Whitby, North Yorkshire

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  • Karen Ruffles

Of Monsters and Moos.

This week I was in pursuit of another monster, the fabled Barghest. I've been commissioned to produce a large drawing of Whitby's famous black dog based on the cover image for Tales in Sombre Tones which as some of you will know, I created with author Sean Walter. In the book, we see the hell hound racing up the 199 steps to St Mary's Church. Dracula fans will recall a similar scene in which the count transforms himself when the Demeter wrecks on Tate Hill (just over the road from me). Stoker was inspired by the same legends that have caused Yorkshire folk to look over their shoulders at the sounds of claws on cobbles for a very long time. Asides from stalking around the alleys of my home town, he's been seen in towns and cities across the county and has surprised a few folks in wilder areas too.


Hole of Horcum, Yorkshire - pic taken by me in 2017

If you're wondering where moos come into all this, for the new drawing the client and I both felt it would be fitting to depict the Barghest out on the moors. As it's a spectral hound that appears and disappears at will, yet real enough to have a ferocious bite, I initially expressed that by having the dog coming out of the landscape, from the barest shadow on grass at the tail end to the very solid jaws at the business end. A large piece, with the hound as the focus rather than the landscape, enables me to play further with that idea and I love the idea of his rough coat blending into the heather and thistles, the top curves of a running hound mirroring wind blown hedge oak.


So, with that I decided it was time to don boots, grab the camera and head out onto the moors to gather more reference material. I walked the fabulous Hole of Horcum - only my second time so I got to explore new bits of the valley which is always good for the creative brain. It's a fantastic landscape, with heather moorland, trees, shallow streams and ponds so the perfect place to get a real feel for wild Yorkshire and record the Barghest's habitat.


A section of the first Barghest drawing

Now, the Barghest hasn't visited me personally yet which am quite pleased about because the flat is full enough already without having to start buying in biscuits and shifting hell hounds off the sofa in order to sit down. This drawing is a nice lead in to my autumn work as it involves monstery things and thinking of course, but as an exercise based on my knowledge of the legends and feel for the places involved. A warm up if you like. That does not mean that it was a monster free experience however. In the same way I sometimes get a glimpse of what they are up to, it's not unusual to become aware that something else has turned it's attention to what I'm doing (remind me sometime to tell you of the night I completely traumatised poor old Stephen by choosing the wrong film).


Anything that affects my mood and ability to concentrate also has a knock on effect and in terms of my emotions, seems to feed back the other way too. In short, an office day out does us all good. I do sometimes wonder however what all of this looks like from an outside perspective, human or otherwise and so I leave you with a speculative doodle of my encounter with some very charming moos that I met halfway round...


That is, however, an entirely accurate depiction of my hair on the right lol




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