In search of a wall

27 October 2016-10-26

Several years ago (and I can’t quite remember where), I read of an old, walled, deer park which existed close to Sedgefield known locally as Middleham Park. Records from an old OS 1.:25,000 (1937) failed to reveal its location, although I assumed it must be closer to the village of Bishop Middleham, with its Bishop castle ruins, one of the many old medieval agricultural villages scattered across the landscape.

‘A park surrounded Middleham Manor from as early as 1349, when it was probably used to keep deer for hunting. In 1649 it measured c.70 acres. The park was surrounded by a wall, which can still be seen in some places. The wall may be of late medieval date 15th or 16th century’.

Recently I came across a rather useful website allowing the user to overlay old maps onto satellite images. One such map ‘OS Six Inch’ (1888-1913) clearly revealed the park and the boundary wall. Looking at the map, much of Middleham Park is now underwater.

The park is situated in one of the less known topographical features of County Durham’s landscape, the large areas of waterlogged land lying close to the parish of Sedgefield. Travelling the A1 corridor north, looking east, evidence of modern drainage can be seen criss-crossing the flat horizon. However, over the past 20 years, increased rainfall is changing the landscape back into permanent waterlogged fields and lakes.

‘The marshy ground resulted in the lands being used for fish ponds, meadowland and even a swannery probably meant that the Bishop’s Castle was surrounded with water; access restricted to a causeway between the church and the castle’.

I decided to take my best walking buddy Doris (our little fluffy doggie) on an expedition in search of traces of the wall. Travelling long overgrown rural footpaths, and Holloways, we spent 5 hours (mostly lost) searching through bracken and bog. From the map I could also see a set of buildings named ‘Island Farm’ with causeways still visible. It’s said that the visual effect of these islands within wetland may also have held spiritual meaning… ‘This could have made an ecclesiastical base at Bishop Middleham attractive and it may also have been attractive to a secular power base because of its inherent defensibility.’

Almost on the verge of giving up, we paused by one of the large lakes to share a slice of flapjack. It was only then I noticed a small section of wall behind the bank of the Skerne. I couldn’t quite believe my luck and it may well be an age or a geek thing, but I quickly became very excited. As I raced, camera in hand with Doris into the evening sunset, a sudden change in her direction required a small jump whereupon I slipped, gliding momentary through the air before landing with a wet thump.
I have a small ache but also a lovely picture of the wall.Middleham Park

Thanks for reading.

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North Pennine Gallery


There were too many distractions this year to focus fully on North Pennine Gallery. I’ve stepped in once or twice, but lack of time on the hills meant I was short of material and preoccupied with other projects.

At the age of 51, I graduated from University as a qualified teacher. I’m now fortunate to offer my services to schools and colleges but who wants a 51-year-old teacher when many schools have reduced art as a secondary subject with only one lesson every two weeks. The priority of this government and ministers to make all our children scientists and mathematicians has created an education system based on an ideology of state controlled curriculum, void of creativity and the arts. However, this isn’t the fault of schools, more the privileged who run the country.Thankfully there are still some schools out there which see the arts as a fundamental part of a rounded education, were there is still place for creative thinking and expression.
Lower Teesdale sm

A sketch from the North Pennines- where my heart is.

Happy Christmas

The story about a road


I believe a relationship exists between thinking and walking, more so when your path takes you along less trodden routes. By nature I’m a solitary walker. My mind working better when my legs are moving and void of conversation. A recent holiday along the Solway coast, unearthed memories from younger legs revisiting an old route by way of an evening walk from Kippford to Rockcliffe. My companions on the journey were brooding clouds, short-lived showers and recycled sunlight from the embers of the day. Good fellows I would say.

Years of working from home, building a business that would ultimately rob me of time, and before I knew it nourishment for the mind, saw me isolated from people and places for long blocks of time. This isn’t healthy for the body or mind. Isolation and solitude can cause writers and artists to be more likely to suffer with bipolar disorder.

I exchanged greetings with a young couple sporting two fine looking spaniels. My own black dog (not to be confused with mans’ best friend) was fortunately absent from exercise on this particular day. Under a black sky trimmed with grey and more rain on the way, I watched the young couple pass and disappear from view, I wished a wish to bring back the time that passed me by too.

People do suffer for their art, and clearly some art stems from suffering. Does this make painting and writing the most dangerous professions in the world? It’s no secret that creativity and mental illness are connected – the death of Robin Williams was, perhaps, a sad testament to that fact.

As I descended into the warm overcast evening of Rockcliffe, I sat on a bench and stared out to sea. This painting a memory to thoughts of making up lost time.

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