Map Jacket

Map Jacket is a jacket made from paper maps, with objects relating to walks and journeys stowed in its pockets. It is an ongoing artwork, with no final finished state in mind; it will continue to accrete and change for as long as I’m able to go out for walks. Conceptually, it will continue to change as well. I began the piece in Spring 2016. My initial idea was to make a wearable jacket out of Ordnance Survey maps, patterned on a corduroy jacket of mine, and perhaps use it in some kind of performance. It quickly became apparent that the jacket was much too fragile and inflexible to wear. I wore it once before I added the sleeves, but once the sleeves were on it became impossible to wear it without destroying it. The jacket took about three years to complete, because I abandoned it as hopeless for long periods of time. Gluing the sleeves on was particularly vexing, because paper does not stretch and form compound curves like fabric will. 

Me wearing Map Jacket before the sleeves were glued on.
Me wearing Map Jacket in 2016, before the sleeves were attached.

Some time in 2019 I revived the piece and conceived of the idea of using it as a repository for objects found on walks. The jacket would stay at home, but conceptually travel with me. Since then, I have secreted objects in the jacket, adding a new pocket for each object, or group of objects. Some objects and natural materials are attached directly to the jacket. The objects function as mementos of particular walks or places, but most of them are artworks in their own rights, being altered from the form in which they were when found. Sometimes, things found at one place and time are combined with those found at other places and times (nothing is wasted), but each object has one principal association. 

Finding things for Map Jacket is a gentle art, which I’m not sure I have come close to perfecting. It requires walking with the right sort of attentiveness. I usually bring back more things than I can use. Sometimes I make the object shortly after the walk; sometimes it takes weeks or months for an idea to form itself of what to do with the assortment of things I’ve collected. Many of the objects I make involve words – they often have words written or inscribed on them – and collecting words is also a part of my walking practice. I carry a notebook and more often write than draw (though I do both). Both practices (collecting objects and words) are about treasuring and memory. 

Most of the walks commemorated in Map Jacket took place on the North York Moors, Yorkshire coast, Cheviot Hills and a small number of other places. These are the places that have been accessible to me, particularly in the years of the pandemic. They are places that I go to find solitude and often have associations with landmarks of one sort or another (churches, stone crosses, standing stones, tumuli, crossroads etc.) They are also often places where death is close to the surface, where bones lie to be picked up. The walks themselves are a kind of melancholy ritual, because they are fragments pointing to an elusive wholeness snatched from a life embedded in routines which, while not devoid of their own meaning or rewards, are nevertheless characterised by frenetic striving. I have the feeling that Map Jacket is a work that is only in its infancy and that its strength will lie in engendering inner dialogues.

This page documents the progress of Map Jacket and all of the objects in it. I’ll keep it up to date with new objects. Scroll down for images and descriptions of all the objects in Map Jacket.

Map Jacket, June 2021
Attaching a pocket to Map Jacket, using magnets to hold it in place while the glue dries.
Detail of one of the buttons, made from a vehicle number plate.

Objects in Map Jacket

Buttons

Main buttons, top to bottom: 

  1. Made from a plastic buoy found at the coast
  2. Lead button from a baptismal gown
  3. Made from a broken vehicle number plate found on Rudland Rigg 17 June 2021

Bearing roller and glass bead

54°34’55.9″N 2°28’54.9″W

A slightly squashed car bearing roller and a small black and white glass bead sat on an envelope made out of a map.
Bearing roller and glass bead on the pocket I attached to Map Jacket.

Bearing roller from my car, which I picked up beside the A66 near Appleby-in-Westmorland when the back bearing collapsed on the way back from Scotland, September 2018. The RAC man took the wheel off and several slightly flattened rollers dropped out. I picked up three but lost the other two. Afterwards, I was often paranoid that it would happen again and to this day listen out for the odd sound of a collapsed bearing whenever I drive. The roller is sealed into a small map paper pouch with a small glass replica Anglo Saxon bead near the left collar of Map Jacket. The bead symbolises hope. The pouch has the word ‘ruin’ on it in two places.

