Review for Alpine Journal 2016 by Terry Gifford

Terry Gifford, one of our crowd funding donors, has written an article featuring step in stone for the Alpine Journal, a hardback publication.   Terry is the unofficial gardener of climbs at Fairy Cave Quarry, a judge for the Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature 2016 and was Director of the annual International Festival of Mountaineering Literature for 21 years.  Former Chair of the Mountain Heritage Trust, he is the author of The Joy of Climbing (2004) and is in his 52nd year of rock-climbing.  Terry helped Cath attach some of her Gabions high up on a sheer rock face at Fairy Cave, and was a great support throughout the project.

The Alpine Journal won’t be published for several months and a hard copy will be hard to get, so Terry has given us permission to publish his article in advance.

‘step in stone’ exhibition, Fairy Cave Quarry, Somerset, October 2015

(Review offered for publication in the Alpine Journal 2016)

Mountaineers on the Alpine Ridge (PD) under full winter conditions, catching the last of the winter afternoon’s sun, photographed in close-up, can look very impressive on social media. But this is Fairy Cave Quarry’s easiest route to the quarry rim, all one hundred meters of it. When I moved to the Mendip Hills of Somerset four years ago, Stephen Venables was summing up the local climbing for me, adding, ‘and there are some over-rated grotty quarries’. A month after I moved into Stoke St Michael, unaware of this particular locked quarry (BMC website for access details) just a lane away from my house, it announced itself in the guise of a Climbers’ Club guidebook all of its own. It has since become the best-selling CC guidebook ever. What began as a bit of a joke – a sop to activists down in the lonely Southwest – from the CC guidebook committee has become a runaway success going through reprint after reprint.

So what is the secret to Fairy Cave Quarry’s popularity that draws climbers not just from Bristol and South Wales, but from all along the M4, from the south coast, and even tempts Iain Peters out of Devon? Most of its climbing is north-facing and it has a reputation for limestone looseness and vegetation. But it has the nearest slabs to London. And there’s not a bolt or peg in sight. The clean line of the classic Rob’s Crack (4c), benign beginners’ routes on the west-facing Balch’s Slide (4a) area, and the thin steeper challenge of Withy Crack (5a), plus plenty of tricky overlapping slabs at higher grades, attract climbers on most dry days of the year. But actually this is a cavers’ quarry, owned by a caver, the locked carpark reserved for cavers and its management committee dominated by cavers whose base is the cavers’ hut at the top of the lane. Apparently the many locked cave entrances in the quarry give access to some of the best decorated caves in the Mendips, where many cavers are also climbers. Withy Crack’s first ascent is credited to Cerberus Speleological Society in 1992. Given that it is also an SSSI (great crested newts; at least two species of orchids; ravens reared three young last year; Western Red Cedar has just been discovered there) climbers need to be aware that Fairy Cave Quarry is a place that we share, like so many of our crags, with other interests.

But what about three gabions of orange plastic hanging from the diagonal crack of Halfway to Kansas? Or the quarry floor littered with strange white tents on wheels in which green shoots grew from teapots? Or a disembodied voice speaking from somewhere up in the West End? Then over 1200 people finding all sorts of other oddities around the quarry during the two weeks (three weekends) when it was open to the public? Actually climbers seemed to have enjoyed sharing the quarry with the ‘step in stone’ sculpture exhibition for two weeks in October 2015 and may not have realised that they became exhibits themselves in the time-lapse, attention-provoking, photographs of Christina White displayed at the Earth Science Centre down the road. Indeed, climbers were responsible for hanging those gabions at the request of the artist, Catherine Bloomfield, so that their impact (unintended by the artist, apparently) as people entered the quarry was like a parody of three ducks on a wall. Actually, more subtle than that, they were the highest of a line of orange gabions that had colonised the quarry and clearly wanted to join in the climbing.

