Essential Nature Walk along the Taw estuary at Fremington Quay

A quiet and peaceful morning walking in congenial company.

It is hard to believe that just a generation or two back,  Fremington Quay was the busiest port between Bristol and Land’s End, largely importing coal and exporting ball clay. Not to mention the clay works and the  famous pottery that was exported around the world. With the presence of the railway running along what is now the Tarka Trail, and also lime-burning kilns and an abattoir, this must have been a far from ideal place to live.

Today, despite endlessly-encroaching modern developments, there is an air of peace and tranquillity. The area is a haven for wildlife and  for those who come seeking a breathing space, away from the noise and stress of everyday life.

There were a number of choices of route for our walk. We decided against exploring the Gaia Trust’s Home Farm Marsh Nature Reserve  because of long wet grass and lots of mud at this time of year – plus access to the beach was limited because of high tide. We also decided we didn’t want to run the gauntlet of dog walkers and cyclists by following the Tarka Trail to the RSPB Bird Reserve at Isley Marsh a little way further along.

Instead we headed in the opposite direction, along the beach towards Barnstaple to Penhill Point, then round towards Barnstaple’s ‘New Bridge’, that we could see in the distance. It was such a beautiful mild early autumn day – with the River Taw running by our side, the gentle green Devon fields stretching all around us and the wide expanse of sky up above… feeling safe.

It was, what I suppose could be called ‘slow walking’, by which I don’t mean shuffling along in a semi-comatose state – but gradually relaxing and becoming more and more observant and attentive to the details of life all around – the skeleton of an old abandoned boat,  the crumbling, ruined stone lime kiln, the wild plants and trees, and soft sandstone boulders with rough edges worn smooth, softened by aeons of time and tide. Over time, the river had gradually eroded grooves in these boulders, leaving a residue of silt and river mud running over the surfaces in streams – large three-dimensional mud drawings created by the forces of nature.

I think we were all inspired to further creative activity – each in our own way.

The two pictures above are by Fiona Gibbon.

The ones higher up are taken from my own particular perspective as a sculptor/ land artist. I could have spent the whole day playing around with the natural materials we found lying around: driftwood, pebbles of all colours ground small by a thousand tides, grasses, seaweed, leaves, clay and stone. But I tucked my observations away in my head, and I shall come back!


Please contact me if you would like to know more about Essential Nature and our monthly walks. You can use the Comment box, or reach me via the usual social media sites or my own website (www.lindagordon.org.uk).

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Looking Back: Little Views

The Cabin, Bucks Mills, North Devon

The Cabin, Bucks Mills, North Devon.

For this artist’s residency, having no specific outcome required of me, I was able to respond and explore the Cabin and its surroundings in depth – recording my findings with written notes, quick sketches, photographs  and some small, short-lived  land art pieces – the beginnings of future developments.

Some of the pictures have captions. If you click on the thumbnails below, you can read the captions in full – as well as seeing bigger pictures.

THE ARRIVAL

 

THE BEACH

Seaweed, rocks, limpets, water, sky:  I  like to collaborate with nature, so that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between nature’s expression and my own.

 

AROUND THE CABIN

 

INTERIOR

 As you see, I was slowly becoming merged with the place.

 

THE WOODS

More about the Cabin can be seen on my two most recent posts, and on Time Present and Time Past, written a few years ago. 

Linda-at-Cabin_lindagordon_160729_0001_LR

Me outside the Cabin door.

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Arrival at the Cabin

Here’s a very short extract from the notes and jottings that I have been keeping daily during my time at the Cabin.  This is my first day, my first moments in situ.

Since then my experiences and impressions of the place have been intense and fascinating – and I will post more extracts when I can manage to pull all my notes together!

Mon 18th- settling in

I turned the key in the lock, pushed open the door And felt relief, as a sense of “home” washed over me

Scented with a faint musty aroma.
Even though I was aware of stepping into a place of arrested disintegration,
the sense of home persisted.

It felt like stepping into a hidden time capsule: fixed in a past era.
Yet homeliness prevailed.

