Chronicler of the contemporary landscape
After two years of email correspondence Caroline Bingham caught up with Lincolnshire Life contributor Maxim Peter Griffin on this issue’s walk, part of the research for his next published work, Field Notes.
I must admit when Maxim suggested we meet at Grim’s Mound, I did quickly have to consult the map. Located just beyond Burgh on Bain, the Bronze Age round barrow is prominent on the rolling landscape and from the top gives a beautiful 360-degree panorama over the river and nearby valleys. It was a perfect day for a walk too.
I know Maxim takes great inspiration from our changeable British climate but I am much more a fair weather stroller, so the soft breeze and broken cloud cover were perfect. I put on my boots and stuffed a packet of chocolate mini rolls into my pocket and set off along the track towards the figure of Maxim in the distance. He had one-upped me on the tuck. The waft of bacon cooking on his Primus stove introduced itself before I reached him but what a pleasure to finally meet the person I had previously only known from our monthly correspondence.
I know many readers thoroughly enjoy Maxim’s walks; not just his writing and illustrations but also retrace the routes for themselves. The depth of his observations of the landscape, characters and local history which he weaves into his articles capture the unique topography, empty spaces, nature and atmosphere of the Lincolnshire Wolds and coast.
Maxim, an ex-King Edward VI Grammar School pupil, and his wife Fiona live in their home town of Louth with their four young sons. Maxim works night shifts caring for adults with learning disabilities while Fiona works part-time and is studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Lincoln.
“Work earns our living but also buys us space and time to look after our family and follow our projects and studies too,” said Maxim.
“I often walk in the mornings and will be home when school has finished. At weekends the older boys and the dogs spur me on to get outdoors with them. I am not a driver so walking is my preferred means of transport.
“I am a real local lad in that the room in which I was born at the old Louth Hospital was also the one in which I was later taught A level history. I went on to study fine art at Bath University while Fiona graduated in Writing for Drama. We met up when we later both returned to Louth.”
It was starting to get chilly, sitting at the edge of the barrow so Maxim packed his knapsack and we set off, heading deeper along the track, chatting as we walked. I would describe Maxim as a genuine creative but it was not a term he felt comfortable with – or even the label ‘artist’.
“I am an illustrator and have drawn all my life. I work in pen, ink and watercolour which then might have some digital manipulation and have completed freelance commissions for book and record covers mostly. My parents settled in Louth after my father’s time in the RAF and he trained as a stonemason. I would help on Saturday morning with repairs etc and they had great curiosity to search out those brown sign locations off the beaten path. There was always a Pevsner and Shell Guide in the car.
“I began with observations to accompany the illustrations and made hand bound books which I suppose were prototypes of what is now a much more focused project for me. The limitations of time and the amount of space at home for my work has made me more disciplined, so my formats are more honed. Field Notes, which was commissioned and is being crowdfunded through Unbound Books, is my most ambitious project to date. My aim is to keep looking and moving forwards with my work.”
Maxim explained that this momentum has been shaped by the deaths of his parents and elder brother, Patrick, all within a short space of time three years ago.
“Patrick was ill for a year and died on the day of the EU Referendum,” said Maxim. “I have a brother, Eamonn, who is a writer, and a sister and for us and our families it was a very profound time.”
As we walked, a magnificent buzzard had flown up above us from its tree perch and Maxim had been picking up pieces of flint from the plough. Cracking two together, one broke open to reveal a delicate fossil of ancient vegetation. Maxim put it in his knapsack to see if later he could make a more accurate identification.
I wanted to know more about Field Notes, to which I and many more have donated. “Books are the inspiration for my work and I am engrossed in the process. The structure will be more abstract, with more than 1,000 illustrations over 120 pages. The text will be more poetic in the context of the Wolds and the Coast. I sometimes think of the work of filmmaker Werner Herzog who shoots footage on foot while I am the ‘grunt’ on foot gathering the material for Field Notes.”
We had come to a signpost along the Viking Way which seemed a suitable junction at which to say our goodbyes. Maxim continued to retrace his route back to Louth while I headed back to Grim’s Mound and the car.
Perhaps Maxim will be happier being described as an illustrator and chronicler of the contemporary landscape. I hope so. I will be looking out for aspects of our walk when Field Notes is published. If you would like to make a donation to help speed that along you can find out more details at: www.unbound.com/books/field-notes/ Maxim also has his own website at: www.maximpetergriffin.co.uk or you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
Tuesday 19th March – mist, by Maxim Griffin.
Eaerly – the sun not yet risen. I’ve already taken my dogs out, returned home, fed them and seen to the rituals of the morning: pack ups and school bags sorted, hair brushed, everyone ready for the school day. I take my leave, promising my wife that I’ll be home for tea. There’s a long way to walk though, and my boots are new – unbroken leather requires bending to the will of my feet.
