This is awesome. The astronomer Neil Tyson was once asked “What is the most astounding fact that you know?”
An Australian illustrator named Gavin Aung has turned the words he used to reply to the question into a cartoon. These are the first few panels, click anywhere in the illustration to see the full cartoon. You need to see the whole cartoon, trust me.
A few facts to start with. Kielder Water is Britain’s largest man-made lake set in England’s largest man-made forest. The reservoir supplies water to Newcastle and the North East. The project which involved flooding a large part of the North Tyne valley started in the early 1970’s and was finally completed in 1982. The dam itself is surprisingly unobtrusive.
Today we went for a walk around a small part of the lake. This tree is a bit of an oddity in Kielder Forest, almost all the trees are conifers, but I liked it.
When we started out the lake was incredibly calm with reflections that were almost surreal.
The walk we did was about six miles in length. It was well marked and easy to follow without map. The packed shingle surface was easy to walk on. Surprisingly for a route chosen by mrsjohnm55 there was very little mud.
Other interesting features of the walk were what I can only describe as modern follies. The most interesting of which was “Freyas Cabin”
A company (art collective?) called Studio Weave designed and built “Freyas Cabin” and its companion “Robin’s Hut” which can be seen on the opposite shore.. The full story can be found on their website They made up a story about Freya and Robin and how they met which I quote below.
Freya and Robin
Not so long ago, not so very far from here, there lived a beautiful lady named Freya. Freya loved flowers. She loved the Wood Aven with its little strawberry flowers that smell like Christmas and protect against evil. She loved the Red Campion with their hoof-like petals stretching from the tips of magenta pods, decorated with tiny white curls. But most of all, she loved Foxgloves, tall figures dressed in soft bells, some in pink, some in white, and some spotted with the fingerprints of elves. Freya liked to think of the foxes ringing the bells to warn each other of danger and insects sheltering from the rain under their gentle parasols.
You could find Freya wandering across the moors wearing long dresses with big soft pockets full of flowers she’d collected. She carefully took her pickings home, and pressed them for keeping and to decorate everything around her.
Not so very far away from her, lived Robin. Robin lived in a wooden hut in the woodlands over the water from Freya. He spent his days walking through the woods, looking after the trees and the animals that lived in them. He liked climbing trees and building little wooden houses for the birds to lay their eggs in. He dashed about the forest playing swift and intelligent games with the deer and scrambled about helping the squirrels find their buried nuts.
Freya could see Robin across the water. She could see he was kind and careful with the trees and the animals and that he loved them as much as she loved the flowers. Mostly, he skipped about playing, but sometimes, Freya saw him standing, perhaps sadly, she thought, looking out over the water. She longed to be able to talk to him, to ask him if he was all right or what it was he was dreaming of. So one day, Freya decided to make Robin a gift of a wonderful cabin. She hoped that he would see the cabin from his wooden hut and then maybe he would make a raft or a boat and come to see it.
Over the next few weeks, Freya worked very hard to collect flowers and plants and small branches. She made a big flower press and carefully laid out her collection in the shape of a woodland, just like she imagined the one Robin lived in. For the walls, she arranged the strongest branches from thick to thin. And for the roof she made an enchanted forest ceiling with twisted branches tickling each other. She decorated the entrance with precious Foxgloves to invite the fairies in. Then she pressed everything tight together so they would be strong and crisp and last forever.
While she was making the cabin, she noticed that Robin spent more and more time dreamily looking across the water. She was thrilled for she thought he must be looking to see what she was up to. She was so excited that she went and collected as many tall, straight flowers as she could find and proudly balanced the cabin up on a thousand of the tallest straightest stems to be sure that Robin could see it properly. But Robin couldn’t see it properly; he couldn’t see it at all.
Freya lived on the South side of the lake, which meant that the sun’s rays lit up the landscape in front of her and she could see for miles. But Robin lived on the North of the lake, so when he looked towards the South the sun got in his eyes and all he could see was a golden blur above the lapping blue lake.
