Recently I went to meet a friend in Northampton, I’d just bought a bike and we were meeting up to explore the cycle track near her home. The weather was threatening and I wasn’t sure I’d get my bike in my car so we decided to meet for lunch and a catch-up instead. Predictably the weather cheered and after a lunch of home made bread, cheese and salad, we went for a walk instead.
I have always loved random rambles through ordinary streets and housing estates, as a child I walked our neighbour’s dog through the building sites that were becoming newer 1970’s council housing – at times I still have dreams of walking through the archways and enclosures, almost lost but always able to find my way home.
The estate we walked through was relatively new, yet the houses were old enough to have taken on some of the character of their occupiers. Gardens an assortment ranging through cared for, landscaped, allowed to run wild, one car, two cars, three, five, garages growing out of houses, obscuring windows, an assortment of windows, railings, porches and steps. Through a gap between some buildings my eye was taken with branches laden with apples, they were too well established to have been planted at the time of building. ‘How curious’ I thought and asked my friend if she knew anything about them.
Attraction - image from the Gravity Project - Carole Miles
She told me the trees had once been part of a farm and it was now a community orchard with trees that were 80 to 100 years old. She took me round to see them, it was almost like stepping into an Arthur Rackham picture, the trees made a low canopy of gnarled and twisted branches. The orchard dates from around 1916 with around 200 standard apple trees. The trees are mostly Bramley’s with some cherry, pear, plum, quince, medlar, hazelnut and walnut, elder and sloe trees.
There were an assortment of people re-cutting pathways through the orchard with a mower, others moving fallen branches and making things ready for their Apple Day events. A lovely man told us about the management of the orchard, how new trees were planted when an old tree finally died and how they had had to move the bee hives has some youngsters had been in and knocked one over. You can find out more about this wonderful place here there are opportunities to volunteer and a host of events to attend.
Newton's Apple - monoprint and pastel - Carole Miles
From the orchard you could hear the roar of the A 45 but there was still another small treasure to see before plunging back into the hustle and flow of modern life. At the orchard’s edge there is another field, some water, I’m not sure if it was a river or pond, with swans. We walked to try and find the entrance as it was or had been another community space. Upon reaching the gate we found it’s use had changed as was now being cultivated as part of the land share scheme, it’s a lovely spot, tucked away and there is still land available. You can find out more about Riverside land, off Mimosa Close, Northampton here
In Corby, where Jo and I have our studios, there has been much demolition and regeneration in the past 10 years and both the landscape and the community are constantly changing. Last year, as part of the Big Draw here we were asked by the Arts Development Team at Corby Borough Council to spend two days with the year 4 children at a brand new primary school on a brand new estate. We took the group out for a walk to draw and explore the nearby houses, asking the children to look at just what people placed in the windows or gardens to make their houses more individual. I took lots of photographs which were printed out as reference materials.
The children worked with pencils, pens and charcoal on the first day, drawing details from the houses they had seen on a variety of supports and in a number of sizes. On the second day they worked in pairs on large sheets of grey board and used oil pastels.
Jo and I were also asked to take part in a Corby Borough Council Big Draw event at the Kingswood Neighbourhood Centre along side author and illustrator Lynne Chapman
We covered the floor with sheets of grey board and invited families to come and draw with a wide variety of materials. There were several breaks in the day when Lynne read stories to a rapt audience. It was a wonderful day, with adults and children of all ages sitting and drawing, exploring colour and space, being creative and having fun together.
Sadly I haven’t been involved in any Big Draw activities this year but in September I did treat myself to a drawing day in Salcey Forest with the sculptor Linda Johns. We made rubbings, collected leaves, twigs and berries, made inks with mud and berry juice and drew with dry grass stalks. It was a delightful day, sometimes it’s really important to revisit our child-like delight in mark making.