Fat Betty Cross

54°24’35.7″N 0°57’29.1″W

Wax candle in the shape of the medieval moorland cross known as Fat Betty Cross, on a small pouch made of green fabric
Fat Betty Cross

Cross-shaped candle, modelled after the medieval moorland cross known as Fat Betty Cross, North York Moors, made from two wax tea lights found at the nearby Young Ralph Cross. Wax has earth from Howl Moor and white pigment incorporated. Contained in a small drawstring bag made from a baseball hat found beside the Lyke Wake Walk path on Wheeldale Moor. 

Candles and hat found on a walk from Goathland to Rosedale Head and back, 2nd July 2019. Earth collected on Howl Moor, near Goathland on 5th July 2019.

Young Ralph Cross

54°25’03.5″N 0°41’08.8″W

Steel cross in my hand.
Young Ralph Cross

Cross cut from a piece of thick rusty steel found on the road near Goathland during a circular walk which took in Lilla Howe and Goathland, 1st July 2019. Modelled after Young Ralph Cross. The shiny metal edges have dulled since it was made.

Ana Cross Jaw

54°19’59.7″N 0°52’34.9″W

Sheep jawbone with a cross-shaped hole cut in the bottom edge.
Ana Cross Jaw (with Young Ralph Cross)

Lower mandible from a sheep with the shape of Ana Cross, North York Moors, cut out of it. Mandible was found close to Ana Cross during a walk on Spaunton Moor, 5th July 2019.

Book of Spurn

53°35’25.3″N 0°08’09.6″E

Book made of odd materials sat on a sundial.
Book of Spurn

Book made from materials gathered on a trip to Spurn Point, 17th August 2019. Materials are: aluminium (from a wrecked aeroplane?); painted plywood from a hoarding which was painted with waves and sea creatures; rubber from a seaman’s glove; plastic; seaweed attached to a stone. Bound with copper wire found elsewhere.

Väinämöinen’s Boat

55°31’56.0″N 2°12’26.0″W and 55°35’09.7″N 1°39’44.3″W

Tiny boat made of two pieces of blue plastic sewn together with wire, on a white plastic base.
Väinämöinen’s Boat

Boat made from fragment of a blue plastic sheep feed bucket found on top of the Cheviot Hills during a figure-of-eight shaped walk starting at Town Yetholm and following sections of the Pennine Way and St Cuthbert’s Way, early September 2019. (It was found on the St. Cuthbert path close to where those two paths cross). The boat is attached to a sea-worn piece of plastic found on the beach at Seahouses, early September 2019. I was reading the Kalavala during the holiday during which both objects were found and also visited Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Little Sparta garden, so boats were on my mind. You can see the sea from a point close to where I found the blue plastic and it is also very close to the England/Scotland border. The St. Cuthbert Way ends at the sea and also unites the two countries. Both objects were found in England.

Rigg

54°22’06.9″N 1°00’55.6″W

Plastic vehicle trim inscribed with a map of part of Rudland Rigg.
Rigg

Piece of scuffed plastic vehicle trim picked up on a linear walk along Westside Road, Rudland Rigg, 16th November 2019. I inscribed a short section of the trim with a map of the route, including contour lines and tumuli. The long piece of trim reminded me of the linear nature of the walk. I did the walk on a misty day and walking through the group of large round barrows was eerie and stayed in my mind. The tumuli are represented by small drill holes. I made the piece on the 8th April 2020. 

Tees Mouth Cage

54°37’56.9″N 1°10’35.9″W

Small plastic cage-like object with scrap of barbed wire in it.
Tees Mouth Cage

Plastic cage (possibly intended for suspending solid disinfectant inside the rim of a toilet bowl) containing a short length of barbed wire. Both objects picked up during a walk on the north bank of the Tees estuary, 16th January 2020.

