Searching for Somethings: A Return to the Lake District

For some time now I’ve been itching to get my head back into my own research, but between working in the 3DVisLab most of the week and freelance on client-led projects the rest it can be tricky finding the space to think in depth about anything other than the task in hand. To be fair, that ‘task in hand’ is mostly fun, interesting and challenging! However, for much of the week my brain is too saturated to think critically, let alone write about it.

I suppose a part of me feels a little guilty because I’ve written papers urging archaeologists, reconstruction artists and illustrators to think critically and engage with the material they produce. However, the reality of working as a reconstruction artist with bills to pay and a diesel-hungry van to feed means that commission work is solely focused on delivering a pre-determined outcome dictated by the client. Of course, this is still a creative process and with each project comes new challenges and more often than not the opportunity to lead the design of said outcome. Though these creative engagements tend to be functional rather than reflexive or theoretical…

So in the spirit of re-immersing my head in researchy thoughts I decided it was time to pay Aaron a visit, he’s always good for a chat at times like these.

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These boots were happy to be back in the hills again, trudging through their first snow of the winter to hunt down some Cumbrian archaeology!

I joined Aaron for a weekend of hiking and exploring the landscapes of the Lake District and we began in familiar territory (reminiscent of my last visit to Aaron) by hiking up some mountains near Langdale. We were in search of some “not geology”, a term I became familiar with on my last visit to Cumbria when we’d met with Annie Hamilton-Gibney in the Vale of Eden.

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Gazing at the vistas surrounding a scarcely visible wee stone circle we hiked to from the Langdale valley below.

It’s always great to get out in the hills and doing so in search of some archaeology is even more satisfying. I hike and trail run a fair bit and while we made our way up to the first plateau we mused over the way our stride altered to hunt for any signs of prehistoric activity. My engagement with the mountains is quite different when I’m purely hiking or running, I’m focused in a different way, reaching the highest point, ticking off the landmarks on the ascent, searching out the spots for the best views to survey where I’ve been and where I’m going. When archaeology is on the cards however my eyes turn to the ground in search of anything “not normal”. When we found the first circular stone monument I was straight to the center, gazing round and round to take in the view from all directions. Trying to establish why that spot had been deemed significant in prehistory. The view from that spot felt like the mountains formed a natural amphitheater, opening out to a stunningly clear view of the valley below on one side. When we looked back down to the site later from a vantage point further up the mountain it was difficult to spot, but standing within it felt like you were on display to the whole landscape.

I’m not sure my thoughts meant anything particularly profound, but just returning to the archaeologists mindset to engage with the landscape felt good. It’s been a while since my brain has been switched on to that wavelength.

We continued to hike and chat, Aaron recorded a few anomalies he thought might be something worth investigating and we hunted down a few inconspicuous sites a friend had mentioned he should look out for.

The following day Aaron thought I’d enjoy a stroll at Grizedale Sculpture Park with him and Diane which was a good call. The forest surrounding the Grizedale center is filled with a range of artworks, a large number of which are somewhat ephemeral in nature, being reclaimed by vegetation and weathering over time.

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Walking the forest the three of us discussed our favorites, agreeing that the sculptures which invited a ‘strangeness’ to the landscape were most interesting. In particular a creepy gold painted standing stone which loomed out of the forest (and was tricky to find in the first place, requiring some adventurous bushwhacking!) and Andy Goldsworthy’s wiggly dry stone wall playfully entitled “Taking a Wall for a Walk”, which weaves through the trees along a hillside.

Catching up with Aaron was great, both socially and brain-wise. Dedicating some time just to get my head back into thinking about where I want to direct my own research ideas was really beneficial and gave me the kick up the bum I’ve been needing for a while. I’m feeling excited about the prospect of embarking on my research again, though I think spending the few years since finishing my PhD working commercially and on other fields of research has been no bad thing. It’s certainly been beneficial in terms of gaining new skills and perspectives that I can take forward…

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