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Catching the Morning Light

When I get hold of an idea I can get quite obsessive about it. Lately, it’s been early morning light. I think it sprang from a post I wrote about transposing some of the techniques I used for my “Urban Minimal” project to what I only half-jokingly called “Rural Minimal”. I think that my rural Gower houses did fulfil the spirit of “Rural Minimal” but it got me think about shadows. Now, shadows were my first love. They still are. It’s hard to find any painting of mine without blue/mauve/purple/brown shadows. I go through tubes of Lukas 1862 Mauve at a steady rate. Many of my Gower woodland paintings used early morning winter light.

 

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Enchanted Wood  Limited edition mounted print (unframed) 

And why do I love shadows so much? It’s because they act as a foil to the light. The orange next to the dark mauve positively leaps off the canvas. Perhaps, its a cheap way of thrilling the viewer? I am always very impressed by artists who capture a gloomy or overcast landscape. Plein Air painters prefer overcast conditions because they are more constant and American artist, Jeremy Sams,  demonstrates this really well in his painting. He says “The good thing about painting on an overcast day is that you don’t have to chase shadows. The light remains very constant and my acrylic paints stay wet for a good long while.”

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Jeremy Sam’s Plein Air Study

However, I love shadows. They make a composition interesting and dynamic. So, anyway, the post about Rural Minimal got me thinking about shadows in rural settings. I realised that because I have been focusing on my Gower Walks and working to bus timetables that I was mostly walking in the late morning and finishing up in the early afternoon. I was becoming increasing frustrated that my lovely walks weren’t inspiring the sort of paintings I like to make. The light wasn’t right. Midday light, especially in the summer, has a tendency to bleach out the details. This is what shadows “do”, they show us the details of the landscape.

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Light Shadow

I have always been a morning person. Each morning is like a fresh start to me. What ever happened yesterday, last night is gone.To be honest, I think that have always done my best work by 11 am. When I was writing my PhD thesis, many years ago, I’d do my best writing between at 8 and 11 am. To be honest, most of the work I did after 11 am was fact checking (this was in the days before the interest when you had to look things up in books) and faffing, but I’d dutifully stay at my desk til 5 pm.

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Bernard Street Bus Stop (Back of Brynmill Launderette)  (Oil on Linen Canvas, 33 x 41 cm unframed)

 

So I decided that I need to seek out early morning light on Gower. This long spell of hot weather meant that morning skies were often (but not always) clear. That meant getting up early.  I have been dragging myself out of bed just after sunrise. It’s summer and the sun rises just after 5 am in here Wales. It is painful getting up that early but once I have had a cup of coffee I can face the outside world, just about.

The first time I drove down to Three Cliffs Bay, 6 miles away, I was so tired that I actually forgot my camera! I felt so stupid but I got back in my car and drove back home to fetch the darn thing, delaying my “start” by 30 minutes.

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Pobbles Bay after 8am

Compare the light and shadows to yesterday morning (when I remembered my camera) and actually got there for about 6.30am.

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Pobbles Bay 6.30 am

It’s different. Not necessarily better, just different. Do you know what, it doesn’t matter. I like both conditions.  The changing tides always also variety and interest. Summer Morning light has a beautiful rich quality to it and I like seeing how it changes, the shadows shorten, darken, light break over the cliffs, as the morning progresses. I have sat down on the cliff tops and watch the light change.

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Early Morning, Three Cliffs  (Oil ob Linen canvas, 80×60 cm, unframed)

I like seeing nature first thing. I like seeing the dew. In this very dry summer it’s a godsend. The grass on rolling fairways of Pennard golf course has turned the colour of straw except for the patches where the dew collects in the morning. There it’s a fresh green. Walking down towards the sea, along the sandy path by the golf course, I often see the white tails of wild rabbits dashing into the undergrowth. Their numbers in the UK have fallen in recent decades but thankfully, there seem to be plenty on Gower.

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Welsh Wild Rabbit

Free-range cows roam the cliffs of Pennard and South Gate as well as the valley next to Three Cliffs Bay. They are usually busily eating the grass they can find down in the marshy valley or in the shadows of the thorny gorse bushes, or even in the Golf Club car park before the golfers arrive!

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Cow at Pennard

 

Cows chewing the cud (mid morning) and cows at work, eating grass (early morning).

I delight in the long shadows and the reflections at low tide. How the reflected light is more golden than the light on the rocky cliffs.

 

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Three Cliffs Reflections  (SOLD Oil on Linen canvas , 80x50cm, unframed)

At high tide the colours all change again.

 

I have got up early and visited Rhossili, Penmaen and Three Cliffs Bay six times in the past fortnight. This includes the morning I thought the light cloud would clear but instead it thickened. A passing Jack Russell was photographed, as well as the rabbit above. So, I sat down and sketched.

 

I will keep going until this weather goes off, while may well be very soon. I will be working from this research for quite a while after it has clouded over again.

A while back, last June in fact, I read an excellent blog post by American artist Luann Udell entitled “How Long Did It Take You To Make That?” in which she discusses all time-consuming processes and skill that go into creating her pieces. It occurred to me that while the actual time it takes to paint my work may take anything from one to three days, depending on the size of the canvas, the actual thinking, planning, gestation, waiting for the weather and preparation takes a lot longer. I should also include in that waiting for the seasons to change. Just yesterday I was remarking to my husband that the heather was starting to flower and so another visit to Rhossili Downs would be in order soon. Nothing stays the same in nature, or in life! My job is to observe and attempt to capture some of those fleeting changes.

 

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Gower Coastal Walk: Blue Pool Bay

The Gower boasts two gems that most visitors never see.  I have lived in Swansea for 19 years and this was the first time that I saw them. These are Three Chimneys, a sea arch that used to be two arches,  and a massive rock pool known as Blue Pool. These two marvels are not easy to find. They are tucked to the north of Broughton Bay. They are located on Blue Pool Bay, in the northern-eastern corner of the peninsula. You cannot drive to this bay but have to walk.

I ended up doing the walk twice in one week. The first time,  it was sunny when we set off from Swansea. We had sun hats too. The car park next to Broughton Caravan Park, where we start the walk, was free. This is a rare thing on Gower. We are forever pawing through our change to find enough pound coins for the ticket machines. They never seem to take £5 notes or credit cards. This car park sits next to a large static caravan park. Many of the people who own caravans here live close by in Swansea. It has a friendly family feel to it, it has palm trees and little gardens.

Almost as soon as we got out the car it clouded over. We walked through the large static caravans and along a path covered in wooden slats, which was wonderfully easy to walk along.

As the path snaked around the hill and entered dunes the clouds came lower. The further along the path we progress the mistier it got.

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Not a lot to see!

Eventually, we see can Three Chimneys from the top of the dunes. It was clearly two arches, once upon a time, but one has collapsed.

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Three Chimneys

We walk on until we reach Burry Holms, another of Gower’s three tidal islands (the others are Mumbles and Worms Head). Just over nine thousand years ago, it was not an island but a hill nine miles from the sea.  There is a lot of archaeology here, including a Mesolithic site, a Bronze Age burial mound, an Iron Age fort with a deep defensive ditch and bank, and the remains of a monastic settlement founded in the 11th century and abandoned during the 17th century. There are also a number of post-Medieval quarries and limekilns are along the cliff edges.

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Burry Holms in the Mist

No one knows why it is called Burry Holms. There is a port across the Loughor estuary called Burry Port, but Burry Port in Welsh is Porth Tywyn which means White House Port (I think). I’m not sure what the Burry means in this case, but Anglo-Saxon a “burh” usually means a fortified town. Many of them date back to 9th century when raids and invasions by Vikings prompted Alfred the Great to develop a network of burhs and roads to use against them. I know that the island’s name of “Holm” comes from the Old Norse meaning “island in an estuary” (think of Flat Holm and Steep Holm further out in the Bristol Channel). This also reflects the Norse domination of the waterways in this area, which lasted up until the 11th century. After all Worms Head (Wurm – meaning dragon) is also a Norse name.

