Silbury Hill, Wiltshire

Silbury Hill stands out in the landscape like nothing else. The largest man-made mound in Europe, we encountered it as we left Avebury. You couldn’t miss it. That it was made around 2500BC is doubly impressive. It was dated by the broken antler picks left behind by its builders – that means it was built around the same time as Egypt’s pyramids. And to this day it remains a mystery.

Silbury Hill

Silbury Hill

It stopped me in my tracks so that despite the rain I just had to stop and grab a photo. One thing I found remarkable is that although I was probably close to a mile away (1.6km) on a road leading over an adjacent hill I saw an indent near the top which suggested that a previous top – now a terrace-like feature – would have placed the hill top at that time in direct line with the horizon line from where I was standing. That is some serious engineering and surveying!

It was long assumed to be a larger version of the burial barrows in the district – but no burial chamber has been found despite three tunnels being dug through its centre.

  • The first tunnel was built in 1776 by a team of miners hired by the Duke of Northumberland and Colonel Drax. They sank a shaft from the top of the hill.
  • Then came an Archeological Institute dig arranged by Dean Mereweather in 1849. This tunnel went in from the side.
  • And finally, in 1968 the BBC and Cardiff University dug another tunnel close to the second one.

Assuming it was a burial chamber for a great chief, they were each chasing treasure – hopefully on an impressive scale. But to date none has been found.

What has been discovered is how it was built. First a layer of gravel covered in soil and surrounded by a ditch. The hill was raised several times, with each successive phase filling in the ditch and recutting in around the new base.

Today the base covers more than two hectares – 5 acres – and as the hill was enlarged, the soil was stabilised with sarsen boulders from the district incorporated into the soil.

Unfortunately, there is no public access to the site as it is unstable – in 2000 a portion collapsed into the first tunnel which had not been properly filled in.

But as a triumph of human ingenuity and tenacity to build something greater than themselves, the Silbury Hill is an impressive piece of work.


What I used of my Travel sketch kit on my trip

As I was packing for our trip I shared a photos of my sketching travel kit I had put together and promised that when I returned I would tell readers what of the art materials I packed I actually used. You may want to refresh your memory. You will  in this post photos and listed the items of what I took.

Travel journal I used on my tripFirstly for my travel journals I took 2 Daler Rowney sketchbooks of 150 gsm cartridge paper, that are landscape format. I was a little worried that I was being over ambitious as we were away 9 weeks in all. I needn’t of worried as I filled those two and went on to a  third sketchbook that I purchased in Paris. It is a hard bound Canson 5.5 X 8 inch sketchbook that has 100gsm paper in it. To be honest I found this a better sketch book to use on the road. It was smaller and easier to carry about and the actual area it took up when opened out was less which meant I could write and draw in more compact spaces.

If you want to see a video of a flip through the pages of the first journal here is the link. In the next week or so I will video the other two books and share the page spreads with readers.

drawing equipment I used in my travel journalThis is what I found I used most from my travel art kit pencils, eraser and kneedable rubber, UHU glue, stapler, small cutting knife, scissors (not in the photo) pitt pens, washi tape, bulldog clips and paper scraps. These items in the travel kit were used constantly.

Art supplies I used in my travel journalMy watercolour paints, water brushes and inktense pencils I used occasionally probably because they were wet media and I found that it was simple to keep to dry media while out and about. It was more convenient to work without water.

Art supplies I did not use in my travel journalMy watercolour pencils I did not use at all. I also took a stencil knife and cutting board as I am usually a little more careful when cutting out images but I found at the end of a day tired after being out and about I took short cuts and resorted to scissors.

What I have learnt and what I will take in a travel art kit in future

If I was going to be away for only 2-3 weeks I would simply pack dry materials like pencils. The inktense pencils were new and I really did not know quite how they would behave and respond to the paper I was using. I like them but I wanted more muck about time with them. So in future particularly for a short trip I would take media I was familiar.

For longer trips it is a slightly different story as you can get tired of using the same media again and again. On a longer  trip of over a month, I would take watercolours again as after about 6 weeks I felt a real urge to use other media. On this trip as with any trip the time of year and the places we were at influenced what media I used. I did a lot of drawings in Museums where wet media is not permitted but dry media is.

