Original Painting From the End of the Woodhead Tunnel
Although creating art from photographs, sketches or your imagination is all fine and dandy, there’s nothing quite like painting from life. I find sitting in front of a subject, or in the landscape that I’m painting gives the work so much more urgency and, given the choice, would choose life over a still image any day.
The Weather in the Dark Peak Can Be Pretty Chilly
I had the privilege of painting Woodhead Tunnel from life. Living in England, and particularly oop north, makes for very unpredictable weather, particularly when what you want to paint is almost on top of the bleak moors at the top tip of the Peak District. But I got lucky on this particular day and it was dry, at least. Don’t get me wrong, it was nippy – the patch of bright sunlight that hits the riverside in the painting still makes a shiver run down my back when I look at it, and although the leaves are out on the trees, there was also the cold, damp, seeping breeze creeping out of the mouth of Woodhead Tunnel behind me. But I set up my chair and paint set anyway and huddled into my hoodie.
It was 2004 and I was painting a series of paintings for a module of my university course. I studied writing* and one day I intend to write a novel that I send to a publisher rather than tear up in a fit of pique. But, as with everything in life, I found it hard to just focus all my attention on one subject, so I’d taken a module in Creative Otherness, which was about as confusing and wanky as it sounds. Having left Glossop the previous year, I’d realised how insular small town life can be; the familiarity, the ghost stories and mythology, layers and layers of families born and bred in that valley, meeting, marrying, procreating, dying and repeating the cycle. I missed it and I didn’t. I was so young, frontal lobe still not firing on all cylinders, no real responsibility and no concept of where I was going in life. So I had the time to sit and paint. Hours and hours, it took – I’d never painted water before, and I had to figure out a technique (which I’ve been using ever since, slightly honed and with greater speed, admittedly) so by the time I finished, I was chilled to the bone and I had a very long walk back down the Longdendale Trail ahead of me, box of paints in one hand and painting flapping on its board carelessly in the other. Since that point, I can assure you, I have taken very good care of it. As with most paintings, I was tired and disappointed with myself and it wasn’t until much later in the day, warmed through with a glass of red wine and a bath, that I looked at the finished piece and realised it was my most accomplished painting to date.
The Ghosts and the Longdendale Trail
Woodhead Tunnel has fascinated me for years. There are so many ghost stories – another chill factor for a day so cold I’d seen next to no other people venturing onto the Longdendale Trail. I’d spent the whole time I was there nervously checking over my shoulder at the gaping, black hole at the entrance to the tunnel – the bars that ran from floor to ceiling looked like whale’s teeth** and just added to the feeling of being watched.
For those of you who don’t know the stories, Longdendale Valley sits on ley lines and the Longdendale Lights are legendary. Seen from miles and miles around during the nights and often mistaken for lost hikers, the Longdendale Lights shine out across the moors. They are, to this date, unexplained, but often reported to Mountain Rescue who diligently go out there only to find exactly what they expect to find – nothing. Then there’s the lost WWII aeroplane that people see plummeting to earth and making impact with much noise and rumbling – again, often reported only to yield nothing but the same old bones of the WWII plane that actually came down during the war. It’s spooky, right? Even for an old sceptic like me. If you’re interested, also check out the legend of The Devil’s Elbow – a particularly sharp corner you’ll come to if you turn off the Woodhead Pass towards Glossop and take the Woodhead Road. And, seriously, it’s a 90 degree bend – don’t try anything clever. That’s how you become a ghost story.
The Painting Itself
Life has changed so much since that day, and so have I. I moved to Yorkshire when I came to Uni in 2003 and have stayed ever since, but Longdendale and its mysteries remain. And my painting of Woodhead Tunnel has had quite a life since its creation too. It’s been framed since 2004, so it’s in pristine condition, despite having been exhibited twice and changed hands a few times. My mother had it up in her house for a while, along with the painting of Old Glossop that sold earlier this year (it’s 2020 as I write this – a pandemic we could never have predicted wreaking havoc on humanity and second lockdown for Leeds imminent). And I decided it was time to let go of the past and a lot of things I’ve been holding on to, this painting among those things. My Danaë, another piece with a deep history for me, was also sold earlier this year – hard to let go of, but it was the right time.
So, here it is for you you to buy, if you choose to. On stretched paper rather than canvas, which makes it so much more convenient if you want to choose a frame that fits your decor. The only blemish is to the back, which is just faint evidence of its exhibition. It’s been one of my most popular pieces for prints too. As with every piece, it would be lovely if it could be sold to a household that will cherish it, but more so because this painting and I have history.
* I’m the first to admit that I’ve never had any formal training in art, not that it matters as far as I’m concerned – it’s just something I’ve always been able to do. I’ve been creating and making money from my art for a very long time
** Are they called teeth?
The original Woodhead Tunnel painting is available to buy direct from my website.
Woodhead Tunnel is available in all kinds of printing formats and across all clothing and home decor products on Redbubble.
Luxury framed or canvas prints are available from Saatchi.