Ravenscar Thorns

54°37’56.9″N 1°10’35.9″W

Small piece of barbed wire next to three pouches, made from different materials.
Ravenscar Thorns

Barbed wire barb found next to a freshly cut thorn hedge on Station Road, Ravenscar, during a walk along the Cinder Track from Scarborough to Robin Hood’s Bay, 7th March 2020. Contained in a series of nested pouches. The inner pouch is made from cigarette papers found left as an offering on top of Fat Betty Cross, 5th July 2019. The middle pouch is made from a recycled cashmere wrist warmer found on the Cinder Track on the same day as the barbed wire and the outer pouch is made from a cover for an equestrian helmet, also found on the same day.

Kirkdale Roll

54°15’47.5″N 0°57’42.0″W

Cigarette papers with names of places in Kirdale on them in black ink.
Kirkdale Roll

Pack of RAW brand cigarette papers with topographic and farm names from Kirkdale inked onto the individual papers. The cigarette papers were picked up at Fat Betty Cross, 2nd July 2019. The names relate to a walk in Kirkdale, 14th August 2020. The pack also has some tear-off gummed paper strips, which have words gathered on my walk written on in pencil. The coordinates are those of the spot on the dry section of the Hodge Beck where I sat writing in my notebook (I may actually have written the words on the gummed paper at that point, I can’t remember. I did definitely make a couple of small drawings on cigarette papers on the spot). I inked the names on the papers in September 2020.

Kirkdale Bone

54°19’55.1″N 1°03’03.4″W

Sheep bone with words written on in black ink.
Kirkdale bone

Sheep bone picked up on Pockley Moor during my walk in Kirkdale 14th August 2020, with words inked on it from my notebook of the day’s walk. The bone has an inked line round it half way along its length, because I intended to cut it in half and take half back to the moors. I never did this.

Orm Stone

54°15’47.5″N 0°57’42.0″W

Small flat piece of stone with 'Orm' inscribed on it.
Orm Stone

Third object relating to my walk in Kirkdale 14th August 2020. It is a flat stone picked up from the dry river bed near St. Gregory’s Minster. It has the name Orm engraved on it. Orm is the Anglo-Scandinavian landowner who restored St. Gregory’s Minster in the 11th century and who is commemorated in the rare Anglo-Saxon inscription above the door of the church. Orm son of Gamel is known from other historical sources and is connected to the feud discussed in Richard Fletcher’s book Bloodfeud. (Richard Fletcher lived in Kirkdale at some point in his life).

Bone for Azazel

54°23’37.2″N 0°59’18.4″W

Bone for Azazel
Bone for Azazel

Rabbit bone and a piece of dried melancholy thistle found on a walk on 22nd September 2020 around the top of Farndale (from Blakey Ridge carpark to the junction of the track up Rudland Rigg, along the top). They are tied together with red embroidery thread and live in a small metal tin. Piece was made in May 2021. Azazel is a demon associated with desert places in Jewish mythology. The ‘scapegoat’ mentioned in the Bible (Leviticus 16) is actually the ‘goat for Azazel’ – not an offering to appease Azazel, but a symbolic taking of the sin of the people to Azazel in the wilderness/underworld, where it belongs. The piece probably belongs back out in the wilderness, but, for now, it is in Map Jacket. It perhaps represents the melancholy holding onto of the memory of sin, rather than sin itself.

Joined Ribs

55°32’09.1″N 2°10’40.6″W   

Two fragments of sheep rib joined together.
Joined Ribs

Two ends of sheep rib cut off and joined together. The ribs were found on a walk along College Valley in the Cheviots some time between 5th and 8th September 2020. The piece was made May 2021. Piece lives in the same tin as Bone for Azazel.

Cinder Track Tool and Cinder Track Object

54°27’18.0″N 0°33’03.1″W

Cinder Track Tool, Cinder Track Object and another associated object made from hawthorn berries and hazel shells.

