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 it, but I was aware of its presence.


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.


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

Michelle Wilkinson

chapelwoodmichellewilkinson_150910_0001_LR                     photo © Michelle Wilkinson

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.


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


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.

biddiblack-close up hands corinne (1)
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.


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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Fremington Quay: Essential Nature Walk

A dull rainy day – I ‘d been concerned that our meeting place might be a little crowded, it being holiday season, when apparently the population of Devon and Cornwall doubles, and I can well believe it. But I needn’t have worried.

Tom and Alex (grandson and husband) refuse to come out with me in the rain. I put on my waterproof clothes and wellies, and go, leaving them with heads bent firmly over an Airfix model tank. The sky is dark and overcast.

As I drive into Fremington Quay, on the River Taw, I see four of our walking group heading towards the café.

Fremington Quay

Then four more of us in the car park, where I also find my water bottle has leaked all over the contents of my backpack (because I had put it in upside down with the stopper unscrewed) – but no Anne, who has offered to guide us up through the secret lanes that lie behind the more well-known parts of Fremington Quay. I hope she turns up, because I don’t actually know where they are.

Another couple of friends are inside the café- and also Anne, who tells us that the lanes where she was going to lead us are flooded, and impassable but she will be happy to show us whereabouts they are, at least.  So I hurriedly improvise, and announce a new plan.

I explain a little of the area – aware that a few of the walkers have lived here for decades, and know it infinitely better than me. I point out the direction of nearby nature and bird reserves; also the site of the well-known earth pigments visible on the rock face; the walk through the tree-lined path alongside the Pill (an inlet of the river), and how it links up with some woodland lying inland, just beyond the massively expanded village of Fremington itself, which now blocks the way… and how my own interest lies in the intense entanglement here of the ‘human and natural worlds’.

I refer to the railway that was here, (the line is now part of the Tarka Trail cycle path), the pottery industry, and Fremington’s former importance as a harbour for importing and exporting raw materials and goods.

Fremington Quay - along the lane

We walk  in the cool misty air through the country lanes. There is no-one else around. It is quiet. Mist always seems to lend an atmosphere of stillness and mystery that draws me irresistibly.

Yet, as we walk and talk, I learn from others more of the recent history of Fremington Quay, and I get a growing sense of just how noisy, dirty and industrial it must have been, and what a hard life for the workers.

We are talking about the very recent past – 19th and 20th centuries, and I realise how quickly the pace of change is quickening compared to previous eras…

Anne changes her mind about just showing us where the lanes are, and continues to leads us through the quiet hedge-lined lanes, up and over a stile and across a high field. Today is grey and green. Although we are quite a large group, there is a sense of stillness and peace. We see a magnificent white stallion pawing the ground, and then…  a herd of horses gallop across the bottom of the field, punctuating the silence.

A man walking a dog says ‘beware of the horses’, and hurries off, running down the hill. We decide they are too far away to be an imminent danger, and carry on. Eventually we arrive a high vantage point overlooking the entire estuary of the Taw and Torridge, and the surrounding countryside.

Even though the scene is lightly veiled in mist, the view is stupendous. I can see for miles and miles. I can see the mouths of the Taw and the Torridge where they join, and where ships coming in used to lower their sails as a signal to the gig boats of Fremington to race out to guide them into harbour.

We pass an attractive farm complex. Paula and I decide it would make a great studio complex for us and our friends!

Back down to the Tarka Trail, and to where the various earth pigments, inviting to local painters, show up in the cliff face… yellow ochre, burnt umber, ball clay, small touches of Bideford Black, and what has been dubbed ‘poor man’s grey’: a Bideford Black mix.

Rock face at Fremington Quay – lichen, leaves, earth pigments.
Photos by Paula Newbery.

Gulls, curlew, crows… I hear estuary birds calling…

… then up through the trees, and back along the Tarka Trail. There is no wind under the trees. Once again I am struck by the different flowers that are showing up now. I am amazed to see the first autumn flowers – white Meadowsweet and Hemp Agrimony…. It seems like only yesterday I was enjoying the first primroses of spring.

Back to the café for rest and refreshment. Although I have visited Fremington Quay a number of times (not the lanes though)  I am left with a  fresh sense of the vitality and energy of this place: how we are continually shaping the landscape and the landscape is shaping us.

