Wishing you primroses along your path…
Warm sun through a soft haze pervading the whole area.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
I hope you enjoy this selection of snapshots from my wanderings and short-lived works last year!
I have briefly captioned some of them. Uncaptioned ones are likely to be from my local area of Northam, on the North Devon coast. Of course, I am always happy to supply further details of images, if you would like.
Wishing you a creative and prosperous 2015!
I was heading towards the track where we walked at the weekend through part of Northam – starting at Goats Hill Road, a road flanked by a somewhat superior housing development on one side and a less superior one on the other, screened along its length by a high prickly hedge. Like many such roads, the name of Goats Hill Road alludes to the not so distant past, very recent in fact, when folks lived and worked in close connection and interaction with the land. A little way down, there is a large notice, saying words to the effect of ‘Private Road. Keep out. Residents Only’. But immediately before this notice is a narrow steep muddy track, leading down through dense overhanging trees and thick tangled undergrowth, and it was here where I had previously led the family for a Sunday afternoon jaunt.
I wanted to do the walk again, with the intention of recording the sound of running water pouring downhill throughout the length of the track and beyond.
My time was limited, as I had an appointment immediately after lunch, but I’d decided I could just about manage to do a round trip down the track and up through the surrounding fields, and reach home again in good time.
I left my house in bright sun, but by the time I had crossed the main road, there was a torrential downpour of rain and hail. Hailstones and rainwater bouncing off the road . I hid in the bus shelter along with someone else, and we agreed it was “Funny old weather”.
The rain stopped as suddenly as it started.
I continued, but had only got a few yards further when I encountered an elderly gentleman carrying two carrier bags of greenery for ‘his birds’. I naturally enquired about them, and heard how he was a registered bird-keeper, and had them in a huge aviary, encouraging them to breed – what were once common garden birds throughout the country, many species of which are now fast disappearing from the scene.
From there, we embarked on a fascinating account of what this part of North Devon looked like before the road was built; stories of a tame raven and a tame fox who regarded the old man’s place as ‘home'; an account of how he had once taken a bullet out of a seal that had got washed up on shore, and nursed it back to health with brandy and warm milk – and of a couple of leopard cubs that nobody knew what to do with, so he had taken them to live with him.
I felt privileged and enthralled to talk with this gentleman, but eventually I continued on my way.
I found the track, sparkling and inviting in the winter sun, and started off. Delicate scents of wet leaves, plants and mud, bright dappled water running fast underfoot, the presence of bushes and trees, intricate tracery of bare branches against the sky, and beyond that, high above, the roar of the wind. Within the enfolding branches and greenery all was quiet, apart from the sounds of running water and a few small birds singing.
I soon added to this by splashing my way down the centre of the path where it was most worn away. Aware of slippery mud, wet leaves, water running downhill over shiny tumbling stones, I walked down through the stream of running water, senses sharpened partly through habit, partly through having to be continually attentive to my feet and the ground underfoot.
Careful, do not slip and fall, don’t get snagged in brambles, don’t drop the recorder in the water. After a time, I stumbled across a small fast running waterfall, gushing down the stony embankment of the pathway, and merging with the main stream. It was here, when I retraced my steps a little to take just one more photo, that I found one of my gloves lying in a pool at the bottom of the waterfall.
I pondered how the houses and bungalows I’d passed had seemed to become less and less solid as I went along, and developed a fleeting cloudy quality in my mind. And as I proceeded further down between the trees, everyday life itself became gradually less significant.
I reached a place I remembered, where there was a junction of steep pathways, two of which I believe led down to the river, one of which led up through steep fields towards home. Here there were several old concrete boulders or bollards, obviously installed there many years ago to block the path and discourage vehicles, but they were now fallen, and covered with thick luxuriant green moss.
There were other signs of previous use too – what appeared to be a spring, emerging from the steep embankment cliff into an oblong trough, and bubbling out again from a hole in the pathway.
As I neared this place, I realised there was no way I could complete my planned journey in time to get back home and set off for my appointment.
So I stopped a while, looking at the disintegrating artefacts from the past – the trough, the spring, the concrete blocks… and attempting to discern what had been occuring here in days gone by, conjuring up visions of horse-drawn carts labouring up the hill from the river, and of the possibility of German troops in WW2, trying to infiltrate the area through Devon’s narrow back lanes, and getting blocked. Flickering dreams from another time-frame, like the modern houses I had passed earlier.
I knew there were sprawling housing developments around me still, never very far away – yet behind the dense trees and tangled undergrowth, I could see nothing. The narrow corridor I had been travelling along felt more real, more powerful and more substantial than any human constructions beyond. Perhaps this was something to do with having the senses fully engaged: feeling alive. Or perhaps it was the clear liquid singing of a couple of woodland birds above my head.
I was surprised to hear the clash and clatter of the local recycling truck within yards of where I was standing – even though it was completely hidden from sight by a tangled mass of trees and overgrown bushes and hedges.
I turned back and returned the way I had come.