Cinder Track Tool is three hawthorn thorns mounted in the end of a cut-off sheep’s rib, with three dried harebell flowers inserted in a hollowed out cavity in the rib. The thorns and harebells were found on a circular walk from Robin Hood’s Bay to Whitby along the Cleveland Way and then back along the Cinder Track, 8th October, 2020. The rib came from the College Valley (it’s the same rib as used in Joined Ribs). The Cinder Track is not all that far from the famous Mesolithic site of Starr Carr and Cinder Track Tool reminds me of an archaeological find of unknown purpose.

Cinder Track Object is made from four dried hawthorn berries collected on the same walk as Cinder Track Tool, set into holes in a piece of sheep’s rib found in College Valley. Both pieces were made May 2021.

Hallelujah Stone

54°23’29.1″N 1°02’13.3″W

Piece of ironstone with the word ‘hallelujah’ painted on it in white oil paint. I picked the stone near the Cammon Stone on Rudland Rigg. The Cammon Stone is a prehistoric standing stone and it has the word ‘hallelujah’ carved into it in Hebrew characters, reputedly by the nineteenth century clergyman Rev. W. Strickland, vicar of Ingleby. The walk was from Blakey Ridge along the top of Farndale, across to Urra Moor and then back down Rudland Rigg and finally across Farndale back to Blakey Ridge, 17th June 2021. I made the piece a few days afterwards. The stone is heavy for its size.

Hallelujah Stone - a piece of ironstone with the word 'Hallujah' painted on it - in my hand.
Hallelujah Stone

Encyclopaedia Ball – an interview with myself.

This is about a project I’m working on, called Encyclopaedia Ball. The project is to turn a set of 1950’s Encyclopaedia Britannicas into a solid ball of papier mache. I thought I’d write this blog in the form of an interview with myself.

Q. How did you start on this project?

A. The ball form came first. My wife was experimenting with pulped egg cartons as a sculpting material and ended up making a series of small paper pulp balls, about the size of golf balls. I liked them. They reminded me of David Nash’s Nine Cracked Balls. I have a large stash of academic journals I originally got for making papier mache with, so I tried pulping the paper from one of them. I found it didn’t pulp well, but I started layering the pages over a core of pulp, with wall paper paste. I got the idea of continuing until I’d used the entire journal. It was a rather thick conference proceedings volume published by the ACM [Association for Computing Machinery] and this became the first of my ball pieces, ACM Ball. After that I made a ball out of a copy of the Bible. I kind of had a vision of a really huge paper ball, like a boulder, so using the encyclopaedias suggested itself.

Q. I understand that the encyclopaedias are a family heirloom. 

A. They were bought in the 1950s by my grandfather for my father. My grandfather was worried that my father wasn’t doing well academically, and hoped the encyclopaedias would help. Naturally, my father never read them, and nor did my grandfather, who had them in his house until his death. Then my parents had them in their house for a few years and never read them. Then I got them and put them in my attic. And didn’t read them. In the 1950s, a set of encyclopaedias was the equivalent of the internet, it was where you went to answer random questions. A set of encyclopaedias can also take you on rabbit trails and open up new things to you. But it’s easy to leave them unopened on the shelf. There’s something closed, or a bit forbidding about them. The irony is that, if I’d had them as a child, I would have read them. I loved the Encyclopaedia Britannicas at school.

Q. What does your father think of you turning them into a ball?

A. He doesn’t know. He would probably think it was stupid.

Q. How do you conceptualise the project? I mean, you’re taking all of this knowledge and sort of locking it shut. Is it a comment on information overload, the burden of knowledge…?

A. I haven’t tended to conceptualise it much, but I guess there are a number of strands. My understanding of the piece has developed through the act of making it. It’s true that I’m locking information up and it could be seen as disrespectful of knowledge – like screwing it up into a big ball. There’s something precious or even sacred about the form of the book and a corresponding sense of sacrilege about destroying them. On the other hand, those encyclopaedias were locked shut for decades and I will be the only person who will ever see every single page. In a sense, I’m also opening them up. It has been heartbreaking at times, to see some of the beautiful images in there – hand drawn images and photographs – just to hide them again under layers. I started taking photos of the ball as it progressed, particularly of images and things I found interesting. That set of images is part of the work, a companion to it.