Poet Ralph Hoyte’s voice works were both an echo of the human construction of the quarry and an eerie post-industrial mysterious communication of echoing absence. Sally Kidall’s white tents on stick and sisal platforms looked like some post-industrial survivors’ attempts at nomadic domesticity that were now abandoned and being reclaimed by nature. From the climbers’ perspective on the quarry rim this seemed to be a community that had run its wheels into a dead-end before it simply gave up. Duncan Cameron developed a picture of the quarry site through evening, day and overnight ‘expeditions’, collecting fascinating found materials (including a wrist watch – but no old pegs!) that he finally mounted in his ‘Fairy Cave Cabinet’ on the dramatic cliff-edge start of the Alpine Ridge. For those climbers who walked around into the West End with their eyes open, a dome set into the ground will have revealed another miniature world of insects, ants and a dead bird. Tessa Farmer’s fairy world was a predatory one that certainly suggested ‘Alice’s unsettling journey down the rabbit hole into Wonderland’ as she puts in the excellent catalogue representing all fourteen artists who took part in the larger project involving six venues with workshops, walks, talks and performances that attracted 8114 visitors in total. Amazingly, the curator of all this, Fiona Campbell, found time to make work for at least three sites where ancient sea creatures that might have inhabited what is now limestone. Here, her ‘Eviscerated Earth’ combined rusty steel bits with wax, cloth, paper and wire to evoke, ironically, the strange formations lost in the destruction of caves by quarrying. Actually, what remains was not only the inspiration for the artists, but also for the audience: the natural folds and features of Fairy Cave Quarry itself, especially in the Death Wish Area, attracted a lot of public attention, which should remind us of how lucky we are to have access negotiated by BMC volunteer Ian Butterworth.

So could there be limits to sharing climbing rock with other artists? (Like bullfighting in Spanish culture, rock-climbing, we know, is an art form.) Only one climb was made more difficult for only two weeks here. And from the quarry rim climbers still get the benefit of various imitations of the famous Salt Lake land art ‘Spiral Jetty’. But on some gritstone boulders in West Yorkshire and Lancashire six poems by Simon Armitage have been carved into the rock to comprise the Stanza Stones Trail of 47 miles. Each poem is about a form of precipitation: ‘Rain’, ‘Snow’, ‘Mist’, etc. These are semi-permanent, although expected by the poet to be mossed over, erased by their subjects and climbed over. Unlike bird-bans, they don’t require art-bans. But they have, with a kind of hubris, humanised the natural rock we come to climb. Is it our rock? Of course not, and climbing is still possible. Indeed, you might feel enriched by being reminded of climbing ‘up here where the front of the mind distils the brunt of the world’ in ‘Rain’, for example. For years we’ve shared the crags with ravens and ring ouzels, and now we must share them with conservationists and curators.

My three nuts from which the gabions hung stayed untouched by other climbers for two weeks. When I mistakenly removed them, thinking the exhibition was finished, other climbers replaced them with stones so the final weekend show could go on. But at another, open, quarry, a weekend rave of six hundred people destroyed one artist’s work. There are other people we should resist sharing the crags with – the ‘green trail’ 4×4 drivers, the destructive trail bike riders, the access improvers, the commercial bolters, the selfish route-hogging groups. Beside these, a few though-provoking, amusing or distinctly odd fellow artists are life-enhancing presences for which we should be grateful, as many climbers obviously were at Fairy Cave Quarry in 2015.

Terry Gifford

 

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Here Be Fairies

Bronwen Bradshaw

At the Fairy Cave Quarry At the Fairy Cave Quarry

When you drive through Stoke St Michael on the Mendips, you can sense that stone is part of its story. The grey stone houses, small, mostly, workers’ homes, the huge quarry lorries that you can encounter round any tight corner. Before you get there, on the the road from the A361, you pass several working quarries, and then the basalt quarry: Moon’s Hill Quarry, with the deepest, finest basalt around.

