The art of Wensleydale & the River Ure

PUBLISHED: 14:38 08 February 2011 | UPDATED: 18:51 20 February 2013

The art of Wensleydale & the River Ure

The art of Wensleydale & the River Ure

Jo Haywood reports on how the life and landscape of Wensleydale has been transferred <br/>from easel to page

If it wasnt for Harriet, all the paintings in Alan Matthews book would be of his own backyard. If the truth be told, shes almost as important as his wife Dorothy.

But theres no jealousy involved in this three-cornered relationship as Alan and Dorothy actually bought Harriet as a 25th wedding anniversary gift to themselves and have lived happily in Ripon with her ever since.
Before you get on the phone to the News of the World, its only fair to point out at this stage that Harriet is a 1979 Jubilee model MGB Roadster.

She spent most of her formative years in California and was brought to England in the 1990s, said Alan of the car, not his wife. She was originally black and gold but was resprayed in pewter long before we met. And were so glad because black bumpers and silver paintwork definitely do it for us.

It was a combination of his love of driving his beloved Roadster and of painting that led him to publish Wensleydale & the River Ure, the first in a series of books exploring and celebrating the landscapes and rivers of the Dales.

Choosing the images was rather like being the judge at a local cake contest, said Alan, who left his job as a primary school teacher in Wakefield in 1989 to pursue a full-time painting career. You make one friend and 20 enemies when all could be worthy winners. In the end, Ive included what can only be described as an eclectic mix; a taster of the many riches our area hides around every corner.

The watercolour paintings in the new book show Wensleydale at its very best, when the sky casts a warm glow over lush green meadows and sparkling blue water. But Alan readily admits that sometimes his artistic jaunts take place under much more dour conditions.

The River Ure begins its life high up in the Pennines before making its way east. What started as a trickle of gathering raindrops soon cut a course through the peaty upland searching for lower ground, he explained. That might sound romantic, but the driving horizontal rain this landscape can bring even in summer means a top up day for Harriet and for me.

This can be a unforgiving and inhospitable place at times, not to be taken for granted, but if theres no rain, theres no Ure and no Wensleydale.

A map at the front of the book helpfully plots all the 95 landscapes captured on canvas, starting at Ure Head and travelling through the likes of Hawes, Middleham, Jervaulx, Masham and Boroughbridge following the rivers meandering route down to York.

Alan obviously has a strong relationship with the countryside surrounding his Ripon shop, where he and Dorothy sell yarns and tapestry kits as well as original artwork.

We do need to cherish and protect our landscape, with its field barns scattered randomly across a patchwork of small fields in various stages of undress as the hay harvest is made, he said.

I am always filled with wonder at the millions of man hours spent lovingly piecing the stones together to create the tracery of walling that has become so much a part of Wensleydale. Time and the elements will have a hard job to undo the efforts made.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Ripon gets a particularly good showing in Alans book, but does he have other favourite haunts in the dale that draw him back again and again?

I particularly like Jervaulx Abbey as a ruin which has not been sanitised in its preservation, he said. Flowers colonise the nooks and crannies in its crumbling walls. At a distance, the ruin has not got the grandeur of, say, Fountains Abbey, but the juxtaposition of carved stone and random vegetation creates hundreds of cameo corners to delight the artist.

Wensleydale & the River Ure by Alan Matthews is available from Alans Gallery & Kirkgate Yarns at 19 Kirkgate, Ripon, for 8.95. You can also secure a signed copy by phoning 01765 690498 or emailing

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