A PASTORAL PATCHWORK
ILLUSTRATOR ALICE STEVENSON DISCOVERS CURIOUS PLACES AND SURPRISING PERSPECTIVES ON HER TRAVELS, EXPLORING WONDERLANDS WITH AN ARTIST’S EYE
Looking out from the Slad Road across the valley: the view, while dramatic, has a cosy quality formed by the way the fields curve up the hill, creating a rounded patchwork map. The cosiness is accentuated by being able to see down into cottage gardens on my side of the slope. Woods crowning the hill opposite are at first glance a muted dark green, but as I peer closer, mustard yellows and rusty reds emerge. I look across the road to the wall of a house in pale honey Cotswold stone, the gaps between the stone are satisfying: the irregular geometric lines chime with the striking yet soothing formations of the landscape.
Walking down into the valley, towards the inviting woodland I’ve been admiring from the road, across sloping fields, an increasing wealth of autumnal tones and textures reveal themselves the closer I get. It feels as if I am walking through the folds of a soft, thick quilt. Southwards, the hills meet a defined peak, rendered almost silver in the low light; a flash of drama emerging from the gentleness.
I enter Dunkitehill Wood and I soon find myself enclosed within a tunnel of beech trees, winding over sloping paths, red with crunchy leaves. At various intervals, through frames of slender trunks and branches of the beeches, a view down into pasture and across to the tree-covered hilltops on the other side reveals itself – the subtly glowing colours divided
into autumn-hued windows like stained glass.
Continuing along this sheltered, winding path, I come across a chaotic mass of roots on the bank to my left. They are tangled with ivy, and the ground they’ve taken hold in protrudes sharply, but then is softened by a covering of moss. It serves as a pleasing reminder of the rich world that exists beneath the ground, and also deepens the sensation that there is no definitive high or low point in these surroundings. Further along the path I pass another external cluster of roots extending from the low remains of an old stone wall; human civilisation and nature overlap and intertwine.
I circle back to my starting point down Swift’s Hill, through fields of gentle horses. I notice badgers in costumes painted on fence posts: a couple clinking glasses, a vicar in a dog collar, a badger in a shower cap having a bath. They are silly and charming, adding to the friendly feel of the place. I later discover that these were painted by a local artist in protest of badger culls in the area.
Later, a couple of miles north in the village of Painswick, I wander into the churchyard of 15th century St Mary’s, drawn in by a multitude of yew trees dotted around. They are tall and rounded, their sheer mass giving a sinister, monster-like presence. There are 99 in total, and they were planted in the 18th century. Legend holds that the 100th tree planted has always perished. They are so bulbous and dark next to the creamy pale stone of the church and surrounding buildings, and the white sky. There is an otherworldly, monochrome strangeness, reminiscent of a landscape covered in snow. Across the churchyard I spy a large tomb, carved into the shape of a pyramid.
Inside the church I notice a prayer cushion resting on a ledge. It shows a map of the churchyard in miniature: the yews marked out as little black squares. The green graveyard is surrounded by blue, as if it were an island with a pixelated blue space at its centre where the church should be. While this part of the world is distinctly landlocked, the singular character created by the yews does give it a feeling of isolation.
Back outside, I have a closer look at some of the tombs and find skulls carved into their corners, their definition worn down by years of exposure to the elements, and I notice that there is moss growing out of the lettering, creating a furry, caterpillar-like font across the surface.