Thursday, 20 August 2015

Saltmarsh creeks & estuarine mud

While on a recent trip to North Northfolk to deliver some paintings to Birdscapes gallery I had the opportunity to sit beside some lovely Saltmarsh & estuary habitats. I love to spend time in these places & to take it all in, to breathe deeply filling my lungs with that wonderful salty air & to hear the cry of the Curlew or the shrill high notes of piping Redshanks, the watchers of the creeks.
I spent a few hours at Morston Quay perched upon the wooden structures eating fresh seafood bought from a little van in the car park. Crab, Cockles, Whelks, Prawns & Crayfish & a squeeze of Lemon or a dash of malt vinegar. It was bliss. Jill found a spot to read her book & I took out my pen & made a few notes. I'll pepper these jottings with a painting or two, all fitting in with the theme but none of Morston Quay itself. There will be though at some point but I need to go back in better light.

'Snipe flight'.
The tink tink of rigging upon boat masts, the rasping throaty cries of Black Headed gulls, white winged angled shapes cutting through the air like a child's kite, Redshanks piping their song across the Saltmarsh & the trickle of fresh water flowing seaward.
The crackle & fizz of bronzed mud on a receding tide like a thousand glasses of Champagne. Slippery sheets of fallen sky puddle the slip slide silky wet mud. Tracks of birds criss cross the beak probed &  scarred surface where ropes, chains & a general raggle taggle of debris of a Saltmarsh creek lay discarded as if Houdini himself had just completed one of his escapology feats.

Silvered strips & ribbons flow seaward, gently twisting & meandering shallow crystal clear water. The tide yet to turn, slowly filling its more cloudy richness back into the creeks like blood through veins. Slowly it will rise to the timber edged platforms & walkways, mooring posts & jetties. Higgle piggle like a giant game of pick up sticks. Gulls wade disturbing the blue sky reflections, sending out circles, red billed & raucous. Small boats upon the mud at jaunty angles & unsure of themselves like drunks in a bar at closing time. They will sober with the returning tide but for now they lay beached & lifeless.

The aroma of Samphire & salt, of Bladderwrack & wet estuarine mud the consistency of a fine pate. Lost shoes & hats, parted from their owners lay sticking half in half out of the rich wet mud. Just how do you lose a shoe? Crab claws & broken shells scattered about like the remnants of a seafood buffet, Lobster pots ragged & skeletal, drying the sun.

Purple Sea Lavender carpet the top of the marshes, Samphire, short & succulent point to the blue above & Purslane, pale & green grey with oar like leaves grow in abundance here. Impossible to avoid treading upon some of the Samphire but it does have a very pleasing crunchy soft pop like a kind of marine bubble wrap. Tasty too, delicious in fact & one of my favourite vegetables. 
The breeze is full & rounded, a warm breeze yet cooling at the same time, comforting yet fresh. It is heady too with salty Summer undertones with a top note of hot grass & sand blown to my nostrils from the dunes further along the coast. Out at Blakeney point many more plants thrive in this special habitat, too many to mention & so many that I don't know. Two favourites do grow there though among the shingle & the sand. The first is the Yellow Horned Poppy with its paper thin blowsy petals of sunshine yellow & the other Sea Campion, delicate but hardy flowers of pale white with veins of pink so evocative of the Pembrokeshire cliff tops that I love to spend time upon.
Looking along the creek the sun is casting shadows from the marooned boats of the most beautiful blue upon the mud. A really stunning shade that I wish you could buy in a tube. At times of feeling low I could squeeze a little out & be cheered instantly. Colour can be so powerful in the emotions it provokes. Even on a dull day full of cloud & endless grey, the sight of a Kingfisher whizzing along the creeks will always cheer in its dapper impossibly blue jacket. It is one of natures magic spells.

Estuaries & Saltmarsh are so alive with life, positively teeming with it. My love affair with such places will i'm sure continue until my last days but not before i've at least tried to do them some justice with some paint & a canvas or two. Hopefully i'll write another blog soon on another subject close to my heart.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Floating upon a silken sea

Floating upon a silken sea
I must confess that it was way back in the depths of Winter that I last wrote a blog. It is now a month past the longest day & we are still waiting for Summer to properly arrive. Summer this year has been bitty, ragged, unclear of itself, almost as if its lost its confidence as to what its supposed to do. Before we know it, Autumn, that wonderful golden, fungal fruited time of year will be upon us but hopefully a little of Summers warm bright charm will pay a visit before the first Conkers fall from the trees.

