Monday, 29 September 2014

An Estate lake in the land of flint & brick.

Last Friday, early, I drove to the land of flint & brick that is North Norfolk. I exhibit in a gallery there so its a pleasure to get the opportunity to visit this part of the world several times a year. Its such a contrast to where I live & as they say, a change is as good as a rest. After delivering some paintings & a frame for a painting to the gallery I spent the rest of the afternoon pottering around antique shops in & around Holt. As the shops started to empty of customers for another day I decided to have an explore of an old Estate lake a few miles away. This is my account of the hour I spent there.

Not having much time in Norfolk on this visit, knowing that come tomorrow morning I will be heading West back to Wales & home, a land of hills & forested valleys, of mountain streams & wild ruggedness I thought that perhaps a wander around an old Estate lake would be the perfect thing to do for the last hour of daylight. I'm glad I did.

For much of the afternoon I had meandered my way through the myriad of narrow country lanes & at each corner or edge of field Wood pigeons would clap circles into the air as they rose on furious wings, sounding like the last sweet in a paper bag being shaken. Pheasants too, smart & dapper with cheeks blushed scarlet & plumage echoing the changing season & of course in the fields between the furrows, Partridge round & pudding like, & the occasional glimpse of a Hare.
As I stood at the head of the drive leading to the Estate a familiar feeling, an instinct, a sense took hold, one of timelessness or stepping back into another era. Walking over the imaginary threshold I could feel the history of the place, of the lives lived & past times layered thickly all around for anyone sensitive enough to attune to them. I'm not saying that I am one of those sensitive souls who can see or sense things from times past but I do feel the weight of history in places like this, its a certain feeling thats hard to put your finger on but you know it is there.
Down the drive & to the right I took a narrow path which skirts the lake. Here it is wooded & smells musty & of Autumns decay. As the sun is low it is shadowed here, the lilies glazed in cool blues & scattered with the first of this seasons decaying leaves, like chilli flakes on pizza.
The Autumnal sky reflected in the shaded end of the lake.

The shaded end of the lake where the lilies are scattered with leaves.

I adore being by lakes like this as it allows the imagination to go somewhere, to go beyond what can be seen, to imagine the wondrous creatures that live within its depths. A few years back I walked around this lake for the first time & I know that fish live here. The lake is weedy & rich & shallow. I walked & watched Carp, long & lean, flanked with bronze & as they sped through the shallows, their broad backs would break the surface, sending out bow waves as they cut through the water like torpedoes. Glimpsed through the medium of water a Carp takes on a blue, purplish hue & because of the angle & nature of its liquid home, its depth is diminished, instead appearing long & narrow. Back then on my first visit it was the middle of the day, bright & clear & hot. Not now though as the sun slowly sinks to meet itself in the cool waters. Peering into the dark water, silty & umber hued, bubbles rise but not from fish but gas I think. They are here though & not just Carp. How I would love to cast a line into this beautiful pool of water, watch a red tipped float tremble then slide under & connect to one of those magnificent scaled beasts that live within this watery world, & just for a moment gaze upon its beauty with wonder & awe.

Moving out of the shade into the sun.

Going through an old rusty iron gate I found myself in two things, a field & sunshine. I strolled along the bank where huge Willows weeped into their own reflections & where rushes cast long cool shadows over the water plants. The floating leaves & stems trembled & swayed giving a clue to the fish beneath, unseen or identified. Dragonflies hovered & darted about on gossamer wings like military craft on manoeuvres.

Cool shadows reach across the floating leaves.

Great hulking Willows dot the edges of the lake.
As I turn & head back to the drive, what seems like a zillion insects take to the air backlit & haloed in the golden rays of the setting sun. Everything is green gold & rust & dazzling. The day has been warm, unusually warm for the time of year but I sense the change about to come as I reach a small stone bridge halfway along the drive & over a small stream that runs alongside the lake. Here the world is green again, moist, rich & the scent of earth & decay hangs in the air. Looking towards the sun, now sinking to its bed until tomorrow I notice that someone has left a small group of five conkers upon one end of the stone bridge. Its a case of being in the right place at the right time as I enjoy the serendipitous nature of my find, admiring the way they are arranged so perfectly for this time of day, with a gap between each & the shadows long & fat. A conker version of Stonehenge. The warm sandy textures in the stone revealed as the last of the suns rays rake across the surface. The conkers rich saturated burnt sienna tones, shiny & smooth.

Beautiful conkers all shiny & smooth.