The ruins of  the 14th-century chapel dedicated to Saint Cenydd can also be seen at the eastern end of the island. St Cenydd, sometimes Anglicized as Saint Kenneth, was a Christian hermit who founded a church at Llangennith, to the south of Burry Holms. The story of St Cenydd’s early life is wonderfully fantastical and not to be taken at face value. Cenydd was supposedly a Breton Prince, born of from an incestuous relationship, at Loughor (this is a modern day suburb of Swansea).

Baby Cenydd was born with some sort of disability, and on account of this he was put in a willow basket/cradle and launched into the River Loughor, like a Celtic Moses. This willow basket eventually washed up on Worms Head and the local seagulls and angels looked after the baby and somehow managed to bring him up as a Christian. Interestingly, St David, Wales’s patron saint, cured Cenydd of his disability in later life. Was St Cenydd at all grateful? Not a bit of it. He wasn’t happy about this at all and actually prayed for his disability to be restored!

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What is going on here?

So we sat looking out at Burry Holms eating biscuits. We watched a seagull swoop and circle the cliffs again and again. He did this at least ten times. I was trying to decide if he’s was scaring off some jackdaws or was jealous of a courting couple.

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Love is in the air!

Another pair of gulls sit cosily together on a ledge. Then, suddenly the male mounted the female and a quick bit of mating takes place. The male then abruptly flies off. “To the pub!” my husband drily observes.

On the way back I try and find the rock pool, Blue Pool. We seem to have missed it on our way to Burry Holms. I clamber down a hill and finally spot it nestling in the rocks below.

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Blue Pool

I can see people in wetsuits leaping into the famed rock pool. I am very jealous. Local legend says it is bottomless. The swimmers seem to be very confident they won’t hit the bottom as they leap into it.

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Jumping in!

Two women climb to the top of the highest lip of the pool and leap into the water. It looks great fun. I read later that it is very deep. Anything from four to eight metres deep, depending on tidal and weather conditions. As much as I enjoyed watching the fun and games I was a little frustrated.

I’ll show you why. This is what I was hoping for compared with what we saw.

So I went back to get another look at Blue Pool and in sunshine this time. I returned early one morning later in the week alone. I set off at 8.15 am hoping to catch the low tide because I have the idea that you can walk around the headlands and walk to Blue Pool Bay. This time, it is cloudy in Swansea but brightens up as I reach Llangennith which is just down the road from Broughton Bay.

So I walk onto the beach full of confidence that I will be able to walk to Blue Pool Bay along the shore. I couldn’t.

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View Across Broughton Bay

I don’t know if it wasn’t a particularly low tide, I have discovered since that not all low tide are the same. Some are lower than others. Just as some high tides are higher than others.  So I had to retrace my steps and I clambered up the rocks as a short cut to the coastal path. I eventually made my way along to Blue Pool Bay – I found a different path that led down the dunes and some very steep rocks.

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Three Chimneys on a sunny day
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Three Chimneys, Blue Pool Bay

I kept my rucksack with me, so that if I fell, I’d have my phone with me, or at the very least water and biscuits! I did have the over-dramatic thought that if I fell, no one would find me for hours/days. I chickened out of climbing all the way down to the sandy beach as the tide has just turned. I knew the tide came all the way in, leaving no beach at all.  I wasn’t sure how quickly the water would come in.

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Blue Pool Close up.

I climbed back up to the coastal path OK. I then carried on to Burry Holmes and the vast three-mile expanse of Rhossili Bay.

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Burry Holms

I walked along the beach towards Worms Head. I ate my banana and put the skin back into my bag. I had seen enough rubbish on the foreshore to depress me. I watched the little wadding birds, sanderlings, I think running along the surf on their delicate long legs.

I retrace my step along the path through the dunes and I enjoy the silence which was broken only by the song of a skylark, one of my favourite sounds. I pass the caravan site and carry on along the sweep of Broughton Bay.

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I saw the white tails of rabbit disappering into the undergrowth in a fields filled with sheep and their lambs. I then come across another caravan park. This one is called Whiteford Bay Caravan Park. It seems an unfriendly place. There are lots of warning signs and no trees. Broughton Bay Caravan Park seems much more relaxed, with its palm trees and little gardens and free car park.

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I pass a group of senior hikers, including a chap who must be in his 80s. There’s a role model, I think. The path climbs up a sandy path up to Hills Tor.

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The View Across the Estuary

I sat down on a sandy ledge to admire the expansive view towards Whiteford Point and try and make out the rusty iron Victorian lighthouse. I can just about see it. You can’t see it in the photos. It is very breezy up here.

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View Towards Whitford Point

I ate two chocolate biscuits. They are delicious but I have drunk most of my water with only a couple of mouthfuls left. So because I know I have so little water left, I start obsessing about water on my walk back to the car. I cross a little stream that runs from Moorlake into Broughton Bay and consider trying to take a mouthful of it. It is quite marshy here behind the burrows. The sea is out of sight. I decide that in future I will carry two bottles of water with me.

There are Two boys are playing on the tops of the dunes. They are school-aged- why aren’t they in school, I think to myself. Once a teacher, eh? I say nothing and pass on.

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By the time I reach Broughton farm it has clouded over. My calfs are now aching from so much walking on sand. They carry on aching later on in bed. I’m not surprised when I work out that I walked 6 and a half miles, and a lot of that was on sand.

Next walk is Whiteford Point for a close up view of that iron lighthouse.

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Landscape Painting – Rural minimal

Last summer I started my series of “Urban Minimal” paintings of the streets of Brynmill, Swansea. These paintings were my “Hollowed Community” project which were exhibited in the that year’s Madeinroath Festival. That’s not a typo, by the way. The festival organisers stipulate that you type it as one word Madeinroath, rather than three “made in roath”. Roath is a suburb of Cardiff, by the way. They also stipulate that the “in” in “Madeinroath” has to be in red too. It’s driving my spell checker crazy!

My “rules” for composition and painting this project were:-

  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 want to explore the interplay of the geometry of shadows and man-made structures – the tension between the 3D buildings and the 2D shadows. Simplified blocks of colour.

These rules worked well in an urban setting, especially with the sea light we have in Swansea.

Since then, I have been caught up in my Gower Coastal Walk.

Worms Head Coast Watch Station
Worms Head Coastwatch Station

By my calculations, I have three, maybe four more Gower walks to do in order to complete the length of coastline but other commitments are keeping me from finishing. Firstly,  I have a pile of exam scripts to mark. I am rusty and I mark slowly these days. Secondly, a summer virus has made me feel under the weather.

I haven’t consciously applied the urban minimal rules in a non-urban setting. What’s the problem? The applying Rule #1. “no cars” and #2 “no people” rules is easy enough. As is #3 “Bright light”. Then there comes the difficulty. The second part of Rule #3 “There must be shadows – at diagonals if possible.” Walking late morning, mid-day day means that there are few long shadows and they are difficult to find on beaches too. Although, there have been a few.

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Langland (SOLD)

 

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High Tide at Three Cliffs Bay  Limited edition large mounted print  (free postage)

Finally, Rule #4 “Simplified forms – there must be little detail in the final painting. I want to explore the interplay of the geometry of shadows and man-made structures – the tension between the 3D buildings and the 2D shadows. Simplified blocks of colour.” I never really followed this rule to the letter as I thought details, such as window sills, and reflected light on glass, breathed life in pictures. It was knowing where to add detail and where to simplify that was important.

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Coloured Sands at Three Cliffs Bay 

Limited edition large mounted print (free postage) 

Here, I have just been very cautious about going “too far” with this in a rural setting. But I have been edging that way, such as with my treatment of sand. Other aspects of my composition such as clouds and vegetation have not really been “minimal”, not in a conscious way anyway.

