Thursday, 7 March 2013

Curves and hollows

Coming from the dense plantation, Pitcowdens opens itself up as a field scattered with broadleaved trees and stone structures. Owned by the Forestry Commission Scotland, it can only be approached on foot. Birdchatter and treefelling in the distance are the only sounds to break  the silence. When I volunteered for Friends of Durris Forests several years ago, I used to visit this abandoned forest croft regularly. Since then, the heritage project  has come of age. The tumbled down stones of the house and byre still lie where they used to be. I had forgotten about the wooden fence poles on the wall that used to border to garden. The treehut and willowhide are new and will certainly be a hit with my sons. Yet, it is a new bench that stops me in my track.

The bench might well have been a sculpture. The curves and hollows in the planks have Hepworth-like qualities. Held up by granite stones, I wonder about the symbolism of this structure. Wood and stone as the essence of a forest croft. At the same time I feel a sense of irony: are the planks really being supported by the stone? Once the croft was the home of farmers, gamekeepers and woodcutters, but as the it was abandoned in the middle of the 20th century the link between the house and the woods was broken forever. 

When I sit down to write down my first impressions I realise that the bench is placed on a viewpoint. Against the backdrop of the plantation I can just about distinguish remnants of dykes in the distance. Once, Pitcowdens was an active farm where man and horse ploughed the fields. Archives show that the family who lived on the farm used to have a ploughboy. When I put down a cup of tea from my flask next to me I notice the rusted hook in the stone that flanks the seat on the right. What was the hook used for? Could the Clydesdale horses in the byre have been tied up to it overnight?

Though it is early March the sun has not come out and I feel the bitterly cold wind. I get up to see whether there are any objects that could help me tell the story of the abandoned croft. The forest school has left some branch structures that remind me of the kind of washboards that must have been used at Pitcowdens to wash clothes. When I return to the bench I take some pictures of the concentric patterns of cracks in the planks to inspire some abstract drawing. My eyes then fall on the views seen through the holes in the planks. Upright oval shaped, the hollows frame a narrow portion of the fields and plantation behind. I move a little bit to the left and right to find my favourite view. The holes in the planks seem to grow on me. Could it be that what I see when I visit Pitcowdens is only a small part of the stories that are written in the stones of the abandoned croft?

You can listen to the music inspired by my experiences of this heritage site at the blog Pitcowdens.

Copyright text and images Petra Vergunst

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