Actually, Robin was very fond of the golden blur and often stood admiring the hot fuzzy oranges and purples shimmer. It reminded him of an amazing place he had been told about when he was a little boy. He had heard the stories many times, that in the far North there is a magical place called Glimmerfell, where there are huge mountains pointing out above the clouds, covered with flowers growing from the rocks and the ice. Apparently, the flowers glow orange and purple because in Glimmerfell, it is always sunset. He found himself thinking of this place more and more, until eventually, one day, he decided to build a boat and set off to try to find it.
Of course, when Freya saw Robin collecting wood and beginning to build a boat, she was thrilled that he had seen that she had almost finished the cabin and was planning to row across the lake to see her. Over the next few days, Freya put the finishing touches onto the cabin and Robin built his boat and packed it with food for a long journey.
Then one morning, he untied the boat from its mooring, and set off. Freya watched expectantly as Robin rowed towards her. She felt she had never been so happy and excited in all her life. But after a short while, he seemed to be drifting away to the west and soon Freya realised that he wasn’t coming her way at all, but instead, was going in completely the opposite direction.
Freya couldn’t understand what she could have done so wrong. Not only did Robin not want to come and see the cabin she had made for him, he wanted to leave the lake completely. She sat down in the middle of the garden she’d planted by the cabin and began to cry. As Robin rowed further and further away, she became so upset, her tears turned into gold. She picked herself up and wrapped the cabin in the gold tears streaming from her eyes.
Meanwhile, as Robin was rowing away, he turned his head to look back at the lake he loved. He hoped everyone would be all right while he was gone. As he watched the familiar woodland slipping further and further away, knowing that he might not see his home for a long time, he noticed something glinting in the distance. He thought it must just be the sun in his eyes, but as he took one last glance, he saw it again, even brighter. He was so curious that he decided to row back and find out what it was. After all, he hadn’t gone too far yet.
As Robin approached the glimmering, it grew brighter and brighter and he rowed with all his might
As Robin approached the glimmering, it grew brighter and brighter and he rowed with all his might
As he approached the glimmering, it grew brighter and brighter and he rowed with all his might. Once he was quite near the shore he could see an unusual golden cabin that looked like it had a forest inside it. Then once he was very close, he could see that next to the cabin, someone was sitting and crying with her face buried in her dress. Robin quickly tied up his boat, rushed over, and gently swept the foxgloves so they sang soothingly. Freya lifted her head at the sound and saw Robin standing there with a concerned look on his face. A little embarrassed, she brushed the tears from her eyes and they fell like gold dew onto the surrounding grass. Robin offered his hand and she unruffled herself as he pulled her up. Seeing she was all right, Robin turned to the golden cabin. He was quite enchanted by it. Freya explained that she’d made it for him. Luckily, he had climbed inside for a better look just before she said this, so she didn’t see him blush!
Freya and Robin sat in the cabin all afternoon, talking about the trees and the flowers. Robin almost forgot he was planning to go to find Glimmerfell. He described to Freya, the cloud-collared mountains and the glowing ice-flowers. Freya was fascinated and asked him lots of questions he didn’t know the answers to because he hadn’t been there yet. Freya offered to lend Robin her flower press so he could collect some flowers to bring home. Robin said he wouldn’t know how to press the flowers properly and asked whether Freya would perhaps, like to go with him. Freya said she would love to.
So at sunset, having loaded Robin’s boat with some more food and Freya’s flower press, they set off on their adventure.
They didn’t leave very long ago, so they are still away adventuring, but if you can find them, you can see Robin’s wooden hut and the golden cabin that Freya made for him, facing each other across the lake, awaiting their return.
It is lovely area of the country and well worth a visit.
Update Sunday 04 March 2012
I have updated and modified this post, which was originally from my Android phone. For some reason it didn’t upload the images that I included. I have now added some images and added the story of Freya and Robin.
