Caught by the River

The River Ure

David Stead | 29th March 2017

‘Winter Willows, Norton Conyers’, oil on canvas 80cm x 80cm

Words and picture by David Stead

As the river Ure loosens its tie, relaxes and spreads itself out a bit after a headlong race through the Dales, countless streams, becks, or brooks join its leisurely march towards the sea. The short drive (or cycle on more clement days) to my studio at Norton Conyers crosses one such body, as it creates its own delta before oozing into the Ure’s slow meander at Nunwick. Though only a tiny beck, the lane crosses it three times in the space of less than half a mile. The land around it is so soft that the road is under constant repair due to subsidence, and a copse of willows borders the stream. They’re not special, I suppose, but more and more I realise that beauty is in the ordinary – that the small pleasures afforded to us by the corner of a field, a path through the woods or a crow hopping off the road as we pass are the things that can change the mood of a day; ok – it’s not the ‘wow factor’ of a mountain top vista in the Alps or a raging sea, but nonetheless they can alter the temper of a day.

As I pull into the drive past Middle Lodge, Giles and his harem of gardening girls are busy in Crow wood – felling, clearing and burning. The sweet smell of woodsmoke enters the car and my first job is to add to it by lighting the studio woodburner.

The woodburner has, for the winter at least, become the centre of studio life. There is a saying that wood warms a person thrice: once when you cut it, once when you stack it and once when you burn it, and this is true. But the willow copse has added to my production too. Not only have I drawn and painted it, but with the help of the woodburner it now also supplies me with willow drawing charcoal, which pleases me far beyond its monetary value.


David is a professional artist working largely in the north of England, Scotland & Ireland. He is currently working on the ‘River Ure Project, an artist’s exploration of the river in words and pictures’ and ‘London Waterways’, focusing on the area around Regent’s canal and the river Lea.

See previous River Ure posts here.