High tide

Over the past couple of days there have been some very high tides and the water has reached places that are not normally reached. I love to see Wells in a slightly different guise so I went to have a look.

The ducks were paddling on top of The Quay

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and the former Dutch cargo vessel, The Albatros, which is moored there permanently looked as if it could have floated right on top to be stranded high and dry.

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The sun sparkled off gently rippling water that had totally covered the marsh

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and the boats rocked up and down.

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It was a very non-threatening scene.

I wanted to see where the water had got to on the beach so jumped in the car and in 5 minutes was looking at a normally sandy beach totally immersed in rippling water – wavelets by the sea edge but bigger rolling waves further out. These may not look big, but for Wells, where the water normally creeps slowly in and out, waves this far in are relatively rare.

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The dune opposite the beach huts was completely circled by water. This only happens on a few tides during the year. The water rises from the back. Simultaneously, the channel at the front (that normally only half fills) becomes so swollen, that water is pushed onwards to join up with the encroaching tide at the far end of the dune.

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A few years ago with a tide like this the water would have gone right under the beach huts. But recently sand has been blown up the beach and the edge where the huts are has risen quite dramatically.  All the huts have been raised because they were becoming submerged by the encroaching sand. Ours was raised three years ago because the stilt-like legs had disappeared and the deck was constantly washed by sand; even repeated sweepings couldn’t stem the tide. Already the bottom two steps of the ladder have gone and in a few years we’ll have to raise it again as the height of this part of the beach continues to rise. This is another example of change on this mutable coastline and the water won’t reach here in the foreseeable future.

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The highest point of the tide doesn’t last long. Almost as soon as high-water was reached the sea started to drain out of the channel between the dune and the beach huts and in half an hour the sand had reappeared.

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Spending time

It is a perfect summer’s afternoon – for me at least – with bright sunshine and a stiff breeze to keep me cool. It’s thin jumper weather rather than t-shirt weather. I walk northwards out along the dyke from Burnham Overy Staithe to Gun Hill with my husband, who as a good packhorse, is carrying a rucksack with a flask of tea, an enormous flapjack from the baker (to share), sketchbook, pencils, brushes and paints.

The wind is coming from the North West so we decide to turn left inland when we get to the end of the dyke to walk the spit of land that is called Gun Hill from the inside. This way we are protected from the wind by the high dunes until we round the end, opposite Scolt Head Island, to go back along the beach when the wind will be behind us.

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The tide is out. It was a big tide this morning so the Staithe and the paths around Gun Hill are puddled and wet. The exposed marsh is covered in a light purple/blue haze as the sea lavender has been out for a few weeks now. It is coming to the end of its flowering and soon the marsh will be predominantly green/brown again. We stop, facing inland across the marsh, and I paint. Looking back towards the village I can see occasional flashes of light from cars going along the coast road as the sun glances off their windscreens. There is virtually no sound apart from the song from several large flocks of small brown birds that rise up from the bushes, corner over the marsh and land further along. This happens over and over again and they make their way slowly across the edge of the marsh. I’m not sure what they are but a look through the binoculars shows that they aren’t sparrows …. They have smooth reddish brown bodies – I’ll look them up later in the bird book.

Another 10 minutes walking and something else catches my eye; a strong black line of mud with a shining flash of water in front. It’s hot sitting here out of the wind, so I do a quick pencil drawing and we’re off again.

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Round the end of Gun Hill we notice that the cordoned off ternary has been dismantled for the year. In the spring, the Natural England wardens who look after this part of the coast, section off parts of the shingle beach with simple stakes and lines to allow the terns to nest and breed. Terns prefer to nest on the ground and they are well camouflaged on the sand/shell/shingle. It would be very easy to walk over a nest and it is best that the birds are allowed to lay their eggs and let the chicks hop around protected from trampling feet.

We sit and have a cup of tea and a bit of flapjack. The wind has shifted. It has come round to the north and is blowing straight onto us. I put on my sweater. To the left over in the small channel that drains into the sea between Scolt Head and Gun Hill, children and adults are sailing little boats up and down. It is a perfect place to learn to sail. At low tide there is just enough water to be useful but also safe. The freshening wind fills the sails and sailing on a fast reach the water creams round their bows and their masts tilt. Hanging onto the mainsheet the sailors have to hike right out to avoid capsizing.

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I sit and write these observations and then paint the beach in front of me while my husband snoozes.

I can’t think of a better way of spending time.

Sand and salt bags

I’ve had some little pieces drying in the beach hut and they are now done. These are experiments. I don’t know yet if they will be developed into something else but they have several properties that are quite promising.

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The pieces have been filled with a mixture of sand and salt and soaked in the sea until wet through and then left. They have taken between three and four weeks to dry out fully.