In the very early years of cinema DW Griffith more or less invented the Blockbuster Action movie with his films “Birth of a Nation” and “Intolerance”. The set designs for “Intolerance” clearly show John Martin’s influence. Compare the print of Martin’s painting “Belshazzar’s Feast with Griffith’s set design for a Babylonian scene in Intolerance.
(As always click on an illustration to see a larger version)
I remember reading somewhere that Griffith owned a good selection of Martin’s prints and did use them as source material for some of his sets. Unfortunately even in the age of Google I can’t find a reference.
Moving on to more recent events in the history of the cinema:
The scene in Star Wars I “The Phantom Menace” * where Anakin Skywalker is before the Jedi Council has clear echoes of John Martins “Paradise Lost” print entitled “Satan in Council.
There are many other examples that I could have chosen, but these two do as well as any to illustrate the hypothesis. Anyone who has seen Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy can see how Martins work influenced him.
Two of Martin’s paintings “The Bard” and “Manfred on the Jungfrau” seem, to me at least, to have strongly influenced Jackson’s vision of Rivendell.
Now compare these with a still taken from the trailer of “The Hobbit”.
Also recall the scene inside Mount Doom shortly after Gollum fell to his death, taking the ring with him and Frodo and Sam made their escape across the rapidly collapsing bridge.
The influence of another “Paradise Lost” print “Bridge over Chaos” is obvious – to me at least.
Almost every disaster movie ever made borrows its images to a greater or lesser extent from “The Great Day of His Wrath” with its vision of whole cities being cast into the flaming abyss. Take this still/advertising poster for “2012”.
Just to back up my reasoning The Tate made a short Sci-Fi/Disaster Movie influenced video to promote the show.
Disclaimer: I am not endorsing a film that stole £8.50 of my money and about two hours of my life under the false pretences that it had something to do with “The Empire Strikes Back”
John Martin was born on 19 July 1789 in Haydon Bridge near Newcastle. His family appears to have been fairly poor. He did not have much in the way of formal training in fine art. He was originally apprenticed to a coach painter. After the coach painter broke the terms of the indentures by failing in increase John Martin’s wages, he went to work for Boniface Musso, an Italian artist who had based himself in Newcastle. In 1806 he left Newcastle for London where he intended to establish himself as an artist. Initially he supported himself by working as a ceramic painter. (The only known ceramic by him is on display in Room 1)
Martin became known as a painter of the “Sublime” in other words as a painter of awe-inspiring and terrible scenes. He deliberately designed his paintings to stand out from the crowd in shows such as the Royal Academy and as such they took on what we would now see as a cinematic quality. Indeed his work can be likened to a block-buster action film, full of drama and possibly too many special effects. I’ll come back to this aspect in another post, because it is an area that I would like to explore in more depth.
I have liked John Martin’s work for a long time, in fact since the first time I saw his Last Judgement Triptych. His best paintings have a grandeur and a touch of madness about them that I love. However during his lifetime (and since) the criticism that his work is repetitive and displays good craftsmanship but not true artistic merit is often made. The charge of repetition especially, does have a basis. He painted a series based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and while I wouldn’t say the every painting is the same, there is more than a theme running through them. In addition the mountains in almost every painting that features mountains, from “Clytie” in 1814 through to “The Plains of Heaven” in 1854, are essentially the same, albeit very dramatic, mountains.
Notice any similarities between the paintings?
I can forgive him, he was a man from a poor background making his living by selling his paintings. He found a formula that sold and stuck to it. Like Albrecht Durer (1471 – 1528), another artist who relied on what he sold to keep body and soul together, he moved into printmaking. And although ultimately it was only marginally profitable and a major drain of resources, like Durer, he produced some of his finest work in this medium.
He was initially commissioned by Samuel Prowett to create a series of prints to illustrate John Milton‘s Paradise Lost. Later, inspired by Prowett’s venture, between 1831 and 1835 Martin published his own illustrations to the Old Testament.
