Monday, 18 August 2014

Barmouth, Wales

The harbour made a pleasing place to sit for a while today and do some sketching. For a change I ignored the people around me and concentrated my attention on a pen and ink illustration of the sea-front buildings.

A reasonably warm day had brought out the holiday makers who filled the pavements with their chatter, ice-creams and fish and chips. Sea-gulls eagerly pulled at discarded polystyrene food cartons in order to find any remaining scraps of food. The high street was a busy mix of traffic and people dipping curiously into the many varied shops, many of whom adorned the pavement or shop fronts with tantalising merchandise. As with most sea-side towns it was the shops selling the must-have cheap and cheerful beach wear, bucket and spades and toys that seemed to shout out loudest for attention. All the plastic in the brightest colours you could ever want could be bought there. 

Did I really want to walk past the shops and sidestep burger filled holiday makers for a third time that day? Instead I turned up a small path that lead between two shops and climbed the steep hill that rises sharply upwards behind the town. I entered a different world. Suddenly silence appeared and the hustle, bustle and smell of hot people and streets was gone. Before me was a maze of small paths and steps climbing steeply before me. Slate steps worn smooth by generations of people, high walls that hid tiny gardens and houses that seemed to be tucked into any conceivable nook and cranny of the very steep hillside. There were no roads between the houses, just a maze of paths leading in varied directions. This was a place of angles, curves, twisty tight paths, unexpected corners, ivy covered walls, metal handrails and stunning views. I was surrounded by the architecture of old cottages, weaving stone walls, tumbling steps, rooftops, and chimney pots - all creating an amazing feast for an artists eye.

Everywhere I looked, the greyness of the slate was broken up ivy, hydrangeas, and numerous other seaside loving plants. Colour from wild and garden flowers flecked the walls, gardens and paths. Following on from my previous post about the Centre for Alternative Technology, I made a conscious note of how much the people living here had changed the environment around their homes by adding pots and planters of flowers, garden furniture, driftwood, decorative features and so much more to brighten up the small spaces that were theirs. We have a deep need, wherever possible, to bring nature and/or something aesthetically pleasing into our lives. We seem to want to make some sort of statement - for ourselves and that can be appreciated by other people. I wonder why we do this? Is it that we are attempting to create something we find beautiful? To satisfy a need for fulfilling a positive emotion? Down in the town there was the need to seek gratification for our consumerist and social desire for food, shopping and holiday pleasures. Yet just a few yards away was a world that reminded me of the deep connection that the history of the place has with the landscape. There was the slate industry that created much of this landscape; the steepness of the hill side and the precarious nature of building on the steep hillside reflected the harsh climate, the ruggedness of the people and a community full of history. Looking down at the buildings below me there were many more modern buildings that looked so out of place amidst the traditional architecture that if I were a planner I would not have allowed them to be built nowadays. Not many people would venture up these steps as I did today, but I just took a 'what if' step and it changed the whole view of my visit to the town.

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