Earlier in our trip in France I could have used them outside but to be honest at the start of the trip I was a little shy of drawing in public. It would have felt a little pretentious to pull out a painting kit in public. It is after all just a journal. I did slowly lose my shyness but it did influence what I used. Somehow a pencil feels much less of threat.

Towards the end of the trip I was in the UK and the weather kept me in the museums and galleries rather than out in the parks. Both sound like excuses which they are not. Many people find it hard to write a travel journal let alone draw in it too so I am happy with what I have done. But that is another topic. It is enough to say that in future depending on location and time of year on a longer trip I would take the watercolours and probably get more use out of them.

I hope readers have found this useful. Coming up I will share some of the items I purchased on the trip and videos of the other two journals.


More Drawing in the British Museum

I have 2 page spreads of my travel journal to share as I did some more drawings at the British Museum.  Jerry wanted to see the London to Brighton veteran car rally and I didn’t. So he hired a car and followed the rally while I toddled off to the museum to draw. We both had blissful days. No doubt he will share some (not so boring) photos of cars soon.

Egyptian sculpture in the British MuseumClick on the image to see a larger version.

This statue with the head of a lioness is Sekhmet, who is an ancient Egyptian goddess associated with destruction. Her name means ‘she who is powerful’. It comes from Thebes and is dated around 1350 BC, making it over 3,000 years old. You can read more about the sculpture on the British Museum website

Here is the page spread in my travel journal.

Egyptian sculpture in the British Museum in travel journal

The next drawing was done the following day in Room 1 which contains an exhibition about the Age of Enlightenment a time where collections, classification and observation of the world enabled people to understand the world in new ways. In one of the cabinets a small figure attracted me.  It was a few inches high and described as a figurine.

Egyptian sculpture in the British MuseumClick on the image to see a larger version.

Egyptian sculpture in the British Museum in travel journalOn this page spread of my travel journal I have edged the pages with strips of a map. It was a free map of the bus routes and I simple cut it up and glued it to the pages. I also had a postage stamp left over after writing postcards – so I added it to the page.

These drawings also fill the EDM drawing challenge 38 “Draw at a Museum”

For more information about this drawing challenge look under the tab at the top of the screen titled EDM Drawing Challenge. The  challenge also has  a yahoo group, a flickr group and Facebook page.


Salisbury Cathedral font – part icon, part water sculpture

For more than 150 years, Salisbury Cathedral had no permanent font. Instead, there was a small gothic-style Victorian basin that was wheeled out for baptisms from a side chapel.

Enter then Canon Treasurer and now Dean of Salisbury, the Very Reverend June Osborne, who set in motion the commission for a new permanent font. Rather than take the easy route of installing a neo-gothic clone of many other fonts, Osborne argued strenuously for a new work of art – something that would show Salisbury cathedral as looking forward rather than being constrained by its history. Osborne commissioned prominent British water sculptor William Pye.

Conscious that the church is renowned for its conservatism, Pye developed a series of designs which were placed in the cathedral to test the reaction of the parishioners – starting in 2001 – with the final design being approved in 2007. The result was gradual acceptance of a reflecting water surface as a font and a remarkable artistic achievement combining stillness and movement in the cruciform font – the largest in any UK cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral font

Salisbury Cathedral font

The font measures 3m across (10 feet) with the vessel itself made from bronze, set onto a purbeck marble square base. The font is shaped to channel water into four spouts at the corners which pour into bronze drains set into the floor.

The surface is so smooth that visitors have been known to place bags and cameras on what they think is a hard shiny surface, only to see their belongings disappear into the water.

As the previous post here has noted, the font provides an excellent opportunity for some spectacular reflections of the stained glass windows.

Consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury on 28 September 2008, the font is a daring and great addition to the cathedral, and is admired by the many thousands of local and international visitors as well as the local congregation.

The photo was taken from the balcony over the West Front, during the start of the Tower tour – which will be the subject of a subsequent post 🙂