His illustrations for Paradise Lost are quite stunning, I have included two below, but to see more follow the links.
Part of the reason for John Martin’s decline in fame, and possibly where some of the idea that he was a craftsman and not a painter came from, was that for the best part of a decade from the late 1820’s he devoted most of his time to trying to produce a solution to London’s sewage disposal problems. The exhibition includes some of his plans and proposals for the sewage system. They are beautifully drawn and to this (mechanical) engineer’s eye seem to be workable solutions. They were never executed in his lifetime. The authorities rejected his plans, deeming them to be too expensive. Although whether they would have been more expensive in the long-term than doing nothing is less clear. However when Joseph Bazalgette designed and built the London wide sewage system in the 1860’s (a system that is still largely in use today) He adopted and incorporated many of John Martin’s ideas.
The main focus of the exhibition are what are known as “The Three Great Paintings” or “The Last Judgement Triptych”. John Martin painted them in the period shortly before his death. He completed them in 1853 shortly before a stroke paralysed his right side. He never recovered and died on February 17, 1854.
“The Great Day of His Wrath” based on the passage from The Book of Revelation Chapter 6 vs12-17 shows Marin at his apocalyptic apogee. We see people, buildings, whole cities, and mountains being hurled to their destruction in a chasm of fire. Martin is stating his belief that nothing can escape the wrath of God and indeed it is futile to even try.
Again based on passages in the Book of Revelation, Martin allows himself to play at being the Last Judge, on the right hand of Christ (left hand side of the painting) are the elect, the chosen, who will live for ever, with God in the New Jerusalem. On the left hand, being thrown into the pit of fire, along with Satan and the Whore of Babylon are the damned. Among the chosen are the likes of Shakespeare, Milton, Isaac Newton and a few Kings that Martin approved of. Among the damned are Popes, and priests, a couple of Kings he disapproved of, and I think Oliver Cromwell. Originally there was an index to the painting naming both the damned and the chosen.
This is the most serene and peaceful of the three paintings.It contrasts dramatically with “The Great Day of His Wrath” hanging on the other side of the central panel of “The Last Judgement”. Again a passage from the Book of Revelation is the inspiration, this time Chapter 21.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Martin has produced his vision of paradise. In the foreground wearing white we see the chosen. Behind them is a deep blue heavenly lake, filled by the waters of rushing rivers and waterfalls. Majestic snow-capped mountains surround the scene, and in the background a faint, almost ghostly New Jerusalem descends to Earth.
The three paintings became famous in the years after John Martin’s death. The paintings toured widely both in Britain and the United States. They were described as “the most sublime and extraordinary paintings in the world” and valued at over 8000 guineas. Typically the exhibition would include a diorama and narration. The Tate puts on a modern take on this, projecting computer graphics onto the paintings. This makes the paintings seem as if they are backlit. The computer graphics are obviously capable of effects that the Victorians using gas lamps couldn’t manage, but the narration seemed authentically contemporary and suitably over the top.
Although prints of the paintings sold in large numbers, John Martin’s style of vast and dramatic paintings now seemed outmoded to the mid and late Victorians. The paintings themselves never found a buyer and by the 20th century his work had fallen into complete obscurity. When his painting of “The Destruction of Pompeii” was badly damaged in a flood in 1928, it was not considered to be worth restoring. The Last Judgement paintings were sold in 1935 for seven guineas.
Two French art experts have quit The Louvre’s advisory committee in a row over the restoration of a Leonardo da Vinci painting, according to reports.
Segolene Bergeon Langle and Jean-Pierre Cuzin resigned in protest over the cleaning of The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, The Guardian said. The pair claim the Paris gallery has over cleaned the 500-year-old masterpiece. They argue it has left the work with a brightness the artist never intended.
