Soon I was into the white and walking the path alone, beside deep precipices and still lakes.

Pyg track, Snowdon, Wales

Pyg track, Snowdon, Wales

A father and his two young sons were lost, and together we realised the track went straight up. Scrambling was daunting, but his children stuck to the rocks like spiders, and that gave me confidence to keep going.We made it to the top, drenched, hardly able to stand for the gusts and in white out. But satisfied.

I returned down the Pyg track. It was familiar. I knew it was the path we had walked as a family. Once under the clouds, I drew. Paper flapping. Capturing the gentle undulations, craggy rockfalls and ever changing blanket of clouds. It was a stunning panorama.

I had made a start on the project, but with Snowdon's uncompromising weather, I didn't get as much done as I'd have liked. So this summer I'm going back...

Foothills of Snowdon (Wales)

Foothills of Snowdon (Wales)

Under the cloud blanket (Snowdon)

Under the cloud blanket (Snowdon)

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep"

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost, 1923.

The city seems far from Sydenham Hill woods

The city seems far from Sydenham Hill woods

Some days I want to lose myself in nature. Googling "ancient woodlands London" I was surprised to discover Sydenham Hill woods only 20min walk from my home in Crystal Palace in south east London. 

Entering the woods I soon found it was welly boot territory as I slipped and squelched along. Sounds of the city soon disappeared. Replaced by whisps of wind through the branches, the alien shriek of parakeets and the drilling of woodpeckers.

Finding the perfect spot to sit, on the edge of a muddy puddle, I then explored with my two pens clicking, in an almost meditative state. Carefully travelling across great trunks, through ivy, into the new spring undergrowth and down the path to the abandoned rail bridge. Trusting my hands to capture what I saw.

The view towards Lordship Lane Station, painted by Camille Pissarro in 1871.

The view towards Lordship Lane Station, painted by Camille Pissarro in 1871.

What struck me was the variety of trees in such a small area - tall oak and hornbeam, hazel trees and exotics from the old Victorian Gardens. Amongst the bushes were traces of the past. Including a bridge from which the painter Camille Pissarro once painted The view towards Lordship Lane. A great steam train approaching the now eerie tunnel.

As my drawing developed it reminded me of a line from Robert Frost's poem The Road Not Taken, 1916:

Two roads in a wood

Two roads in a wood

"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - 

I took the one less travelled by, 

And that has made all the difference" 

Torn between science and art, I faced two roads and took a path and now I'm hacking across the bushy middle bit trying to find the other path or maybe cut a new one.