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Walking the Gower Coast: Pwll Du and Hunts Bay

In my last blog I quoted Welsh Historian and writer Wynford Vaughn Thomas, who called the Gower Peninsula “a secret people hug to themselves”. Brandy Cove may well be the secret that the people of Bishopston “hug to themselves” because it’s a short walk down a lane from the village for them, but the secluded Pwll Du Bay is much bigger secret as it is only accessible to the public on foot, horseback or bike. Yet, its just along the coast from Brandy Cove.

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Brandy Cove from the Coastal Path

There are two coastal paths you can take here, the one that hugs the coast gets quite difficult in places (so bad you have to use all fours to get up one bit I seem to remember) so I took the path that trails further inland and higher, hoping it would be less arduous.

I checked on my map to make sure that this was a legitimate path, this time. Yes, there are two paths.

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I have to retrace my steps back up the path back towards Bishopston and then take the path through a field and up into some woods.

There is no sea in sight but I trust the map (and I have walkers going up this path so must led somewhere good).

Once I cross the field and enter woodland, the lands rises but fortunately there are a series of steps cut into the earth. These steps are a godsend as well used paths easily become quagmires, even in what seem to be relatively dry conditions (as is the case with the woodland path around Oxwich Head) .

The step are like a my very own Gower-workout. I have to pause three quarters of the way up, I pretend to myself its to check the view, but really it’s to catch my breath.  At the top there is a wooden stile with a helpful yellow arrow signposting the fact that this is a an official path although not the coastal path. As I come out of the woods and onto the top of headland and I am rewarded with a fantastic view of Brandy Cove and Caswell to the east of me and Pwll Du Cove to the west.

I think about stopping to eat a jam sandwich and a chocolate biscuit but it’s starting to cloud over a bit so I decide to press on to Pwll Du in the hope that it will still be sunny when I get there. Once I cross another stile the path becomes wide enough for 4×4 vehicles. This track is not open to the public.

Once upon a time this track was a lot busier as this was part of the only route between South Gower and Swansea. As I round the corner, Pwll Du Bay comes into sight.

Pwll Du
Pwll Du Bay

Pwll Du, means “Black Pool” in English. I have puzzled over how to convey how the name it sounds (as I am not a Welsh speaker), you can either go to google translate and type in “Pwll Du” and then click on the little speaker icon or accept my shoddy anglo-approximation of “Poulff-Dee” which does not really do justice to the breathy Welsh pronunciation.  I’d welcome other people’s suggestions. I sit down by the river in the sun to eat my “elevenses” which consisted of two jam sandwiches and two chocolate biscuits. The healthy banana was left for later.

Anyway, Pwll Du is a bit of a puzzle. Here’s what looks like a little Brigadoon in the the middle of nowhere that is very difficult to get to.  In Pwll Du. There are three houses, and as you walk into the Bay, you pass another house on the right that has been abandoned.

Part of the answer is in the seclusion of the place. Like Brandy cove, this was a good place for smugglers to bring ashore wines, spirits and tobacco. This carried on in the 17th and 18th century until Prime Minister William the Younger slashed the sky high duties on tea, wine, spirits and tobacco and taxed things like bricks and tiles but also things that rich people liked such as gold and silver plate, men’s hats, ladies’ ribbons, perfumes, hair powder, horses and carriages, sporting licences and most famously, light, or rather windows. If you have ever wondered why the Georgians like to brick up window, it was a form a tax avoidance! The other part of the reason why a tiny community grew up here was lies in the the rocks; The limestone.

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The limestone quarry was to the right of the houses

Pwll Du Bay was ideal, it was made of limestone and had easy access by sea. Limestone was quarried here on a massive scale and up top 30 ships could be moored in the bay at any one time. These thirsty visitors were enough to sustain at least two public houses, “The Ship” and “The Beaufort”. There are suggestions that there may have been as many a 5 pubs in the valley! The abandoned house I passed may have been either ‘The Bull’ or ‘The Star’ and a pub called the ‘New Inn’ apparently lay some way up the valley on the Swansea side of the river . The two pubs on the beach were later converted into tea rooms but are now both private houses. The Ship Cottage can be rented as a holiday cottage.

