Category Archives: walking

Cley/Clay

Cley Beach, February 27: Unseasonably warm weather – the car thermometer tells me it is 16 degrees C.

Clear blue sky, clear blue sea.

A pale blue sea haar obscures the horizon so that sea and sky become one.

Gentle NW wind with a slight nip.

Lazy waves

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It is only about an hour after high tide, so I have to walk along the top of the shingle ridge. Just below, recent big tides have dragged the stones down the beach in huge arching wave patterns to reveal the sand beneath. The incoming waves fill the pebble curves as they break, and it is obvious how their dragging action has shifted the stones to draw sweeping arcs right along the beach. In places, higher, dark shadowed ridges run parallel to the pebbles. Here, the sea has worn away the loose top surface to reveal the clay bed underneath.

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The name, Cley-next-the-Sea is a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon word Claeg or Clay, and today the clay is truly next to the sea. I am surprised to see thick veins of white clay running through the usual red and looking closer I see that the red clay is also tipped with grey.

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I have no camera or sketchbook with me to record this but sitting on the shingle ridge with the sun on my back I imagine a cloth, rubbed with a slick wet mixture of soft clay: a deep dark terracotta red merging into softer yellow/white – textured, red and luscious. Walking back to the car across the dyke I decide to drive back to the beach and collect some of the clay with which to colour a piece of work. I pick up just enough red clay and white clay to colour one cloth. I don’t take any of the grey clay and now that I’m at home I’m beginning to regret it.

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This morning in the studio I draw some lightening quick sketches, ideas for a possible clay-ed cloth. I wonder what it will be…..?

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Early morning

8.15 am

Cold: -3 degrees

Misty

The early morning news tells me that last night was the coldest night of the winter so far and that other parts of the country have been disrupted by snow. As yet we haven’t seen snow but looking out all is grey and white . A thick frost blankets the fields over towards Holkham and a light haar is hanging in the air.

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Down on the quay a grey mist hangs just above the marsh and the water is completely still. There isn’t a breath of wind but it is bitingly cold. Behind the granary there is a slight golden glow as the sun begins to appear above the town.

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I walk down the beach bank towards the sea. Coming in from the North East are skeins and skeins of geese and I can’t miss their woodwind chatter as they call to each other high up in the sky. The low sunlight catches the underside of their wings as they fly right overhead – a fluttering sparkle in the clear blue sky.

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In the water a cormorant dives and I follow its underwater path by the stream of small, meandering bubbles that rise to the surface. It stays down for so long that I almost look away and walk off, but suddenly it reappears, a black shadow reflected back by the water.

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Yet more geese fly over and their calls fill the air. The sun has now risen fully above the town and other bird sounds join in: gulls, oystercatchers and a curlew. It almost seems as if they have waited for the sun to begin their day.

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I walk back along the quay and the sun has begun to burn off the light mist and the contours of the marsh are highlighted by a golden yellow glow.

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It promises to be a beautiful day.

 

 

Sea sponges

The beach – Cley-next-the-Sea – this morning.

Nearly high tide – strong waves.

Cloudy sky with the suspicion of sun.

Wind coming from the west and is on my back.

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Ironically I was thinking about what I might write about next here on the blog. I am working on something at the moment but I’m not quite ready to reveal all yet! (but I do put work in progress photos on Instagram if you are interested). As I walk on this shingle beach I always keep a weather eye out for an interesting pebble, so my eyes were, naturally, looking just in front of my feet. Almost immediately I spotted a softly yellowed ball of sponge, and then another and another. Looking up I saw more and more of the yellow sponges scattered right along the high water line.

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They are the empty egg cases of the Common Whelk (Buccinum Undatum) and are routinely found all round the British coast. Their common name is Seawash Balls and in the past sailors would have used them as sponges for washing.

Whelks gather together to spawn and they lay their eggs in small lens-shaped pouches which are glued together in a spherical mass. Although each pouch contains about 1000 eggs only one or two eggs hatch as the unhatched eggs are used to feed the first hatchlings. Once the eggs have hatched (or been eaten) the empty mass floats away and is washed up on the beach.

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I pick a ball up. It is heavy. Normally when I find these sponges they are white and papery dry and so light that they dance up and down the beach, blown by the wind. This Seawash Ball is waterlogged – not dripping but dense with water. It looks fresher and less desiccated than ones I have seen before and I wonder if the power of the recent big tides could have dislodged a whole mass of eggs from their laying grounds and deposited them here on the beach?

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Walking on along the high water line I find more objects washed ashore by the unusually  big tides. Wood …..

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(I would have brought this bit home but it was too big and too heavy) and several rusty things ….

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This bit did come back with me.

I wasn’t expecting to find something to write about this morning but you just never know what you may encounter. There is always something new to be noticed and experienced – that’s what I love about this place.

Dusk

A grey day of dull flat light.

Late afternoon.

A walk along the footpath by the pines at the back of the beach.

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The rustle of dry branches and the steady, hushed tramp of boots on a slightly sticky surface is accompanied by the gentle chattering of pink-footed geese as they fly overhead to their night-time roost.

It is peaceful in the almost quiet stillness.

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Behind me, on the horizon, is a thin clearing of clouds. The dropping sun appears below, a scant semi-circle of glowing light that is diffused softly through the surrounding sky.