Q. There’s something performative about it, then?

A. Yes, I think so. I’m finding that more so. It’s quite a physical process. At one point, I thought it would make a nice evening project for when I’m too tired to do other work, but it’s actually hard work. It’s reached the point where I have to stand up to do it and there’s a certain choreography of how I need to move it around as I work on it. And of course, I’m seeing all of these images and reading snatches of text. I’m living through all that knowledge. It’s bringing different things into my mind as I work, changing me. 

Another touchstone for this project has been Gabriel Orozco’s Yielding Stone. This was a ball of plasticine, weighing the same as the artist, which took on the form of the environment as it was rolled and moved about. He rolled it to the gallery and it picked up imprints of grates on the street etc. My ball has a similar set of constraints – if I ever finish it, the size will be determined by the encyclopaedias – and it’s something that will continue to evolve over time. Orozco’s ball changes every time it gets handled and mine will take years, probably, to complete. I could see it being exhibited and then continued to be worked on. 

I also think a lot about another of David Nash’s pieces, Wooden Boulder. Again a large ball, much bigger than mine, made of wood. It got trapped in a stream when the artist was trying to move it, and spent years being moved by the force of water down the stream, to the river and out into the sea. There’s something about the form of a rough sphere that appeals to me.

Q. How far into the project are you? You say you might not even finish it?

A. I’m up to volume 6 and I think the set has 24 volumes. So I’m about a fifth the way through. But I’ve been working on it for two years. Not constantly of course. It’s pretty boring work and I don’t know if I’ll complete it. I might just stop. It might get too big to fit through the door. I might drop it on my foot and decide enough’s enough!

Q. How big do you think it will get? Bigger than a doorway?

A. I don’t know. Probably not that big. The bigger it gets, the slower it grows, because the surface area to cover gets bigger all the time.

Q. Describe the process of making it.

A. It’s not complicated. I use wallpaper paste, like you do when you do papier mache at school. I just layer on page after page. For some reason, it tends towards being a rounded cube, rather than a sphere. I don’t know why that is – something to do with how the paper overlaps. I’ve tried various strategies to avoid it, but it doesn’t work. A mathematician could probably tell me the optimum way of doing it. I end up tearing the paper into smaller pieces in order to ‘correct’ the shape – I’m not sure if that is cheating or not, but I make the rules! I have a theory that it’ll become less of a problem the bigger it gets, because each page will cover a smaller proportion of the surface. When it was small, each page completely covered the ball. If it is a problem. I don’t know!

Q. There’s something quite aggressive about it, as an object. It’s like a wrecking ball!

A. It is! It’s fallen off the table with a crash before and it’s a wonder it didn’t break the floor. I suppose you could say it’s quite masculine, if you want. It’s quite a perverse thing to do to a book. I like heavy, solid compact things. It’s like a bomb. A knowledge bomb! It’s got all this trapped knowledge buzzing away like nuclear energy. I was also responding to the work of Jukhee Kwon, who’s work I saw in the 2018 Aesthetica Prize in York. Her work with books is very light and the books are quite literally opened up as she cuts into the pages and creates these cascades. I wanted to take the opposite path. Jukhee Kwon’s work seems to turn knowledge into spirit, whereas my balls turn it into matter. 

Q. Is there also something about knowledge being a burden, or obsolete knowledge?

A. Certainly, there’s something around obsolescence. Printed encyclopaedias are obsolete things. Knowledge becomes dated – these encyclopaedias are from the 1950s and a lot of the knowledge in them will have been superseded. And so with our knowledge today. And with the internet or whatever. I worked in a bookshop for a while, and one of the things I learned was that old sets of encyclopaedias don’t have financial value. Having lots of books can be oppressive. In the Bible it says about there being no end to the making of books and with much knowledge comes much misery. Knowledge ends up forming archaeological strata and it’s only the surface you see.