Pwwl Du’s seclusion also meant that during the Second World War some of the several German submarines that secretly sailed up the Bristol Channel used to surface, under the cover of night, to collect fresh water from Pwll Du. Apparently,  but no one actually saw them doing this so it may just be a good story.

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Ship Cottage, Pwll Du

Pwll Du Bay is a sand beach smothered in pebbles and is a popular destination for local secondary schools’ Geography field trips. There were two schools here when I visited.

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Field work in action

The river that snakes its way down the wooded Bishopston valley seems to be get swallowed up by the pebbles. This is quite odd. I think that this might be what the geography students might be studying. There is a tiny footbridge that crosses the river before it vanishes under the pebbles. I love the wrought iron flourishes that make me wonder if they used to be someone’s garden gate in a former life.

Crossing the Bridge at Pwll Du
Crossing the Bridge at Pwll Du

Once I had crossed the little bridge I climbed up another steep path with those Gower-steps cut into the earth.

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At the top of the path is a holiday cottage – there is a choice here either carry on the road for a slightly shorter walk or follow the coastal in a large loop around the top of Pwll Du Head, called High Pennard. This used to be an iron age fort and is one of the highest headlands on the Gower. Here the Gower-steps are surrounded by delightful posies of primroses.

The view is well worth stopping for. To the east is Pwll Du Bay (below left) and to the east looks towards Pennard Cliff and Cefn Bryn, which is the name of that russet sandstone ridge off in the distance (below right). Just below you, looking towards Pwll Du, is a cliff known as Graves End. Its called that because its near where a ship called ‘The Caesar’ was wrecked in 1760. Its a very sad story because many of those on board who drowned had not chosen to become sailors but had become “press-ganged” . In other words, they were kidnapped by the navy and forced the serve on the ship. We know that some men from Port Eynon were recruited in this way and “press-ganging” was an occupational hazzard for all young men who lived and worked near the coast. Tragically,  when “The Caesar” sank , many of the press-gang men were locked below deck and so died when the ship hit the rocks. They were buried in a mass grave at Graves End.

If you follow the road, you pass this cottage with old fishing nets and buoys in the garden.

 

On the otherside of High Pennard is Deep Slade, or Hunts Bay. This is a bay I hadn’t visited before this coastal venture. Day trippers are discouraged from driving up this way by “Private Road” signs. Apparently, it was once a sandy beach, but the sand has pretty much gone, leaving a very rocky cove. The loss of sand has been blamed on sand dredging in the Bristol Channel.

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Hunts Bay at High Tide

It was at this stage in my walk I decided I needed to answer the call of nature. There seemed to absolutely no one around. So leaving my rucksack by the road I clambered over a five-bar gate and got behind a suitable hedge. Of course, it was at this moment I hear the clip clopping of a horse and after a few moment a rider (female, thankfully) comes by. She can see my bag and she’s craning her neck to see what I am doing. Drat. I feel very silly. After a moment’s pause I wave to her and shout out to her that I am answering the call of nature (those were not my actual words but you get the idea). This seems to satisfy her and thankfully, she moves on. I wait awhile before I clamber back over the gate. Fortunately, she’s long gone by then!

It’s a ten minute walk to Pennard Cliffs and the bus but I’ll describe this part of the Gower Coast in my next post.

