A PAS­TORAL PATCH­WORK

IL­LUS­TRA­TOR ALICE STEVENSON DIS­COV­ERS CU­RI­OUS PLACES AND SUR­PRIS­ING PER­SPEC­TIVES ON HER TRAV­ELS, EX­PLOR­ING WONDERLANDS WITH AN ARTIST’S EYE

The Simple Things - - ESCAPE - Fol­low Alice’s trav­els on In­sta­gram: @AliceStevo

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.

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