I set about getting organised:  it took me longer to settle in than I had anticipated.

To begin with, it was a little un-nerving,
hearing unusual sounds outside (people, families passing
Occasionally some would wander into the garden or push at the door.


 

the Cabin, Bucks Mills, North Devon. artist Linda Gordon

 

Sitting at the table,

I pondered upon thoughts of Time and Home…

I pushed open the little window

And allowed the slow rhythm of the ocean

To fill the room

Timeless

 

Upstairs I found a beautiful butterfly, obviously just dead, lying on the floor.

the Cabin, Bucks Mills, North Devon -  resident artist Linda Gordon

 

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The Cabin: Shadows and Little Views

Memory is strange. Sometimes we remember an event or situation, and after years of being convinced of its truth, we suddenly realise it never actually happened – or not as we thought, anyway. Or something that did happen might completely disappear from our minds, until one day something triggers that memory in vivid detail.

Bucks Mills Cabin
I remembered I had visited the Cabin at Bucks Mills before, on two occasions actually, but couldn’t quite recall the felt experience – or indeed why I had even gone there in the first place.

It was only after several days had passed that I remembered I’d written a previous blog post about a visit to the Cabin – over four years ago!  On reading the post again, the whole experience came back to me, and I was amazed to find I felt almost the same about the place as I had then.  Here’s a link to that post, with more details and pictures.

The Cabin is a tiny two-roomed old stone cottage, perched on the rocky cliffs overlooking Bideford Bay and the Atlantic, against a background of steep-sided, wooded valleys and hills.  The landscape, the light and the expansive views out to sea are stunningly beautiful.

I understand that at one time the Cabin was known as Lookout Cottage, and probably used as a fishermen’s store.Then from the 1920’s to the early ’70’s, it was used as a summer studio by two artists: Judith Ackland and Mary Stella Edwards, who came every year to work and to enjoy the breath-taking views of sea and sky. Eventually Judith died, and Mary never came back. Everything in the building remained exactly as they had left it, meaning to return.

Bucks Mills
Today the Cabin is owned by the National Trust, looking still pretty well as the artists left it over 40 years ago. It is here that I shall be having a two-week artist’s residency, starting in a couple of weeks’ time.

I can totally see why the place held such appeal for the two artists, though I didn’t want to get too caught up in the weight of the Cabin’s histories. I am, in fact, more interested in using the building as a focal point and home base for creatively exploring the surrounding landscape – just as the artists Judith and Mary had done.

However, as I stepped over the threshold on my preliminary visit last week, I felt the hairs on my forearms tingle as I walked into an atmosphere of simple domestic warmth, reminiscent of my long-dead Granny’s kitchen… the old cast iron stove; the earthenware pots and jars and candlesticks amongst the utensils; the floral patterned china displayed on shelves, almost every one of which I recognised from some long-forgotten dream of home.
Cabin interior

Upstairs was an old iron bedstead, covered neatly with a white cotton counterpane, a cast iron fireplace, and basic cupboard space for linen and clothing… a mirror propped against the wall, a large water jug, and another, smaller cupboard just big enough to hold a wash basin. Tiny windows looking out to sea. Memories.

bucksmills_lindagordon_120216_0005_LR

Standing in the upstairs room looking out through the tiny windows, Justin, from the National Trust, who was showing me round, spoke of ‘shadows and little views’, and I instantly knew this was going to be the theme for my residency.

Here’s that earlier post link again

A little about Bucks Mills and the Cabin

And a little about the two artists, Judith and Mary

And information about the National Trust ‘Meet the Artist‘ days.

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The Fight for Beauty

Given that I normally adhere to the ‘blue moon’ system of blogging, readers will be surprised to see that I have not only posted this week as well as last… but also, today, I am offering this reblog from Adrian Colston of ‘A Dartmoor and Devon Blog. I have never reblogged before – it must be Spring, or maybe It’s because I consider this to be such a vitally important topic for all of us.

A Dartmoor and Devon blog

Fiona Reynolds, the former Director General of the National Trust has just published her first book, The Fight for Beauty – our path to a better future.