I think I need to challenge myself and make myself think about how I am tackling these subjects. I think my recent paintings of rural buildings (that’s cottages to you) has been much more successful.

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Port Eynon Shadow (SOLD Oil on Linen Canvas, 46x38cm, unframed)

You may well say are just rural buildings instead of urban buildings. Yes, but they are stepping stones. I am still thinking about how I apply these rules when there isn’t a building in the picture!

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Afternoon in Port Eynon (Oil on linen canvas 33x41cm unframed) 
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Port Eynon Corner (SOLD)

If you want to buy any of these painting clink on the link below each painting or look through my Buildings and Streetscapes gallery.

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Six Hundred Sales!

I can hardly believe it myself! On Tuesday I sold my 600th painting via the online gallery www.artfinder.com. My sales total had been stuck on 599 what seemed like an unbelievably long time – it was a week in fact. I have actually sold more than that either directly or through other online galleries. All of those paintings were unique too.  I have never gone in for mass producing generic scenes. I believe that novelty keeps my work “fresh”.

My work may explore certain themes such as the Brecon Beacons, Gower Woodlands, Swansea people, the Gower coast, but each painting is an individual. Each painting is of a real specific place or of real people. Perhaps that shows a failure of imagination on my part, I don’t know.

Although I may have had periods when I have felt a bit “flat”, such as after an exhibition, but so far I never actually run out of inspiration. This is partly due to the world around me constantly inspires me but also, more importantly,  because of the unfailing encouragement, inspiration and support provided by my artist husband, James Henry Johnston (known to his friends as Seamas – pronounced “Shay-mas”).

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Seamas

Seamas founded our Art business in the midst of one of the most difficult times of my life. I had developed PTSD after a car accident and this contributed to a breakdown. Painting was an essential part of my recovery (and still is). Not only did he give me crucial emotional support through an incredibly  difficult time, (all whilst sitting his Psychology finals) he set up a website and put some of my paintings on an online gallery called Artfinder. To our delight I started selling. Like many artists, I find the marketing side of the business challenging at times. I was terrified that people would be rude about my art and that would then affect my fragile confidence. Happily that has rarely happened.

So in those early days Seamas acted as “shield” and would write all those upbeat posts on Facebook about sales and upcoming exhibitions. He would also work on direct sales, face-to-face and online, negotiating terms with collectors. I have only really come to appreciate the sheer amount of time and effort he has put into promoting my work since I started working as a full-time artist and had to tackle platforms like pinterest and instagram. That term “full-time artist” is a misnomer as it might give you the impression I spend all say in the studio. I spend at least half my time working on social media and marketing.

Artfinder has been a massive part in being able to make that leap and become a full-time artist. Being self-employed is full of ups and downs, it’s very much “feast or famine” so to look back and see 600 sales over 5 years is quite amazing. Long may it continue. I was going to end this by quoting Samuel Butler, Victorian novelist and satirist who said; “Any fool can paint a picture but it takes a wise man to be able to sell it”, but I want to rephrase that with “Any fool can paint a picture but it take a genius to sell it.”

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Tenby Tide
Tenby Tide  Large professional quality signed and mounted print £45
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Curator for the day

I have been asked to be a curator for Artfinder.com. This means I will put together an art collection for the online gallery http://www.artfinder.com. I am very excited and honoured by this chance. I have been represented by Artfinder since 2013 and I have sold 599 works through them. The site has grown and grown over the years and now represents over 10,000 artists.

It’s not the biggest site out there but for several years its been the best one for independent artists. I’ll explain why.

Each artist is given a lot of control over their own page or “store front”.  You can directly upload photos of your paintings to the site without waiting for an administrator to approve it. You can also directly contact collectors through their messaging system, rather than through the administrator. This makes customer care a whole lot easier.

There are many very talented artists on the site but the increase in the sheer number of artists has made it more and more difficult to be “seen”. So being a curator for the day is my chance to bring attention to the many excellent and talented artists on the site.

As a teenager I used to fantasizing about having the chance to do a supermarket sweep. I used to think about where I would direct my trolley and what to sweep into the trolley in less than three minutes. Funny, how that has no appeal to me these days although, I do like to get in and out of the supermarket in a short amount of time as possible! Twenty minutes, in and out and I am happy.

This is going to take a bit longer than that!

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Andrew Reid Wildman

So I have my chance to “sweep” about 150 artworks into my basket or collection. I am very excited by this. Over the years I have book marked and pinned artworks that have caught my eye and here’s my chance to show them off to the world. I try not to think too much about it. There are some artists who spring to mind immediately like Jane Kell and Andrew Reid Wildman, whom I know I want to have in the collection and others I have to look in my bookmarked collection to remind myself of their names, and a few who present themselves to me as I look through the new art on the site.

 

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Snehal Page
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James Earley

I have largely gone with works that highlight colour and light such as Snehal Page’s vivid oil portraits and Sri Rao’s colorful landscapes.

There many artists’ who skill with the paint brush has me in awe especially people like James Earley and Abi Whitlock.

One hundred and fifty painting may seem like a lot but it isn’t. I want to include as many artists as I can with out the collection becoming too “bity”. So some artists get as many as 4 paintings but other only one. I am hoping that the choices I have made will tempt collectors to click on their names and take note and “follow” them or even better buy their work/s. I believe that art is about a conversation between the artists and the viewer.

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John Kerr

I say conversation, but I believe that good art provokes an emotional reaction in the viewer; whether it is joy at the remembrance of a summer’s day at the seaside, or empathy with the humanity in another’s face or posture.

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James Henry Johnston

 

 

As viewers we invest a lot of energy in choosing our favourites, we follow their progress and want them to do well. I am only the 5th artist (I think) who has been asked to put together a collection but I am hoping this a successful collection and other artists are asked to do the same thing.

If you wish to view the whole collection, you can see it here

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Part of my collection
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Another selection

 

 

 

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Proud Poetry – a Swansea painting

Where we live is very important to us. Where we grow up shapes us for the rest of our lives, for good or bad. When I have an anxiety dream its often about moving house. I put this down to the fact that during my childhood we moved many times; Hereford, Newcastle, Whitley Bay and Gloucester. I had been to 9 difference schools by the time I was 11. I carried on moving for my education, first to Cardiff, then to Peckham and Greenwich in London and finally Swansea.

The house where I spent my teenage years in Gloucester no longer exists. It was knocked down several years ago. It was built in 1976 and was gone 30 years later. I find that odd. I have been past the spot where it used to stand and I find its absence unsettling. I think that’s why I love the solid Edwardian terraces of Brynmill, these houses have been here for over a century. The grand mock Tudor houses of the Uplands, built in the inter-war years of the 20th century will last and will, hopefully, last another century.

David Fry bought a painting of mine, “Proud House”,  a while back. Imagine my surprise and delight when he contact me to tell me that it had brought back many childhood memories for him and it inspired him to write a poignant poem about it.  I thought I’d share it with you.

WHAT I SEE – A Proud House

Join palette with oils tincture and powder to display

The artist draws down with sight and prodigious emotion

As alchemist hails a canvas sharp lined spare skilled too

An affectionate depiction smoothed fine in occult lotion.

 

What do I see in authentic rendition so germane

A rare gift in practiced thought and summit won

Is this an ethos for other endeavours by artists told?

No…mesmerised true in a story book I am held by this one.

 

Maybe I glimpsed what was intuition a fable in the making

To bind a time and way to a journeyman’s remembered sight

But mostly I am filled with a bitter sweet regret

From childhood certainty in family life to lonely night.

 

A house transcends all purpose and design

And paint surpasses in hindsight the record of focussed light

Imbued with lives lived rich and sheltered in wallpaper defined

Something raised above all description a distillation bright.