Our  developments are not always what I would consider for the better however – and I think again of resurrecting an art project, enthusiastically started but abandoned, relating to how the ‘natural world’ is being edged out to the margins, leaving just narrow strips, patches and corridors here and there.  But at the same time, I am aware that once we are all gone, nature will reclaim its territory with no trouble at all.


Tarka Trail at Fremington

The next Essential Nature walk will be to Chapel Wood, near Braunton on Fri 11th Sept. Contact me on to know more – or leave a message below.

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Fragility: Fabrica Gallery, Brighton

This looks to be a memorable exhibition…  It has been showing for nearly a month now, but continues until 23rd  Aug, and so there is still a few weeks left to make the visit.

Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva has long been a favourite artist of mine. Her work articulates the most profound existential themes with awe-inspiring beauty: themes of life and death, that are generally unvoiced, even taboo – and that need to be brought to light.

On receipt of Fabrica’s email last month promoting the exhibition, I was instantly attracted by the accompanying image (see below), revealing a glimpse of a most powerful installation that was at the same time delicate, fragile, and dissolving into light.

Fragility installation, by Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva at Fabrica

Fragility image by Tom Thistlethwaite, courtesy of Fabrica.

I was attracted by the beauty of the installation long before I discovered the depth of its resonances, and the nature of the material being used – for like many of us in this age of the internet, I skim my emails quickly. Some, like this one, I mark for ‘proper’ reading later on. What I found later on, in the words of Fabrica’s promotional message, was that Fragility fills the gallery with:

“… a series of delicate veils made from the animal material, caul fat. These fragile veils fall from the ceiling to the floor, drawing you in and immersing you in its centre. Here, light filters down through the material into the central dome, and for a moment, surrounded by the work, you are given the chance to reflect…”

I longed to experience the work at first hand, but that is not possible for me. Thankfully, Fabrica has provided a superb video, which covers the development of the work from start to finish.

There seems to be a growing move towards exploring and talking more about the subject of death and dying. It is gradually becoming less of a taboo subject, and Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva is a foremost proponent of the movement.

Near the beginning of the video, Hadzi-Vasileva asserts that she would like viewers to think about ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’, extensively reported by those who have had what we call a near-death experience. I did slightly question this statement when I first heard it, partly because having had such an experience myself fairly recently, I can assure her that it bore no resemblance to this installation.

And I am not sure how much of a good idea it is for an artist to suggest how people should think about a work. Fragility is well strong enough to speak for itself. The fragile veils are designed to manipulate the light, and draw people ever inwards to a central dome that invites inner stillness and contemplation. People will think what they think and feel what they feel.

The Fabrica Gallery is actually not far from where I lived for many years, and Brighton is where I took my degree in Sculpture. Does the association with place make a difference to one’s reading of the work? Well yes, of course it does – it is impossible to perceive anything without reference to one’s own store of memories, whether consciously or unconsciously. This leads me to ponder…  Does my familiarity with Fabrica and Brighton make the work more personal to me? Does it touch me all the more deeply? Does it matter?

However, the site-specific nature of this work really does make a particular difference to me. The Fabrica building is, of course, a former church, and Fragility carries strong overtones of the Christian tradition, both from this country and Hadzi-Vasileva’s own background in Macedonia. The more I looked and thought about the exhibition, the more I shifted from my initial delight at the fragility and sheer beauty of the installation, through revulsion about the material,  to a feeling of heaviness and oppression – the weight of history. Others will see it differently, it is so dense with resonances.

Whether or not we agree with any particular idea or concept, Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva has absolutely succeeded in evoking the most profound thoughts, feelings and memories concerning death – causing us to reflect upon our own mortality, vulnerability and beauty.

You might like to take a look at an earlier post I wrote here – about Resuscitare , another of Elpida Hadzi-Vasileva’s works.

And for more information, here’s a link to Fabrica, about this Fragility exhibition:

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In the Woods – Essential Nature Walk

We had a lovely morning exploring Bucks Valley Woods, slowing down, becoming quiet, and enjoying the peace and tranquillity of trees. We absorbed the quiet sounds of the breeze high in the canopy, the trickling water of the stream below… and the myriad fascinating forms of nature that we found along our way. It was great to be together – seeing the world through others’ eyes, learning from each other, and enjoying a common experience.