I’ve a meeting arranged – 11am sharp at Grim’s Mound. As is my want and befitting the style of my practices, I’m walking there and back.
Cutting through town quick sharp, past St James’ – over Westgate Fields, across the Lud, by the pumping station, over the gate at Dog Kennel Farm – new lambs under the old hedgerows.
I cross the A16, over the bypass, stile to stile – it always feels like a Rubicon moment – across and onwards – a flat grey mask of mist over the hills and woods. A kite on higher thermals. The sun only visible as a disc through the vapours. You can look at it with the naked eye, something I have become keen on. Look at the sun, low over the murky outmarsh, low enough to see the illusion of her movement through bare branches.
As the earth moves on, and we position the sun higher in the sky, the mist steams off the wet pathways, rising, a red kite on the thermals gliding. At a hedge side I removed a tattered gold balloon from the tangle and stuff it in my sack to dispose of later. Onward, brighter, the folds of the eastern Wolds a collage of agricultural lines – my boots, it seems are not waterproof, I’ll oil them later, no matter – I am committed to the walking now. At Hallington Top I make a panorama with my eyes – a full circle of looking – the road is white with damp and reflection, the fields and rolls, green with dazzles of chalk and flint. This is a good day for it. The track downhill, I work out the number of ascents I must make – two behind me, three ahead – ridge to ridge to ridge. A small wood with all the elegance of a Paul Nash painting. Down, over the road and into Welton Valley, a glacial scar.
I’ve been reading a book on the local geology – it is academic to the point of abstraction, almost pure poetry:
‘Long period of subaerial denudation, Hoxian and Purfleet Interglacials, SubArctic boreal forest, even tundra. Prevalence of chemical weathering. Substantial residual regolith.’
Through the woods, familiar turf for me. I’ve camped here before, hidden myself away in a bivvy – dreaming of mammoths.
Only an hour has passed since I left home. I stop for water at the end of the valley, by the whale bone arch. I’ve been reading Moby Dick too – what oceans did this trophy swim? Who threw the fatal spear, who was this whale’s Ahab?
Onward. Through Welton le Wold. No one seen. Friends of mine grew up at the manor house, we partied greatly there as teens – derelict now, buddleia growing within. Onward.
Striking the path on the other side of the village hard – an impressive climbing frame in a field – and uphill to an unnamed wood, a track and a pit – steep going. I stop at the summit – overcast now – mud up my legs, flexing the wet leather of these boots. Time check: 9.35am – good, this is good going, five miles in a couple of hours at a leisurely pace. Two big fields to cross, should take another 40 minutes. I head downhill over young wheat and chalk, scaring a couple of ducks in the process. Two sets of wings at maximum take-off, close enough to feel the motion on my face. A slippery field, upwards to the farm at Calcethorpe – earthworks – the shadow of a long gone church, St Faith’s. The village, too, faded out of history in the mid-15th century – bumps in a meadow, script on a map – there’s a few deserted medieval villages around here, I plan to address them in future days.
Past the farm and up the next track – high, proper hedges – full of telegraph poles and crows.
I’ve plenty of time, a little under an hour – my pace eases along the ridge. The sun comes out – bright and warm – a fine prospect over the Bain Valley, to Stenigot, Belmont and beyond, the phone mast at Fulletby. Ahead, Grim’s Mound and beyond that another barrow on the Caistor High Street. Behind me at Kelstern, another by the old runway. It is tempting to draw lines between them, make alignments, manifest a prehistoric landscape of ritual significance. It is best avoided though. One can end up in ley line territory – still, if you’ve a mind for such things, Alfred Watkin’s The Old Straight Track is a nice read…
Onward. The track along the ridge is indeed old and straight – some massive flints turned up by the plough, I’m forever looking at them. I find a pebble and break open a few. My eyes are the first to ever see within – patterns of an ocean floor, calcified before any dinosaur drew breath. Good. This is time travel – the deep times, the earth was young, and the stars were strange.
I make my progress – two heavily kitted ramblers coming from the other direction, greetings are exchanged.
Grim’s Mound is a handsome monument. Bronze Age, probably on top of something older, layers of dedication. I’d draw, there’s time to, but hunger calls. From the field I pull a flat stone to prop my stove on, and two more stones to form a wind break. A tiny iron pan, filled with good bacon quickly sizzles and I flip the meat with a Sheffield penknife.
The air plays the grass on the barrow, I circle it, making the shape of the disc of the sun.
A figure appears on the track to the south.
Illustrations: Maxim Griffin