 

School friends gone their paths fade in narrow winded days

Histories will reveal life travels worn their purpose long set

Hope boxed my laughter hard with glass at times half full

But the proud house survives still and is well met.

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Proud House

I am taking a break from my Gower walk until mid-June to work as an exam invigilator for the university.

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Walking the Gower Coast: Port Eynon to Rhossili Part 2

One thing I will say for Swansea Tourism is that they provide excellent free maps of the Gower. You can pick them up at “Information Points” around the city. I invariably have one folded into my pocket or in the front of my rucksack. They are small enough to be folded and stored easily like that. Not like my massive Ordnance Survey Explorer map of Gower. It’s about 20 years old so I don’t like to get it out unless I really have to. I am not very good at folded maps back into their original shape. Even the free map when is essentially a A2 sheet of paper (42 x 60 cm or 16.5 x 23.4 inches) printed on both sides causes me trouble in a good breeze.

I don’t really need my map today as the path follows the sea in a logical manner. The coast path signs appear at all junctions to make it clear which way I should be going. I do need the map to work out where something called the Knave is. The knave is a triangular slab of rock. I had come across a beautiful photograph of the Knave by Paul Edwards and was quite intrigued by it, as I had never come across it before.

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The Knave – Paul Edwards 2012

I did not get to see the Knave from the same angle as Paul’s photograph on this particular walk.

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The Knave from the coast path (west)
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The Knave from the coast path (east)

From the coast path the Knave looks a bit like a dragon beginning to unfurl itself. I say that because there is a much larger dragon ahead, I am looking forward to seeing close up. I don’t have the time or energy to walk down to the Knave beach, today, I will leave that for another time.

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The Knave

I carry on the path towards Rhossili and my attention is drawn to the houses and farms  that lie away back from the cliff edge. You can see them from miles away and I wonder what they are like inside, looking out at the sea.

There is lots of wildlife to observe. I can hear a lark’s rising song and I see black crows. Dylan Thomas probably would described them as “bible- black”. I see a robin. I think on every walk I have been on I have seen robins, whether I am in woodland, by a wooded stream, on heath land or on on the clifftops, they really must be very adaptable little birds. I even see a rabbit; his white tail vanishing into the gorse. Apparently rabbits are a vanishing species in the UK, their numbers have fallen by 80-90% in the past 20 years so I am happy to see one out here today. I also see and manage to photograph a solitary tortoiseshell butterfly. Although, it is one of the most widespread butterflies in Britain, it too has suffered a decline in numbers.

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Tortoiseshell Butterfly

It is lambing season and the path is littered with sparkling white-fleeced lambs, twins and singletons sunning themselves along side their mothers. Maybe it’s my imagination but many of them seems to be smiling as they relax in the sun!

The path passes a series of narrow gullies down to the sea, Foxhole and Butterslade, and then the magnificent Thurba Head, a headland with 200 foot sheer cliffs down to the sea.

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Part of Thurba Head
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View from Thurba towards Worms Head
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View from Thurba eastwards – where I have just come from

Mewslade. Here there is a path down to the sea, there is also a long dry stone wall that trails down to the sea. It is in the process of being repaired. I stop to look at the stones and marvel at the craftspeople that know how to arrange the stones to make a sold wall, all without cement.

Round Mewslade
Round Mewslade

If you go down to Mewslade, at low tide there is a beautiful sandy beach but at high tide there no beach at all, just rocky cliffs.

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Mewslade at Low Tide

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Mewslade – tide’s coming in!

At low tide, you can supposedly walk from Mewslade to Fall Bay around the next headland. I think some rock climbing might be involved. When I tried it from the other direction (Fall Bay to Mewslade) I ended up with wet boots (it’s a long story.)

Waves at Fall Bay
Waves at Fall Bay

After Mewslade I am getting excited as I can see Tear Point at the far end of Fall Bay. I have walked this part of the path quite recently and although I am getting very tired, I have a sense that I can do this. This long walk will be completed.

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Tears Point off in the distance

Now onto the climax of this long walk; Worm’s Head. As historian Wynford Vaughan Thomas called it “the Land’s End of Gower”. Its still quite a way until I reach the bus stop in Rhossili but I am now powered on by the sight of the Worm (in Old English “Wurm” means dragon).

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The Worm (left) and Coastwatch Station (right)

This curious dragon-like, tidal island snakes off into the sea. I have seen seals on the leeward side of the island. Between the cliffs and the Worm is the causeway, it is visible this afternoon. It is a rocky mess of rocks and rock pools, which is open for 2.5 hours either side of low tide. At low-tide, the causeway can be crossed to the island. It is usually fatal to attempt to wade or swim to from back from the Worm when the causeway is flooded or partially so. Sadly, people have died tried to do so.

It’s one of the jobs of the little Coastwatch station, perched on the headland, to stop people from risking their lives doing this. It’s a stout and sturdy single story building is made of granite. It has been sitting alone at the top of the high cliffs that look out towards Worms Head and beyond to Lundy Island and to the Celtic Sea for well over a century. It’s also looking out for fishing and leisure craft who might experience difficulties off the rocky shoreline.  A team of local volunteers look after from the coastwatch station; from 10am till 4pm in the winter and 10am till 6pm in the summer. If at the end of watch the Causeway has not yet flooded and there are members of the public still out on Worm’s Head, the watch is kept open until everyone is safely back on the mainland.

Worm Head Coastwatch station
Coastwatch Station

Kitchen Corner is a small bay to the right of the path that leads down to the Worm’s Head causeway. The boathouse was built in the 1920s and is often used as a location for fishermen although there was no one here today.

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Kitchen Corner

That little white building in the middle of Rhossili Bay is the old rectory. I will come back to it in my next post on my walk across Rhossili Downs.

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Rhossili Bay

I had looked at my watch and discovered that it had just gone 2pm. According to the notes on my post-it note there was a bus back to Swansea at 2.32 pm and then at just before to 4pm. I decided I would try and make the first bus.; It would involve a bit of a speedy march and by now I had a ranging thirst and I knew I would need to refill my lone water bottle somewhere. So I put my head down and forced my limbs to move as fast as I could along the long smooth concrete path from the Worm back up to Rhossili. A classic case of just because you can see it, doesn’t mean it close. It’s actually about a mile in distance.

Even as I am steaming along the path, I still have to pause and take a few photos of the incredible view across Rhossili Bay of Llangennith Beach. I pass people on the way, many different foreign languages floating on the breeze; German, Spanish, Chinese, Hindi. Of all the places on the Gower peninsula, this is the one that draws vistiors from all over the world, everyday, even on a day with bad weather. I love the international aspect of the place. It make me feel like I am citizen of the world.

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Paddling at Llangennith Beach

I finally make it up the long path into Rhossili village. I also had time to stop off at the National Trust Conveniences to refill my water bottle. I am relieved to see that there is someone else waiting for the bus too. Always a good sign. An empty bus stop always has me wondering if I have just missed the bus.

It took me four hours to walk from Port Eynon to Rhossili. Was it 6 or 8 miles? It was probably 6 but it felt like 8, will all those ups and downs. I started the walk thinking about a slight twinge in my right knee – latter on I had forgotten that twinge in favour of my aching upper thighs (from going up and down hills), then it was aching calfs and finally whilst sitting on the long bus journey back to Swansea it is my feet that are throbbing.

So what did I learn today?

1. Remember suntan lotion. I should have put on suntan lotion. My right arm is burnt My left arm is fine. I now have a small tube at the bottom of my rucksack.

2 Water. Bring more water. Two bottles. Bringing enough water is more important than bananas, plaster, handbags and so on. I will bring two bottles on my next walk.

3. Finally, “Just because I can see it, doesn’t mean it’s close”. It’s now my walking mantra. However, it can be encouraging to see the end of your journey even if you are not there yet. This can be metaphorical as well are real – I can see the end of this journey now. I am over half way. I have walked over 18 miles out of the 32 or so I will need to do to complete this coast walk. I am buoyed by this feeling.

