Roche Abbey


Richard Bell's Wild West Yorkshire nature diary, Monday, 3rd September, 2007


Richard photographed by Helen ThomasOVER THE WEEKEND I’ve been thinking what would it be like if I allowed myself to go to some place I’ve never visited before, to draw, but not to be in a hurry and to draw exactly what I would like to draw, not to feel obliged to go for the thing that I must draw.

Today I’ve got a chance to try that out because I’m here at Roche Abbey, near Maltby, South Yorkshire, with my artist friends John Welding and Helen Thomas on a pilgrimage-come-sketchcrawl.

As the name suggests, it was the rocks that drew the Cistercian monks to Roche. They sought out secluded places and this bend on Maltby Beck is like Fountains Abbey in miniature. I decide that I’d like to start with the rocks too and I spend the morning drawing this magnesian limestone cliff immediately to the north of the nave of the ruined abbey church. From some viewpoints you get the impression that the early Gothic abbey has grown from the rock. Even before the monks arrived a stone in the shape of a cross had attracted pilgrims here.

carvingWith Ruskin’s advice on clear line and the example of Hergé fresh in my mind I struggle to start the drawing in the top left-hand corner, feeling awkward about it. It’s not until I get to the blocky strata at the bottom of the drawing that I feel myself loosening up.

For simplicity I'm working in Rotring Art Pen with an extra fine sketch nib. As you can see from the detail of the carving (right), the problem I've got is that one drop of water can blot the drawing. I can soon get rid of the blot in Photoshop but it makes drawing an anxious process if a grey cloud drifts over.

I might move onto drawing in dip pen. We'll see.

Maltby BeckMaltby Beck

The river was the other natural feature that brought the monks here. Amongst it practical uses was taking away waste; in Helen’s photograph (above, right), I’m sitting by the east wall of a building that has been identified as the latrines, which were built over the stream.

As I drew, I could hear a deep modulated rhythm in the background and, not thinking, I blotted it out as distant music:

‘ boomph, boomph . . brumph, brumph . . boomph, boomph . . brumm.’

It was the sound of water entering the beck through stone culverts, constructed in the 12th century.


Roche Abbey 3D models at Sheffield University's Cistercians in Yorkshire

Roche Abbey, English Heritage

Helen Thomas

John Welding