Friday, 7 April 2017

Where's that Boulder?

Driving through Blaenau I can’t resist peeking into the yard by the fire station where the latest David Nash creations are underway. This week it was a tree trunk carved to resemble (to me) a pile of standing stones. Or maybe an upright caterpillar? It was good to see the artist at work on a cherry picker with chainsaw in hand. But which artist? Zoomed in this was clearly not the grand master himself but no doubt he would have been directing the operation.

Speaking of his great works, has anyone seen the Wooden Boulder? It disappeared from the mudbank on the river bend near Plas Tan y Bwlch about 18 months ago and I’ve not seen it since.

In case you don’t know the story it all started in 1978 with the base of a large oak tree being carved into a sphere of one metre diameter, somewhere on the banks of the stream that flows down through Coed y Bleiddiau. It was pushed into the stream by the artist as a means of getting it to the lane at the bottom for onward transport by van to his studio, but along the way it became a star in its own right – the famous Wooden Boulder.

People came from far and wide to see and experience the Boulder, to photograph and sketch it as over the course of 16 years it was slowly propelled from pool to pool by successive floods until in 1994 it was stuck by the bridge at Bronturnor. 
On a mudbank near Plas Tan y Bwlch 2013

David Nash hoisted it out of the stream onto the lane and addressed the boulder something along the lines of. Boulder, shall I place you upstream on that waterfall back there, or shall I take you to my studio or shall I place you back in the water downstream of the bridge. To which the Boulder ‘answered with determined clarity. Going back upstream was entirely wrong, against gravity and geography. Going to the studio it would dry out, die, become a relic. Into the stream beyond the bridge it would have life, dignity and freedom. So we rolled it down the road through Evan’s gate into the field and back in the stream, where it breathed again with the elements’. (Extract from Wooden Boulder 1978 - 2003 The Whole Story by David Nash.) 

For the next 8 years it stayed put until an exceptional storm carried it into the Afon Dwyryd where it moved up and down the estuary until disappearing from sight in 2003. The furthest downstream that it was seen was somewhere near Portmeirion.  Had it gone out into the ocean? Was it really spotted off Land’s End? Or was it stuck in the sand and mud?

In 2013 a large oak tree fell into the river upstream from the Maentwrog bridge. I stopped to look and thought it was going to be difficult to clear, but the following day it was gone! There had been heavy rain and a surge of water washed it away.  As it twisted and turned it broke into large chunks making its way towards the sea and maybe gouged the boulder from out of the mud? It was shortly after this that someone tipped me off that the Boulder was on that mudbank by Plas Tan y Bwlch.

It was a pleasure to take visitors to see the Boulder and to tell them its story but sadly it’s gone for the moment and who knows when it will be back again. Just in case it doesn’t reappear, this is what it looked like when I watched it disappear under an incoming tide.

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