Q. I believe you have a party each time you reach a new letter?

A. Yes! I started doing that. Each party involves food and drink beginning with the new letter. I’ve only done it twice, as I’m still in ‘C’ and I didn’t do ‘A’. They haven’t involved many people – just my family – but maybe I should make them into more of a thing. I like the idea of art having a social aspect. Although I’m not particularly social…!

Q. What will you have when you get to ‘X’?

A. My head examined, probably.

B for Ballistics.

Japanese block printing (my version)

Here are some experiments I did with a bastardised version of Japanese woodblock printing. Instead of using oil based ink, this technique uses water-based drawing ink and starch paste. The starch paste slows the drying of the ink and allows it to be printed. This was just a dipping of the toe in the water, but I might do some more. There are some great videos on YouTube of Japanese masters doing this properly; I’m just seeing if I can use it in my own way.

In the two pictures above, you can see the tools I used. In the cup is a mixture of acrylic drawing ink and starch paste (I used Japanese Jin Shofu paste, which I normally use as a paper glue). I tried various brushes, including a watercolour wash brush and a house painting brush, but I found that a large makeup brush worked best. You brush the ink on. You don’t need very much, but it’s best if it’s even. In the other picture, you can see the results. Top left: I didn’t wet the paper. Top right: paper too wet and too much ink/starch. Bottom left: still too much ink/starch and paper possibly still too wet – the block took a lot of the paper surface with it. Bottom right: better, but it still took some of the paper surface off. Might be bad paper (it was cheap paper). I printed them with a Floplast 110mm press (= a piece of 110mm soil pipe filled with concrete).

Photos of the Erskine Bridge

I’ve been sifting through some photos I took back in 1996 when I was at Glasgow School of Art. They came out of a project I was doing related to the Antonine Wall, the Roman construction which spanned the Forth-Clyde isthmus. I made a series of cycle trips to locations along the wall. The sequence of photos I’m presenting here are of the Erskine Bridge, which crosses the Clyde near the western end of the Antonine Wall, within sight of the fort at Old Kilpatrick. Suspension bridges have been another of my obsessions. There is somehow a connection between the miraculously thin concrete span of the bridge and the Antonine Wall, which was also a structure extruded beyond what one would think possible.

 

Improving the studio with reclaimed materials (= how not to spend any money)

 

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Someone recently gave me some floorboards they ripped out of their house and it prompted me to make some new shelves for my studio. It’s quite tricky to reuse tongue and groove floorboards, because they split like mad when you wrench them up, so I wasn’t sure enough of it would be usable. But it was. I spent a very happy Sunday afternoon pulling nails out of them, then used the best bits to make my shelves. I’ve been watching Adam Savage’s Tested Youtube channel, which has lots of ideas for workshop storage. He has this concept of ‘first order retrievability’ which means that any tool should be retrievable easily without having to move something else. Drawers are places where things go to die. This inspired my paintbrush/pencil/tool rack. I also made an organiser cabinet using a Proplex floor protection sheet I had and offcuts of ply and MDF. The Proplex attracts dust by static electricity, which is annoying, and wasn’t as rigid as I’d hoped, meaning I had to reinforce the drawers with cardboard. The cabinet was marginal from this point of view: all the materials were free, but it took a long time to make – probably longer than I should have spent on it. The ply and MDF scraps I used had multiple lives: they came from a previous projects of mine as well as their original uses. I like it when materials can be reused multiple times. All this work inspired my son: he made a battleship out of the wood scraps and burnt himself with the glue gun while doing it, thus initiating himself into the ranks of makers

Hobstone

Untitled drawing, Matthew Herring, 1999.
Untitled drawing, Matthew Herring, 1999. (© Matthew Herring)

