I walked up the the base of the Winter Hill transmitter today, looking for a happy contrast of technology and natural landscape that maybe will form the starting point for a painting later this year. Initially warm, it clouded over and temperature dropped, making sketching difficult.
There are modern technological artefacts all over the West Pennine Moor: mine workings, wind turbines and reservoirs are scattered everywhere. But the most obviously striking of all the modern artefacts is the TV transmitter on Winter Hill. A quick reference to google tells me the rocket that took Neil Armstrong to the moon was 111 metres tall and the Winter Hill TV transmitter in front of me is 309 metres tall.
Built in the 1960 the TV Transmitter is kept company by a host of smaller radio towers round its base. Like the moon shots, themselves powered by cold war hysteria, at least one of the radio towers around the base of the main mast were operated by the ministry of defence for officially secret purposes. I don’t know if the MoD still maintain any of the radio towers but the area still maintains a certain cold war air of mystery, especially now that some of the masts have an abandoned feel about them. Certainly the radio mast I painted had security cameras and seemed active, with a diesel generator occasionally firing up and release a cloud of exhaust from somewhere behind the structure. I wondered if I was being surveilled from a remote control room somewhere.
It was one of these smaller towers that caught my eye today – a tangle of steel latticework interspersed with telecoms dishes pointing to every corner of Lancashire. An attempt at a watercolour (above) reminded me of the futility of trying to capture every detail and I and to settle for giving a suggestion of the underlying structure. As I painted, a retired truck driver came over to chat and we discussed the benefits of just being outside on the open moors. The sun became hidden by clouds as I painted and it got cold, so I didn’t linger long enough to bring the watercolour to a conclusion.
As I left, a car approached on the service access road from Horwich. It stopped close to where I had been painting minutes before. The driver had a pair of binoculars, looked at me and the radio mast, turned around and left. I did wonder if somewhere, in an MoD control room, someone made a decision to check me out.