I walk on. And look round. Brighter now. In the clear sky is a line of brilliant orange, a streak of golden colour in a grey world.

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I walk on. Tall reeds and spiky blackthorn to my right. I glance round and look through the lacework vegetation turned black by the brilliant light beyond.

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I walk on. And look round again. The heavy sun sits poised between cloud and horizon. A burning sphere waiting to drop.

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I walk on. Moments later the light dissolves. I turn yet again. The sun has gone down below the horizon leaving a final blush of colour.

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I walk on. The light flatter, and greyer than before.

Night walking

Dark. Clear. Crisp.

A trip out to the bin late in the evening and the sea roar is so loud that it lures me out, into the dark, and down to the quay to hear more clearly and to look at the stars.

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It’s very dark with no moon. Catch at the back of your nose cold and very, very clear. Looking north, away from the sodium glare of the town, more and more stars are revealed as my eyes become accustomed to the dark. I start walking out along the unlit bank towards the sea. Only a few hundred yards away from the town the sky is even darker – this part of the coast is designated a black sky area – and the  number of stars I begin to see is astonishing.

To the west, an indistinct smudge of light above is the Milky Way and down towards the horizon in the south-west a large, bright, reddish star – Mars I think. And then in front of me a star falls, and another, and again, out of the corner of my eye in my peripheral vision, another falling star and another. Four shooting stars in a row are a rare treat.

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All the well known constellations are clearly visible, more stars in their make-up than usual are showing. Orion’s spear is clear and bright beneath his three-starred belt and W-shaped Cassiopeia. To the north the Plough.

But there are so many stars and I don’t know their names. Night walking and looking at the night sky is something that I have had relatively little experience of over my lifetime. I have lived in the centre of brightly lit towns for the majority of my life and encounters with stars have, for the most part, been through the orange glow of street lights. Brief forays to the dark skies of the coast and country were few as a child and going out in the winter darkness just wasn’t done. Even now there is the temptation, as we approach the shortest day and the longest night, to huddle inside in front of light emitting boxes. But this darkness, with tiny pinpricks of light is magnificent and so beautiful …. so, so beautiful.

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Out on the beach bank, enclosed as I am, and wrapped in darkness with sprinkled light above, my hearing sense is heightened. A loud  Cr-aaaaaa-ck makes me look down and out into the darkness where a large but indistinct form has landed on the edge of the water. A heron. More bird sounds emanate from the marsh. A curlew calls and then calls mournfully again, and then a redshank. Geese, Brent geese I suspect, keep up a woodwind mumble. Do you think they chatter all night? And in the distance, but seemingly close, the continuous sea roar – a never-ending ssssssh, as waves break over the sand bar.

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My eyes look up again. Across the sky a winking light moves from east to west. It is a plane, full of people. Are they looking down?  This part of the earth must look like a reflection of the night sky, the reverse of my view, as pockets of habitation light up the darkened land.

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With natural light levels low at this time of year, it is surprising how lifted I am by this encounter with the darkness. This morning as I write, I have that bubbling feeling in my chest – a son of excitedness. A creative bubble waiting to rise. The conditions last night may not occur again soon. I’m just thankful I noticed them and was able to experience.

The black drawings were done a while ago.

 

 Misty, moisty weather

The day started sunny and bright, but by the afternoon a light haze had started to cover the sun and by 3 o’clock the light was failing, and the colour had gone out of the day.

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Still and damp – the tide coming in fast.

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A short walk along the top of the dyke just by the studio seemed like a good idea for a breath of fresh air. Looking inland the trees were disappearing into the mist and ….

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…..turning to face North, across the marsh the horizon was becoming more indistinct by the minute.

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How to define this weather? The Scot’s word ‘dreich’ comes to mind and Robert MacFarlane describes it as ‘of weather; gloomy, damp, dark, grey, melancholy, lacking light & colour’.

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Perhaps a better word is ‘roke’ which Robert Macfarlane describes as smoke-like mist that rises in the evenings off marshes and water meadows; also very faint rain’. There are numerous other words that describe the standing water and wet ground so prevalent in this part of East Anglia: mist (mug), dew (dag), heavy soil (clogsum, clunch, clag) and mud (slab, slip, slub)….. we have a lot of that here.

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Looking back towards the studio the tide had filled the channel.

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There’s a lot to enjoy even on a grey afternoon.

Out in the open air

Recently I have been re-reading books, that in the past, have been helpful in contextualising and backing up my practice. I am currently trying to ‘place’ the work I am doing at the moment and for some reason the reading isn’t helping.

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The solution, as is often the case, is to get out into the open and to feel the air, walk on the ground and to mingle with them.

‘in this mingling, as we live and breathe, the wind, light, and moisture of the sky bind with the substances of the earth in the continual forging of a way through the tangle of lifelines that comprise the land’. Tim Ingold, Being Alive

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To experience the landscape first hand is, for me, always the starting point. It is the place where you can let your senses and your imagination wander – to find something inside of you where there was nothing before and to find what you were searching for.

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Reading certainly has its place, but at the moment going out, looking, hearing and touching the landscape and then responding to those experiences moves me forward in a more fulfilling way.

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These were watercolours done in the studio immediately after a sustaining and refreshing walk.