Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Under the mirrored surface

There is a place in Pembrokeshire that stole a piece of my heart from my first visit 23 years ago. It was a college day trip to Bosherston Lily Ponds, part of the Stackpole Estate run by The National Trust. As I wandered around its tree lined margins & peered into its crystal depths, another world appeared, one of dappled light & bejewelled fish, of sunbeams & shadows, a beautiful world of mystery & magic. From that moment I have wanted to peer into this sub surface realm of the fishes. I've enjoyed a love affair with Bosherston & its ponds ever since.

For many years now I have visited Bosherston Lily Ponds & meandered my way lazily around its edges peering into its life crammed water & watching its inhabitants. Sometimes its a shoal of tiny inch long Roach fry, thousands of slivers of miniature fish, often a shoal of larger Roach flanked silver blue & red finned perfection. In the shadows where the sunbeams dance with the dark & twisted branches reach for the lake bed like Witches fingers, Perch can be seen in their striped pyjamas or one of Bosherstons more sinister residents, old Esox, hanging motionless but for the gentle waft of pectorals fanning circles in the clear water.

Perch in the shadows wearing striped PJ's.

Old Esox hanging in the dappled light.
I visited the ponds last week with my friend Rhian, an enthusiastic photographer & all round good egg, to hopefully photograph some of the ponds inhabitants. We had both recently purchased Gopro cameras & were eager to try them out.

Lillies were rising from the silt on their journey to reach the sky. Stunning colours reminding me of those fruit salad sweets that I loved as a child, set against a backdrop of hazy Turquoise green.

Lillies on their quest for the sky.

Tiny 8 inch long Tiger striped Pikelets rested among the Lily stalks, patterns so striking & fresh like a snake having just shed its old skin.

A tiny Tiger striped Pikelet.

Another little beauty among a jungle of fruit salad Lillies.

One more just below the mirrored surface.

With a bit of string & some duct tape I was able to attach my camera to the end of an old telescopic landing net handle. This allowed me to lower the camera into otherwise inaccessible places, to get a fishes eye view into their own watery world. Being so small & unobtrusive I could get the camera closer to the fish than I would have been able to if i'd been in the water with them. The downside is the extreme wide angle which has the effect of making the fish appear further away than they actually were & if it was too close to them they appeared distorted & elongated, large Pike ending up looking like clowns. Overall though i'm really impressed with the quality of the images from such a tiny camera.

As we continued our explore of the edges, dipping our cameras in here & there & marvelling at the shoals of Roach & the quality of light ( its an Artist/ Photographers thing ) filtering through the Turquoise depths we came to a spot that looked so inviting for a future painting. A large overhanging tree, sunlight dappling the surface between the branches & a clear rocky lake bed below with jagged sunbeams making lightning strikes ripple along the silt & rock strewn floor.
I could see that the bank was undercut here & would make a perfect backdrop for a potential Pike or Perch painting. I lowered the camera in for a quick 360 degree film before lifting it out again. As I did so I noticed the large dark shape of a big Pike hanging in midwater a few yards out. At about 3 & a half foot long it must have been getting on for about 20lbs in weight.


The dark lair of a big Pike in an undercut bank.


With a fast beating heart the camera was lowered into the water again & I was shaking with the excitement of it. It didn't swim off as I was expecting but manoeuvred slowly towards the camera. The light criss crossed along its Leopard spot flanks, its eyes intense & me in a state of amazement.


I was so excited to capture this.



I was on a high but it was about to get even better. Moving along the bank we noticed a few more Pike, not as big as the one just seen but still beasts into double figures. Once again the camera was lowered into the water & the Pike responded with curiosity rather than fear. My heart made its way to my mouth as the Pike slowly made its way to the camera & at one point actually touched the camera with its Croc like jaws before turning away & fading into the distance. I already knew that I must have got some great footage so I took my camera off & put Rhian's on & handed her control of the landing net handle. The Pike did exactly the same & Rhian was now sharing the same high as me from our close encounter.





Returning to the clearest part of the ponds hardly being able to form words yet both babbling on about what we had just witnessed & the image of the Pike appearing every time I blinked.
The light, softer now, the sun lower & the colours of the Lillies more intense bathed in beautiful hues of pink, orange & olive green set against a cooling faded hazy blue green fog with Lily shadows cast softly as feathers along the silty bottom.
A male Mute Swan which Rhian insisted on naming drifted over & we were presented with another opportunity for some underwater footage. We named him Vesta.


( Swan ) Vesta




An afternoon i'll never forget, one of those red letter days full of close encounters with wonderful wildlife & planting so many seeds of potential paintings. Do have a look at Rhian's photography page on Facebook if you get a chance at Rhian Mai Photography.

I'll leave you with a couple of Perch paintings that I did earlier this year & also apologise for the very long gaps between my blogs. I try & live life at a reasonably slow pace to allow me to enjoy it more, to notice & appreciate the little things.


' In the dappled light, Perch ' Oil painting 48" x 30"



' Stripey Gangsters ' Oil painting 36" x 28"


And just one more for luck, painted last year.

' Marauding Perch ' Oil painting 1 metre square

1 comment:

john said...

What a beautiful post. I love the photos and the paintings.