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Et in Arcadia Ego - even in the Surrey Hills

Virgil was the first to use the phrase and it was taken up by classical landscape painters showing a tomb as a "Memento More" in a bucolic landscape, reminding the viewer that death is ever present even in the presumably idyllic landscape of ancient Arcadia in Greece. This gently decaying landmark could easily have been the tomb of the men that built it. The dark doorway does not invite you to enter. It was planned and built for Death.


The raw functional geometry intrudes into the slopes and curves of the hills on which it sits. A manmade structure in a millenial setting. Gentle decay is the defining characteristic of England as caught here. The redundant red brick pillbox has been abandoned and is slowly being absorbed by the soil of the slopes on which it stands.


80 plus years ago a group of frightened but determined men build a line of pillboxes on the ridge overlooking the A25 expecting German invaders to be pushing up from the coast towards London. They were expected to hold this "Stop Line" while supporting forces were called up to help them repel the invaders. The Weald they overlooked epitomised the England they were expecting to have to fight for. You see it in the Shell posters of the time, in the paintings of John Nash and in the films of the Battle of Britain.


Hastily built these structures would not have been buried in woodland which embraces them now - you can tell that the young trees in these woods would not have been there. Set on bare downland grass these little strongpoints would have made clearly visible aiming points for hostile tanks and mobile artillery. Was it a mark of lack of equipment or imagination that they were expected to stop armour with machine guns and small arms? Yet the builders took time to clad their dens with Wealden Stock bricks as if they wanted them to blend in with the local building vernacular.


Nowadays they make punctuation points on popular walking routes. Some have been swallowed up deep in the woods that have grown up on the hills, but this one marks a break from the woods onto open downland. The colour of the brickwork contrasts with the dark hanger out of sight on the left. I put in a few trees to mark its edge, in reality there are far more and the woodland is almost black so the sudden clearing seems very bright.


We have passed through the gate many times. You can work over to the tree line on the right of the picture, following the path along the same contour. Alternatively, climb down to the path marked by the curving dark green line, cross a railway and continue on down towards the A25; or climb a steep bank into a patch of ground where you can find orchids and roe deer feeding. The climb makes this a much less popular route.For a long while there was no gate, only the wooden gate post but ownership and maintenance issues have led to the introduction of barbed wire and galvanised gates more suitable to farm traffic than to walkers, horse riders and cyclists.


This painting sits with my earlier "Lindisfarne" - more picturesque and obviously related to the features in the landscape than some of my more abstract ones. It was painted over the course of a week with a single brush, a No. 7, which gives it scale and consistency. Not washing the brush between colours allowed traces of one colour to blend into another, reflecting the organic blending of the natural and the man made.





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