Category Archives: walking

Sampling

There has been no let up since the Knitting & Stitching shows at the end of last year! I’ve had to slam straight into gear and put my mind to the next (very busy) six months. Before the end of June I have two exhibitions to make substantial new work for (more on these later) and a workshop, Exploring Place, that is happening in an environment, about which, I haven’t previously made work.

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It is very important, to me, that the materials and processes I use reflect the environment that I am working in. Previously, the Exploring Place workshop has taken place in a coastal environment and so my support material doesn’t apply in this instance as it is taking place inland, in the mountains and woods of southern Switzerland.

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So, I’ve been out in the field. I’ve been exploring the beech woods of the Surrey hills, and the pinewoods that back the beach in Norfolk; collecting information, documenting it, collecting specimens and making work that evokes this type of environment.

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The students and I will be looking, listening and touching outside in the woods, and these drawings and small works reflect some of the ideas and techniques we will be exploring.

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Walk 3 – Hunstanton

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Hunstanton is a bit out of my way. I know it’s only a fifteen miles along the coast but it’s not a place a generally go out of my way to visit. However, recently I wanted to go and look at the stripy, white, red and orange chalk cliffs as research for a new piece of work.

These are the notes from my sketchbook:

‘Grey/white on top – brick red below.

Gulls nesting on ledges – croaking calls.

Grass – thin layer- on top.

 

 The cliffs come to an abrupt and brutal end as they turn the corner.

Sharp ridges and ledges where the cliff face has fallen away.

Fissures diagonally across its face.

Grass clinging.

 

Underneath, brick red chalk holds up white chalk.

Large chalk boulders at the base of the cliff.

Smaller chalk stones and pebbles are washed away from the base of the cliff and have been dragged over the beach by the sea’s action.

 

Bleak, stark, uncared for.

North-west facing – dank, cold, damp.

I imagine the sun rarely reaches the cliff face and so never has the chance to dry out.

Green/grey coating to the white chalk.

Grass in all the crevices.

Large mossy stones on the beach.’

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The looming cliffs cut out any warm southerly light; the beach is in shadow and the resulting cold and damp isn’t helped by a wintery day and a sharp northerly wind. I collect a few chalk pebbles to experiment with – they are freezing cold – and hurry back to the car. I need a cup of coffee …. perhaps it this place would feel more welcoming in the summer.

Walk 2 – Burnham Overy State

Winter. It is a grey, drizzly day that bodes only to get worse. However, I decide to go out for a walk anyway. As I pull onto the hard standing at Burnham Overy Staithe my first thought is, ‘I should have bought my camera!’. Although the wide grey sky is giving off a surprising amount of light, everything before me is drained of colour and blurred in the mist. It is a monochrome landscape. There is detail in the foreground, but horizontal lines of mud, water and sand dune fade into the haze.

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The raised dyke is slippery. Flints stick up out of the mud; slick and shiny, they add to the feeling of instability underfoot and I have to look at the ground to stop myself from slipping. A few yards on the path gets better and I can look up – there are birds everywhere. It’s low tide and they are dotted, like tiny ants, across the wet, silvery marsh. They are too far away to make out what they are, but with binoculars each one is revealed and there is a huge variety feeding on the mud: Dunlin, redshank, several curlews, and a couple of golden plovers. Suddenly a flock of lapwing rise up into the sky, their frilly wings flap as they twist and turn; dancing in the sky.

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I walk on and movements on all sides grab my attention. A great flock of Brent geese fly over in formation; as they pass over more come in from the west. They are looking for a place to land and graze. The formation breaks as they glide down towards the marsh and chaos breaks out as each bird tries to find a space to land. Their chattering calms to a contented honk as they begin to feed.

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The mud flats are slick and shiny, and in this misty, light they are devoid of colour. Deep channels are cut into the smooth, flat surface by the actions of the tides and here meandering black shadows echo the outline of dunes in the distance. Almost colourless tones of layered marsh and mud fade to the feint smudge of horizon.

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A tinkling, tinselly sound catches my ear: goldfinches. A flock of these small birds fly in from behind and land on a bush just ahead of me. As I get nearer, they rise up and I catch small flashes of yellow as they flit through the air before swooping down into a small bush just ahead. This game is repeated several times more as I follow them along the dyke. Finally, they rise up for a final time and dart off over the marsh to find a new feeding place.

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At the beach it’s really too cold to sit, but with a cup of coffee from the flask I note down the birds out on the sand. In the distance, by the sea edge are a flock of cormorants holding their wings out to dry. Closer in along a curving sea-river are more redshank, oystercatchers, dunlin and a ruff. Just in front of me two turnstones are pecking around in the tideline; there must be goodness amongst the dying sea debris.

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As I turn to walk back along the dyke I notice that the clouds have lifted. Maybe there is a hint of sun low on the horizon. Everything definitely seems brighter and more defined out here on the marsh.

