I’ll be walking another section of Isaac’s Tea Trail very soon, but in the meantime there is pleasure and inspiration of a different sort to be had. The North Pennines landscape speaks to artists and other creative types in a very special way, and I’ve been to meet two people whose work expresses that link.
Artist and printmaker Jane Willis lives and works in a converted forge in Ayle, north of Alston. The Tea Trail passes her front door. Ten years ago Jane was living in Hertfordshire when she visited friends in the North Pennines and fell in love with the area. Just a few months later she bought the house in Ayle and has created a studio there. How could an artist resist the wide, wide views up and down the valley? This is a detail from her panorama of the whole 180 degrees:
Textile artist Kate Jackson moved to her rural North Pennines cottage 30 years ago so that her three children could grow up in the countryside. Even now she still gets immense joy from being able to walk out of her door into a landscape that is completely imprinted on her mind. “When I’m out walking I’m enchanted by the patterns around me, the drystone walls, the light, reflections, twigs – sometimes I just lie down on the fell and look at the sky.”
Kate says her primary motivation to do anything in life is colour, and the glorious combinations of colour that fabrics and threads deliver to her patchwork quilts, cushions and curtains.
We chat over coffee in Jane’s studio surrounded by her pictures on the walls and nature’s pictures framed by the windows. Kate is sewing and Jane is knitting, and they both believe strongly that a sense of wellbeing comes from such creativity and companionship. They run workshops in the studio. “People are bowled over by the view when they first arrive here,” says Jane. “Yes,” adds Kate, “Some travel quite a distance and we want them to feel they’ve had a real getaway, a play day.”
We move on to talk about Isaac Holden, the Victorian grocer who sold his tea door to door, trekking to remote communities like Ayle. “He must sometimes have been the only person outside her family that the farmer’s wife saw that week – she would really rely on that social contact,” says Kate.
Jane goes walking once a week with a group in Alston, stalwarts who turn out in all weathers. “Unlike in Isaac’s day, walking is now a leisure activity rewarded by a cup of tea and a scone,” she says. “Isaac must have had such tenacity to keep going physically, as well as having the drive to raise money for good causes.”
Ayle’s location on the Northumberland/Cumbria border gives Jane a vast choice of scenery both near and far. Here she is with her picture of the view down the valley towards Cross Fell:
“Just walking along the lane beside the house I feel so lucky,” she says. “This landscape is so inside my head that it’s even evident in my abstract pictures and imagined scenes. And the bonus in this area is that the people are so friendly.”
Friendly and deeply rooted in the area, but not inward looking. Kate takes great delight in the outside influences on her work – at Christmas she was selling pojagi wrapping cloths for gifts. These are a Korean and Japanese type of patchwork which Kate made from block-printed cotton she’d brought back from India. “I love the fact that they reference the Far East and Asia and they were made in my kitchen in Northumberland,” she says. She’s almost used up her Indian fabric now, and is stitching the remaining pieces into pencil holders.
Driving away from Jane’s studio I can see where Isaac’s Tea Trail descends the northern slope of the Ayle Burn valley and I look forward to walking it.
The weatherman actually used the word ‘drab’ when he described conditions in this area today. Luckily Kate had brought with her the perfect antidote to drab ……….