Conker Stonehenge.
Just seeing conkers again always takes me back to childhood. Memories of conker fights with knotted shoe laces, bruised thumbs & the conker shrapnel all creamy white & rich brown, scattered over the playground after a defeat or the flush of pride when ones conker survives to live another day or even better, becomes an all conquering conker & gets to retire intact, to live on a shelf in your bedroom as a champion conker.

Looking up the driveway the suns rays are quite low & have an almost unearthly radiance, the way they filter & cascade through the foliage, soft & hazy. The leaves coated in liquid gold, each edged in magic. Insects dance in the light & as I stand upon the stone bridge to get a better viewpoint I cannot help noticing that the air around me has taken on a distinctly cool & damp demeanour. As I take photos I feel that I'm not alone & although Squirrels scamper about at the top of the drive, around me is silent, not a rustle or the tick tick of a Robin that I would normally expect at this time of day. Something else is here, a presence of something or perhaps someone. Maybe a gamekeeper from times past still doing his job & keeping an eye on me. As I watch columns of soft mist rise from the damp woods to my right, drifting across in front of me, illuminated by the dying sun I smile to myself as I often do to when confronted by the sights that nature offers us.

What wonderful colours we get at this time of year.

Insects dance in the fading rays of the sun.

Beautiful golden Autumnal light.

The drive of the Estate bathed in the last of the suns rays.

Its time to go & as I walk back up to the entrance of the Estate along the drive I stop to admire & photograph a beautiful Spider in her web. On reaching the road outside It feels like I have left another time behind me & am once again back in the present. What a lovely afternoon though & I think i'll let that beautiful spider with legs of glass & amber have the last word.

Upon my web with my legs of glass & amber I let the suns last rays nourish my soul.

                                                                             The End

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Fairy dust & Honeysuckle wafts

I wrote the bare bones of this earlier in the year & with nothing better to do while waiting for a frame to dry I thought why not flesh it out a little.

The River Towy, a Summers evening. There are not many places that i'd rather be. With little rain of late the ground hard, pink & dusty. There are places, shaded & dark, where the sun won't smile which keep an air of dampness & a cool demeanour. Its not to those places that i'm heading for this evening.
I want to sit quietly, still & calm beside a wide ribbon of gently flowing water, the edges scattered with trees which bow & darken the pools below where the Sewin, made of metal & jewels, silver arrowed beauties await the night.

Dusty perfumed lanes. Oil on Linen.

I have a way to go yet & although the day has been hot & bright & the air thin & warm I can smell the river from several fields away, its clear bright liquid scent. Its not one thats easy to describe but experiencing the outdoors in all its weathers & moods, over the years you just know it, its as familiar as a good friend. Or maybe I just have a nose for such things but I think anyone who spends much of their time out in the countryside will know what I mean. Actually all forms of water each have their own aroma. How many of you have said " I can smell the sea." There you are then but moving on from the whiff of a river, a blog for another day I reckon.
I strolled through dusty musty perfumed lanes. Hot rich herby foliage thick with heavy green & earthy aromas. Honeysuckle wafts & Meadowsweet dampness rise into the evening air. As the day slowly starts its batton change in its infinite relay with night & day, insects, millions upon millions of them rise up & dance in the sunbeams, each one haloed in golden light, a sprinkling of fairy dust.
The cattle too, gently graze & the sound of their shuffling about in the slowly dampening grass, a pleasing swish, are also rimmed in a halo of light.

Insects dance in the sunbeams like fairy dust. Oil on canvas.
Haloed cow on a Summer evening. Oil on Canvas.
As the sun sinks & withdraws its light, pulling the last rays across the fields into its embrace, holding onto them unto tomorrow, the river valley & its surrounding fields conjure a new magic. As I stroll through the evenings dew, my boots two tone with the spreading damp, I too swish through the grass which only moments before was damp & moments before that dry as toast. On reaching the river I sit & watch & smell & listen. Gone now the graceful acrobatic fight of Sandmartins with their stony chatter & even the cows are still & calm. I adore the little window between day & night when the days inhabitants have gone to sleep yet the nights have not yet woken. Its an exciting time for a naturalist ( not naturist as a colleague of my good lady thought the other day on reading the subheading of my blog & saying " I didn't know that David liked to run around in the nude." Made me laugh that did ) waiting to see what will appear.

Paper winged pale moths clap into the twilight air, rising jauntily & dangerously amongst the whirring membraned wings of Pipestrelles. A mist hangs low over the river valley, softly, a fairy veil of precipitous silk, gently caressing the fronds of grass below with its cool meanderings. A mist like this appears a little lost to me, with no purpose other than to choose a place to rest, then fade mysteriously with only a clue to its existence, each blade of grass beaded with tiny droplets of dew, each holding within a perfect inverted reflection of the world.

