Budleigh Salterton: a Springtime Idyll

Below is a selection of quick photos taken on a recent visit to the south of Devon,  meeting two of our Essential Nature friends for a perfect springtime day out.

First, the train journey from north to south of the county through green undulating hills and a soft blue sky. Then a short bus ride from Exmouth to Budleigh Salterton, where we saw an exhibition of etchings and watercolours by Norman Ackroyd, an artist focused on landscape.

A walk along the open beach to the  River Otter estuary,  passing through the Otter Estuary Nature Reserve amidst new green leaves bursting forth, and sparkling birdsong. Along the way we watched our first swallows of the year, diving under and through the old stone bridge, skimming along the water on the other side, then up and over and round and back to do it all over again.


Wandered along the riverside to Otterton Mill, where we lingered over lunch in the sunny garden amongst the spring flowers.

And I think we all dozed off on our return train journey home… zzz…

Reflecting later on the experience, I find I am captivated by the contrast between Ackroyd’s dark, sublime landscapes drawn from his travels around Northern Scotland and the Orkneys, and our quintessentially English experience of the countryside in springtime. Parallel realities.

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Recurring Themes

Again and again I return to these woods. This place has become part of my inner infrastructure.  Yet I know everything is subject to change, moment by moment – and I know, for one reason or another, that one day I shall return no more.

During my visits, I have been carefully watching nature’s changes over the course of the four seasons – almost imperceptible, unless one is paying attention, in which case the changes are pretty obvious – and amazing!  This week, I have particularly noticed more and more tiny green shoots pushing up through the ground, and the tips of twigs on surrounding trees looking a little more swollen and perky every day. Today, I saw a few early primroses along the banks of the woodland track,  reminding me that Spring is on its way once again.

After so many months of rain, there is a massive amount of luxuriant green moss covering branches and trees all over the woods – cool, soft and gorgeous. I gathered up fallen moss-covered branches and made this piece of concentric rings on the as yet bare cold earth of February.

linda gordon - moss-covered branches, Bucks Valley Woods, North Devon, Feb 2016

Moss-covered branches returning to the earth.

 

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The Woods in Winter

Last month, January, was unseasonably mild here in North Devon, and it rained almost every day. For sure, this is a warmer part of UK, but one would normally expect a certain amount of snow and cold weather. Instead of this,we  have had spring flowers blooming since last December (daffodils, primroses, and even more exotic blooms); birds all around have been displaying courtship behaviour, and I have twice been bitten by a mosquito.  None of this very world-shattering in itself, but certainly a significant indicator of our ever-changing climate.

Here’s a slideshow of two or three brief visits I made to the woods, exploring a short distance alongside the fast-running stream.  It reflects my experience of a specific time in a specific place.

 

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Turning Point

I wrote this as a Page a couple of weeks ago – but as it slipped past the main stream of posts, I thought I’d repeat it here!  Wishing you all the best for 2016 – Linda.


As a member of AiNIN (Artists in Nature International), I was invited to create a site-specific piece on 29th November 2015, the eve of COP21 (the Paris Climate Conference) in support of the conference’s aims.  Artists around the world were to carry out a synchronised ‘art action’ at 12pm, each in their own time zone.

The project as a whole was registered with ArtCOP21, a global festival of cultural activity on climate change. For full details, please see AiNIN’s special site

Turning Point is a meandering, spiraling piece is made mostly with fallen twigs and branches, and circling around the trees of Bucks Valley Woods, near my home in South West England.

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Low winter sun, setting the mood..

The idea was for visitors to walk slowly around the tracks – gradually tuning in to the land and the immediate surroundings, in close proximity with the trees, the scents, the sounds, the cool air, the feel of rough bark and wet moss on the cheek… a way of bypassing the thinking mind, and coming into direct physical experience of our inextricable connection with nature.

The slow contemplative walking might be an opportunity to consider the issue of climate change, and the part we might individually be playing in this. Or our relationship with trees, and why they are so vital towards nourishing the land and the air that sustain our lives. Or the effect of climate change on the ever-declining numbers of trees in our country – and what we can each do about all this.

I like this sort of quiet simple activity, a means of coming into harmony with the natural world around us. I like my own slow, repetitive labour-intensive making-process of gathering and arranging materials from the ground. I think it is not possible to make positive changes in the world without first coming into a position of clarity oneself.

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Once finished, I began to think about the synchronised event on 29th..

Fri 27 Nov – Rain made the steep track leading up to the site very wet and muddy.