Moon's Hill basalt quarry Moon’s Hill basalt quarry

The Fairy Cave Quarry is on the other side of the village, hidden down a  narrow leafy lane. It’s small (relatively, when you see the size of Whatley), not too overgrown, and closed to the public. So all the more exciting that it will be open to all during SAW, October 3 – 18th. I went there yesterday for a photoshoot with my still unfinished piece “Here Be Fairies”. This…

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Considering Quarry Bones

e Quarry Bones

I’m considering the deer bones that I collected in the quarry and how they can form part of the cabinet collection. The vertibra are particularly beautiful and I’m considering casting and drawing from them and also how I may raise them up within the cabinet I am now building. The bones are of course also a testament to the vertiginous nature of the excavated quarry walls and tragic evidence of the lost lives of the luckless creatures that have fallen over the edge, their bones now winkled from the rocks by an enthusiastic forensic artist.

Duncan Cameron  23/6/15

An afternoon of Trials

Yesterday was an afternoon of trying out some of the felt pieces in two of the quarries:

Trial felt pieces Blog pic 2

Fairy Cave – trying out the best location for a number of small white balls in Fairy Cave.

Blog pic 3

The “Island” of choice for “homing” the white balls against the steep wall of the quarry.

sample small white ball

A sample small white ball beside some of the new flowers that have grown up since my last visit to Fairy Cave Quarry.

 

Westdown Quarry – trying out felting a huge stone!

The process:

Choosing a possible stone  and   wrapping the stone to make a template

Choosing a possible stone                Blog pic 6

The felting process with supervisor!                  Its hard work keeping track of what is happening!

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“Trialing” out the piece on the stone in Westdown Quarry.

Blog pic 10

 

Suzie Gutteridge  5/6/15

 

The Age of Stone

Getting stuck in to two large pieces for the fist installation of step in stone at the Somerset  Earth Science Centre at Moon’s Hill Quarry at the end of the month.

The first of which is a piece I call “The Age of Stone” after Rodin’s “The Age of Bronze”.

Auguste_Rodin-The_Age_of_Bronze-Victoria_and_Albert_Museum-2 (2)

I don’t see what I do as being contemporary art. It’s conception is far to connected to the hunter-gatherer experience, seeing movement in stone and seeking to animate, and too closely involved in re-imagining classical sculpture to want to be tied down to post Duchamp perspectives.

However there are times when the contemporary perspective really ties in to the conversation I am having through my practice.  With “The Age of Stone” I am really wanting to highlight  geological timescale and the extraordinary perspective that the understanding of deep time has on our experience of the world.  I find that in an era of fundamentalism I am using the fundament to talk about my fundamentals. The fundamental in this case being that if we look and really examine the world around us it reveals to us it’s history in an intricate and entirely cohesive way. We can see that these limestone rocks that we walk on every day were formed from the bodies of sea creatures. Because the Calcium in bones and shells is in fact a metal, we can examine the magnetic signatures created as the rocks were formed that reveal their location at that time within the earth’s magnetic field, we can date their formation from the organic chemistry within  the life that became rock.  We find that we can build up a picture from the bedrock, from the fundament that dwarfs the biblical story in every respect. Every rock. every stone on the planet is interconnected in this same story, of a planet that created this life from itself.

What a great opportunity step of stone  has given me to exhibit “The Age of Stone” in the context of Moon’s Hill Quarry and the Somerset Earth Science Centre.

Duncan Elliott  1/6/15

Photoshoot at Asham/Westdown

Some of the team at Westdown

We had another photoshoot/research session – this time at Asham/Westdown quarry.   Artists Suzie Gutteridge, Christina White,  Duncan Elliott, Bronwen Bradshaw, Fiona Campbell and Steering Group member Nick Weaver met up with our filmmaker Jack Offord and photographer Duncan Simey to do a recce, film and photograph some of our trial pieces in the quarry setting.  Jack Offord is making our documentary film, so has been interviewing some of us.

It was a valuable exercise in working out logistics.  My work has been progressing slowly and I brought along part of it – already a heavy, awkward load to carry.  In my studio and garden it appears enormous, it filled the back of my truck with bits sticking out beyond the truck tail gate, but once we reached the quarry it seemed to shrink somewhat against the vast backdrop!  So I  plan to add more to this installation.. if I have the time…

It’s always great meeting up with the rest of the team, especially on site.  Ideas and enthusiasm rub off, working relationships and new collaborations are developing and I think a natural resonance between our work is being forged.

