Return to the Gower – I

by maggie

The sketches and photographs I made at Falls Bay earlier in the year were detailed and close up. Recently I’ve wanted to make an image of the intimidating nature of Lewes Castle (Fall Bay Buttress) that I remember from that trip. It’s been an interesting exercise of breaking out of my comfort zones.

King wall rises darkly from 25 m above the beach and perched on the Great Terrace above is another 36 m of paler limestone. Initially it was a challenge to fit the various bits of landscape into the page without either too much of the rest of Fall Bay to the side or without cutting off the top of Lewes Castle.

Here I'm cramming all that height on to the page. It's not very geographically accurate and it's far too bright

Here I’m cramming all that height on to the page. The image is not very geographically accurate. Even though it captures the main elements  it’s far too bright

To the east the dark mass of the lower wall slopes inland to almost sea level and slips into the maw of the Giant Cave – big enough to park a couple of Routemasters in. The walls are girdled about with frozen ranks of tide washed hattifatteners and framed with cascading ramps of broken rock sloping from one level to the next; stout defenses to a fine castle. Frustrated with my attempts I google “Lewes Castle Gower” (An exercise for the reader.) and discover that the proportions of the headland aren’t quite as I remember.

This set of images is made with watercolour / gouache and water soluble crayon, which make a nice soft mark on damp paper. I drew the second cliff in the sky in frustration with the first

This set of images is made with watercolour / gouache and water soluble crayon, which make a nice soft mark on damp paper. I drew the second cliff in the sky in frustration with the first.

What I remember isn’t really a dramatic landscape but a series of immediate impressions:

  • A narrow path on steeply sloping ground above a high drop, trying to ignore the slop of the waves throwing me off balance:
  • A generous hollow with rock walls, like a cockpit of an ocean going racing craft precariously seated between two steep cliffs, the floor littered with fallen rock:
  • An ascending ramp, shallow in-comparison with the rock wall it foots, but spilling inevitably into space;
  • A broad descending slope once the bottom of some shallow sea, now abruptly tilted, only friction keeping me anchored in place;
  • An awkward step, up over a bottomless crack damp from the sea; a reliable wall and the roof of a huge cave the lime stone bed 2 metres thick;
  • Descending further and the cave itself is revealed in shadows and rank wet stench; there are smooth sea washed rocks carved into some anthropomorphic nightmare, heads shoulders knees, and laps full of water.

Everything is gray from the sea to the sky – the sand and rock, a rainbow inbetween. Then there are the textures, everything from pointed pricking to polished smoothness.

This chimera extends elements from a first attempt after going back to the source material. while the upper walls loom, I feel that the lower wall is a little lost.

This collage extends elements from a first attempt; while the upper walls loom, I feel that the lower wall is a little lost in comparison.

You can’t see all of this at one time, but it builds in your mind, adding together to form an overwhelming impression. The mute looming cliffs lurk in the back of your head as you turn to face the open sea. How do, how can you recreate that feeling in an image?
Cropping? Composition? Lighting? Palette? A series?
The dramatic sun filled images on the internets are taken from some distance at low tide. Close to you can’t see all of the cliff. I don’t remember being able to see the top of Lewes Castle when standing by the rocks at the foot of King Wall, the angles are all wrong. Depending how far around the head land you situate yourself you can see either the low lying rocks on the west side of Fall Bay or the mouth of the Giant Cave on the east. I think in my initial sketches from memory I was amalgamating two parts of the head land into one drawing.

Two quick sketches from photos off the internet. This is an attempt to under stand the topology of the headland. I've also made a note of from satellite images. Now I need to forget all this homework and make my picture.

Two quick sketches from photos off the internet. This is an attempt to under stand the topology of the headland. The images are taken further away from the cliff than I’ve been. I’ve also made a note of from satellite images. Now I need to forget all this homework and make my picture.

Now that I’ve thought long and hard about this composition, I will attempt to produce something satisfactory. How useful though are all these dramatically framed cliffs posted on the net when producing a reaction to a feeling? I wonder as well how useful a single image is in trying to capture all I have described – and failed to describe. (As apart from the vocabulary I used, I’ve not really discussed the feeling the place stirred in me.) One step at at time!
It has also occurred to me how cursory my exploration of the headlands between Falls and Mewslade Bay actually were. I shall have more courage of my convictions (and interests). Next time I visit I will explore more and explore where ever else I visit.

MER

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