I have to pause in my journey around the Gower Peninsula because I have exam invigilation work for the next three weeks.

 

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Walking the Gower Coast: Port Eynon to Rhossili Part 1

Painting of Port Eynon, Gower
Port Eynon Shadow

This is the most challenging leg of my journey around the Gower coast, thus far. It is the longest walk I have done so far at 6 and a half miles. For some reason, I keep thinking its much further than that. I had convinced myself that it was 8 miles. It felt like that.

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I have been obsessing over the bus timetables and the information I have garnered from Traveline.com which makes sense of the bus connections for me. I have written all the available buses in my note book which I carry in my rucksack as well as on a cheery yellow post-it note which I have in my coat pocket. I have tried very hard not to think of all the things that could go wrong but at 4 am I have persistent visions of twisted ankles and buses not turning up. I pack two plasters although I suspect they won’t be massively useful if I do twist my ankle.  Yet, it seems that I have done all my worrying in advance for once I set off everything pretty much goes without a hitch.

It is a warm day. I am wearing my light padded jacket for the first time this year. My rucksack, which is actually my husbands old laptop rucksack, contains the following:- Water bottle; food – sandwiches, banana, biscuits; bus timetables for all Gower buses; tide timetable; two plasters; spare socks; camera; handbag. Somehow I haven’t organised myself enough to leave my stupid handbag behind. I know it has many useful things in it like a tape measure, make-up mirror, phone, fold away shopping bags, but I suspect it adds a fair bit of weight.

I dont have to wait long for the number 118 bus to arrive on Gower Road in Swansea. The bus driver blinks at me slowly when I ask “Change at Scurlage?” This is the first time I have been on a NAT bus. That stands for National Adventure Travel. As a car driver, travelling on a bus has a certain amount of novelty for me and looking out the grimy windows is almost a treat! This bus is OK but not as nice as the city First Cymru buses. Buses seem like things of the city to me (I am a townie born and bred) but once we rattle over the cattle grid at the edge of Fairwood Common and leave Swansea behind, there are great views across the common towards Cefyn Bryn, the long hill that extends across Gower. I enjoy the superior height of the bus which means I can look over walls and into people’s gardens as they flash by.

It is high tide as Three Cliffs Bay as we pass, a sight that gives me a small thrill. We pass the campsite at Nicholston and two walkers, a man and woman, get on. I have company. They both have rucksacks. I wonder why they have one each. They can’t both have handbags in there!

Scurlage. Thankfully the connection is waiting. We climb down from our big bus and into the smaller bus with hard seats and a sunroof.

It takes a long and winding route, pause for 3 minutes in a lay by, and then on to Horton, past a vast caravan park and eventually down a steep hill past the church and into Port Eynon.

The Captains Table

Chips at Port Eynon

 

 

Port Eynon on a long sandy bay on the South coast of the Gower Peninsula. It is the second largest “indentation” on the coastline. Truth be known, it is my favourite Gower place to visit in summer because it always has plenty of space on the beach, a shallow sea which warms up in the British sun and a wonderful gift shop full of the sort of junk that is absolutely necessary on a beach holiday (kites, snorkels, body boards, flip-flops, rock, postcards), a surf shop, ice cream kiosks  and best of all not one but two fish & chip shops. Oh, and there’s a couple of pubs too if you like that sort of thing. Have I made it sound commercial and tacky?

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Last Swim of the Day
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One of Port Eynon’s two fish & Chips shops

Well, you’d be wrong because almost nothing on the Gower peninsula is allowed to be commercial and tacky. I say almost nothing because I can’t think of anything at the moment that could be desribed as such, but someone may point out somewhere I have forgotten. Much of that is thanks to the wonderful Gower Society. If you have visited Gower you might think that the Gower Society have just put up some markers stones for their “Gower Way” which snakes across the inland sections of the Peninsula but not a lot else.

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Gower Society Stone Marker

You would be very wrong.  The Society was founded in 1947 by a group of Gower enthusiasts who were originally interested in the Peninsula’s history but soon became involved defending Gower from developers and preserving its natural heritage. I came across a copy of a book about the Gower Society in the excellent Oxfam shop in Swansea town. It’s called “The First Sixty Years” by Ruth Ridge. When I read it I was totally in awe of the tireless work they have done. Here’s a just a few short list of their many achievements

  1. Successfully campaigning for Gower to be recognised as the UK’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1956
  2. Part of the campaign that successfully fought off a Butlin’s-type holiday camp at Rhossili
  3. Limited and monitored the number and size of caravan sites on Gower
  4. Produced lots of excellent and very affordable  guide books on Gower walks, plant life, castles and caves.
  5. Prevented the building of a cliff railway and zoo at Rhossili
  6. Prevented the construction of wind turbines on the Peninsula.
  7. Campaigned against sand dredging in the Bristol Channel
  8. Helped preserve and partially restore the iron lighthouse at Whiteford Point.
  9. Raised money to purchase numerous tracts of land and donated them to the National Trust e.g. Worms Head and Pennard Cliffs and also to the Glamorgan Wildlife Trust e.g. Overton Cliffs.
  10. Raised concerns and gave grants to help restore and maintain many important Historical buildings such as Oxwich, Pennard, Oystermouth Castles and the Salt House at Port Eynon.

There is loads more they have done to protect and preserve Gower but I thought I’d just give some highlights.

Port Eynon or Porteynon takes its name from a Welsh prince, Einion,  of the 11th century who is meant to have built a “castrum“, a castle or fortified house here. There is no sign of the castle except for its church, St. Cattwg’s, and its dovecot, the extraordinary Culver Hole built into the nearby seacliffs. In Victorian times the village supported itself by Oyster-fishing from September to March and in the summer by limestone quarrying. Ships from Devon crossed the Bristol Channel to pick up the Port Eynon limestone. The trade in Oysters died out in the 1870s, over-fishing seems to have killed it off.

The Church was founded by a missionary saint in the 6th century but the building that stands in the village today is almost all the result of Victorian “restoration”. It is claimed that the church was used as hiding place for smuggled goods around the time of the battle of Trafalgar, kegs of booze being hidden in the altar, and at other times, the goods were buried in the sand-dunes.

In the churchyard is a distinctive looking memorial to three Port Eynon lifeboat men who lost their lives in a terrible storm in the winter of 1916. It may seem odd that the village of about only 500 people felt the need to erect a memorial to the three local men who died at sea when thousands of young men were being killed in far away places like France and Belgium in World War One, but the body of Billy Gibbs, the coxswain was never recovered. This was very much like the experience of families elsewhere in the country who never saw the bodies of their loved ones again. So the local community had a life-sized statute of Billy Gibbs built as a memorial to the sacrifice of all three men.

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The Lifeboat Memorial

The Lifeboat House is now the Youth Hostel. Only one of two on the Gower. As it was low tide I walked across the beach to the Youth Hostel.

On the other side of the hostel are the ruins of something called the “Salt House“. Some these walls were part of Victorian oystermen’s cottages. The main building, however, was used for salt production from the 16th to around the mid-17th centuries. The site was chosen for the high salinity of the bay with little fresh water contamination. The sea water would enter the beach chambers at high tide where it would be stored in a reservoir. The water would be pumped into large iron pans and slowly heated and evaporated. As the salt formed it would be scooped off and stored in the northern part of the main building to dry. Salt was a very valuable commodity, shown by the fact the site was enlarged and fortified during the 17th century, with the inclusion of musket loops within the thick walls.

