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Cotswolds Tracks and the Chalford Donkeys

Stroud from the Train
Stroud From the Train

My parents live near Stroud in the Cotswolds. The best thing about the Cotswolds, like South Wales, is the hills. It provides many higgle piggedly vistas and views. Their house is part of a modern estate in the village of Bussage at the top of a very steep hill.

EASTCOMBE ARTFINDER
Eastcombe

I enjoy exploring the donkey tracks behind the houses. The village of Eastcombe is a 10 minute walk from their house. This is 4×4 territory, especially in winter when the steep lane are unpassable for regular car and quite treachorous for walkers too.

Chalford_donkey_1935 (1)
Chalford Donkey 1935

The other side of Bussage runs into the top (and flatter) end of Chalford. Chalford Hill and Chalford have an extraordinary number of paths (28 km within the parish as a whole), winding up the steep hillsides. They allowed workers to quickly reach the mills in the valley – a majority of the paths leading straight down. They also enabled goods to be transported up and down the hill by donkey. They were used until the 1930s to deliver bread, coal and other household items to people’s doorsteps (Jennie being the name of one of the donkeys). In fact, many front doors can still only be accessed by a winding network of ‘donkey paths’. In those times Chalford was known as ‘Neddyshire’ which derives its name from the use of donkeys.

There was a modern version of this donkey delivery that ran for 5 years from 2008 to 2013. Sadly it seems to have stopped now. The donkey delivery service was run by to Anna Usbourne and her four and eight-year-olds, Chester and Teddy. They did run the Chalford Community Store’s weekly delivery service. You can watch a video about it here. If they had ranged as far away as Bussage (one and a half miles aay up a very steep hill), I know for a fact that my mother would have been ordering her groceries from the Chalford Village shop so she could have got a visit from Chester and Teddy the donkeys! Here’s a film about them delivering the groceries in the snow in 2011.

Donkey Delivery

220px-Jamie_Dornan_January_2013
Jamie Doran

The Northern Irish actor Jamie Dornan, who starred in Fifty Shades of Grey and The Fall, also lives in Chalford near Stroud and my mother says he’s been spotted in the local tiny Tescos Express with Eddie Redmayne. He has to shop somewhere. Anyway, sad to say that I have never seen either of them in there!

Country Lane
Country Lane

There’s a track that leads down the hill from my parents’ house to the Ram pub. You can also drive to it as there is a single track road to it. In the field beyond the pub there lives a black horse and a donkey. I don’t think the donkey there was ever a delivery donkey.

Back of Ram Bussage
Back of the Ram

 

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Here’s to 2018

Cropped Happy New Year

See the Facebook collection here 

Thanks also goes to to Hattie and Bingo, my cats who “help” with the wrapping of the paintings (usually by looking alarmed and running away) and Seamas my husband who always encourages me and works so hard with photography, exhibitions and social media (and much, much more).

Cats Help
Hard working Hattie and Bingo taking a nap
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Brynmill, past and future

Rhyddings Hotel from Brynmill Avenue (Park Place end)
Rhyddings Hotel from Brynmill Avenue (Park Place end)

The schools have gone back. Unusually its raining. When I was teaching, the first weeks of term usually would enjoy an Indian Summer. It made the pain of returning to work after  the long break a little easier.  Not this year. The students are returning. Term does not start for another month but quite a few students have been here over the summer.

The roads are starting to fill up with cars. The empty kerbs are vanishing. The stretch of road in this painting is often packed with cars on both sides. The local bus struggles round this bend and down the hill towards the viewer. The shadow to the far right is that of a rather tatty old coach house which has suddenly been converted into student accommodation over the summer. The Rhyddings pub is perched at the top of the hill.

In term time at the start and end of each school day a “lollypop lady” ushers the junior school children and their families across this stretch of road. She does her job well. She gives motorists a very fierce look as she steps out into the road with her stop sign. She says hello to all the children as they cross. I have not seen her for weeks. Today must be her first day back at work too.

