Search online for Lady Anne, The Great Picture and zoom-in on tiny manuscript. ' She escaped a great danger by thieves who intended to rob her and her house. This countess had many enemies in the time of her new widowhood from whose evil and crafty devices it pleased God to deliver her.'
In her youthful portrait a scatter of books shows her taste.
There are Bibles on display in the triptych that is The Great Picture. And a Written Handbooke of Alchimie Extractions, of Distillations, of Excellent Medicins. Nothing to prevent all those deaths from smallpox.
You have to admire Lady Anne's tenacity over the years as she struggled to win back her inheritance from the men of her family, anyone who was male would do. And her programme of rebuilding her northern castles: Pendragon, Appleby, Brough and Brougham, Skipton. The Great Picture is about dynasty, power, inheritance. It's crammed with detail and reading it is something of a lost art.
My friend Pauline and I move on to the current exhibition at Abbott Hall : Land, Sea, Life. Our favourites are both sculptures.
Barbara Hepworth's 'Sculpture with colour and strings- bronze with light green and light brown patina and string attracts us. A smooth bronze shape, hollowed out and criss-crossed with strings that form a shifting pattern as we move.
In County Mayo, below Croagh Patrick, I saw John Behan's sculpture Famine Ship. Today, at Abbot Hall his Ghost Boat is the one I'd like for keeps. Ghost Boat 2000: bronze with brown patina. A slender, fragile-looking boat held aloft on a bank of oars. Light strikes the silver boat and oars and casts sharp shadows. Then for some inexplicable reason I crouch to look up into the glass case and above the boat I see an inverted image of boat and oars that seems to be floating in the sky. It reminds me of a Seamus Heaney poem where the monks of Clonmacnoise see a ghost ship in the air. Lightnings V111 from Seeing Things. What a marvel! Seeing Things. Go and see the Ghost Boat, crouch low and look up and there you'll see the inverted image of a sky ship. It's a mystery. Ancient legends tell of sky ships. Not everyone discovers magic like this. We have seen something of the occult.
Walking beside the River Kent we see a couple from North Wales watching a goosander. Two grey wagtails flit about on the river bank below- does a pair remain together over the winter? Two days ago we discovered a mystery fish. A dead trout, a whopper. A young man and his girl came toward us, telling fishermens' tales. What killed it? No sign of damage. He suggests it was a frozen trout, past its sell-by date and turfed back into the river from whence it might not have come! Another tall story. Land beside the riverside walk is fenced off and reconstruction is taking shape. At last, I find men at work with a moment to spare and they tell me it's being landscaped with seating included. Garages have been demolished and bin stores and garages rebuilt out of sight. Look forward to seeing it completed. The Kent is a beautiful river. Pauline and I sat having coffee at Abbot Hall, looking out through dark yews with sunlight on fallen beech leaves and folk passing by beside the river.
Looking up John Behan I find images of his ships in a Bath gallery- pictures of a ghost boat and those long oars but without the shadows I found so magical. And without the glass case that created the inverted image of the ghost ship. And Seamus Heaney admired Behan's work. I read stories of sky ships that probably inspired Seamus Heaney's poem.
In January 2018, Dr Alice Roberts presented Ireland's Treasures Uncovered. I must have seen the Broighter Hoard at the National Museum of Ireland but had somehow forgotten the wonderful gold ship which is the centrepiece of the hoard. Circa 100 BC, it is possibly a votive offering to the sea god Mannanan mac Lir for it was discovered close to the sea at the entrance to Lough Foyle. It resembles the boats, made of wood or of hide, which traders to Europe must have used. It has two rows of nine oars, and the equipment needed to sail such a boat. Clearly, it is the inspiration for John Behan's Ghost Boat 2000. Does 2000 signify the year he made it, or that its origins go back 2000 years? Both perhaps.