Try again tomorrow!
Until next year – wishing you a happy time at Christmas,
and all the best for 2015!
Watching the fascinating Countryfile Autumn Special on the BBC iPlayer yesterday, one particular image has stayed with me: that of a single leaf falling down into the river.
The narrator explained how the multitude of leaves falling from the trees along the riverbank would rot and get broken down to provide the basic food for the river’s living ecosystem. The leaves dropping and rotting was the starting point for the entire food chain. Amazing!
Earlier, a team from the Woodland Trust spoke about their scientific research, and also told us how the vibrant gold, red and brown leaf colours of autumn come about… how the green chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down and fades as the days grow colder, revealing the yellow carotene pigment already there. The red colour, apparently, happens in some trees when there are bright sunny days and cold evenings.
A lovely programme, reminding me of the miraculous processes of nature behind the beauty we see.
There’s still two or three weeks left for us to view the programme before it gets deleted. Buffering can be a bit of a bore… but it is possible to download the iPlayer to our computers now, which should help!
The little tree I fancied was at the corner of a sedate and slightly superior housing estate (what I call Bungalow Land), where it meets the A386 road to Appledore. I saw it yesterday, and lusted after its red leaves falling on to the intensely green grass below. It looked gorgeous with the sunlight filtering through the red. I remembered it from last year. I wanted to draw attention to the tree and to the endless cycles and movement of nature.
So I set off for the tree, and along the way I came to this yellow ‘weed’, flowering at the edge of the pavement, pushing its way inexorably up through the ground, and up through the human surface veneer. It shone in the bright sun, and I had to admire it, and take a few photos.
The tree looked good. Leaves hung almost lifeless from its branches, some still green, some red. From time to time, a little breeze blew flurries of red leaves down into the grass. Occasionally there was a stronger gust, which sent older, dried up ones bowling and rattling along the tarmac road.
I felt a little bit embarrassed as I stooped to gather up fallen leaves in full view of the houses all around (but not enough to stop me doing what I wanted)! As the embarrassment wore off, I dropped into my familiar pattern of mindless repetition… bending and gathering, bending and gathering. When I say mindless, I don’t exactly mean mindless – I mean ‘not thinking’. I was, in fact, highly alert.
People passed and smiled, and I was delighted to be able to show a small child the bag of red leaves I had collected.
I didn’t know what to do with them when I had finished. I thought of making a massive circle of red on the grass all around the tree – but I have done this sort of thing many times before, and there was no good photo angle. So I kicked the remaining leaves around a bit, cleared the man-made square bed around the tree – and photographed this. All the photos I have taken this morning are, I think, what a 2-D person would call ‘rough sketches’. (That is: not the finished work).
As for the two bags of leaves I collected – I have taken them home until I have decided what to do, and I will work with them again the day after tomorrow. Alex (husband) was thrilled with them, and especially with the earwig-like beetle that crawled out and ran very fast all around the sitting room carpet. I have put some of the leaves in the fridge to see what happens. Hoping they won’t end up in the salad…
I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, actually – but unfortunately, since then, circumstances have temporarily prevented me from any further messing about with leaves – or the internet… Thought it was still worth posting this little interlude though!
Re-remembering (extracted from my field notes)
A day in the woods, making work with dead bluebell stalks that I had found in their hundreds lying all over the area…
Brought photo kit, but no string, and no brush (to mark and define edges). Gathered sticks into a little ‘brush’ with a view to binding them together with rootlets. Forgot to do it.
Worked for a number of hours with the stalks, making a trail of rings and tracks through the trees. Weather good, though less warm than a few weeks ago.
I like working close to the ground – slowly shedding layers of cultural programming and feeling very much a part of the surroundings. The birds don’t seem to mind me being there either – they obviously accept me as part of their surroundings too.
When eventually it came to taking photos – they did not look good.
The sun came out in its full glory, and I could not read my finished work for all the dazzling shifting blinding patches of sunlight. The images, viewed through the back of my camera showed huge patches of white everywhere, all in the wrong places. I was not happy.
Also, as I realise now, the work I was making was not appropriate for the ‘ethereal look’ that I knew would happen to the stalks if I exposed for the trees and undergrowth.
And I could not get far enough away to make an interesting composition.
And, and, and…
I was not happy.
Determined not to go home feeling negative, I gathered up all the stalks I had used, and piled them in a circle around a handsome nearby tree, having a luxuriant growth of bright green moss at its base.
I was not sure about this either, but as I walked away, I could see that this simple circle made an excellent focal point for the whole area… drawing attention to the characteristics of tree, moss, land and plants, and inviting enquiry.
Finally, before I left, I wondered what it would be like to move like an animal, so I crawled along the ground, with video camera in hand. That was a bit of a disaster, so soon gave that up!
But I liked the closer proximity to the land, and the delicate but insistent scents that filled my nostrils.
The sort of simple solitary activity I have described is important to me (and I believe, of value to others) as I remember again who and what I really am – an intrinsic part of a living planet.