There are a couple of points that make me wonder if they have actually thought about what they are saying. I am not disputing the fact that you need to be very careful when restoring a five hundred year old masterpiece. My arguments against them are these. Firstly, cleaning is not going to create new colours, it is only going to expose the colours that Leonardo (or his assistants) put on the wood panel in the first place. Secondly, they presume to know how Leonardo intended the painting to look. Did he leave a set of notes saying that on no account should five centuries worth of candle soot and darkening varnish ever be removed from the surface of the painting? Or are they really saying, “We actually preferred it the way it was before cleaning.”? If they had said that I could have accepted it as their judgement, because that is what it is, an aesthetic judgement. Trying to invoke the ghost of Leonardo to back up your taste is not really on.
Make your own mind up, the un-cleaned painting is on the left, and the cleaned painting is on the right.(Click on the picture to see it in a larger size.)
Day 5 – 08/05/2003 (Thursday) Egglestone to Wooler
The Moorcock Inn does a very good breakfast, but it also lies about its location. If you click-through to their website you will see its address given as Hilltop, Egglestone. This is a lie, it is nowhere near the top of the hill. Well, I suppose the road does go down slightly for the first half mile or so, but then it goes up and keeps going up, sometimes alarmingly steeply for a long, long time.
On top of that my nemesis of a couple of days ago, the wind, was back with a vengeance. The first ten miles from “Hilltop” over the real top of the hill and down to Stanhope took well over an hour. It was so windy I was having to pedal going down a 10% slope to keep my speed up. The scenery was spectacular, and I had plenty of time to appreciate it, especially on the way up.
I made an executive decision in Stanhope and abandoned my original route over the hills via Hexham and Rothbury and took the wind and incline assisted route down the Wear valley which would eventually take me to Newcastle. It helped for a while. Going down the valley with the wind behind me I probably averaged over 30 km/hour for the first half-hour or so, but eventually I had to get out of the Wear Valley and into the Tyne. That meant more hills, though not as long and steep and more wind in my face, though not as strong.
My route now took me into Newcastle. The last time I had been to Newcastle was back in my days as an Engineer Cadet at South Shields Marine and Technical College. That was about thirty years ago. I would probably have saved myself about five or six miles if I had crossed the Tyne at one of the up river bridges. I decided that having made this detour through Newcastle that I might as well make a further detour and cross the Tyne on the Millennium Cycle Bridge.
Newcastle has changed a bit since my student days. The Quayside area which was derelict coal staithes and warehouses is now all smarted up and trendy. The roads also seem to have altered. It took me a while to find a way out that didn’t involve an urban motorway, but I eventually made it onto the back roads from Ponteland to Morpeth.
At this point my intention was still to make it to Duns today, but time was getting on and I still had over fifty miles to go. I decided that going straight up the main road from Morpeth to Coldstream would be quicker than the back roads. The A697 isn’t usually too busy because most of the north bound traffic goes up the A1.
There was one memorable point on the journey. I was descending in to a valley,I think it was the Coquet, and I looked across and thought to my self, the climb out the other side can’t be as steep as it looks, it must be foreshortening. The I looked down at my computer and saw it reading 85km/h and thought maybe it is as steep as it looks.
By the time I was getting up to Wooler it was around seven in the evening. There were still at least two hours in the saddle to get to Duns. I decided to stay the night at the Wooler Youth Hostel. I called my mum to say that I wouldn’t make it that night, but she could have my lunch ready for me the next day if she wanted. My sister offered to come and collect me and the bike, but the idea was to cycle up to Duns not just to get there, so I said thanks, but no thanks and had a night on the town in Wooler.
At least the wind died down today, or if there was any it was helpful, but we did find some hills. After two days in the flat-lands it was quite pleasant to be somewhere with contours.