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Salt House

There was plenty of tall stories about a couple of outlaws called John Lucas, who were pirates and smugglers. The first John Lucas supposedly fortified Culver Hole in the 16th century, hid his loot in there and visited it via an underground passage, although there is little evidence of this. Seven generations later another John Lucas fortified the Salt House and started a smuggling empire. Some people have claimed that John was a Welsh Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. Sadly, these interesting stories seem to have been totally all made up. This set of nonsense was made up by Rev. Dr. J.H. Spry during the 1830s in a dispute over property. Fake news, we’d call it today. It seems that people have been faking stuff long before the internet was even dreamt of.

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Old Life Boat Station now YHA

The coastal path runs along the nearside of the Youth hostel.

Up a steep path past disused limestone quarries.

There are wonderful views of the bay to the east.

Salt House at Port Eynon
Salt House at Port Eynon
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The Salt House and Salt House Mere (to the right)

After climbing more steep path there is a great view of the sea to the east. This is Port Eynon Point. It is a nature reserve looked after by The Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales. Part of the cliff top was once ploughed during the Second World War but there is no sign of it now. This area is a nature reserve looked after by The Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales. In fact the whole South Gower Coast from here to Rhossili (Pilton Green) is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) which is a term or designation given to an area in the UK which is protected for conservation. It is owned by the National Trust and managed by the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales.

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If you follow the path northwards you come down a steep hill, past more disused limestone quarries towards Overton Mere.

Overton Mere is a wide bay of limestone rocks, rock-pools, shingle and a few tiny patches of sand. On the eastern side of the bay and about 200 yards west of the point, is Culver Hole – mentioned earlier – the dovecot made from a narrow cave sealed off by a 60 foot high wall. I thought about visiting it but after edging my way along the cliff-edge path for 10 minutes I lost my nerve and decided that should save my energy for the long walk to Rhossili.

Although the tide was out, the waves were very high, this morning, 5 or 6 foot high.  All along this stretch of coast I was accompanied by the booming waves as they broke on the shore. Every now and then, as a particularly large wave broke, there was a crashing sound that almost sound like something cracking. The air was hazy with surf. It made walking along the path even more thrilling.

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Gower Pony

I passed a small red pony who was not the slightest bit thrilled by the waves or me walking past.

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Large Rollers on Overton Cliff

For most of this walk I only passed a couple of walkers with their dogs. The path was pretty deserted. Although two men were working on one of the usually sturdy stiles at Overton Cliff.

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Stile maintance

The path was relatively easy although the drop down to sea was quite hair-raising in places.

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It’s a long way down!

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Long Hole Cave

Then the path got rather steep.

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Even steeper!

It got so steep that I started to wonder if I had lost the real path and had wandered on to a sheep track as I have done several times. It was so rocky I could not tell whether there were any human footprints or sheep tracks here. I couldn’t see another path so I kept going although it meant that I was scrambling along using my hands as extra support. Not quite on my hands on knees but not far off it.

On the other side of the crest I came across an odd scene. All the gorse had been burnt. You could smell it. I assume that the gorse had been managed. Its seemed too much of an effort for an arsonist to come all the way out here to commit arson. I assume that this is a way of managing the growth of the gorse. 

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After walking a bit further I realised that off in the distance I could see Worms Head. This was quite exciting. The angle made the long narrow tidal island look like two small islands. It also gave me the idea that Worms Head was not that far away. Now, whilst this was very encouraging and cheered me, by the end the walk I realised that was nonsense.  One lesson I learnt from this walk is “just because you can see it, doesn’t mean it’s close”. It has become my mantra. So on I went, buoyed by the mistaken belief that I was half way to Rhossili already.

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Towards Worms Head
Towards Worms Head

I think I had not bothered to look at my map in a good while because I was caught by surprise when the path headed up hill and inland. I was the first of many “Where the **** has the path gone” moments. When I walking on my own I chat away to myself (like a nutter). Mostly it’s encouraging stuff like “Come on” and “Let’s do it” when I need to get up a hill but its also less ladylike stuff when I get a bit lost and I can’t find the path. I just hope any near-by sheep are not offended. I also say hello to the sheep and lambs. 

I found the path, it had moved inland. It was not at all close to the cliff top so I could no see the sea. Once or twice I tried to sneak a peak at the sea by wandering off the coastal path towards the cliff edge but I decided it was too much effort as I had a long walk to do I didn’t want to waste energy of detours. I also found lots and lots of Gower mud. It was a rather fantastic orangey brown colour.

As I walked along the cliff top I knew I was passing above places with wonderful names like Blackhole Gut, Yellow Top, Foxhole Slade and Paviland Cave. I could not see any of these places from the path. I have always wanted to see Paviland Cave but it is notoriously difficult to get too. It is where the so-called “Red Lady of Paviland” was discovered by the Rev William Buckland in 1823. This was a partial human skeleton dyed in red ochre. The Rev was a man of a times and decided that because there were parts of a necklace made of sea shells and ivory jewelry that this had to be a woman’s skeleton. Today we’d call him “old fashioned”, I think. It turned out that this not a lady at all but a young man and he was buried 33,000 years ago. This was back when woolly rhinoceros and mammoth roamed around what we today call Wales. Incredibly, it is the oldest known ceremonial burial in Western Europe. Sadly, there was no Welsh museums in existence when the “red lady” was discovered so the remains where taken to Oxford, where they still rest despite the fact that we have lots of museums in Wales now. 

Eventually, I reached the point where the path crosses with the one from the village of Pitton. I came a across the first people I’d seen in maybe an hour maybe longer. They were having a break. They complained that the path down from Pitton was extremely muddy. I overtook them but I was starting to feel tired. I had been walking for about 2 hours no-stop.

I was just over half way through this walk. So I found a place amongst some rocky outcrops to eat my lunch. I watched some crows flying above the cliffs. For once I ate my banana first. I was really hungry. The cheese and pickle sandwiches and the chocolate biscuits all tasted wonderful. The outcrop called the Knave is nearby and I will continue the second part of my long walk to Rhossili next week.

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Gower Coastal Walk: Oxwich to Horton

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Wrapped up

I realise now that my Gower Coastal Walk may have been easier if I waited until summer to do it. It was probably because my 2016 attempt ran into the sand that I have become a bit obsessed with getting it done. I also have work-related commitments in May and June that mean that I won’t be able to go walking during the weeks and I may be too tired to do much at the weekend. So what? Well, cold weather and wind is fine – lots of layers and a padded coat with a hood see to that (see illustrative photo to the right).

The mud’s quite different. It can be quite a hazard. My first walks from Limeslade to  Brandy Cove, were reasonably mud-free. From Pwll Du onwards, however, mud becomes a frequent peril. It’s just as tiring as sand to walk through but offers the excitement of the possibility of a) slipping and falling on my backside or b) slipping and twisting my ankle. Thankfully, neither of these actually happened. I have taken many photos of my muddy boots. Here’s a selection.

I don’t know why I never see other walkers with mega muddy boots like mine, maybe there are more nimble. Anyway, more of mud and other hazards later.

I’ll start with a lovely mud-free church. St Illytd’s church, Oxwich, is in the most beautiful setting. The first painting I ever sold was of St Illtyd’s Oxwich. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a decent photo of that painting. St Illtyd’s nestles in the woods by the sea, just short walk from the village of Oxwich. At high tide you can hear the waves just the other side of the graveyard wall. The vicar used to live an rectory even closer to the sea (see Thomas Rothwell’s painting below) but it’s gone now, unfortunately, destroyed by the encroaching tide.

Rothwell, Thomas; The Old Rectory, Oxwich

Rothwell, Thomas; “The Old Rectory, Oxwich” (1790)

The very first religious building was built here in the sixth century. St. Illtyd, a native of Brittany, is meant to have built a small cell here. Illtyd is a very significant figure in Celtic Christianity. He is also known as “Illtud Farchog” in Welsh meaning, “Illtud the Knight”.

