Friday, 19 May 2017


Back in March I went on a road trip to Chichester. A friend's daughter had asked me to write a poem to accompany her fine art degree show, a portrait of place using paints made out of soil samples she'd collected. To do that, I needed to feel the earth beneath my boots.   

So I saw her work in her studio and at the University art department; toured the fabulous mosaics at Fishbourne Roman Palace, popped over to Pagham Harbour and St Wilfrid's at Church Norton; and ended the day walking the ancient holloway up to Halnaker Windmill.  

Well, the poem got writ and submitted. More importantly, the paintings were finished ... 

... the exhibition catalogue designed ... 

... the works hung. After a lot of input from the artist's dad, who happens to be a precision carpenter (ret'd).

Unfortunately I'm not able to get to the exhibition myself, but here's a couple of pictures from the talk the artist gave. 

So very lovely to see what a confident, creative woman she's become. 

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Where The Wild Things Are

These are not just bluebells. They're Forest of Dean bluebells. 

But first the view from New Fancy viewpoint because the Northerner hasn't really got much idea of the size of the Forest, and I like the name New Fancy, and the viewpoint
used to be the spoilheap of the eponymous mine and mining is of especial interest to a Barnsley lad. 

Then on to Soudley Ponds, which might or might not be part of the Forest's industrial landscape, having perhaps been dug out in the 18th century to provide water for the furnaces in the valley ...
... or perhaps in the 19th to provide some decent fishing for the landowner. 

Maybe we should consult the Chronicles of Trees. 

Beyond the long necklace of ponds we were in Sutton Bottom and Wallsprings Wood and this was where the bluebells started in earnest. 

I have to say that they weren't quite as spectacular as they've been in previous years. I don't know if this is because it's a different part of the Forest and they are a little thinner on the ground here ... 

... or maybe the conditions haven't been quite as favourable ...  

... but actually, I much preferred not being overwhelmed by them. As for location, we couldn't have been in a better spot, as we had it entirely to ourselves. 

Well, maybe not entirely. I mean, you could easily imagine encountering Titania or Oberon or one of the star-crossed lovers here ... 

... or even Bottom. 

I actually did spot a mole dreaming butterfly dreams.

There's nowhere quite like the Forest. The Northerner was very taken with it. A brief reverie about winning the lottery and living there without having to commute in to work ensued. 

Back at Dean Heritage Centre, we finally came across a Wild Thing. Clearly, we decided, this is Where They Are.  Except it turned out to be a Gruffalo, which was after my children's time. 

In fact, there were quite a few sculptures dotted around the car park. 

This is my favourite - a miner rescuing another. 

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

À La Recherche de Shaldon Perdu

During the four days I spent in Devon over the long weekend, I wandered the village of Shaldon a fair bit and realised I hadn't actually stayed there since I was ten, when my parents bought a caravan on the site across the River Teign and a couple of miles up the coast at Holcombe. 

Yet of all the places of my childhood, Shaldon has perhaps shaped me more than anywhere else barring my home city of Bristol. All that red sand made an indelible stain on more than just my white socks. 

It seems that every passage and alleyway holds memories, from the clacking of my plastic beach shoes on tarmac ... 

... to the inky business of fetching my father's paper, which necessitated going through School Lane and which I hated because who wants to think about school when you're on holiday? 

The duck pond's still there, minus its ducks (mallards, mandarins and chloe widgeons) and the low wall you could sit on replaced by railings. The gunnera still grows in the same spot, though - 'Look at the rhubarb, Mummy!' - and the fish wouldn't disgrace a safari. 

Clearly the telephone box has seen better days, and the Ness Gift Shop with its corrugated plastic awning is no more. 

We holidayed in lots of different places before The Holcombe Epoch. I was a baby when we stayed in the cottage at the Ringmore end of the village. 

It had two entrances on different levels in separate streets, and freaked my mother out because she thought she was on the top floor but could hear someone dragging their lame leg across the ceiling. 

I do remember the draughty old Manor House in pole position on the Strand, now divided into apartments. The flat above the Clipper cafe and gift shop, which was as close to staying on the beach as you could get, and is currently an upstairs annexe to the restaurant. And Chez Nous, a B&B owned by Mr and Mrs Cordon and their Jack Russell, Jo-Jo, and now seemingly the local headquarters of UKIP. 

I was envious of Jane and Sarah Woolley because they got to stay in the Dairy which was cool and dark, and had corridors, crannies and window seats. They used to keep their collections of pink and white top shells on the meeting rails of the sash windows.

It's long been a private dwelling. 

The most spectacular change has been the transformation of the caravan park by the bridge - we stayed in caravans and chalets there - into a development of modern cottages cunningly designed to resemble the other Georgian dwellings in the village. 

The first time I saw them, I really did think I was dreaming as it looked like they had always been there. The only giveaway is the width of the roads and their names, Oystercatcher Court being rather more high-falutin than Albion Street, Middle Street and Coronation Street. 

All this change is not without melancholy. Walking the back streets I saw familiar houses with unfamiliar names or, in  the case of Lan Y Môr and Sandy Nook, no name at all. A door I must have entered dozens of times opened and an unknown face peered out. 

And the voices of the old are gone. More Waitrose than West Country these days.

The wind still sounds oceanic in the woods on top of the Ness ...

... but you know you really are getting on a bit when the headland itself has undergone a fundamental change.  

I can't help wondering whether seven-year-old me would look at today's somewhat stumpy Ness at the mouth of the River Teign and still see some sort of god. 

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Putting the Fun in Funicular

Well, someone's got to try. 

First, though, a visit to St Mary's Church at Marychurch. 

I'd promised my father we'd do this, as his great-great grandfather, a boatman called James Harvey from Weston-Super-Mare, married a woman from St Marychurch while he was working his way around the south-west coast in the 1830s.  

I wasn't at all sure we'd manage it, however. So I'm glad we did. 

Not that we were ever going to find out much here, even if the Church had been open.   Some histories have much more weight than family ones. 

But at least we visited the spot. 

On, then, to Babbacombe Downs and the funicular railway down to Oddicombe Beach, where there's a recently refurbished cafe overlooking the sea. 

I know - genius, right? 

Made it!

After we'd eaten, I left the parents ensconced on the decking outside the cafe and had a brief wander. The beach is much sandier than it used to be. I remember pebbles and sea glass but there isn't much of that there at present.

As at Sidmouth, there's been a lot of cliff slippage over the last few years. Except a whole house has gone over the edge at Babbacombe, with more pending. Literally.

I didn't hang about. 

Back at the top there was a last chance to take in the views. 

Here are the remaining houses on Redcliffe Road. 

In the middle distance on the left, the Ness at Shaldon, with the Parson and the Clerk at Holcombe, Langstone Rock at Dawlish Warren and the red cliffs at Exmouth ... 

... and so on all the way round to Sidmouth, the white cliffs at Charmouth and Golden Cap, and on and on to Portland Bill, none of which you can see properly in this photo.

Oh well, you'll have to go yourself.