Actually the first two-thirds of the trip was reasonably flat. I was climbing steadily and there were hills to my left and right but the roads were quiet (excluding the first few km up the A19) and it was pleasant cycling. It was only after Richmond, going on into Co. Durham that it became necessary to shift into the Granny Ring now and then. Continue reading Bike ride to Scotland: Part 4 York to Eggleston→
This should have been an easy flat day. It was flat, for the most part, but it wasn’t easy. Most non-cyclists think that it is hills that make cycling hard work, they are correct, but only to a certain extent. The thing that makes cycling really hard work is wind coming from the wrong direction. Today I had wind from the north-west. I was riding roughly north-west. This resulted in a very hard day in the saddle. Psychologically wind is harder to deal with than hills. When you are riding a hill you know that sooner or later you will get to the top and at least for a while you can have a rest as you free-wheel down the other side. When you are riding into a head wind you get no relief. You know that the wind will be in your face all day. You have to work harder and you go slower. It feels unfair. All that extra effort and you go nowhere rather slowly
I underestimated the distance from Hitchin to Lincoln. I thought it was around a hundred miles, it turned out to be nearer one hundred and thirty. Most of the way was flat, well the first two-thirds of the route was across the Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire Fens.
On the last third of the route, from Sleaford to Lincoln, I made the discovery, that contrary to popular belief Lincolnshire actually has hills. They are not the Alps, although I did see a sign advertising the head quarters of the local mountain rescue society in one of the villages. This Facebook page possibly belongs to them or their successors. However when the hills arrive in the last thirty miles of a long ride, one that is thirty miles further than you expected, they are hard enough. (The route profile does make them look a bit worse than they actually are).
I had expected the countryside to be a bit boring and unattractive. In spite of the unremitting flatness and the difficulty in distinguishing one stretch of road from the next, I found the scenery quite attractive.
I stopped for lunch in Spalding round about two pm. I found a café selling cheap carbohydrates and refueled. I have noticed that when I am touring, and especially doing longer distance, that my critical faculties as regards food drop off. As long as it fills the hole I am happy.
It was after I passed Sleaford that I entered the Lincolnshire Wolds and the road started to go up. After riding through flat-lands all day riding up the hills was initially a pleasant change. It is not that steep, but you are climbing constantly for thirty or so miles. I kept consoling myself with the thought that I would probably be able to free-wheel the last ten miles into Lincoln. Not quite. Yes I did free-wheel into Lincoln, but not in the gentle controlled way I had anticipated. All the height that I gained in two hours of climbing I dissipated in about three minutes as the road took the short route down a cliff face into Lincoln. You can see it if you look carefully at the elevation profile.
I stayed the night at the Lincoln Youth Hostel (which has sadly since been closed). I was too late for an evening meal at the Hostel, due to me taking about two and a half hours longer than anticipated because the route was thirty files longer than I thought it was. I wandered out into town had a look around and found myself a curry. Very nice it was too.
Today didn’t work out that well. For various reasons, some good, some bad, I didn’t actually manage to leave until one-thirty in the afternoon, rather than seven or eight in the morning as I had planned. Never mind, I thought at least I had lunch before I left
Everything was going well, apart from a bit of hassle with the traffic in Brixton, until just after crossing London Bridge. I realised that I might have left the train ticket for the return journey lying on the kitchen table. A search through my bags confirmed that my thought was correct.
“Oh dear” I said to my self, well that wasn’t exactly what I said, but this blog tries to be suitable for all ages. I turned round and went back to London Bridge Station and caught a train to East Croydon, from where I cycled home and retrieved the ticket. I thought that while I was back home that I might as well unload the dishwasher and put the washing, which was now dry, away.
I cycled back to East Croydon and put the bike back on the train, this time to St Albans. My theory was that St Albans was roughly where I would have been if I hadn’t had to go back home to retrieve the ticket.
I decided to push on further. Eventually I decided that I would call it a day when I got to Hitchin, about 20 miles nearer to Duns. Then to cap, what was not the best day of the journey, the hotel I stayed at was not only the most expensive place I stayed at all trip it also, in retrospect, was the worst.
I plan my routes on BikeHike.co.uk which is a great little route planning website for cycling or walking. Your routes can be uploaded to or downloaded from a G.P.S. device if you own such a thing, or printed off if you don’t.