I’ve “challenged” myself to write about a “travel trinket” and associated memories. Here are my trinkets:
Actually, only two belong to me: the top book, Wensleydale, and the third one down, Glorious Trees of Great Britain. They were written and illustrated by a Yorkshire-based artist named Piers Browne. My parents and I discovered him decades ago, when I was a twenty-something, tagging along with them on a trip to visit my mother’s family in England. I had been working at a very demanding job and they were worried about my stress levels, so they invited me to join them in Yorkshire, where my mother’s cousins lived. We stayed at a B&B run by the local pub, which meant that my parents stayed in one village home while I stayed in another, and we met up for breakfast at the pub. The home where I stayed had dozens of gorgeous limited edition etchings done by one Piers Browne. When my mother and I were admiring them, my hostess said that he lived nearby, that he sold his etchings out of his artist’s studio sometimes and that he didn’t mind visitors. So off we went, my middle-aged parents and I, to seek him out.
We drove through the beautiful rural Yorkshire Dales that are the subject of so many of his artworks, winding our way through remote lanes and up moors, until we reached his studio. And yes, he was there, and no, he didn’t mind visitors. We pored over his etchings and came away with a few, including one that my parents bought for me as a gift.
Fast forward twenty-five years. Now married, with three children, my husband and I take them for a stay in the Yorkshire Dales. I hesitantly suggest that one afternoon, we might see if we can find Piers Browne again if he is still around. I don’t remember where his studio was. My family gamely helps research him and takes this on as a challenge. We drive, five in the car, to a village called Askrigg, which was mentioned in the Domesday Book and was the location of many scenes filmed for James Herriott’s “All Creatures Great and Small”, the story of a Yorkshire country vet. Piers Browne, we have found out, lives and works in a remote location above the village, in a spot called Nappa Scar. We stop at the local pub for directions. Yes, they know Piers. No, they don’t think he’d mind if we called. Easy to do, just knock on the door of the artist across the street, she’s a friend of his and she’ll call him for you. And she’ll tell you how to get up to Nappa Scar. We knock, she’s lovely, she invites us in, calls his house and leaves a message on his answering machine. She gives us complicated directions that take us through several sheep pastures fenced in by ancient stone walls. And up. And up. And up yet again. And again, higher up. By now we are driving on an unpaved sheep track and my family is looking at me sideways, when they think I’m not looking, as if I have lost my mind. But the scenery is gorgeous and we’re getting see another part of the Dales, so all is well.
Lo, we find the house and studio! Not that there’s anything else for miles around. We park on one side of the sheep track. I get out of the car and approach a wooden fence and gate with some trepidation. There is a bell to ring. I ring it. I wait. My family waits in the car. I look back at them and shrug. I wait. Then the gate opens! And there he is, Piers Browne himself. He even looks familiar, though much older now. Still youthful, however. I introduce myself and apologize for intruding. “Oh”, he says cheerfully, “you’re the Americans! I got the message but I couldn’t pick up the phone as I’m in the middle of printing.”
I stammer out something about how we don’t want to disturb him, I just wanted to bring my family here because I still treasure the etching my parents bought me almost thirty years ago and enjoy looking at it every day. Piers smiles broadly and gestures to all of us that we should come on in. He greets the kids and introduces them to his bouncy Dalmatian, who is thrilled to see some other beings whose energy matches his. Piers ushers me and my husband into his cluttered studio, filled with a lifetime of artistic production. He tells us to look at anything we like, while he’s got to go back to his printing as it involves several plates and is time-sensitive. Let me know, he says over his shoulder, if you see anything you like. I take cheques.
Well. We start looking. Prints of etchings are piled everywhere. Drawers full of more etchings line the walls. Stacks of framed etchings lean against the walls and furniture. My husband, a former Naval officer, starts organizing things as we dig deeper and deeper. At one point, Piers returns, cocks a head, asks if we need anything, thanks my husband for tidying up, and disappears again. The kids are playing with the Dalmatian, above one of the most spectacular views in all of Britain. View of Wensleydale from above. Some time later, we emerge, triumphant. Together with a few prints, including one for a gift for my mother, we have found a copy of Piers’ book “Wensleydale”, which includes many etchings and his poems. And a new find: “Glorious Trees of Great Britain”, described as “a celebration of the tree through the eyes of an artist who has had a close affinity with nature all his life,” with etchings of real British trees, magnificent specimens, many of which have associations with such literary figures such as Walter Scott, Coleridge, Milton and Hogarth. This seems like a good fit with my new obsession, bonsai.
After providing the requisite cheque to our gracious artist/host, we gather up artwork, books and children, bid farewell to the Dalmatian and to Piers, and make our way down the Dales back to our place of rest. And whenever we wish to revisit the Yorkshire Dales, we can just open Piers’ book.