In June 2006 my mate Andy & myself went on an overnight Kayaking & camping adventure in an impossibly beautiful part of Pembrokeshire. We've been on others but this one really sticks in the memory as one of the best. Its pouring with rain outside, the sky sodden & grey, it is cold & i've just put the heating on in July. I'm going to transport myself back to a coast of sunshine, cliff tops full of wild flowers & the tranquil turquoise sea of Pembrokeshire. If you want to come along too then please read on.

After part dragging, part carrying our two giant banana like kayaks to the beach, a distance of several hundred yards, we were already knackered. It was hot, the sky was cloudless & serene. Sitting upon the warm pebbles we rested & spied a small wildflower encrusted cliff top peninsula which to our eyes looked like a piece of Heaven had fallen from the sky. It is here that we set up camp.

Cliff tops crowded with flowers.

The view from our camp for the night.

The wild cliff top flowers were growing in such profusion that it was difficult to find a place for our tents but eventually we did. Like two beached Whales our kayaks we left at the back of the beach until the morning. The evening was glorious, the sun golden orange & red as it sank into the sea to meet itself & the promise of tomorrow & pushing off from the shore in our kayaks was all we could talk about. The rocky shoreline & stunning Pembrokeshire cliffs glowed in the radiance of the lowering sun, salmon pinks & shades of coral & the sea, slightly rippled & Turquoise.    


We toasted the sun with a beer & drifted to sleep listening to the gentle caress of the wavelets upon the shore & the distant cries of gulls.

We woke to another stunning day. It was early & already the day was full of sunshine & promise. After a wander over the cliff tops to snap a few pics of our campsite breakfast was cooked, devoured & cleared away. There cannot be a more pleasant experience than cooking in the outdoors, especially on a cliff in Pembrokeshire when you are about to explore the coast in your kayak. The excitement was building & I felt as if I was going to burst.


Our campsite cleared, the only clue to us having been there, some slightly flattened grass that was already springing back to point to the sky once more. We retrieved our kayaks, dragged them down the beach & pointed them at the sea. There is nothing like sitting in a kayak & with a little bit of forward momentum pushing yourself out onto the water. That exact moment that you are no longer in contact with the land but floating for the first time is absolute magic & you feel incredibly free & calm, unless of course you are heading out into the teeth of a force 10 gale. I don't suppose that would feel particularly calm or freeing. On this particular morning the sea was flat calm, the flattest & calmest i've ever seen it. It really was like a mill pond, a mirrored surface made of silk, rich in ozone saltiness & the aroma of hot barnacle encrusted rocks & dried seaweed.

We paddled up the coast exploring the tiny bays & inlets, sea caves & arches. Every couple of minutes wed catch up with each other & just break into smiles as broad as the Kelp that was gently swaying beneath us. The sea was crystal clear, the rocks sank into the depths kissed with emerald & turquoise & scattered with the dancing ragged sunbeams upon their rough Barnacle inhabited surfaces. Below, Wrasse would dart out of the forests of Kelp looking like they had ventured out forgetting they were still wearing their pyjamas & just as quick dart back in, curiosity satisfied. I did that once, went out to the local supermarket in my pyjamas. I only realised when I was getting out of the car so I carried on anyway. I don't think anyone noticed but I guess thats just the kind of town I live in.

Rafts of Razorbills swam & dived around us, their cackling calls echoing off the rocky cliffs & bays. As we rounded rocks, groups of them sat chatting in the bright morning sun, their bellies glowing from the reflected light & the Barnacles, shut as tight as can be hoping to survive until covered once more by the life sustaining sea. Wildlife never seems scared of you if you're in a kayak, it will let you get close. Maybe it doesn't recognise us as Humans, not seeing our usual upright stance but instead only seeing us from the waist up & with the addiction of a kayak skirt maybe its disguise enough.

Grey seals are great fun while exploring in a kayak. They do seem to recognise us as Humans but are still curious. They are sneaky though & will often pop up behind you so its tricky to see them but they can see you. Andy & I discovered a way to combat this. We just paddle backwards & it tricks the Seals into thinking that you are facing the other way. They pop up right in front of you so you can get a good look before they realise they have been fooled & dive back into the depths looking decidedly embarrassed. Luckily we saw Seals on this adventure, great flabby Seals basking in the sun upon bleached rocks looking like Jabba the Hutt but with Labrador faces. Such endearing mammals.

