Exploring Steve Messam’s Hush

Because we made the decision to paint our Batcave and I’m an absolute shocker when it comes to ruining gloss paint.  Seriously, I can’t resist slapping a hand down in wet gloss, or at least a finger, I have to be removed from the area completely for a period of at least eight hours – we took a family trip out to Upper Teesdale this weekend to Bales Hush on the recommendation of my friend Laura from Pop Up Studio.Bales Hush is an old lead mining site on the Raby Estate in County Durham and it’s quite a site to behold anyway – it’s feature within the landscape created when miners worked the hillside by hand to expose a mineral vein, after which the land was flushed with water to reveal what was below.

Now Bales Hush is a huge gouge spanning over 400m in length and up to 20m deep in some places.  It’s an amazing natural feature that you can hike up to and through at any type of year, providing you can manage the terrain.  On Sunday we managed to catch the final day of environmental artist Steve Messam’s ‘Hush’.  A large scale, temporary outdoor art installation which occupied Bales Hush for jus 17 days over the Summer.  Inspired by the landscape, geology and mining history of the area, Hush fills the space with 5 kilometres of recyclable yellow fabric formed into hundreds of sails which flow through Bales Hush in the breeze.

Steve Messam's Hush, a large scale temporary art installation at Bales Hush in Upper Teesdale. Pixie Tenenbaum stands in Bales Hush under the saffron coloured sails. Image taken by Pixie Tenenbaum for Fashion Voyeur

We arrived at Bowlees Visitor Centre having done some advance research into the hike, there’s a much closer carpark at the foot of Bales Hush but we were looking forward to being outdoors and killing a full day with some exploring.  The hike from Bowlees to Bales Hush is around an hour (1.8 miles ish) and is over varying terrain.  None of it is particularly difficult but there are walls to climb over, a river to cross and hills to ascend and descend, so depending on your fitness levels, it may take more or less time.

The views throughout the hike are spectacular.  It’s one of those hikes that looks like it’s been pre-filtered.  There’s a section which opens up on to Christmas Trees which is just breathtaking and every now and again I spot a tiny house in the distance and wonder whether Amazon Prime deliver there.

When we reach the river, I’m tempted to just plough straight through it, then I’m reminded by Bo that I’m only around half way and still have the return journey to do in the same shoes – plus, there’s a very clear and pre-determined rock path set out for people who don’t want to get wet.  We opt for that and power on up the hill to the farm on the other side.

As we exit the farm we get our first glimpse of Hush from a distance.  The sails look like spun gold and the people like ants crawling towards it from here.  The banks either side of the gouge don’t look steep but as we get closer it’s clear to see that it’s an optical illusion.  You can approach Bales Hush from any direction, either the left or right bank, or you can walk straight through the bottom of it and then come back down on of the bank sides when you reach the end.  We did all of the above.  We walked up the left side and then explored through the middle of it – we actually spent quite a few hours up there exploring over different terrain and got caught in rain and some blistering heat too.  If you’re heading up that way, make sure you take a decent pair of shoes and something you can layer up with in case it’s cooler when you get to the top.

The installation itself is just beautiful.  It’s serene and peaceful up there despite being busy with people.  You can’t really get a sense of the scale of it in a picture suffice to say that it’s huge.  You keep walking thinking you’ve reached the end of it and it unfolds its golden sails further and further.  Another thing that’s impossible to convey is the sound; from the top you can’t hear it but once you step into the void and you’re underneath the sails you can hear the rippling of the fabric all around you like a whispering.

A large scale temporary art installation by Steve Messam occupies Bales Hush in Upper Teesdale in County Durham for 17 days over Summer 2019 photographed here by Pixie Tenenbaum for Fashion Voyeur. Large saffron coloured sails fill a natural gouge in the landscape

The hike itself was really enjoyable.  Given that I had hip surgery in April which hasn’t gone entirely to plan this felt like natural rehabilitation and it was great to be outdoors as a family doing something fun and moving around – that’s not something I’ve been able to do for a while.  Even Plankton enjoyed it and it takes a lot to motivate him to do anything, even getting him to put clothes on and leave his room is a chore.  The installation was breathtaking, I found it calming and soothing and loved being above and below the sails, Bo quite enjoyed getting in amongst them and straightening them all out and unravelling them so they could flow properly in the wind and making people’s photographs look nice – well if it keeps him happy right?


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