Sat 28 Nov – Storms. Rain and gale force winds. I knew that driving would be hazardous; and as the ground was so wet, trees were likely to come down in the woods; and the track up to the site would be very slippery with mud and running water. People contacted me, saying that they did not want to come along to the woods tomorrow.
And so, reluctantly I cancelled the 12pm Art Action.

Sun Nov 29 – I did not venture out in the fierce storms.
Throughout the following week, the road down to the woods was closed because the river had burst a hole in the tarmac. I did not attempt to reach my work, to inspect it for damage.

Mon 7 Dec – I looked at the work. The bluebell stalks were scattered everywhere – but the main part, made with twigs, was not too bad.

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Tuesday and Wednesday –  I spent some time restoring and repairing the work – binding it here and there with ivy, and spiking it with tiny sticks – hoping that would stop it from blowing away.
Wednesday afternoon was sunny and sparkly, and I was happy. I started to take photos, only to find that I had brought the wrong camera batteries…. Drat!

Thur 10 Dec – I had agreed to meet people from BBC Bristol, who wanted to talk to me in relation to a rurally-based TV programme, and also to view Turning Point in situ.

Well, after our meeting, we went and stood at the bottom of the track, and the rain was so dense and pervading, and the sky was so overcast, that I could barely see my hand in front of my face. We decided not to brave the slippery slope, and went home.

This was the second time I had arranged for people to experience the work, and been prevented by bad weather. It is tempting to assume it was all related to climate change, and the theme of this piece. It did seem a little odd.

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Sat 12 Dec –  Delegates at COP21 reached agreement today. I have always regarded the conference as a turning point for humanity towards a new way of being in the world. I still do so, though this does not mean we will have an easy ride.

Since foul weather had twice prevented visitors from coming up to my site, what I did was make a bunch of ‘selfies’, to give scale and give focus to the underlying concept. The weather was dark cloudy and windy, but no rain!

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I noticed it was strangely still and silent where I stood under the trees. Gazing up to the sky through intricate interlaced branches, and out towards Bucks Valley and the ocean beyond, it felt like a great open protective dome against the elements.

I stood at the centre of my work, switched my little stills camera on to video mode and span around until I felt giddy: spinning between Earth and Sky.

Here’s the result:

 

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Scattered Memories

Some more images from last week’s Heddon’s Mouth walk –  these above by Paula Newbery, including one sketch that did not get too wet!

These by Michelle Wilkinson.
It is fascinating to see our different experiences of the same place and situation.

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Heddon’s Mouth: walking in pensive mood

An Essential Nature walk along Heddon Valley from the Hunter’s Inn to the coast and back.

We arrived in that dense fine sort of rain that soaks right through you and feels like being in a cloud. It was a little bit windy too. Our friends who had been patiently waiting for our car load of people to arrive were already cold and wet.

Intrepid as ever, the ten of us set off through the steep-sided valley, covered all over with dark, protecting trees. We followed the track, alongside what I have seen described on the internet as ‘a bubbling stream’, but today it was a turbulent, dramatic, foaming torrent, racing towards the sea.  There were no other visitors around – just us. In this still relatively isolated densely-wooded valley, and this wild weather, it felt like an adventure – a bunch of explorers heading out into unknown territory.

As we went, we made sketches, took notes or photographs.

Heddon Valley, North Devon

 

Some of us did know a little about this place (in fact some of us have been here together several times before), and I meant to look out for various types of tree and plant that I knew were there – but like the river, I was intent on surging forward to the sea.

The water was high, and with the recent heavy rain and storm damage around this part of North Devon, together with news of serious flooding in other parts of the country, I could not help thinking of the Paris Climate Conference about to draw to a conclusion – and wondering whether indeed this weather might be related to the terrible problem of global warming and the part we all play in this.

I looked up at the bare branches against the sky. Soon the trees gave way to steep bracken and gorse covered slopes, and massive areas of scree, deposited millions of years ago by retreating ice.

We came out on the high cliffs by an old lime kiln, overlooking the stony beach. I thought how different it must have been here in Victorian times, and what a hard life it must have been for the workers, burning lime and coal brought in by ship from Wales. One or two of us went down to explore the beach.  I stayed behind, sprawling on the rocks, my eyes following the jagged contours of the headland and the expanse of scree on the opposite side of the river.  ‘In all honesty’, I thought ‘if I did not know this scree was many millions of years old, would I have a real sense of its antiquity?’ I decided I would not.

Still pondering all those questions about time and place, my mind drifted on to the more recent past: smuggling in medieval times, and almost certainly, U-boats landing here during WW2 to take on fresh water under cover of darkness.

Up in the grey Atlantic sky, a group of gulls were wheeling and riding the thermals… higher and higher and even higher until they almost disappeared from sight.