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From High Tor

 

 

 

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Walking the Gower Coast: Caswell Bay & Brandy Cove

After my adventures on my first walk along (or rather off) the coastal path from Limeslade to Caswell, I was left with legs that were covered with scratches from the sleeping-beauty-brambles that smothered the path I was stupidly trying follow. I didn’t discover these until later on that day when I was in the bath. I looked down at my legs and marveled at all the scratches that I didn’t realise were there. I had walked just under 3 miles but I was very tired and very stiff the next day. My toes hurt, my legs were stiff and my back ached from carrying my rucksack.  The going up and down hills is more arduous that you’d think.

Caswell Map

It took a weekend’s rest and a sunny forecast to tempt me out again. It was the spring Equinox. The day when light and dark are balanced before the days lengthen into spring. I got up earlier this time and caught the 9.20am 2C bus on Oystermouth Road to Caswell. The same bus driver from my first bus trip to Limeslade was driving this bus.

Unlike the bus to Limeslade that snaked all around the houses Langland before it reached its destination, the bus to Caswell is pretty direct, travelling through the villages of Mumbles and up a hill into Newton then before the long descent  of Caswell Road, past the Summercliffe Chalet park with its very expensive chalets (£150K to buy one, if you are asking). There are some very different chalets nearby, tucked away in the woods and easily missed. These chalet fields are Holtsfield and Owensfield.  They started as holiday huts but became permanent homes after families were bombed out of their homes during the second World War.

At the bottom of the hill is the beach. Caswell is a very popular beach with locals and tourists alike. In the summer the car park fills up and  if you leave too late in the day, they close the car park and you just cannot get in!

After School
After School

When I arrived at Caswell the tide has just turned. High tides make a big difference to how much beach there is here and all along the Gower coast. This is because the Bristol Channel has the second-highest tidal range in the world. The low tides expose vast stretches of golden sands while the high tides flood the bays create cozy bays of sheltered water. When the tide is out there is more than enough beach for everyone.

This morning, however, the high water meant that Caswell Bay was cut into two small bays.

So why are there two bays at Caswell? Apparently it because there are two neighbouring faults, one along Caswell Valley (beneath the car park) and another directly under that ugly block of apartments behind the western arm of the Bay.  At the foot of the western cliff (called Redley Cliff) runs a small brook, which starts at nearby spring.  In the past water from this stream was stored in a massive concrete cistern and supplied to the houses of the bay by gravity-feed from a wind-pump situated on the top of the cliff. You can just about make out the windmill on the top left hand-side of the old postcard below.

OLD CASWELL BAY

We have a wonderful insight into what Caswell used to look like in the mid-19th century, thanks to photography pioneer, John Dillwyn Llewelyn. John was what you might call a Victorian playboy scientist. He was very rich did not have a “proper job”. His father Lewis Weston Dillwyn managed the family-owned Cambrian Pottery in Swansea. This meant he was in the very lucky position of being able to pursue his interests in science, botany and astronomy full-time. John’s wife, Emma, was the cousin of pioneer photographer William Henry Fox Talbot and this clearly inspired John to take up this new science. John actually became a one of the most important amateur photographers in the 1850s and he took photographs of the holiday home, Caswell Cottage, he built at Caswell.

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Caswell Cottage

He was also an inventor of new techniques. One of his innovations was a camera shutter that allowed him to capture the movement of waves at Caswell at approximately 1/25th of a second.

 

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Redcliffe Appartmments

These photographs of an unspoilt Caswell make me sad because in the 1960s the local planning authority decided that this beautiful bay would be “improved” by the knocking down Caswell Cottage to make a car park and also knocking down Redcliffe House (once home to the family of Dylan Thomas’s poet friend Vernon Watkins) to build the brutalist-style Redcliffe apartment block. As my husband says, “I like 60s’ architecture, but it’s like an office block has been randomly dropped into the countryside”. This makes painting nice paintings of the bay difficult because the 1960s block, in my opinion, is not very pretty. It might be great to live in, with lovely views, but its not great to look at, or paint.

 

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Bay House, Caswell

Still, at least we are still left with the handsome Bay House. Three sisters Emma, Agnes and Alice Morgan built and lived in this house in 1877. The sisters also planted many of the bay’s distinctive pine trees.