It all looks so peaceful but recent events in North Korea remind me not to take peace for granted. During the Second World War, air raids killed several Brynmill people and damaged homes in the area. In September 1940, Brynmill had a lucky escape. A single plane dropped 3 High Explosive bombs over Brynmill just before 9.00pm. One failed to explode and there was slight damage to Langland Terrace but no casualties.

In the following year, in February 1941 was what is commonly referred to as ‘The Three Nights’ Blitz’ took place. It  lasted for nearly 14 hours, killed 230 people, injured another 397, wiped out entire streets of residential houses, made 7,000 people homeless and left the town centre of Swansea a terrifying inferno of total destruction. Some bombs fell on Brynmill too. The glow of the fires could be seen as far as Devon, and the west part of Wales in Pembrokeshire. My grandfather, who lived in Cardiff with my grandmother and mother, came to Swansea to help with the aftermath. Surprisingly, some of Swansea’s oldest buildings, the Castle, Swansea Museum, the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery survived but the town’s commercial heart was razed, with the Ben Evans store, which seemed to have supplied everyone with everything for upward of fifty years, was flattened.

I think that Swansea people think that the blitz only affected the town centre and the docks. The last raid on Swansea was two years later on the sixteenth of February nineteen forty-three. The Germans called the raid “Operation Wasservogal”. It started at nine-thirty in the evening and the target was the docks.  A German bomber, possibly getting rid of its last bombs before it returned to Europe, dropped a bomb that fell on 24 Park Place and killed Elizabeth Fabian and Selina Mogridge outright. Selina’s 24-year old daughter, Hilda, later died of her injuries at Cefn Coed Hospital, just under 2 miles away in Cockett.

Thankfully, the Luftwaffe never came again. Later in the war, in spring of 1944 1,566 American troops were stationed in hundreds of tents at Camp X3 in Singleton Park in preparation for the D-Day landings. The officers, apparently, were stationed in Mumbles. The Americans were using Gower’s sandy beaches backed by cliffs to train for the D-Day landings on similar terrain in Normandy. Jim Owens has collected many stories about the GIs in Swansea in 1944. The local kids clearly thought they were both glamorous and generous.

Churchill visits Swansea 1941
Winston Churchill 1941 visiting Swansea after the Three Nights’ Blitz

 

If I remember rightly, there used to be photos of Prime Minister Winston Churchill visiting Swansea after the blitz in the Rhyddings pub.

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My Painting Project: Urban Minimalism

I have just finished a 5-month teaching contract at a local school. Teaching is all consuming, it has to be in order to do be done well, but it does affect my capacity to “think” about art. So, recent weeks I have finally been able to stop and take stock of what I am doing, and where want to go with my work.

I have decided on a new project which I am calling “Urban minimalism“. It was initially inspired by the empty streets around where I live in Brynmill, Swansea. In recent years Brynmill has been increasingly taken over by HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupancy) rented out to the growing population of university students. In the summer months most of the students leave and the local streets which are usually crammed with cars are suddenly empty. I was struck by both the physical empty space as well as the peace they left behind. I wanted to capture this temporary calm in paint.  So I started to take lots of photos of the local area with an eye to using them for the basis of paintings.

My “rules” for composition and painting

  1. No cars
  2. No People
  3. Bright light. There must be shadows – at diagonals if possible.
  4.  Simplified forms – there must be little detail in the final painting. I found this the most challenging “rule” to stick to.
IMG_8621
Shadow Play

I wanted to explore the interplay of the geometry of shadows and man-made structures – the tension between the 3D buildings and the 2D shadows. The simplified blocks of colour. Shadows are one of the earliest ways man has used to mark time and seeking out the long shadows that mark the rising or falling of the sun in the morning and evening are a reminder that the empty streets are only temporarily so.

 

In future, I am intending to extend the “principles” of this project to other urban landscapes.