And then the sky started to lighten as we turned to make our way back to the inn for refreshments.

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Art in the Autumn Woods

I stood in a shower of leaves that came clattering down like heavy raindrops. Later on I saw them gliding through the air like a flock of birds. I gathered up some of the brightest yellow ones as I wandered… and by the time I reached my chosen site, some of them had already turned quite brown. Here’s the work I made, called ‘Fall’.

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A few days later, I’m back in the woods again – to catch the one day of the week I knew would be warm and sunny.

Always the underlying peace and silence amidst the multitude of quiet woodland sounds – wind, air, water, leaves birds…

Bucks Valley Woods: walking into the autumn sun

Walking into the blinding sun, its rays tangible, like a white ghost

Walking out into the warm autumn sunlight at Bucks Valley WoodsWalking out the other side,  I feel the sun’s warmth on my neck.

Coming back down the steep track was hazardous – the ground thick with slippery wet leaves, puddles, mud and nasty-looking stones.

I stopped halfway down and spent an awfully long time collecting golden leaves. Then I goldleafline_lindagordon_151102_0004_LRwent off elsewhere and spent another awfully long time collecting some more. Then I spent an awfully short time making the piece pictured below. I soon saw I hadn’t got the poetics quite right, and planned to come back the following day to do a better version: Version 2.

I didn’t, of course.

 

 

 

 

 

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‘Gathering Place’ – Somewhere in the Woods…

I last made work with bluebell stalks just over a year ago, and am surprised to see that I have now run into exactly the same problems, so I must be a very slow learner!

However, I did eventually get some results that pleased me last year. Here’s a couple of the photos:

bluebell stalks Bucks Valley Woods Linda Gordon bluebellstalkslindagordon_140904_0002_LR

This year, I wanted to see what I could do with the end-of season stalks by loosely binding them with ground ivy creepers. At the same time, I needed to communicate one of my perennial themes – that of aligning with the movement of life all around, and responding to a particular place.

“I worked for a long time on the repetitive task of gathering stalks. Bent to the ground, slowly creeping forwards, felt a bit like being a peasant farmer. I enjoyed the sense of continuity, but it was tiring work, and I was thankful I was only ‘playing’ at this task, and not obliged to work long hours on it every single day. The stalks were not so plentiful and easy to collect this year, maybe because it was a month or so further into autumn, or perhaps because I’d chosen a slightly different location.”
(from diary)

I made a few tentative versions of my ‘stalk rope’ over a couple of visits – eventually settling on a spiral form, which, I thought invited respect to the tree, and allowed people to walk around it closely, and back out again.

The finished work looked completely at home: a part of the place. And as the sun moved across the sky, it became almost invisible amongst the dazzling ever-shifting light patterns flitting across the woodland floor.  It was impossible to photograph well!

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I took masses of photos, and cursed a lot: even more so when I got home and looked at the images on my computer. But this was no help at all! So I came back the next day, and photographed the work in a dull drizzle. Grey skies and flat light made it look much better.

“On arrival, I found someone had changed it into a sort of heart shape.

I like it when this happens: when people make it their own. I tweaked it a tiny bit more, took a couple of photos, and then reverted to the original spiral. I liked that the piece, in all its versions, looked as though it belonged here.

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Without my tripod today, at one point I braced myself and leant back against a small tree – and it fell over, nearly taking me with it. Sometimes I just don’t know my own strength!”
(from diary)

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With this sort of work, I am not very interested in imposing my personal will upon nature:  but sometimes it is difficult to get the balance between showing off the work, and truly integrating with the surroundings.

Gathering Place

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Chapel Wood – another Essential Nature Walk

Linda Gordon Essential Nature group walk at Chapel Wood

A few days ago, our Essential Nature group visited Chapel Wood, a beautiful area of mostly broadleaf woodland, which is an RSPB Nature Reserve, and within the North Devon Coast AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).

Chapel wood essential Nature walk led by Linda Gordon

From the first moment, and throughout the woods we sensed a pervading atmosphere of the ancient past. A steep slope, led us upwards, through the old twisted mossy trees, and up to the site of an Iron Age hillfort. As far as I could see, there was no immediately visible sign of the fort, but I was aware of its presence.

Devon

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Chapel Wood Essential Nature walk led by Linda Gordon

 

photo © movement artist Michelle Wilkinson

We explored slowly and quietly… wandering, walking, dreaming, talking – and whatever else took our fancy, such as movement, writing, sketching or photography… enjoying the tangled twisty branches and foliage, and the plants and weird exotic fungi to be seen at this time of year… From time to time, we heard the occasional cry of a buzzard. Senses sharpened as we walked through the shadowy trees.