If you look closely at the photo to the right you may well be able to spot a helicopter. This house is currently owned by the flamboyant boss of the Welsh supermarket chain “CK’s” who is a keen helicopter pilot. He’s got into trouble a few years ago when he flew his helicopter into Heathrow airspace and caused a security alert. In Chris Kiley’s defense he was late for lunch at a nearby country house, and although he’d been given directions he didn’t have coordinates! Its seems that he’s gone off living Caswell because the house is up for sale for £2.5 million (that’s around $3.5 million dollars).

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Bay House, Caswell Bay

Today, the tide was in, so I had to walk along the road, to find the coastal path. Usually I’d walk across the beach and climb up the cliff path, which is what I did in 2016 (see photos below).

I decided to take the higher path and this time I was determined to follow the map. I find it hard to follow instructions, I don’t know whether its my sense of curiosity, laziness or plain stupidity that makes me think I know a better way. Mind you, looking at my Pathfinder Guide, I realise why I find it so difficult. Although the maps are useful, the rest of the page is pretty much solid text, no gaps, bullet points, paragraphs, so its difficult to follow. No wonder I just look at the maps!

Not today. My coastal path map (picked up for free from one of those information points in Swansea) has no instructions just a big map on both sides of the page. That suits me just fine. The map tells me that the path joins the road further up the hill so I start walking. This road, however, does not have a pavement for pedestrians for much of its length so I have to keep stepping back onto a narrow grass verge when cars pass by.

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View From Bay House’s Driveway

Eventually, towards the top of the road I find the path and follow it although it did not feel very “coastal”. In fact the path takes a short cut across Redley Cliff and down a long flight of steps cut into the earth to Brandy Cove. I love going down steps like these.

The woods on the way from Bishopston to Brandy Cove inspired an early painting of mine; Brandy Cove Stile (see below).

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Brandy Cove Stile

Writer Wynford Vaughn Thomas called the Gower Peninsula “a secret people hug to themselves”. Brandy Cove is bit of a secret places in Gower because you can only get here on foot. You can walk down narrow lanes and paths from Bishopston village or via the coastal path. It is a little cove that is made of mostly pebbles and rocks at high tide but at low tide looks very different as golden sands stretch out into the Bristol Channel. Its a lovely place to swim in the summer and usually deserted.

I had read somewhere that it used to be known as Hareslade. All the locals call it Brandy Cove, however, thanks to the pirates/smugglers who used to maraud the length of the Bristol Channel and unload their illegal tobacco and alcohol goods here during the eighteenth century. Think Ross Polark with a Welsh accent and you’d be about right.

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Brandy Cove at Low Tide

In the 19th century Brandy Cove was later home to a silver and lead mine, although mining had probably taken place in this area in Roman times.

Maime StuartOne of the mine shafts was put to a much darker used in the early part of the 20th century when the dismembered body of Mamie Stuart were dumped by her murderer. Mamie, from Sunderland in the industrial North East of England, was dubbed a “chorus girl” by the local press. She had been used to a life on the stage but she’d given that that up and married Cardiff-born George Shotton in 1918 and moved to Swansea. The marriage was mistake. It was a very unhappy one and Mamie wrote to her parents complaining that her new husband beat her. After these complaints they heard no more from her. She vanished.

Her suitcase turned up in a Swansea hotel. Despite a national serach, she was never heard of again. It turned out that there was already a Mrs Shotton who was living in Cardiff with a daughter. George did 18 months’ “hard labour” in prison for bigamy, but the cad got away with murder because by the time her remains were discovered in Brandy Cove in 1961, he had been dead three years. Poor Mamie.

In my next post I carry on and visit one of Gower “hidden” villages and visit a Gower bay that many people have never heard of.