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St Illtyd

You may not have heard of this Celtic saint but he was very active on the Gower peninsula and elsewhere in South Wales. Legend connects him to the legendary King Arthur, claiming that he was the King’s cousin and served him as a young soldier. Even if this is not true, it was not unheard of for knights to get up their fighting life for spiritual conflict and enter a monastery. The village of Ilston not far from Oxwich is named after him as well its church. There is also a church dedicated to Sts. Illtyd and Rhydian in the village of Llanrhidian in North Gower. There are churches and schools which bear his name all over South Wales and in his homeland of Brittany.

Illtyd later left Gower and founded a very important monastic school known as “Cor Tewdws”, in Llanilltud Fawr (Llantwit Major) which is further east along the Glamorgan coast. His school is believed to be Britain’s earliest centre of learning. At its height, it had over 1000 pupils and educated many of the great saints of the age, including Saint David, later patron saint of Wales, Gildas the Historian, and Samson of Dol, founder of a monastery on Caldey Island.

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St Illtyd’s Oxwich

The church you see today, however, is not Illtyd’s construction, although the font inside apparently is. Most of this building was rebuilt in the thirteenth century. What is so interesting about the design of the “new” church is the battlemented tower, which looks more suited to a castle that a church.  Almost all the churches in Gower have these fortified towers. Many Gower churches, nine to be precise, were owned by a crusading order called the “Knights Hospitallers” but the design has nothing to do with crusading in foreign lands and everything to do with homeland security.

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St Illtyd’s Oxwich 2018

In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Severn Estuary was riddled with pirates. In the 12th century Viking raiders – based in Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Scottish Isles – still ravaged the Irish Sea coasts. Lundy Island, far out in the Channel but within easy reach of the Gower by sea, was a pirate lair during the first half of the 13th century.  Raiding vessels could easily send crews ashore to take animals and even people for ransom or slavery. Oxwich church tower, with its battlemented roof, could be used as a look out and as it was built of stone, it they could be used as temporary refuge against robbers long enough for help to arrive.

Oxwich church, then, has a very ancient history and setting which is not as peaceful as it first seems.  Its graveyard is also reputed to be haunted by a supernatural beasts known as a “ceffyl dwr” or water horse. The water horse is a horse-like creature, which was apparently been seen walking on its hind legs, and then vanishing down the well c.1894.  The first written account of a sighting appeared in Rev. J.D. Davies’s “History of West Gower” where he tells of his elder brother and father seeing the beast one night, after they had been fishing in the bay. In a letter published in the Swansea Evening Post in May 1963, Mr David Lewis George of Cardiff wrote, “I recent years a similar white form was seen gliding over the graves in Oxwich churchyard around midnight by an elderly person of unquestionable integrity “, thus making at least three witnesses who claim to have seen the ghostly apparition of Oxwich churchyard.

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We did not see any horse-like creatures on our walk. Once again, I am accompanied by Biddy and Mitzy our dogs and Seamas, my husband. Once we passed the church we are presented with a very long flight of steps cut into the earth.

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Although tiring to climb, these steps are a godsend to walkers. We follow the path through the wood and then climb a lot of steps back down the hill.

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Here among the trees are cliffs. They are not obvious. The trees largely hide them but  they are a significant height and there are warning signs. I mentally sniggered at the signs when I first saw them as I thought they were over the top. Turns out they are not. The sun then went in.

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Although there are fences along the top of most of the wooded cliffs, not all of them are fenced off.  We were passing another family on the path and Biddy, our Collie-cross, walked towards what looked like the continuation of the path downhill. It was no such thing. It was a cliff edge. I don’t know if was my yelling her name at the top of my lungs, or her natural good sense but Biddy, thank God, paused at the edge.

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Cliff edge masquerading as a path

Not all dogs have sense. A friend’s dog was killed when he fell off a cliff in West Wales. Several years ago our dog, Dottie, the wired haired terrier, was killed on the main road near our house in Swansea when she ran away from me. Actually, she was running towards the beach. She had bolted out of the park, disregarding my calls. I tried running after her but she was too quick, I could not catch her and there was no gate on the entrance. She never got to the beach. There was a busy main road was in the way. The incident broke my heart and cast a long shadow. It is still a very painful subject for us.

So, we peered over the edge and thanked God that Biddy had stopped in time. If she had gone over the edge she would have probably been killed. I have watched her behaviour on walks since, and realise now that she probably paused from natural caution. Dottie was never cautious. So with that near miss playing on my mind and later on that night, I kept replaying that moment when I was shouting at her to stop in my head, we carried on along the path.

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Mud and my unharmed walking companions

The path is very muddy. The colour reminds me of chocolate. It is very slippy. This is the sort of place that I worry I will twist my ankle. I don’t; I just get very muddy boots. For a lot of the path it is so thickly wooded the sea is hardly visible. Occasionally there are gaps in the trees and if you were feeling agile and adventurous you could climb down to the rocks by the sea.

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Eventually, after a long slippy walk, we leave the trees behind and we have a clear view of Three Cliffs across the bay.

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Three Cliffs from across Oxwich Bay

We can also see Devon across the Bristol channel. The headland is rocky. Very rocky.

I read the warning sign with some trepidation. They seem fair warnings. I did see an adder one summer years ago at the top of Tor Bay. He was crossing the path. I just stood back and let him go on his way. He was not interested in us.

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Adder (not the one I saw)

Historically, the main hazard around here was to shipping. If you look at the Thomas Rothwell’s 1790 painting of the old rectory again, you can see how rocky Oxwich Bay is along the east side. The headland is even rockier. It not surprising, then, that the coast of Gower has seen something like 250 shipwrecks. Maybe this is due to the high tidal range in the Bristol Channel. More likely it was due to a rocky shoreline and poor weather. Oxwich Bay and Oxwich Point witnessed the floundering and wrecking of  something like 15 ships in just under 50 years from 1822-1866. Wreckage from ships that had sunk further along the coast would also be washed upon the sands of the bay.

The path above the headland is relatively easy to walk along here. It is flat and dry.

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We stopped for jam sandwiches and biscuits, looking out towards the one-time-home of pirates, Lundy Island. It’s a slither of blue on the horizon.

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Biddy (with her expressive big ears) and Mitzy – 100% concentration on that jam sandwich

The sun is long gone and the sky is covered in clouds. There’s a cold wind. I now regret not bringing my woolly hat but take some satisfaction in the fact that I have my warm padded jacket on.  Craggy rocks loom above the path to Horton.

The path to Horton is long but reasonably straight forward.

There are a couple of detours around fields. These detours look like they have been here for years.

The final detour involves a long steep climb up a valley called Slade, just by a sandy slither of beach.

By the time we reach Horton the tide is retreating. My parents tell me we came on a family holiday to Horton when I was two years old. I don’t remember it. It must have been a happy holiday because my younger brother came into the world nine months later!

Horton is separated from Port Eynon by a short stretch of sand dunes. Although they are so close they are two very distinct communities. Horton, I suspect is slightly posher than Port Eynon. At its heart are some grand Victorian villas. There are also a series of very beautiful exclusive houses with long zig-zagging steps down to beach. That said a large detached house in Port Eynon can cost as much as £800,000 – £1.1 million (or US $1m -S1.5m). Not exactly cheap.

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House at Horton

Yet, it’s all a bit of façade because behind both Horton and Oxwich are a number of vast large parks, full of static caravans. These static caravans cost upwards of £35,995 to buy  and you pay site fees of £2-3000 each year on top of that. (that’s about US $50,000 and annual fees of  US $3000-4000). These are a bit like American trailer parks but you are not allowed to live in them all year around, they usually close for 4 months over the winter.

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Horton

The sun is shinning for my next walk from Port Eynon and get up the courage to get on the bus again and even make a connection.

