Back in January my Mum and I spent three days in a cabin in Sussex exploring and drawing on the downs! We stocked up on hearty winter foods; soups, crusty bread and cheese. We packed our warmest clothes our sketchbooks, paper and drawing materials and set off for the hills.
Hailing from Newhaven, my Mum has always felt a strong connection to this part of the world and has been drawn to the mysterious Long Man of Wilmington, something that she has passed on to me. There is definitely something about the place. An ancient chalk figure etched into the hillside, being able to see way out across the land, rolling greenery and patchwork fields. The feeling of being high up and catching glimpses of the silvery sea.
It was late afternoon when we set out on our first sketch-pedition. We walked up the chalky track that runs alongside the Long Man. Though icy cold, the sun was shining brightly, setting everything ablaze. It was hard going clambering up the steep track in our skiwear whilst juggling our drawing equipment and we quickly overheated. Underfoot, beautiful frosty patterns had formed in the chalk, the ice wrenching the track apart and churning up the ground.
At the top, spectacular views across the valleys. The sun seemed to hook into you and draw you out of your winter shell. I always get a primitive feeling when I’m there. My inner cave girl rises up! I felt like I could have been a horse in a previous life as I had the urge to gallop and jump around. I wanted to look at all the plants and flints. Examine every bit of sheep’s wool caught on thorny bushes. Mum stood next to a large metal gate and discovered it was singing a strange melody as the wind blew through the tiny holes in its metal surface.
We made quick sketches. I thought about all the artists who have been inspired by the landscape over the years and the beautiful works they have created. Scruffy pencil marks, etchings, layers and textures. I found it quite difficult to draw the sparse landscape, but the feeling of calm that came from getting totally lost in the moment and absorbed by the surroundings was amazing.
The cabin itself was our refuge from the cold. Lighting fires in the wood-burning stove became my job. A good little fire would quickly warm the small room and give off a lovely smoky smell. In the evenings we cooked our meals, settled into the comfy chairs with hot chocolate and dissected our drawings. Our soundtrack was Arch Garrison’s album ‘I Will Be a Pilgrim’ a beautiful piece of music with lyrics mirroring our experience of enjoying the wild, chalky land.
We spent two days like this, waking early, making crumpets then setting out to the hills. Drawing, getting cold, coming back to warm up and refuel, then setting out again. Collapsing into our beds at the end of the day, feeling that we’d earned our rest.
On the last day, it snowed. It had fallen quite thickly in the night and we woke to a silent, white world. The Long Man was lost in the freezing clouds of fog. We sat on the cabin porch and drew the view in front of us, our breath freezing in the air. We set out on a different route that day, the snow had completely changed the views and we had to stop every few minutes to photograph and gawp at how different it looked. The white contrasted against the dark sky and enhanced the many lines and furrows that cut across the landscape. They seemed to carve it up, scars on the surface of the world.
We arrived at a little church and entered the graveyard. A giant, ancient tree was at its centre, reinforced by heavy planks of wood and bound by thick iron chains in an attempt to keep it together. Most of the snow had burned off by midday as we made it to the top. It was difficult to work on a drawing too long because of the cold but we put the effort in and both make sketches we were pleased with.
I enjoyed treading on the frozen puddles. Carefully displacing my weight a little at a time and watching the splinters and shards form in the ice until, with a squeaking sound, they give way and the brown muddy water gushes up to greet your wellies!
It was such a special weekend. Making drawing the focus of the trip meant that we really made time for it. If we saw something we wanted to sketch, we could change our plans to fit around it, something that isn’t always practical on a more usual sort of holiday. Being outside in January despite the cold made me very happy too. Shutting ourselves away from the modern world and keeping things simple. We definitely want to go back again next year!
On this trip we stayed at Jackson’s Cabin in Polegate, hosted by the lovely Alison.