Why I chose the Yorkshire Wolds
For a start, they're not far away. There's more to it than that though, of course…
The Yorkshire Wolds is a vast area of majestic high rolling hills. They stretch from the East Coast of Yorkshire to the Vale of York, 40 miles away (64 km).
The Yorkshire Wolds cover the top half of East Yorkshire, spreading into North Yorkshire a little too. Yorkshire is split into North (The largest county in the UK), West, South and the East Riding of Yorkshire. It's in the North of England (part of the UK).
Hills with curves to die for
At their highest, the Wolds rise to 656 feet (200 metres). Not that you'd ever know you were on a peak on these gracefully rounded hills.
They're not that high as hills go, but they are XL size (Extra large), even XXL. Broad and sweeping, they have a majestic scale that matches that of higher peaks in my view.
The curves you see in the Wolds landscape are sublime because of their big scale. These arcs give the area a softness. I don't want to say like pillows, but many of the shapes do have a similarity.
For an artist, these curves present a challenge. It's easy to end‑up with an ungainly line over such a length. Drawing a graceful, naturally asymmetric curve is quite a task, especially when it crosses a whole canvas.
You don't have to have read much on this website to know I love an artistic challenge. It's one of the reasons I chose the Yorkshire Wolds landscape for my project.
The dales of the wolds
Then there are the valleys, called Dales. Yes, there's 'The Dales' over to the West. They're a different landscape entirely (A future art project without a doubt).
'The Dales' translated strictly would be 'the valleys', because the word dale means valley. So it's perfectly logical that the hollows in the East Riding of Yorkshire are dales too.
These dales are glacial in origin, formed when the ice covering this part of the UK melted. The melt‑water shaped meandering valleys through the softly rounded uplands I've just described.
Some of these valleys are deep and steep‑sided, though they're nowhere near vertical. They always slope, and I've never seen any rocky outcrops, or any boulders of any size, interrupting the oddly consistent inclines.
The area sits on England's most northern arm of chalk. Chalk is porous and an easily eroded material, I understand (I'm no geologist).
There's a lack of rivers in the Wolds, even in the valley bottoms that are often completely dry. It's because of the chalk, and it also explains why the landscape is curves and slopes, rather than angles and flat slabs.
There's a magical softness and grace to the monumental Yorkshire Wolds, and this is at the heart of what beckoned me to them.
Sketching the landscape
30 November 2020
For all the softness in the shapes in the Yorkshire Wolds landscape, it's a harsh environment.
On a glorious sunny day, the Yorkshire Wolds are a paradise, especially for those who like to roam through open spaces.
Several substantial walks pass through the Yorkshire Wolds. The Yorkshire Wolds Way, The Minster Way and The Chalkland Way, that I can recall.
It's a walkers haven. On a sunny weekend – it's busier than Briggate1 (as my family say). This year it was more so than ever.
At other times during the week, it's wonderfully peaceful.
The Yorkshire Wolds are a fascinating place. Not only the wildlife, but the upside‑down farming too (animals in the valleys and crops on the tops).
Ancient sites litter the area – there's far more than you can shake a stick at2. I'm not sure you're ever very far away from an earthwork, or tumuli, on the Yorkshire Wolds. They're a whole other art project.
Sketching there, you climb a lot. It's only hard climbing if you try to scale one of the steeper slopes. The long grass can be slippy, and unless there are animal tracks, there's little foothold to be had.
How they put in the fences that climb straight up the slopes, I have no idea. That's hard work.
After a while, you begin to see how every slope has its own character. I worked out that it's the direction they face in – North-East, North, South-West, etc. Every slope gets different weather, some balmy, others severe.
The animals roaming the slopes affect the texture and colour, too. Sheep on the steeper slopes feed differently to cattle on the softer inclines. You see these things by spending a lot of time looking.
The Yorkshire Wolds are a "windy 'oil", as we say around here. It's a harsh cold wind, that takes no prisoners too. Even on the sunniest day, a sneaky cool breeze will whip across the tops, or channel along the slopes.
In Winter the dales funnel the cold. You can see it in the toughness of the shrubs and trees growing there. Hawthorn and gorse dominate.
Only where a valley happens to turn so the sun can shine into it for any length of time, do other less hardy trees grow.
Sketching time has been limited in 2020. My most productive trips took place in September, October, and the first week of November (stopped by Lockdown Two). Progress has been stop‑start, and I'm way behind where I'd hoped to be by now.
Not to worry, sketching at every opportunity between Lockdowns, I captured gloriously sunny warm days and bone‑chilling hours in my sketchbooks. It's a representative snap-shot of this fascinating landscape.
The Yorkshire Wolds are a wonderfully rich, nuanced and dramatic place. Having spent time letting it get under my skin, I'm now a little over‑awed at the task ahead of me in my studio.
The more I've studied the Yorkshire Wolds, the more I've fallen in love with them. I'm thoroughly looking forward to being holed‑up in my studio now, through December, January and February, making my new landscape series. Trying to put some of the magic on canvas…
On one sketching trip, I was working away on a hillside when everything settled into silence. That uncanny miraculous quiet that sometimes materialises on a warm sunny afternoon.
I stopped drawing and marvelled at it – a pause, where everything stood still.
A silent half‑minute passed, and then from down the dale, a cautious haunting call rippled and echoed.
The soft sound drifted and filled the valley. An owl, calling from its sleepy daytime perch.
A moment passed, noiseless, long and slow. Then another owl answered from further away!
Everything, including me, seemed to hold its breath, waiting. Just as the silence settled back, another hooted softly from the opposite direction, followed by the first again.
The three of them lazily called to each other for just a minute or two, then returned to their sleep, and the noise of the distant world floated back up the dale.
A hauntingly beautiful interlude that had my insides ballooning fit to burst. A 'good to be alive' moment.
Several Buzzards rose and circled into the scene in front of me. The cattle continued their rumination and a Kestral hovered over the gorse. The sun gently warmed everything, giving the world resuming its everyday rhythm a yellow glow. If only…, if only I could put all this magic into paint and ink.
It's happened just once more, again when a silence gathered. It wasn't as long and involved just two birds. I can only imagine that most people, chatting and tramping, never experience this Yorkshire Wolds.
The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper Eden Phillpotts (1862‑1960), English author, poet and dramatist. My artistic quest