The sea cliffs on that morning in June were magnificent, ethereal & grand, bathed in beautiful morning light, dazzling & bright & to be beneath them on the surface of the sea I will never forget. Looking up into their craggy wildness & tracing them down into the emerald depths disappearing far down where its cool, dark & mysterious.

Paddling back the way we had come some more sea caves were explored, Razorbills passed & still chatting, probably about us & Grey Seals perched upon rocks like those ornaments that you can often buy at the seaside. With paddles sitting horizontally across our kayaks, gently cutting through the silky surface like a knife through butter ( salted of course ) & our hands trailing through the cool salt water we were happy. It had been a wonderful experience & for me personally all the better for sharing it with my mate. Its like watching a sunset. They are always beautiful to watch but to have someone with you to turn to & say "wow! look at that, " makes it even more enjoyable.

I managed to get some great reference for paintings during this short trip but to date I think i've only painted two inspired from it. One of Razorbills sat upon the rocks bathed in light & one of the cliffs with Andy in his kayak, tiny & floating beneath them. This one now hangs on his wall. I'll leave you with those two paintings. We really must get down to the coast again soon & do it all again.

Monday, 9 February 2015

A Dragon's Dawn, a field of spun silk & a house full of fire

An odd title perhaps but all will become clear. Yesterday was full of light, of bright Winter light but first came the Dawn. A Dawn of such intensity in its rich colours as to be almost unreal. I often miss the Dawn & was expecting to miss this one as we had friends over the night before. Much eating & laughing & merriment had taken place, so waking in time to witness the sunrise was not foremost in my mind. The bedroom was bathed in a cool blue light but at the edges of the two skylights the tone was warmer, a little peachy even. Before I turned to open the curtains to peer out I knew it was going to be a good one. I wasn't disappointed. The whole sky was rich & full & bloodied in red, edged in golden yellows & ragged oranges. It was as if a Dragon had belched across the sky. The land below, crisply blue with another of Jack Frosts visits & the lake, a shard of fallen sky hued deep salmon & rose pink. On one of the big Ash trees, two Buzzards sat high, silhouetted against the brightening sunrise. They sat there until the sun broke the lip of the horizon before deciding to go about their Buzzardy business. Birds sang with notes & tones that I hadn't heard since last Spring & Summer. Clues to Spring being just around the corner.

 After breakfast there was the morning after the night before clearing up to do but I enjoyed it, knowing that later we would venture out into the day, into the brightness of it & soak some of its radiance into our very souls.
At 3:30pm Jill & I made our way to the Towy, crossing the King's Bridge out onto the fields & along the river edge. The river meanders lazily through the valley but its awesome power is never in doubt. During the twenty two years that i've lived here I have seen the course of the river change so much, as it snakes its way through the land devouring fields & wooded banks & spitting them out along its course to make new fields & new banks.
In the bright yet warming sunbeams of this Winters day everything looked gorgeous but the best was yet to come. As we strode on, upstream, we admired whatever wildlife presented itself to us. Snipe sprung from the marshy ground, beautiful Teal flushed from small pools at the rivers edge, art deco little ducks, exquisitely painted & one of my favourites & Gooseanders scrabbled across the glassy surface like paddle steamers on speed.
As the sun was slowly sinking, fields full of gossamer silken webs of perhaps a million spiders carpeted the grass like discarded strings from Fairy Harps, translucent & beautiful. Absolutely stunning & rather than words i'll insert here the photos.

Jill sat amongst a field of silken webbed beauty

Jill haloed in the setting sun amongst the discarded strings of Fairy Harps

 Returning the way we came, the sun now lowering quickly, some sheep fat with lambs yet to be born were grouped in a field, naples yellow hued & reflected in the flat marsh pond, watching us & ready to bolt.

Stopping by Yankees' Pool to watch the last rays disappear over Llandeilo I watched some small insects, backlit as they danced upon the air, bouncing as if held by invisible strings. Mesmerising they were, with their little sun dance. At the exact moment that the last ray of the sun fell behind the hill, all the little flies parted & flew into the hawthorn hedge to settle for the night. How many of us I wonder are lucky enough to witness the bedtime of bugs.

Little dancing flies bouncing on the air just before bed.
Time to go & as we walked out onto the field which leads to the Kings Bridge a familiar hello found our ears. Friends from the evening before were also out for a stroll so tales from last night were echoed & the laughter resumed.
Some years ago I lived in a small cottage close to this part of the river & so i've walked across these fields more times than I could possibly imagine. So often when returning home I would see this house ( not mine ), a farmhouse which stands at the foot of a hill & when the sun set it would appear that the house was full of fire as its windows reflected the setting sun. I loved the intensity of it, the rage from within, golden & orange, like the sun had gone for tea. I always wanted to photograph it but never had my camera with me. Not a great photo I know but it gives you an idea.