“We live in a world where the drive for economic growth is crowding out everything that can’t be given a monetary value. We’re stuck on a treadmill where only material things in life gain traction and it’s getting harder to find space for the things that really matter but money can’t buy, including our future.”

The fight for beauty

This is a powerful book which reviews the history of beauty, aesthetics, landscape, countryside, nature conservation, farming and urbanisation. It then sets out how we can move forwards.

The book has chapters on the battle for National Parks, how nature and the wider countryside lost out, how farming made and destroyed beauty, the battles of trees and woodlands, the success story of the coast, cultural heritage and the battles around urbanisation…

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‘Empty Nest’

So I went back to  Northam Burrows the other day on a bright sunny morning, and made Empty Nest as an expression of my connection with a particular place at  particular moment in time. It’s made with driftwood, now strewn all along the beach after months of stormy weather, a little bit of dead marram grass that I’d found lying around, and bits of sheep’s fleece (the cleaner bits) that I had gathered up from the grassland beyond.

I dropped into a working rhythm, accompanied by a skylark overhead, singing at full throttle  in a clear blue sky.

Empty Nest: Northam Burrows, North Devon, UK, 23 May 2016. Found materials: driftwood, dead marram grass, sheep fleece. Dia. approx. 1 metre.

I ended by breaking one of my own rules for when working uninvited in a public space: ‘Leave nothing behind but footprints’ – a rule I adopted from walking artist Hamish Fulton a great many years ago (though I think I have heard it said in other contexts). These days my rules are a bit more flexible, but I still think very carefully before leaving anything lying about.

And  because I could not bring myself to destroy it, I left ‘Empty Nest’ in the sand where it lay – knowing full well it would be knocked down, blown or washed away within a couple of days or so.

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I Want to be Alone

I don’t really want to be alone, not totally! But there are times when I do feel the need to get away from noisy everyday life and all of its craziness, and just wander alone in the landscape.  This wandering has been a regular practice of mine for many, many years. It is an activity closely tied up with my work as an artist, and is normally undertaken in the region of the place I know as home.

So what’s the purpose of this wandering? What do I hope to achieve? Well, mostly I am seeking a certain solitude (not so easy to find these days), a means whereby I might drop into alignment with the living earth. The idea is to temporarily detach myself from other humans, and connect with natural life all around: the land,  the rivers, the wildlife, the elements: tapping in to our own deepest nature.

dunlin on Northam Burrows - Linda Gordon

Dunlin on Northam Burrows

Walking on Northam Burrows (which is very close to my home –  in fact, I can view it from my top floor window), there was a time when I would aim to avoid all encounters with people, and especially people with unruly dogs.  And I disliked coming across disintegrating ‘artworks’ that disturbed my sense of being in harmony with nature.  I eventually turned to other places for my solitary reverie, though I am still very much enjoying visiting the Burrows with family or friends.

I was walking there last week with my Essential Nature group, and intrigued to find a number of roughly-assembled  ‘dens’ all along where the dunes meet the pebble ridge fronting the ocean. These were constructed with some of the large amount of driftwood that had been carried downriver, washed up and deposited along the shore. The dens looked completely at home there, tucked into the edge of the dunes: quite fun and inviting and satisfying. den on Northam Burrows - Linda Gordon

Maybe my attitude might have changed a bit, I thought. Maybe because there was no plastic or manufactured material involved in the constructions, but most of all, I decided,  it was because they were entirely in keeping with the place.

I began to ponder how right from the earliest times of prehistory,  it has been a natural human instinct to make constructions or to mark the landscape in some way. An instinct that continues to express itself right up to the present day:  in the works of wonderful artists such as Goldsworthy, Long and Turrell, as well as in our casual assemblages made on a holiday beach.

These musings must be left for another blog post, but for now, here’s news of  a superb TV  film called “Forest, Field & Sky: Art out of Nature”. It is available to watch on BBC Channel 4 until June 2nd 2016.
PS: I see now, it is also on YouTube.

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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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