Caught by the River

Walking on Skylark Ridge

Cally Callomon | 31st August 2021

Part nature diary and part autobiography, David Suff’s collection of drawings and writings ‘Walking on Skylark Ridge’ documents the author’s relationship with the nearby natural world over the course of a year. Cally Callomon reviews.

Once upon a time, many months ago, the dark clouds rolled over this fair land and pestilence was the ruin of what had become the known world, the normal world. The world turned upside down. Undeterred, mankind waited for a new normal and whilst curious to see what lay in store, mankind devised ingenious occupations to get them through the grey death whose number was deemed to be 19.

Some chose to create weekly podcasts of walks in their neighbourhood, including delightful recitals of poems and ancient diaries; some filmed music lessons on the guitar: some even created entire festivals hosted in various living rooms across the land, and some chose to walk, to think, to observe and take notes. Notes taken to remind them of what was and what remained, notes about those things that remained untouched or even fortified by the sickness.

David Suff walked the same route each day and his notes took the form of watercolour, crayon and pen. His walks took him across his own familiar territory called Skylark Ridge. 

It has long been appreciated that a walk from A to B is a different walk when reversed as B to A. It is not the same route. 

It has long been appreciated that the same walk (A to B… please try and keep up) changes daily due to the light, the weather, the fauna, the aches, thoughts and hopes of the walker and the friends who come alongside. 

For David Suff these friends were the birds. 

There’s no such thing as a common bird — plentiful, yes, but no bird is common. Not with that song, call and plumage: all birds are rare and beautiful treasures, none are native, all are travellers. 

Suff turned his talents to depicting them on paper, managing to avoid the pitfalls so often found by other previous attempts where the bird looks like it has been cut out of a Ladybird book and stuck onto a background with gloy. These backgrounds are an intrinsic and essential part of his notes, to the extent where the spreads of mere ‘background’ are as powerful as the ones that have a birdy foreground.

These images were sent out as generous bulletins; notes from the front, missiles of hope and, for many, a salve from the anxiety and the not-knowing. 

It is refreshing to be reminded that there are many, many things that remain oblivious to our pestilence: for the birds it was business as usual, even though I swear their calls were louder, the songs more tuneful. 

This therapy is not new, and for many it became essential, a sense of perspective even when the horizon was clouded by the offing. (Karine Polwart did much the same when faced with the self-immolated disaster that was Donald Trump.)

Suff did the same with these last two post-Trump years, and having completed a year of these exercises he has decided to collect them into a printed hardback book with dust-jacket, all in colour and all accompanied by the same notes that were used each week. This is not a book to be read in one sitting. It deserves one-a-day, or one-a-week. Each page turned hosts another jewel, each page marked by a kingfisher-blue ribbon. 

We all have a way to go yet, we need all the friends we can get and this book is essential ammo, powerful ordnance for the battle ahead.


‘Walking On Skylark Ridge’ is out now and available here (£40, incl P&P), with all proceeds going to the RSPB.