Almost a whole fields distance I can hear the noisy bumblings of a Badger making its way in my direction. I know its old Brock because their is no other creature that makes so much noise whilst foraging. I once followed a Badger for what seemed like the whole night ( it was probably more like just over an hour ) keeping up with it just a few feet behind. When it stopped I stopped, when it moved I moved. At first it knew something was up but it made so much noise rooting & snuffling around that it didn't suss me out. The light or whats left of it, just a feint warm orange glow on the horizon graduating into ever darkening blues, is fading fast & the bumbling bulk of the Badger trundles past me only feet away, it stops & with one paw slightly raised & head held high it sniffs the air, pointing its muzzle forward while its body is kept back ready to retreat. I have been detected but after a moments caution it is on its way again & minutes later I can still hear it moving along a distant hedgerow. As I hear more creatures of the night, a Tawny owl, some Otters far off down stream & the scurrying of voles at my feet it is time for me to return home.

 More from the banks of the Towy another day, perhaps next time I may even talk of the river. She does after all have so many stories to tell.

My frame is dry & to work again. I'm off to Norfolk tomorrow to deliver some paintings to a gallery there. I will blog again in a few days ( probably ).

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Wild camping & Muppet onesies at Llyn y Fan Fawr. Part 2 Return of the onesie.

Yesterday I left you all ( well, I say all but as far as I know maybe only one person is reading this ) with the vision of Andy in his Muppet onesie. I trust that you all slept soundly after that. Prepare yourselves for more of this wonderful outdoor fashion accessory as modelled by Mr Evans.

In between the occasional stir of the stew, we sipped ( glugged in Andy's case ) beer & watched the pot bubble away, the aroma of red wine, rosemary & thyme wafted into the air like a hug for your nostrils.

Doesn't that look tasty. 

It was, it was very very tasty, its very tasty.
With a hunk of bread & a bottle each of fine ale the stew was gobbled up in no time. I'm not one to blow my own trumpet but it was delicious but that could have just been the location working its magic. And maybe the company as we did have a laugh. Andy bought out some cheesecake & a tub of thick Devonshire cream & for the rest of the evening we chatted & watched & looked & laughed & enjoyed a fine single malt with a couple of drops of Llyn y Fan Fawr's purest.
A thin veil of cloud, merely a wisp, transparent & high, obscured all but the brightest stars. Laying back & looking towards the heavens time passed quickly & a few shooting stars later, it was time to turn in.

We had a laugh

Beer & a single malt. Bingo!

Still laughing.

I woke at 6am to a sunrise of Dragons' breath & fire. Separating the land from sky, a bright scar slashed from left to right edged with warmth & the promise of a fine day ahead. Above this scar, darker cooler hued clouds drifted, teasing me with glimpses of distant hills beyond & then closing the curtain once more. The scene before me in constant ebb & flow of now you see me, now you don't. Peering out of the tent a little more as a tortoise from its shell, I could look around at the escarpment behind me. The top was lost, shrouded in low cloud like an unfinished painting. As the rest of the world slept I left my shell & wandered along the shore Northwards, zig zagging up & down the slope as I went.

A sunrise of Dragons' breath & fire.

More Dragons' breath
If you look closely you will see two small tents, green & in one of them Andy is probably snoring.

Along a rocky outcrop, in sheltered crevices, plants that I knew not the names of found homes & rejoiced at their survival in such a wild place, standing proudly from the rocks as if to boast. Colourful mosses & pale lichens, lush vegetation & tiny flowers, cushions of wild thyme & ferns so green you'd think they were made of emeralds. On the lichen splattered rocks below, beading the shoreline, Otter spraints.

As I reached the North end of the lake the cloud was clearing to reveal a morning of Mediterranean blue, deep & saturated. In the sheltered bay a tiny sandy beach, no bigger than a room, with barefooted footprints. The clouds although clearing, were still hugging the tops of the mountain.

A sheltered bay at the north edge of Llyn y Fan Fawr

Wisps of low cloud hugging the mountain.
On returning to our camp, Andy was awake. He had woken earlier than me but on looking out of his tent, it was cloudy & dull so back to sleep he went. If I had woken at the same time I may have done the same. Thats the thing with weather in this place, it changes quickly & from one minute it is Summer, & the next Winter is upon you before reverting back to Summer again.