To escape, over Christmas, I went out for a walk around the suburbs near my home in York, one afternoon. I took Iain Sinclair as an imaginary companion, or rather, he brought himself along, as I’d been reading his London Overground, a book about a walk Sinclair took around the route of the London overground railway with the filmmaker Andrew Kötting. The presence of Sinclair turned a stroll into a minor odyssey. I tried to weave into my walk some sensitivity to the psychological lie of the land and to deliberately cut across my usual routes. I started on Beckfield Lane: a mile long and dead straight. Someone once told me it was bombed by a Zeppelin during the First World War, because the Germans thought it was an airstrip. Most of the houses were built after then, so it’s part of the twentieth century semi-detached sprawl. The school I went to (recently demolished) was at one end and I used to think of the whole as a huge neurone, with the school as the cell body and the road as the axon extending to where I then lived at the other end. Beckfield Lane takes its name from one of the original open fields of Acomb, before enclosure. It runs along a ridge from which you can look downhill towards York Minster and the city centre. It’s a road for going along rather than across, so my first attempt at escaping the spell of Acomb (or entering into it) was to cut down through a snicket to Jute Road, heading down into the valley of the eponymous beck, now hidden. All the streets in the ex-council-estate area on the Western slope above the Beckfield beck are named after the city’s connection to the Vikings and the Battle of Stamford Bridge (there’s a Tostig Avenue). 

I headed towards a small copse called Fishponds Wood, a numinous place where the Beckfield beck seeps to the surface. The fishponds are gone, but what remains is a crescent of dense marshy woodland, neglected by all but the obligatory band of ‘friends of’ and hidden behind a stockade of council houses with tiny gardens. A significant local road is called Carr Lane and I imagine Fishponds Wood as a relic, or descendent, of that primordial carr, as if every neighbourhood needs its weep hole where things hidden can come to the surface.  The Fisher King’s wound kept eternally fresh. Again, neurone-like, the copse reaches out its thin tendrils into the cellular mass of Acomb. A sliver of green. 

I cut across its muddy, dank gloom of black twigs and snared crisp packets, failing to ask the right question, and on, past the back entrance of St Stephen’s churchyard, to Beech Grove, another relic. I can’t remember the name of the estate, long gone, which the avenue of massive beech trees once led to (the fishponds were also part of it). A double row of Egyptian temple columns, leading nowhere. Another illegible fragment of a different time and place parcelled up as ‘green space’ and left embedded, like shrapnel or scar tissue, in the cell culture of housing development. I imagine they tried several times, but failed, to blow the trees up, like one of those Icelandic boulders inhabited by fairies which the road builders are forced finally to go around, having wasted a good kilo of dynamite.  

Somewhere on my route I saw the word ‘Hob’ or ‘Hobstone’ and a destination presented itself, a justification or galvanising principle for what had till then only been a mere walk to get some air: the Hobstone on Hob Moor. I set my sails southwards and felt the pull of the Hobstone, the vagueness of its features forming in my mind like a stalagmite. From the straightbacked Victorian shopping row of Acomb Front Street I cut down through the Arts and Craftsy posh bit of Acomb which loosely hangs around Hobgate and Moorgate, eschewing those alternative sites of myth, Holgate Windmill and West Bank Park (site of the fake Alpine ravines and cliffs of the former Backhouse Nursery). Trying too hard to avoid the known route, and pulled by the obscure gravity of the Moor, I tried to follow the most direct line and prospect for a way through to the Moor down a street called Queenswood Grove (gravid consort of the nearby Kingswood Grove, where I lived until I was four). This circuit of a street, shaped like it’s trying to draw the belly of a pitcher plant, led me round in a circle and no way through to the Moor was there. I was forced to pay my dues to the labyrinth before I was allowed on the Moor (itself a labyrinth). 

I found the Moor where I knew it to be. I noticed a stone-built Victorian house by the entrance to Hob Moor School at the bottom of Green Lane: imagining it when it was built, all alone on the lane leading from Acomb to the Moor, surrounded by fields. A flashback. Striking out for the Hobstone greatly increased the distance of my walk, beyond what I’d intended. It’s out on a limb; not really in Acomb at all. The stone, a badly eroded effigy of a knight about two feet tall, sits next to a plague stone next to the path in a limb of Hob Moor known as Little Hob Moor, which is cut off from the main Moor by the East Coast Main Line railway. It is, in fact, close to Tadcaster Road, the old Roman road into York from the South West. The stone was placed in its present position in 1717, but the carving predates that (13th century, if I remember correctly – or 14th). An inscription on the reverse, now gone, read: “This image long Hob’s name has bore who was a knight in time of yore and gave this common to ye poor”. For some strange reason, the knight faces towards the Moor, not away from it so that it would face you as you enter the Moor – it stands at an entrance to the Moor. I remembered it as a deeply pitted and misshapen knub of limestone, like a chewed pencil rubber sticking out of the ground, with no trace that it had ever represented a knight.  