So that was yesterday. A day of silken webs, of flushed ducks, of a sunrise & a sunset & what we were hoping for was the sight of an Otter. We didn't see one but that didn't matter, it was just great to be out. I'm out on the Towy at sunrise tomorrow with a friend, hoping to photograph some Otters. I'll let you know how we get on.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Stepping out onto a Frosty field.

Firstly an apology. Its been sometime since my last blog. I think that was way back in October, towards the end. Much has happened since then but I won't go into that other than telling you that I got engaged just before Christmas. I'm a very happy man at this moment in my life.


This morning, early, I woke to a land filled with magic. A land of tiny ice crystals & crisp delights. Darkness was taking its time to make way for day but already there were clues that Jack Frost had paid a visit. A blue light within the room & at first a reluctance to leave the comfort & warmth of my duvet. Downstairs I peered out, my car white with ice & all around, still & blue. After ten minutes the car was warm & driving the two & a bit miles home from Jill's place I could more clearly see the overnight makeover by the good hands of Mr Frost. An Ash tree, tall & grand, its branches, every one coated in a billion tiny ice crystals, backlit by the slowly rising sun. Hazy yet bright, the tree rigid in the shock of Winters breath.

A beautiful Ash, tall & defiant in Winters embrace.
 Reaching home there was no time for coffee. On went the woollens, camera ( really should have been a sketchbook ) stuffed into a bag & out into the garden I went. My breath like a Dragon, warm wisps & puffs, tobacco hued & illuminated by the sun. Looking across the garden into the fields beyond, that is where I wanted to be. Passing the Ash tree which stands at the corner I paused to see if the Tawny was in residence within the box I had put there two years previous. It was, a quarter of its round feathered face & one eye peeped at me momentarily before dipping back down into its wooden roost.
The field was bright with frost, the grass brittle, crunching beneath my wellied feet as I strode out into Jack Frost's playground. Gone now the washed out verdancy of a muddy Winters field, pitted & pot marked with brown puddles from the Horses hooves. Instead the putty like consistency of a few days earlier replaced with sugar coated grass, concrete mud & each round Horse hoof shaped puddle, a spiders web of ringleted ice.

Slicing the field in two, a cold clear trickle of water.

 A narrow snake like trickle of cold clear water, verdant with plants, slices the field in two, its edges crisp with tiny shelves of suspended razor thin ice, fragile & glassy. Following this tiny channel of water towards the lake, a flock of Wigeon take flight from the only patch of lake unfrozen & circle overhead for a minute or two. I stand still & wait for them to alight once more, enjoying their calls of pe-ou pe-ou, so evocative of days spent sketching them on Dinefwr ponds more than twenty years ago. Moving away from the lake as I don't want to put them up again I continue to follow along the side of the brook & eventually down into the trench of it & at this point realising that I have put the wellies on with the leak & my right heel feels the shock of freezing water as it rushes in.

 The sides strewn here & there with thistles & Bramble, the latter scarlet in the morning sun, edged in pin pricks of ice, a coating of Fairy dust. In the shadows, cool greens with echoes of sharp blues & purples. Against the sunlight, now bright & yellow, backlit little ferns & leaves of Bramble, beautiful & frozen & still, so still. Even a whisper would hang in this mornings thin air for an eternity.

Like the vermillion fins of a Rudd in the murk of a pond, Bramble in Winter.

 I adore frost & all its qualities, the way it completely changes the landscape. Its not like Snow which blankets everything & even changes the form & shape of whatever it falls upon, although that too is very special & has its own wonder & magic. Frost coats the landscape but the landscape is still definable under Jack Frosts breath.
Photos are snapped as are twigs beneath my feet, brittle & bone like. Some paintings will come from this mornings wander, subtle hued & restricted palette yet full of light & with luck some of the atmosphere of the day.
On returning back up the field after rounding the lake, careful not to put the Wigeon up again, through the garden gate & indoors, ready for a coffee. On boiling the kettle I found that I had run out. Nevermind, anything hot would do but somehow Nettle tea doesn't quite cut it on a day like this.

I'll leave you with one of my favourite paintings that I did some years back of Dryslwyn castle on a freezing Winters morning. It was painted in oils on canvas & was 1metre square.