One of the greatest joys for me when camping is breakfast. Its one of the finest meals of the day, as long as you do it right & take care how you prepare it or the quality of what you use. Even the humble slice of toast with butter would probably make it onto my desert island list of foods as long as it was great bread & a good quality butter, none of this pappy thinly sliced white that never goes off & tastes of damp cardboard. No! Not for me. Theres a saying about being the best thing since sliced bread. There are many things which are much better than sliced bread. I'd better move on here as I sense a food rant coming on & we don't want that do we.
Back to breakfast then. As Andy greeted the morning sun in his soon to be cult status Muppet onesie I cooked some bacon, smoked of course, thick succulent rashers from pigs that actually had a life. This was then put into thick slices of good bread with some Tommy K & a pinch of salt & black pepper. As we ate we were silent, enjoying the moment of being beside a wild mountain lake eating a bacon sarnie, the sun warming the very cockles of our hearts & nourishing our souls.

Andy greets the morning in his Muppet onesie.

Sizzle, spit, crackle.

As diamonds dance upon the water Andy tucks in to his bacon sarnie.
After breakie we packed up & decided to walk around the lake before heading home. Again our path was marked with the white rump of Wheatears & on the Western shore I found a Toad ( sorry Helen. My friend Helen doesn't like Toads so I feel it only kind to warn her that a photo of one is coming up ) which surprised me up here. It must be a harsh life as a Toad in this environment. It looked a little odd to me, like it was a toy one, made of plastic. It is a real one honest.

It is a real Toad but it looks more like a toy one to me.
The weather started to change & the clouds grew thicker, the sun bid farewell & we walked in a homewards direction ( always best I find when wanting to get home ) along the base of the escarpment, its sides slashed with scars of Indian red, the path pimpled with shiny round sheep droppings the size of Blueberries but not as tasty. The path was dusty & pink & the aroma of sheep comforting & warm. No sheep jokes here please. Stopping to take some more photos we realised that our adventure was almost over.

The colour started to drain from the sky as the clouds grew thicker.
A quad in the distance rounds up sheep & I sit upon a rock gnome-like.

Almost home. 

And full circle, back where we started. 

Some of you will not have read this far but if you have I thank you for coming along & if I could give you a medal I would. It was a fun adventure & Andy & myself plan to go on more. Some would say that the idea of heading out into the hills & sleeping under a bit of cloth is madness, those people preferring the comforts of home. Well I love those comforts too but to be out there experiencing life, out in nature feels real & it feels good. We were both tired the following day & our legs didn't function properly & some would say that we had lost our sanity but in the end all I lost was my hat.

                                                                      The End.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Wild camping & Muppet onesies at Llyn y Fan Fawr part 1

Just over a month ago, my good friend & fellow artist Andrew Evans joined me on an overnight camping trip into the Brecon Beacons. Our destination was the wild & desolate but hauntingly beautiful shores of Llyn y Fan Fawr. Here is my account of that trip.

Yes Andy, we are going up there.

Half a mile in & already we had to stop for a breather.
Leaving the car & struggling with our fully laden backpacks we headed up the stony track. Many times I have been here & every time I wonder why I don't come here to paint. The stream which runs at the side of the track is achingly beautiful, almost impossibly beautiful with boulders strewn about the place encrusted in every colour & shade of lichen & moss. With clear pure water squeezing it way  past rocks, tumbling & cascading into fairy pools which dazzle & dance with light even on a dull day such as it was. Maybe this is why I don't paint here, after all how could I possibly do it justice.

Andy maybe laughing now but just around the corner the hard climb begins.
Onward, Wheatears, white rumped, fly ahead from rock to rock, marking our way & left behind along the bouldered stream, the stony chatter of Dippers are already a memory. As we ascend, Ravens glide on black fingered wings, croaking & cronking. The grass whispers its quiet mountain song, Heather & Harebells grow amongst the crevices & we laugh & chat & climb & laugh again. 

Lovely Heather.

Harebells & ferns.

Halfway up & we are still alive.
This is a wild place. Grass like shredded wheat, & silence, the kind you only get from a high wild place. The distant verdant valleys quiet now, a patchwork of sage, ochres, sienna, deep dark forest greens, pale grasslands & sap green woods like a plate of Broccoli.
Stopping now & then to take in the stunning vistas & to catch our breath. We are not as fit as we should be & our packs heavy.
Looking down into the cleft of a moorland valley, pale dots of sheep are rounded up, the whirr & buzz of quad bikes zig zag over the harsh terrain & the sheep patterned hillside ever changing with panicked specks of wool.

Me at the top of the world, well it feels like it.

Andy in reflective mood.

The intrepid explorers have a rest.
From high above we reach a point where, looking down, we can see the lake of Llyn y Fan Fawr. A tiny patch draws our eye, bright green & shaped like a bunting flag. Our spot for the night.

Our bunting flag shaped camp for the night, a triangle of bright green paradise.