Walk 1 – Cley

There is a ‘big’ high tide and I decide to go for a walk at Cley.  Driving past the quay at Wells I see the environment agency people out in full force and so decide to drive down to the quay at Blakeney on the way, just to have a look.

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A strong northerly wind is pushing the water higher than it is supposed to go, and the water is lapping over Blakeney quay. When the wind pushes the tide in like this it becomes obvious why tall, sturdy poles line its edge. The boats strain their moorings as they level with the top of the quay and are pushed up against the restraining posts by the wind and the water; without these poles the boats would be grounded, high and dry, as the water ebbs away.

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I carry on to Cley and driving down the road to the beach I can see enormous waves topping the shingle bank – it is going to be a dramatic sight. The car park just behind the beach is full of water; the sea seems to be seeping through the shingle and filling the lower ground. Out of the car I’m hit by the full force of the wind and quickly realise that a walk along the beach would be potentially dangerous as huge waves are crashing high up the beach, higher than I have ever seen them go before. In places they top the bank and surge down the other side onto the marsh.

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As I stand and watch, other people appear, and also stand mesmerised by the boiling sea. They have cameras and take photos but I have nothing to record the scene with. Instead I just look.

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Spray is blown high into the sky by the wind as the waves peak and then crash down. The sound is deafening: a loud, thundering roar that resonates deep inside you and the rasping, scrape of stones as they are pulled by the back draft. Seagulls are swooping low, flying just above the waves. They seem to be playing dare, as every now and then one flies below a breaking crest into the seething belly of the wave, before rising up again to glide, unconcerned, above the foaming water.

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It’s hard to describe the power and insistence of the sea, but when I get home I do some drawings to try and capture its movement …. I think they are rather too tame!

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Breathing deeply

I haven’t been up in Wells for a month as my life recently has been taken up with exhibiting and teaching. It has been hectic but exciting. I had a flying visit yesterday for one night as I wanted to go the the AGM of the North Norfolk Exhibition Project. I showed work for this wonderful organisation at Cley Church in the summer and I’ll be putting in a proposal for CLEY17 next year.

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I managed to fit in 2 walks in the 24 hours that I was there – a chance to stretch my legs and to take some deep breaths of fresh air. This morning I got up at dawn (which isn’t that early at this time of year) to have a look around.

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It was high tide and there wasn’t a breath of wind. The sun was just coming up, peeping through building clouds and silhouetting  the pontoon and boats as I looked back towards the town. The still water was like a mirror as the sunlight was reflected back into the sky. Geese were chattering, out of sight, over on the marsh and every now and then there was the peep of a redshank. The wash of a lone fishing boat split the flat water in two as it wended its way, twisting backwards and forwards, along the channel out to the open water.

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I sat on a bench quietly to look and listen – there was no one else about.

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It’s good to breathe deeply and relax.

 

Last walk in Wells

I am back in Thames Ditton after 10 (very hard-working) weeks in Wells. Although I’m sad to leave, I’m looking forward to a busy autumn. I have finished all the work for the Knitting & Stitching shows and I only have the details to sort out now. As a result I am beginning to feel a little bit excited!

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I went for a last stroll around Wells just after sunset last night. It was getting dark and it felt as if I was marking my territory until the next time I can be there which probably won’t be until after the London Show at Alexandra Palace

Here is what I saw as the light gradually faded.

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Marram grass

With gale force winds and rain forecast for later on today an early walk at Holkham to get the best of the day was called for. I know I’ve been a rather quiet here recently so I took my camera with me to see what caught my eye.

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As is usual when the wind is coming from the west, I walked along the path at the back of the pinewoods so that the wind would be behind me on the walk back along the beach. Coming out into the open across the dunes it was immediately obvious how sheltered I had been as the force of the wind took my breath away as it buffeted me sideways from the left.

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The dunes at the top of the beach are topped by marram grass, Ammophila arenaria, whose fibrous roots  stabilise dry, windblown sand and aid the dune building process. The dense, grey/green tufts of this grass can be seen all along the coast and is so common that I don’t usually pay it much attention. However today the wind had animated into swirls and waves of alternating light and dark movement. A continuous, swooshing rustle drowned out any other sounds.

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Hunkering down between the dunes and the grass to find a modicum of shelter and to drink a cup of coffee I found my fingers itching to pick the marram. Twisting it round and round on itself I started to make a string – strong, fresh green grass at first but as that split and broke I found  that old dried, yellowing blades were stronger, more pliable and held up better to the twisting process. Before long I had a couple of metres that I rolled it up into a small ball to put into my pocket.

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I love the process of looking and noticing and the way I never know what will catch my eye from one day to the next. The ever-changing weather conditions, the shifting light or just being in the right place at the right time draws my attention to something I could never have foreseen. It’s good just to go out and see what there is to see.