A long stretch of walk took me across Hob Moor to the stone. It used to be on my cycle route to and from work, so memories of that time arose. My father used to walk his dogs there when I was a child: always clockwise around the perimeter, never anti-clockwise. One Christmas Day he brought me here to try out a boomerang I’d got. My father had the first throw and it smartly disappeared into the ditch or the hedge and was never found; he promised he’d buy me a new one, but never did. There used to be two or three old railway wagons which football clubs used to change in, but these were burnt out and are now gone. Motorbikes used to tear up the scalloped edges of the old brickworks, until barriers were placed at the entrances to the Moor. The line of the narrow-gauge railway leading to the brickworks is still clearly seen: a lone bush on the line of it turns out every spring to be one half elder and one half hawthorn. The Moor is windswept and mysterious. 

According to the ‘friends of’, the name comes either from Robert (Rob/Hob); from the trickster and marsh-spirit Robin Goodfellow; or from a name for the Devil. I can’t accept the Devil, but a minor (and folkloric) trickster cum ignis fatuus makes sense. Strange lights do hover over the Moor on dusky winter’s afternoons, even if they are just railway signals. Edmund Wilson swimming baths (now gone and replaced with a Lidl), lit up, used to be the guardian presence of Hob Moor for me; its twin concrete chimneys seeming, against the moving clouds, always to be falling and never landing, like Andrew Kötting with his resurrection jig in the film Edith Walks. 

I reached the Hobstone. It looked knightlier than I remembered – shield and the shape of a head could be clearly discerned – gazing back towards Hob’s Moor, the diminutive squirt’s view blocked by the embankment of the East Coast Main Line. If this Hob was a Robin Goodfellow, he was a severely eroded and impotent one, trapped in a crumbly block of limestone well on its way to the status of mineral content of the local soil, ridiculous as the Stone of Scone.  

Not willing to turn on my heels and return the way I’d come, I took the path which branches from the one I’d come on and went in the direction of York Railway Pond. This was new territory for me: in all the years I cycled past the Hobstone, I never once bothered to explore the path that branched off at that point and I never knew about the pond. Another foreign body in the tender meat of post-Victorian York, surrounded by a protective callous of suburban back gardens (various styles of fencing) and legitimated by a Council-sponsored noticeboard for the ‘friends of’. York Railway Pond is a sink hole which leads directly into the very mush and marrow of the earth; slate grey and frigid it is and frequented by fishermen (/kings). The way there from Little Hob Moor is guarded by an out-of-place row of Victorian terrace houses with an oddly Magrittesque feel – they are dark when the sky is light. Then a newish yellowbrick estate complete with serpentine roads that lead nowhere and a little swing park (so that the soft skinned yellowbrick youngsters don’t have to run the gauntlet of thistles, cowpats and working-class people on Hob Moor before their carapaces have hardened into those of cynical fag-smoking teenagers). Then a strange green corridor that spirals down to the omphalos of the pond itself (it truly is like the siphon hole of a huge buried mollusc). I walked (anticlockwise) round the pond, signs warning me of the dire consequences of a dip (apparently, rats pee in it). It seemed like a fitting coda to the Hobstone, this motionless whirlpool at the centre of it all guarded by gnomic fishermen. If the Hobstone is the head of the worn hobnail which holds the world together (or the axle on which it turns), and Fishponds Wood the unhealable wound, then the pond is a dark grail.  

After a votive pee against the railway embankment, I headed back home. It was getting dark and four crows perched atop four elder trees on the far edge of the Moor.