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A Potter's Moll: Windy, Exposed And Far From Home

Potter's moll Liz Robison relishes the wild beauty of Northumberland and the Yorkshire Dales.

To savour more of Liz's tasty columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/cgi-bin/mt-search.cgi?IncludeBlogs=1&search=Liz+Robison

And do visit the Web site of her potter husband Jim http://www.boothhousegallery.co.uk/

This week I had a snapshot image of what it must have been like to be a Roman mercenary building or manning Hadrian’s Wall. Standing high up at Housesteads Fort, looking at the wall snaking its way across the land in both directions made me realise what a horrible life it must have been – to say nothing of the latrine arrangements.

Information boards told us that the fort was probably manned by people from Belgium and Germany, so I wonder what alternative lives they might have had? So far from home, and so exposed and windy!

Northumberland has wild and beautiful scenery and the mixed weather meant that the vast open skies changed by the minute – sometimes blue, sometimes mackerel cloudy, sometimes dark and angry. What the poet Ted Hughes called ‘blade light’.

As we drove home in mostly heavy rain through Teesdale, Weardale and the Yorkshire Dales, I was reminded of other lines by Ted Hughes:

Between the weather and the rock,
Farmers make a little heat.

But the sun did break through now and again and there was a Philip Larkin moment as we drove through the village of Buckden. The Gala was in full swing – awnings, marquees, bunting, a band playing, a fell runner arriving back: all glimpsed in the wink of an eye.

We went to Northumberland for a surprise two-day celebration of a friend’s sixtieth birthday. Thirty people gathered to wish him well and tell anecdotes about him. It was fun to see old acquaintances and meet new ones and reflect on what an honour friendship can be.

As well as visiting Housesteads we had the opportunity to visit the pottery at Bardon Mill where they make robust salt-glazed garden pots. An inspection of ‘the kiln’ is a must for the potter and his Moll whenever the opportunity arises. And we bought a garden pot with three strong handles decorated by the potter’s thumb. This is a detail first pointed out to me in the British Museum looking at remains of Roman pots. The idea that you could put your thumb in the mark made by a potter hundreds of years ago is goose-bumpy.

We also visited The Station Garden at Langley where the waiting room is now a café, where the tracks were is now lawn and pathway, and the platforms still with their stone kerbs, are flower beds. There’s a verdant wild feel about it all, especially walking under old bridges festooned with creepers and climbers.

Back home there’s work to be done, taking delivery of and arranging work for our Fringe exhibition in the Gallery here as part of Holmfirth ArtWeek (6th to 11th July) in aid of Macmillan Cancer Relief. By that time the town will be a buzz with three floors of exhibits in the Civic Hall and shows in twenty fringe venues in galleries, shops and pubs.

As I write, Jim is packing his kiln with work which we will take, still warm, to Nottinghamshire this weekend for a three day event called Earth and Fire in a wonderful setting at Rufford Abbey. It’s a mix of work and leisure as we take our caravan and there’s plenty of time to socialise as well. It’s dependent on the weather though, as the event is held outdoors with canvas covered market stalls. When it rains the canvas collects water and then tips it down the neck of some unsuspecting browser when it gets full. Trying to get rid of the water by poking it from below before it overflows usually results in you getting an armful.

More from me in a fortnight.

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