CHAPEL WOOD

Beech, fern, holly mantle shrouds me from above

My body is held in the rich dry earth

Of fallen gold leaves, blackened seeds and damp decaying bark

My head leads my spine in undulations

My limbs reach out similar to branches spreading to the light

A continual whisper of breeze in the trees

Sound and movement vibrations go hand in hand

And I am stirred from my slumber, serenely becoming vertical

My heart opens, rippling through my arms to the green foliage sky

In this hidden wood world

I am brought into my soft expansive self

And leave little trace as I glow from inside out

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Michelle Wilkinson

 

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Reaching the bottom again, we rested by a fresh running stream, and the stone ruins of a small Chapel dating from around 1270, which had also housed a solitary priest.

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Just outside the chapel was a sparkling well. Gazing into its crystal clear depths, it seemed to reflect the whole of the world.

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As always, all photos on this post are © myself, Linda Gordon, unless otherwise credited.      I am happy to share images and info whenever possible. Please feel free to ask!

Essential Nature walks are based around the beautiful North Devon coastal area of England. They are casual, free-flowing explorations for all arts and nature enthusiasts. Two more woodland walks are coming up in Oct and Nov. Contact me to find out more.

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Close to the Ground

I would like to tell you about an exciting new art and heritage project at the Burton Art Gallery and Museum, in Bideford, near where I live in North Devon. It is produced by Flow Contemporary Arts in association with Claire Gulliver.

In about a month’s time, the project will culminate in an exhibition:  Bideford Black: The Next Generation, in which nine selected artists from across the country engage with Bideford’s unique local earth pigment, known as Bideford Black.

earth pigment, incl. Bideford Black, at Fremington Quay. Seen on Essential Nature walk.
A thin seam of Bideford Black, showing up at nearby Fremington Quay.

In the face of so much that is alienating and damaging in our general culture, this is a heartening project that recognises the value of continuity in human life, and the importance of the local.

Bideford Black (known locally as Biddiblack) is a rich black coal-based material, mined in Bideford until the late 60’s. It had a great many uses – including as a camouflage paint for tanks during WW2; in the shipbuilding industry (e.g. for drawing and planning the outline of ships on the floor); in mascara by Max Factor, and as an artists’ pigment.

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Film still © Liberty Smith

Strangely, this aspect of Bideford’s history was somewhat overlooked until an earlier phase of the project and a permanent display were set up at the Burton a year or so back. Here, members of the local community who had direct experience of the mining days were invited to share and record their memories, so the story of Biddiblack might be kept alive and passed on to future generations.

The Burton Art Gallery and Museum has continued to pursue this vision, and today I am very much looking forward to the opening of their exhibition: Bideford Black: The Next Generation on 3rd October 2015.

Reading a recent promotional post about the exhibition on the Bideford Black blog, I thought it well worth a quote:

“Bideford Black: The Next Generation is the outcome of a year of research and making, during which nine artists from across the UK pushed Bideford Black pigment to its physical limits and thought about what the material might mean today.

This eclectic exhibition represents the Next Generation of artists to use Bideford Black, and offers a 21st century response to a pigment that took millions of years to evolve. These new artworks are made using a myriad of materials – pastels, paper, film, scents, sounds and machines. What they share in common is that they all reflect upon, or are made with, Bideford Black pigment”.

One of the artists, film-maker Liberty Smith was commissioned to follow the artists during their year of research and development, and the resulting film will be part of the exhibition.

Here’s the trailer to give you a taster of this film and a sense of the variety and quality of the artists’ work.

The exhibition is sure to bring a new, vivid appreciation of Bideford Black, and restore it to its rightful place in the history of the town, as well as all those who were involved in its mining, its preparation and various uses, and its export. Importantly, it will highlight in an exciting way its continued use by artists today.

As I said, the exhibition opens on 3rd October. If you would like to keep up to date with news of the project and the exhibition, I think the best thing to do is to sign up for email updates on the Bideford Black blog: The Story of Bideford Black, which documents the entire project from beginning to end.

There is also a great deal of interesting information to be found on the internet about this strong, seductive, slightly sticky black pigment.

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The artists involved are: Tabatha Andrews (Devon), ATOI (Cornwall), Luce Choules (Essex), Corinne Felgate (London), Neville and Joan Gabie (Gloucestershire) in collaboration with Dr. Ian Cook, Littlewhitehead (Lanarkshire), Lizzie Ridout (Cornwall), Sam Treadaway (Bristol) and Liberty Smith.

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