Review of ‘High Peak Drifter’, by Richard Bell

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 23rd October 2006, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

by Richard Bell
Published by Willow Island Editions
ISBN 1-902467-16-7 (2006)

The review copy of this book arrived with a delightfully illustrated compliment slip tucked inside a bright cover showing Winnats Pass. Living up to that early promise, High Peak Drifter contains almost 100 pages of sketches and meditations from Richard Bell, a 'nature journaler' who has walked and drawn his way across the wild heart of the Peak District National Park.

It often seems that there are two kinds of walkers - those whose gaze is more or less long distance, relishing the views, and others who could be described as bifocal, taking equal pleasure from details that the striders miss. Richard Bell is one of the latter. Certainly he captures spectacular scenery but points out too that the Peak District 'goes deeper than picture postcard prettiness; all the time you're here you're surrounded by 1001 small details ...'

Hence a carved hand on a 300-year-old guidepost; fighting serpents on a church cross, newts in a roadside pond and a scratched rock which turned out to be an unusual geological find. One drawing ties in with a series of coincidences that has been chasing me all summer. This sketch shows a hummingbird hawkmoth posing above a spear thistle at Castleton. The link began when my son swore he had seen a humming bird on the honeysuckle. To our lasting disgrace we all laughed, but he was vindicated when it transpired that other people are being fooled by this peculiar migrant species. Thanks to Richard's drawing, our daughter knew exactly what she was seeing when she photographed two more.

Richard Bell draws in all weathers, even taking a folding chair and fishing umbrella to work in the rain. Sketches bear his observations and such chilly notes as 'Bamford 30/1/06. 5 deg looking N.' That was a five-layer-of-clothing day. He experiments with blotting effects to capture misty moors and low cloud, and varies his materials on location, from a fountain pen to a bamboo dipstick and small jars of Chinese ink.

High Peak Drifter practically begs the reader to close in on the great outdoors, not just with binoculars but, like Richard, with a magnifying glass and reading glasses.

Review by Julie Bunting

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