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Gower Coastal Walk: Tor Bay & Oxwich Bay

I am shattered. My legs are so stiff, I can hardly walk up and down stairs. I have been this way for days. My problem is that I can do activities, running, yoga, walking but often “pay for it”afterward. I don’t really understand how much this is to do with life post-PTSD, if at all because you never fully recover from PTSD, but you learn to manage with what you have. Maybe it’s middle age. Maybe I do too much or just can’t tell when I am doing too much. I am pig-headed. When I see a sunny forecast I am looking at maps and bus timetables and planning my next walk. OK. A word about bus timetables. The ones for Gower are very confusing. The ones for the Swansea (including Limeslade, Caswell and Pennard Cliffs) are great. I understood them. The buses ran frequently. Once you get past Pennard Cliffs and change bus companies, however, the timetable becomes impenetrable. I have spent hours looking at the little rows of numbers and columns of place names trying work out how they connect or don’t. I have woken up in the night worrying how I am going to complete this coastal walk. It seems that I can get to several of the places I want to go in the morning OK; Oxwich, Rhossili, Llangennith (if I can get to the bus stop at 7.40am). It’s the coming back that’s a much dodgier affair. There seems to be one bus in the late afternoon. Maybe. If I have downloaded the correct timetable from the internet as there often seem to be several versions and I am not sure when one is the one the bus drivers will be using (see my earlier blog for my rant about lack of tourist or bus information.in Swansea). Part of the problem is that I am trying to get to places outside the main tourist season June-August when there are slightly more buses running. Maybe this wouldn’t matter if I knew that I could walk 20 miles in a day, or 11 miles, but so far I have only done 3 or 4 miles and found them pretty tiring. So this is a long-winded way of saying that I have broken my rules. Just to remind you. They are:- 1. Travel in a clockwise direction around the Gower coast 2. Travel by public transport and by foot. 3. Walk on sunny days. So Rule No. 2. I’ll fess up. For some parts of the coastal walk, I got in my car and drove to the places that I was struggling to figure out the public transport links for. That was until Ceri from woman walking blog recommended traveline.com to me.
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Map of Oxwich Bay
Rule 1. Clockwise direction? Not always. This particular walk was done in two parts. The first from Tor Bay in a westerly direction (with both human and canine company) on a breezy, sunny day but the second part was done from Oxwich (alone) in an easterly and thus anti-clockwise direction (and looped back to my car). It wasn’t very sunny. So I broke all the rules on that day. It didn’t feel good but nevermind. I’m just doing it badly. It’s a coping strategy. I came across it recently. The thinking goes, if you are paralyzed by anxiety and a fear of failure: “Just Do It, Badly.”Once the summer bus timetable is action, perhaps I’ll be a perfectionist and do it “properly”. We’ll see. I’ll pick up from last week’s blog about Three Cliffs Bay. The climb up from western side of Three Cliffs Bay itself is pretty tiring as its very sandy but the view at the top is worth every bit of the struggle.
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Top of the Cliffs above Pennard Pill
At the top is an Iron Age fort. The Iron Age was a very long time ago – about 2,500 years.  It has a fantastic view of Three Cliffs Bay (the ramparts are covered in primroses). Following the coastal path around the very windy edge of the cliffs, you eventually reach around the top of Great Tor and Tor Bay below.
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Path around Cliff Tops
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The Spine of Great Tor
At low tide Tor Bay can be reached by walking along the beach from Three Cliffs Bay in the east and also from Oxwich Bay in the west, but at high tide the sea cuts off the little bay. It then can only be reached by a path down from the cliffs. This path is very sandy at the bottom end making it considerably easier to walk down than up it! This is a detour and not part of the coastal path walk!
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Down to Tor Bay
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Empty Beach at Tor Bay
It was a windy day and the clouds and their shadows were racing across the sands. It was really delightful watching the light and colours change on the cliffs tops and beach. We saw only three people and one day on this mid-week walk.
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Light and shadows  on Great Tor
My two canine companions Biddy and Mitzy had a great time, especially when they found something really stinky to roll in, on top of Little Tor. There were streaks of “it” in their coats. Like brown dog-highlights. Urgh! It smelt really bad even out in the fresh air, despite a dip in the sea. It was even worse in close quarters in the car home. Needless to we drove with the windows open and they were bathed as soon as they got through the front door with lots of lovely dog shampoo.
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My walking companions (the ones with 4 legs are smelly)
On the path above Tor Bay is a curious stone building with two archways going nowhere. A useful shelter if you are caught out in the rain or in a hail storm was we were a few months back. It’s actually a lime kiln. Gower is dotted with these buildings in which which limestone was burnt or calcined to produce quicklime.
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The Lime Kiln
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Lime Kiln (Close Up)
The path then undulates along the headland until it reaches little five bar wooden gate with a wonderful view of Nicholston Burrows (dunes) and Oxwich Bay on the other side.
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Oxwich Bay & Nicholaston Burrows
The path continues until you are given the choice of carrying on down through the woods on the right on down to the sandy beach on the left. I took the long sandy path through the dunes down to the beach, the smell of the sea calling me all the way. If the tide is out you can then loop left round to Tor Bay or right and walk along Oxwich Bay. Oxwich Bay is a wide expanse of water and sand. It’has a sandy beach which is about 2 1/2 miles long, flanked by sand dunes, patterned by a maze of tracks. Beyond the dunes lie lakes, woodlands, salt and freshwater marshes. Apparently, it’s rare to have so many different habitats in such a relatively small area in the UK. They are all part of the Oxwich nature reserve. The beach and the dunes are bisected by Nicholaston Pill, a small river that flows out from the marshland and reeds. I’d forgotten that there’s a little wooden bridge over the river, tucked away in the dunes. There was a middle-aged couple sitting on the sand dunes with their dog. I stopped and we had a long chat, in which we discussed in quick succession; the weather, buses, Cardiff, Swansea’s one-way traffic system, the council, the Slip Bridge and buses again.
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Some very large flotsam
Eventually, after a very long walk on soft sand, past much flotsam, I reach the end of the beach. There lies the village of Oxwich. In summer this is a very busy beach.  This is the second largest beach on the Gower peninsula after Llangennith. There is a large car park, a flat beach, a cafe, and toilets so it’s rather popular with visitors, apparently, an incredible a quarter of million of them each year! There are several caravan parks within walking distance too. When we first came to Gower we used to come here and I once attempted to surf here. It didn’t go well as I paddled too far out and got scared.
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Oxwich Bay Hotel
Set just a step back from the beach is the Oxwich Bay Hotel. It is an imposing building, its steeply pitched tiled roof reminding me of French architecture for some reason. The tiny village Oxwich lies on a road leading inland from the sea. That because this was not a fishing village. It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the woodland areas of Oxwich were quarried for limestone and exported, using Oxwich bay as a small port.  So the cottages of Oxwich were once the homes of the local quarrymen. At the start of the Napoleonic Wars, in which Britain declared war on France, the Royal Navy was forcibly “recruiting”, or press-ganging, men from communities situated along the British coast. This included the Gower coastline. Late one Thursday evening in October 1803, the HM Press Gang called at Oxwich and took 5 sailors, one of whom was a ship’s boy, who had happened to come ashore from a merchant vessel. Once upon a time, all the houses in Oxwich would have been thatched. Now few are except the cottage that has gained fame for being the place the Methodist Minister, John Wesley once stayed in 1764. It was known as the “Nook”. The well-traveled Wesley was impressed by the people of Oxwich as he noted in his diary that “all the people talk English, and are in general, the most plain, loving people in Wales’. There is no pub in Oxwich and it has been suggested that the influence of John Wesley may have had a bearing here!
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John Wesley’s Cottage, Oxwich
So I broke the rules (including the staying on the official coastal path one) but I have made it past my “block”.  I have had to pay the price as must have walked for about 5 miles on the sand. Hence the very stiff calves. Maybe, next time I will take the woodland walk! I did it badly today but I did it. Next time I will walk Oxwich Head and experience mild peril.
Painting of Great Tor, Gower, Gower Walk