I regard walks like these as a sort of  ‘feeding time’. They are an opportunity to reconnect with nature and each other –and an antidote to what appears to be escalating violence and destruction around the world, towards each other and other life-forms and towards the natural environment that sustains us. For sure, change will never come from above, the established global hierarchy, but from ordinary people like us, engaged in simple peaceful activity. Plus the walks are a lot of fun!

Here’s another impression of the walk – by Anne Wilkinson, one of the walkers:

It was appropriate that the new EN walk coincided with a time of seasonal renewal of the woodland, fresh green foliage shading out the primroses and bluebells of spring, and seedlings growing in the cleared areas.

After looking at some of Linda’s most recent artworks, one of the group was inspired to make some ephemeral art herself, using dead beech leaves, moss and pinecones.

The slow pace of the walk made us aware of things we wouldn’t normally see, our imagination conjuring up mythical creatures from the storm-damaged trunks and fallen branches in the oldest part of the wood; our senses were sharpened and we noticed the whisper of the stream, mysterious fungi, the summer absence of birdsong, subtle smells of growing plants and the countless shades of green.

With much laughter, we negotiated some (very) muddy areas and rounded the walk off with coffee and something to eat at Hoops Inn, where we thanked Linda for organising such an enjoyable morning.

Photos are by Linda, Fiona and Nicky.


The next walk will be on 14th August at Fremington Quay.
For further information, leave a message in the comments box.

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Day and Night: dreaming of Springtime

Another bright, beautiful and somewhat chilly day..

Today, instead of primroses, on either side of me there were bluebells all the way up the track.  The primroses were still there, but they were gradually dying down, and being replaced by the rising bluebells.


I walked up the track, accompanied by the sound of birdsong high up in the trees and a steep-sided stream rushing down over the stones. Once a fat bumble bee crossed my path… and a small camera-shy primrose-coloured butterfly.

I continue to be astonished by the speed at which changes such as these are taking place right before my eyes. Woodland ferns springing up and uncurling their violin handles, sunlight filtering through the trees, through new leaves that certainly weren’t there yesterday..



Spending some time quietly in one place in the woods – I have noticed how quickly the shadows of the trees move across the land, bringing my awareness to the vast unending movement of life and the fact that I am a part of it all.

I had come to suss out the potential of of the place for new work. Nearby, I noticed a recent ephemeral piece that was still more or less as I’d left it – even down to the two halves of a hazelnut shell, that I imagine was left by a passing squirrel.



cycles of birth and death


3.30am and I cannot sleep. My mind is in chaos. I get up, go downstairs, make myself some Horlicks. I know there is no point in trying to sleep, so make myself comfortable with pillows, Horlicks and cosy shawl, then settle down to a bit of meditation.  After this, I can’t be bothered to get out of bed. I see daylight beginning to creep through the curtains. I throw a pillow across the room to land on a chair, but miss. Then I throw the shawl on to a pile of clothes – but miss. Then I fall asleep and dream in vivid technicolor  of my small grandson’s pet budgerigar flying about with a mate in a sunny springtime garden.

Woke late.

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Spring Primroses for Easter

Wishing you primroses along your path…

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Low Tide: Light Footprint

Warm sun through a soft haze pervading the whole area.
No wind.
A man in a parked car playing the clarinet.
As I walk towards the beach, crossing the grassy field of rabbit and sheep droppings and hoof prints

I hear
a plane humming overhead – sound disappearing slowly back to nothing
To the right over misty Appledore – distant gulls;
And just in front of me the trill of a skylark in the air
Signifying spring.

On the ground are scraps of white fleece covered with glittery dewdrops.

I follow my familiar path over the dunes, through tall marram grass, down over the pebble ridge to the open beach.

I can see the sand spit at the estuary mouth, but the hills across the bay are almost invisible through the haze.



I walk out towards the sea, to where I can see fields of bladderwrack and pebbles –  crossing expanses of intricate wave patterns in the sand.





















Occasionally the tracks of a dog or human cross my path. Behind me I am leaving my own tracks.










The seaweed forest becomes more dense the further out to sea it is growing.




















