Every now again you come across a picture that for some unknown reason brings back many happy memories of sights, sounds and smells of the past. For me the above picture entitled 'Journey's End at Porlock' is jam packed with such thoughts and reminders'. I first came across the painting about 10 years ago, the original was hanging in an art gallery in Dulverton. I reckon I must have just stood and stared, mouth agape, at it for 10 minutes such was its appeal. Then the 'must have' factor kicked in along with highly exaggerated calculations as to my healthy bank account which was in fact about as healthy as a plague victim. I had convinced myself that no matter what its cost it was an investment. As I was about to dart, green eyed into the shop, credit card in hand I noticed a small sign on the bottom of the picture saying, "Not For Sale'. My heart sank like a soufflé made with cement and I stomped off down the street, hands deep in pockets, shoulders hunched, and moodily kicking a tin can. The picture was painted by local artist, Maurice Bishop, and I suppose if I had the incredible fortune to be able to paint such a masterpiece I wouldn't want to sell it either. For further information on Maurice Bishop view his gallery website - here.
For ages the detail of that painting was firmly fixed in my head, then about 2 months later I was back in Dulverton. First stop the art gallery and there the picture was still in the window and still with the, "Not For Sale" sign stubbornly affixed. This time I went into the gallery and saw that they did have some prints of 'Journey's End', but once again I was to be denied. I can't remember why but that particular month had been an astronomically expensive month and the funds weren't there to even buy a print. I did however scrape up enough to buy a small 21 x 10.5 cm card of the painting. That night I just sat staring at it trying to work out exactly why it drew me so much. It certainly was not the location as Dunster is on Exmoor and although it is a beautiful area, that part of Devon holds no magic for me. I poured a nice large tumbler of Ardbeg malt and sat sipping it whilst being transfixed by the 'Journey's End'. For those that aren't familiar with Ardbeg malt it is distilled on Islay and has a distinct peaty aroma. It was when that heady smell of burnt peat filtered through my head that I suddenly realised what the picture was all about.
For a start there are plumes of smoke drifting vertically in the still, windless, winter air. These would be exactly reminiscent of the moorland chimneys with the strong aroma of burning wood interspersed with the odd peat fire. The very smell of burning fossil fuel instils a deep archaic sense of security, fire protects from the evils of the night. Then there is the street which is carpeted in crisp, frost bitten snow, lit only by the light of the moon peeking through the cloud rippled sky. To this day you can still walk down winter village streets that are not blinded by street lighting, Lydford for example does not posses a single street light but my can you see a host of stars glimmering in the inky black skies. Then there is the nostalgic warm orange glow form the various lanterns and candles perched in the house windows. That certainly brought back childhood memories of winter nights and having to go out into the chill air to close the wooden shutters that encased the windows. The large house on the left has its huge wooden gates left open, are these waiting to usher the traveller home to his hearth as they close shut for the night, clouds of snow dust swirl in the backdraught as the mighty doors firmly close? Finally there is the lone traveller slowly plodding his way down through the long, winter, moon cast shadows of the street. That image brings back many a dark crisp night walking along a Dartmoor lane or street, everybody is safely closeted in their home and huddled around their fires, and the night world is one of solitude and contentment.
Then after looking at the picture for a while the finer details begin to emerge, there are no tyre marks in the snow. What a nostalgic thought that is, a world without motor vehicles. You can only just make it out in the small version shown here but there is a woman stood looking out of the window above the large open doors. So perhaps the traveller is not alone, maybe this is his wife waiting anxiously for his return. I remember once again in childhood days how grandmother would wait at the kitchen window peering out to see if grandfather was returning from checking the sheep. There again, perhaps the woman is nothing to do with the traveller and is just being inquisitive as to who was out on such a night. The picture also shows the warm glow emanating from the inn's windows with its promise of warmth, ale and conversation. On a few winter's nights I have walked past the Warren House Inn when such a glow has shone out through its windows. The low buzz of conversation is blended with the distant aroma of beer, the one that can only be detected when you have not been drinking. Again, I can recall as a boy, having to wait outside the inn to bring Grandfather home, he wouldn't be drunk and incapable, that would have been Great Grandfather, its just that he was in a wheelchair. But on those nights there was this same strong and mysterious smell of ale and the allure of what was going on inside the smoky bar. Sadly this was one that I was to become only too well acquainted with as the years have passed.
Then the thought comes to mind, "what if there was a way to embed sounds in the picture, what would they be?" Well in this instance I am sure there would be an owl calling from the distant woods. There would be the occasional snort as the rider's horse puffs out clouds of steam from its flaring nostrils. Behind one of the front doors a dog would be frantically barking at the snow muffled sounds of the horse's hooves as it trotted by. Every now and again the chinking of the bridle would chime out as the horse lifted his head. Maybe a loud chesty cough could be heard from one of the bedroom windows as somebody wrestles in their sleep. The possibilities are endless ...
So there we have it, one totally unrelated painting that has the magic of bringing back so many memories of a completely different part of the world. I must confess that I now have two large sized prints of the 'Journey's End', one hanging in the sitting room and the other above my desk, a bottle of Ardbeg sits close by both.
I don't really know why I have posted this page, it has very little to actually do with Dartmoor and the picture certainly is unrepresentative of THE moor. Perhaps its ...?
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