Thanks again to Duncan Simey for taking these great images:

Suzie transporting her rocks (and some of Fiona's tentacles)

Christina capturing the long wall Bronwen likes the walls

Another wall or plinth

Moss growing

Carrying the monster Heavy load, long walk - Nick and Fiona carting monster piece

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Bronwen's hand-made sketchbook Bronwen sketching

Suzie setting up rock/felt pieces Suzie's trial felt/rock pieces Suzie's trial felt/rock piece

Crinoid fossils

Nick Weaver with catkins

Setting up for photoshoot (work in progress) My work in progress - sea creature/tumbleweed-inspired

20150416-152744-I39A8012 Ideas

Christina Christina at work Bronwen's found her site Christina and Bronwen

Loaded back on the truck

For a full range of photoshoot images, check out Duncan Simey’s website:

Fiona Campbell 19/4/15

Photoshoot at Fairy Cave

A few of us met at Fairy Cave on Thursday for a photoshoot, equipment test and H&S walkabout with Martin Grass from Fairy Cave committee.  We had a glorious day of sunshine.  This had also brought rock climbers, who were already up rock faces in the quarry, when we arrived.  One of them – Terry Gifford – happened to have supported us via IdeasTap crowd funding, so it was a lovely surprise to meet him there!

Images below of: Tessa Farmer, Christina White, Fiona Campbell, Ralph Hoyte, Phill Phelps (sound engineer), Jack Offord (filmmaker), Martin Grass and Terry Gifford.  Photographs courtesy of Duncan Simey.  For more selection visit: www.wild-landscapes.co.uk

Jack Offord 20150409-124223-I39A7676

Fiona and Tessa Tessa Tessa and Christina Fiona, Martin, Ralph, Phill 20150409-130230-I39A7726 20150409-133117-DSCF3950 Terry, Martin, Tessa Ralph Hoyte Fiona Campbell Tessa setting up work for photoshoot 20150409-135549-I39A7786 20150409-135827-I39A7789 Tessa Farmer Tufa Fairies - Tessa Farmer Jack and Tessa 20150409-141710-I39A7810 20150409-141812-I39A7815 Ralph

We discovered that Fairy Cave is not only an area of SSSI for its renowned caves, but is also designated as SAC (a Europe-wide status) for its rare abundance of greater horseshoe bats – most evident in the winter months. Some caves were newly exposed through quarrying, although one was sadly removed.  When standing in parts of Fairy Cave quarry, we are standing in what was a vast ancient cave.

Fiona Campbell  12/4/15

Artist Research Trip 2

On 19th February, one of our artists, Stuart Frost, flew over from Norway  to do a recce of our Mendip quarry sites in Somerset.  We were unlucky with the weather again as it poured with rain all day, but  the 3 of us – Nick Weaver, Fiona Campbell and Stuart – managed to visit 4 quarries and our indoor sites –  Somerset Earth Science Centre and Black Swan Arts.  Joined by step in stone artist Suzie Gutteridge and photographer Duncan Simey in the afternoon, we took a minibus trip into Whatley quarry.  This isn’t part of the Trail, but it was incredible to venture into one of the largest quarries in Europe right on our doorstep, accompanied by Juliet Lawn from Somerset Earth Science Centre and donned with hard hats and glasses.  Whatley is owned by Hanson UK who also own Westdown, where we will be installing some work for our event this summer.

Thanks to Duncan Simey for taking some great photos of the day.

 

Stuart at WestdownFairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries   Fairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries  Fairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries  Fairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries  Fairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries  Fairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries  Fairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries  Fairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries  Fairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries  Fairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries  Fairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries   Research Trip 2 - Fairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries  Fairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries    Fairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries  Fairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries  Fairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries  Fairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries  Fairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries  Fairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries  Fairy Cave, Westdown, Halecombe and Whatley quarries           Cake as reward!

 

Fiona Campbell  27/2/15