top of page

Following in Bewick's footsteps (Part 2)

After a most unusual meeting with a horse (do ask) we continued to make our way, still West against the flow of the river, toward the tide stone. Originally this striking metre high pillar was embedded in the earth further downstream but due to changes in the course of the river and the process of dredging, it was relocated. 

Thinking about that movement of stone, both naturally and by human hands interests me, particularly how we mark our territories and communicate information about them, such as the creation of monuments. As the name suggests, tide stones mark the river’s tidal limit as of 1783. With climate change afoot who knows what ways we'll measure these changes? We were told a familiar story about Bewick writing on behalf of the stonemason who carved the three castles in the stone, to get him paid for his work. As we were walking, I wondered how a stonemason could, like this one, be illiterate to the pen but speak in the permanence of his medium. Was this situation unique? 

Just behind the tide stone we spotted two resting herons who soon took flight as a cow made her way toward them. It was such a sight to see them flying in full wing, captured with a tracking shot on my little Nikon, below:

As owls seem to carry an interior wisdom, herons with their long feathered crest, look to me like painters. And painting was a subject that I thought of often as we walked, as I saw what couldn't possibly be the same tree or bird in Bewick's watercolour. The multiples of nature brought to mind Gertrude Stein's line A rose is a rose is a rose. The heron looks much like any other, we can identify it from other birds by shape, the unique plumage and his call. That is its 'heron-ness' This heron will live its own life, experience the world in through its own eyes, spawn and die. Do we inherit or learn memories? That cow charging toward you means danger, the reeds will give you cover, the river brings food, the sky safety. Fly up and on.

We too carried on. Towards Ovingham, we crossed over bridges, train lines. As we pushed forward, we spotted the simplicity of a single poppy in the verge, papery pods by the river or a distant shag disappearing at astonishing speed, beak first into the Tyne. Approaching Eltringham woods the earth became suddenly softer and much more vertical. For the first time I was prompted by a burst to push harder and faster forward. I led the walk up the muddy slope we climbed, feeling every bit that my prints were falling step by step into Bewick's own.

When we finally reached Cherryburn, we gathered on the steps for water, to ease our feet. We had been walking since 10:00am and it was now almost 6:00pm. The tired smiles of accomplishment bound us. We had followed Bewick's footsteps together, found common ground and contemplated not just our surroundings but ourselves. 

I regularly pursued my walks and, whilst thus exercising, my mind was commonly engaged in devising plans for my conduct in life -

Thomas Bewick A Memoir



bottom of page