British stonemason and artist Beatrice Searle walked the Gudbrandsdalen Pilgrimage Trail in Norway with a “stone boat“ as hand luggage in tow and wrote a book about it

Beatrice Searle with her “stone boat“. Source: publishing house

Beatrice Searle is a stonemason from England who, in 2017, at the age of 26, made a very unusual journey: with a stone slab on a converted wheelbarrow in tow, she walked the Gudbrandsdalen Pilgrimage Trail in Norway, a distance of a good 450 km literally over hill and dale through Norway. In her book, “Stone Will Answer,”she tells the story.

In the first place, it was about getting closer to the material she was dealing with. In addition to her own position, the book also revolves around a variety of aspects from cultural history, the myths of the North, the world of construction, and geology.

In chronological order the many strange aspects of this migration are easier to understand.

Beatrice Searle is from Cardiff on the Channel in the south of England. She studied art in nearby Newcastle and then worked for a while in a stonemasonry business. There she came into contact with the long history of this craft. Her colleagues were probably also gruff with her as an artist, at least according to a review of the book in Stone Specialist magazine.

But she also discovered in the craftsmen a fascination with natural stone and its working.

This was the beginning of her journey northward, so to speak.

She applied to Lincoln Cathedral in the town of the same name, again on the coast but this time near Sheffield, for more in-depth training as a stonemason.

There they maintain a partnership and exchange with Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim. Nidaros, by the way, is the old name for this large city on Norway’s coast.

Around this time, a mentor had given her the suggestion to take a look at the Orkney Islands, which belong to Scotland, at the northernmost edge of the United Kingdom.

“Orkney is stone from nose to tail,“ she sums up in her book.

But Orkney is not only stone, is also home to many legends, such as that of Magnús Erlendsson. He is considered a saint, and there is a story that he crossed the strait between Orkney and Scotland on a stone boat.

For tourists, nowadays there is a replica of this ominous watercraft in the form of a stone slab in the Scottish coastal town of Caithness. It bears two footprints, supposedly Magnús found good footing in them during the crossing, and we are yet to encounter them.

After Beatrice Searle had found the right stone for her adventure in a separate adventure on the Orkneys – a slab of siltstone in a particularly hard variant – the journey could begin, first by ship to Norway, then further on land on the pilgrim way with the wheelbarrow quasi as a dinghy.

Before that, she had found sponsors by test-running a few miles in Scotland with her boat in the jubilee year of St. Magnús and had the BBC report on it.

Cover of the book.

In the 352-page book, she tells how one’s world changes when one travels with such hand luggage, when one suddenly has unlimited time to think, and where the dialogue with a stone can lead.

Her friend, who was inconspicuously present and is only mentioned as “T,“ must have provided support more often, for example when the wheelbarrow went to its knees under the permanent load of almost one hundredweight and repairs became necessary.

Yet her adventure was by no means designed as a self-experience in solitude. When she met people along the way, she invited them to step into the footprints in her stone boat and report what came to mind. Some funny episodes can be found in the book until she finally arrives at the cathedral in Trondheim physically battered, but inwardly enriched.

On the Granta webpage, she mentions in her poetic idiom that she is always taking notes everywhere, sometimes on a block of the stone itself, sometimes in the margins of technical drawings.

At one point in this introspection it says, “While my hands are at work, my brain firing fast and my eyes wide open, I have a special affection for hoverflies and the way in which they seem to scrutinise everything they encounter.” These inconspicuous insects, some with the yellow and black pattern of wasps, like to hover at one point in the air, then move up, down, or sideways to another vantage point in a flash, and then stand there in the air.

Beatrice Searle, “Stone Will Answer,“ ISBN: 978-1-787-30255-6

The publisher points to two other books with a similar theme: Alex Woodcock “King of Dust“ (2019) and Andrew Ziminski “The Stonemason“ (2020).

Stone Specialist


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(21.04.2023, 04.21.2023)