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The smaller pieces were inspired by heaving lines – a lightweight line with a weight at the end, made to be thrown between a ship and the shore, or from one ship to another, and used to pull a heavier line across. The weight in them is really pleasing. I often feel that 3-D textile work lacks heft so I am really pleased with their heaviness.

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The longer piece was made simply to see how much sand/salt could be stuffed into a small work before it became too heavy…… it’s not too heavy to hang! Again I really like the feeling of gravity – you can see the weight of the sand/salt pulling the cloth down towards the ground.

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Food for thought …..

Work in Progress (at last)

I don’t know why, but after weeks of prevarication and confusion I woke up this morning and knew exactly what I needed to do!

I’ve been fiddling around making work that is either too big to be called a sample or too small. I’ve tried things out that have had nothing to do with my core ideas in a desperate attempt to get to the ‘thing’ that annoyingly stayed just out of reach. Nothing has quite worked, although some things have had promise. Obviously it has all been worthwhile and has contributed to this eureka moment. Strangely, I think deep down I already knew what had to be done – it was there in my brain all along, but for some reason at 6 o’clock this morning everything fell into place.

Today I’ve painted 2.5  metres of linen cloth and made 120 wire eyelets. All that remains is to put them together ….

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….  of course it may all go horribly wrong!

Waves

I am wrestling with making work at the moment – too many ideas means that I can’t settle comfortably to one thing. I jump around from one idea to the next, not really sure whether things are working or not. It’s a state I’ve been in before – I just have to keep going and remember wise words that I read somewhere (sorry I can’t remember where) and that is that if you know what you are doing you are not being creative.

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Walking always helps – often ideas occur to me or connections are made as I walk myself into a meditative state. However, even though sometimes there is revelation, more often than not there is silence.

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A couple of days ago I went down to the beach in-between rainy showers for a much needed breath of fresh air. The tide was coming in. Watching it flood over the sand flats and fill the dips and hollows in an inexorable movement forward is mesmerising. I find I have the need to map its coming in – to measure its flow. A quick line made in the sand with my foot marks a spot a few metres back from the edge. Waves ripple forwards in surges, back and forth, advancing and retreating, until the line is reached. It makes me think of my grandfather who always said that the seventh wave is bigger. I count the waves. This piece of folklore is not scientifically correct but there are occasional bigger waves and they seem to push the tide further in.

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Watching and counting the waves I start to notice. The more I look, the more I notice and the more I make connections to what I see and what I think. Crossing lines of foamy water relate to small line drawings I have been doing recently. Tiny bubbles make me think of a different way of making holes in cloth. A small shred of bladder wrack that floats in connects to some salt and sand pieces I have been making and suggests something new.

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A breath of fresh air has cleared my head and luckily this time I have found the impetus to go on.

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Holed cloth

It occurred to me after my last post that I hadn’t written about the things I have been making recently. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t been doing anything. I have been working on a new set of ideas and the work is still at an early stage – embryonic and unformed. I’m still don’t quite know where I’m going with it …. I have an idea of what it could be, but I’m not there yet. It’s an exciting time and I enjoy the experimentation. These two cloths are hole-y investigations (not finished pieces). I’m thinking about rhythm and metre, counting, space and silence, flow and disruption. As always the materials I use are important to relating the work to place. Therefore these cloths have been soaked in the sea and this afternoon I photographed them after they had been drying overnight in the beach hut. I want the stitching on the eyelets (especially on the black cloth) to become really crusty and dark. I’ve dipped both of them again so hopefully the rust will stain the stitching even more. The cloth has become stiffer with the seawater and I really like the handle of it. P1010645   P1010648 P1010650 I’ve got a couple of other things drying in the hut …. I’ll show you when they’re cooked!

Mud

‘Soft sticky matter resulting from the mixing of earth and water’.

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There’s a lot of mud on the North Norfolk coast and at low tide it is exposed – wet, oozy and shining. From a distance it appears to be silvery blue/grey as it reflects the light back from the sky but from close to it is actually much darker. A trip out on the boat along the creeks necessitates a cautious few steps sliding over its slippery wetness to reach the mooring and if you want to get off and walk over the marshes an athletic leap onto the marshy banks often results in muddy hands, knees and clothes. In the summer my feet are permanently stained by its rich blackness.

The mud is continually shaped by the movement of hungry tides as twice a day the water eats into the landscape simultaneously destroying and renewing.

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The constant shifting of material causes objects to be endlessly buried and revealed.

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With a week or so of small tides the mud above the tideline is exposed to the wind and sun. In dry weather its surface dehydrates producing cracks so deep that even repeated tides don’t penetrate it and turn it back to its usual smooth, slick state.

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These intertidal mudflats are nutrient rich; they support birds and plants and insects ….

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…. and I love the deep, deep shadows in the sunshine.

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