We are so lucky to have this landscape on our doorstep.
Descending over slabs of pink dusty rock we reach the lake, gently lapping against the rocky jagged edge, water so crystal clear it is almost invisible. Meadow Pipits flit about pipetting away, a kite, dark, silhouetted scans the shore on angled wings.
Tents erected, a kettle boiled & tea is brewed. Its good to be beside this desolate but beautiful sheet of water, reflecting perfectly the shades of the sky & its ever changing moods. A gentle breeze, then one more forceful sending wavelets rolling across the surface & slap, clap, lick & splosh against the stones at our feet. Now & then stronger gusts let us know that we are in natures hands now, texturing the surface like Elephant hide.
A small, very local explore , no more than a 100 yards or so & then its time for supper. As i prepare to cook, & i love to cook outdoors, as everything always tastes better when you are surrounded by beauty, Andy retreats to his tent.
For our dinner this evening i have bought along all the fresh ingredients for a beef casserole with red wine & mushrooms. This is campsite gourmet cooking & we are both starving.
Andy is a great friend, always amusing to have around but i wasn't expecting what happened next. Out of the corner of my eye i noticed Andy emerging from his tent, i looked & had to look again, a proper double take just like you see in the cartoons. He was wearing his Animal Muppet onesie. Some things can never be unseen.

Snug as a bug in a rug in his onesie.
Tomorrow part 2:- Return of the onesie

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Blackberries for breakfast

I didn't wake early today but not late either, just about right i reckon. On opening the kitchen door i was greeted by a golden light, dazzling & bright with the rusty hues of an Autumnal morning. The air  cool & the field down to the lake sodden with dew, each drop reflecting a perfect inverted world within & the shadows of the trees raked across the grass to meet me, as if to beckon, to invite.
Before i left the garden through the somewhat unkempt & overgrown gate, a Red Admiral alighted upon a leaf to warm itself in the suns smile. Its silhouette through the decaying leaf like shadows upon stained glass.

The shadow of a Red Admiral, so beautiful.

I really must sort that gate out as each time i go through it i lose more threads from my jumper. Entering the field i head towards the lake, it is bathed in golden light & sunbeams, surrounded by patches of rambling brambles. A rich weedy green aroma wafts around & there is more than a hint of Autumns steady decay in the air. I love this time of year, & although the verdant freshness of Spring & the heavy richness of Summer greens, all hot & herbaceous, are wonderful, as i reach September i'm ready for something new & the subtle changes of hue in the landscape with that promise of the saturated hues of October & November to come, suit me just fine. The spreading brambles were full of stained glass loveliness & a tangle of spiky Autumn hued leaves & stems, rampant & colourful offering up its clusters of deep purple, almost black fruity grenades has to be one of natures nicest treats. Only weeks ago i was picking Blackberries & had to be selective, picking only the ripe & the juicy ones, the others red & not yet yielding to ripeness & the green ones, tight & nut hard, still holding onto their delicious secret for awhile longer. None of this selective musings amongst the berries now, all of them are dark & yield so willingly with only a smidge of pull needed to unburden them from their prickly home. Some so soft i would swear that they burst before even being touched. As i wandered around the lake i picked & plucked & with fingers stained purple a fine breakfast they made.

How beautiful is the humble bramble at the start of Autumn.

I've been murdering Blackberries again.

A tangle of rampant beautiful berries glossy, juicy & yummy.
This is my first blog, so now i am a blogger or do i need more than one blog to be a blogger or have i just blogged & am not yet a blogger. Blogger or just one who has blogged, it matters not for there will be more. As the nights draw in, the days shorten & cool & the shadows grow longer i guess i'll have a bit more time for this sort of thing. Its quite exciting, all those blogs that i haven't written yet, all those things to enthuse about, to be passionate about & at times maybe to rant about. Mostly though this will be an uplifting celebration of the natural world & my small role within it, its trials & tribulations ( as an artist there are many ), its ups & downs, musings, thoughts, paintings, photographs, nature notes & one of my favourite pastimes, fishing. And when i'm not doing any of that i will usually be found in the kitchen or out foraging as food is another passion that i may share with you from time to time.

I do hope that with my blog i will offer an insight into the life of someone who loves nature & being surrounded by it. As romanticised as many of you will think the life of an artist is i will endeavour to be completely honest about it. Its not all a bed of Roses you know & there have been many times where i have been looking down the back of the sofa for some money but hopefully if i work hard & honestly & putting my heart & soul in everything i do then i think i'll be ok.

Green gold shadows & sunbeams dapple across the lakeside meadow.

The lake, green & still & glorious.