Skylark again. Near the water’s edge I see a large white blob, and fondly imagine it to be an egret. After watching for a while, I reluctantly have to admit it is some sort of plastic bag or container.











I come across a mass of pebbles embedded into the sand. They have come to rest here after their long journey along the coast, relentlessly tumbled and knocked into shape by storm and tide. Walking on the pebbles is like walking along a cobbled street. Some of them have a skirting of delicate green algae.


In the background of the image above, you can see the pebble ridge with its protective reinforcement of imported granite blocks.

Around the seaweed and pebbles there are large hollows and pools in the sand, formed by estuary currents. I have to be careful because of quicksand. More than once my foot has plunged down into cold sandy water. I quickly learn which are the safe areas to tread.

Pools and hollows:

















Ground-up shells around one of the hollows:











A closer look at some of the seaweed:






















I turn back, towards the pebble ridge and the dunes. At the edge of the ridge I rest a while in soft hazy sunlight, then walk barefoot back the way I have come, across the sand and cold pools.


I bring a few shells back in my pocket to examine when I get home, plus a small amount of litter. (It is my habit to pick something up for disposal every time I go to a beach – especially fishing nylon).

Spread out on the table, I discover a minuscule shrimp hiding in a razor shell.


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After the Winter of Discontent comes the Promise of Spring

Reaching my favourite sheltered spot, I sit in the sun, gazing southwards across the river, whilst all around me woodland birds are singing…

… joyfully oblivious to the dull roar of traffic over the bridge, and the ever-present threat of invasive building development.

Finches, bluetits, chiffchaff, robin, wood pidgeon, great spotted woodpecker,  rooks – and further away over the river, curlew, gulls, and ducks – and many, many more.  Even though I am no naturalist, I was easily able to recognise and enjoy their distinctive voices.

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A Short Walk to the Coast Road

Walking down Churchill Way, I could hear the birds singing in the treetops, unperturbed by the noise of traffic below.

At Bloody Corner I encountered a large group of people who were obviously on a conducted tour. They were gathered round to look at a large inscribed stone tablet set into a wall, commemorating the death of Hubba the Dane. Hubba the Dane apparently was killed in battle here in the 9th century, by Odun, Earl of Devon (or was it King Alfred the Great?)

I turned right, down a rough pathway bordered by trees and tangled hedges, and  leading to the river.

The roar of traffic continued, slowly diminishing as I made my way down the path, thinking as I walked how there are not many places in England left, where you can get away from this sort of modern noise… and I wondered at the effect it has had on our sensitivity and awareness.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that a number of horses in an adjacent field were bearing down upon me looking hopeful. No way did I want to spend the next half hour pulling up grass from the verge and feeding four or five hungry horses. So I started to move away, but not before one of them had reached the fence and stuck his head over, gazing at me wistfully straight in the eye. ‘Oh heck,’ I thought, as the others gathered round.

So we breathed into each other’s noses and I gave him a bunch of grass and made off as quickly as I could. ‘Don’t look back!’

A woman passed me, power-walking fast, with a cheery ‘Good Morning’. I was envious, as I have only recently discovered this technique in my efforts to get healthy, and just watching her made me feel tired.

Another woman came along, leading a pony in a warm winter jacket.



I came to a field full of sheep on the left, busy doing their thing (eating grass).


It got colder as I walked away from the traffic towards the river. Looking through the hedgerow and the brambles, across the fields I could see  Appledore shipyard, and across the river, the church and white houses of Instow.



I paused and breathed under two beautiful bare-branched trees. Breath, breeze, trees, birds: the traffic roar had receded now, as I reached the Coast Path and turned back the way I had come.

A man came towards me with a dog, running at full speed, obviously intent on jumping up at me. So I took the opportunity to shout at it in my most commanding voice, which caused it to do a quick detour when it reached my legs.

I passed two more humans walking with three dogs, before reaching once again the Hubba memorial stone.

Inscribed on the stone, it says:

 “Stop Stranger Stop,

Near this spot lies buried

King Hubba the Dane,

 who was slayed in a bloody retreat,

 by King Alfred the Great”

I am not convinced of the truth of this, although in King Alfred’s time there certainly were many skirmishes and bloody battles up and down the country, against the invading Danes. And it certainly does make a good local myth.




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