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Brandy Cove

 

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Walking the Gower Coast: Mumbles

Mumbles

I love looking at maps. I have been gazing at the map of coastal path around Gower for days now. The Peninsula juts out westwards into the Bristol Chanel. Its about 17 miles in length and 8 miles width at its widest point. I am planning to walk around its coastline, approximately 38 miles in length, maybe a bit less. I am, however, going to start with a map of Swansea Bay. People who have never been to Swansea make jokes about the place as if its somewhere to avoid. Quite the opposite. The hilly city sits alongside the sparkling sea and beautiful sandy five-mile beach.
Swansea Bay
Swansea Bay
I have decided to illustrate this series of post with my paintings and with (mostly) my own photographs. The paintings have been completed in recent years, some as a result of this trek, other are older. The photos are mostly from 2018 but a few are from my 2016 attempt to walk the Gower coast. I started my first attempt at Mumbles in 2016.
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Photo Credit: Gower Flight Centre
The pretty Victorian village of Mumbles sits at the far end of the western arm of Swansea Bay. This is where my journey around the Gower coast begins.
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Round Mumbles Bend
Mumbles was originally a fishing village. It did not catch fish but rather, oysters. It was, for a time, a thriving industry. Part of Mumbles is known as Oystermouth and many people often use the two names interchangeably to mean the same place.
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The Strange Afternoon (Mumbles & Oystermouth Castle)
Many people often associate South Wales with coal mining, and coal was certainly vital in locating the copper industry in nearby Swansea. It was the need for limestone, however, that changed Mumbles’ fortunes. Limestone was used as a fertilizer, in steel making, pharmaceuticals, and also as a construction aggregate (in other words, gravel).
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Tide’s In (Mumbles)
Mumbles was made of limestone and that fact brought the modern world to the front door of this tiny fishing village in 1804 when the Oystermouth railway line was built in order to transport limestone from the quarries of Mumbles to Swansea Docks. This track was the world first passenger line, the Swansea and Mumbles Railway, carrying at first horse-drawn carriages, and later steam locomotives.
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Mumbles Pier from Knab Rock
The trains also brought many day trippers for a time. The railway is now long gone, closed in 1960, but there remains a sturdy promenade that runs along the sea front where the trains used to run. Locals and visitors alike still love to walk its length and admire the spectacular view across the sweep of Swansea Bay.
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Afternoon Stroll in Mumbles
The promenade runs up to Verdis, a popular ice-cream parlour and thence to the Mumbles Pier. The Victorian pier was built in the last years of the 19th century and was the last stop for the Railway. Here tourists could catch a paddle steamers for a tour along the River Severn and Bristol Channel. The Pier hosts a great cafe (with self-playing piano), an amusement arcade and tiny art gallery.
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Mumbles Pier
On the other side of Mumbles Head is Bracelet Bay.  Mumbles Head comprises two tidal islands. At low tide those with stout boots can walk out to the islands and look at the much-photographed lighthouse.
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Towards Mumbles Lighthouse
The octagonal lighthouse lighthouse was built in 1794 by Swansea architect William Jernegan, who also designed Singleton Abbey which later became part of Swansea University. This was the second attempt to built a lighthouse here. The first one started a few years earlier, designed by someone else, collapsed before it was even finished!
Clouds Gathering Over Mumbles Head
Gathering Clouds over Mumbles Head
This is where the real Gower coast walk begins! In my next post I puzzle over myriad bus timetables and eventually feel brave enough to leave the car behind! In the meantime here’s a cool video of a drone flying around Mumbles Head.
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Welsh Coastal Magazine

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I am delighted to have been featured in April’s edition of Welsh Coastal Magazine as part of their ongoing series “Inspirations” on contemporary artists in Wales. I have included some images but you can read the online version here.

If you would like to buy limited edition mounted prints click here.

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Walking the Gower Coast. The Rules.

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Coloured Sands at Three Cliffs Bay

One result of developing PTSD over 5 years ago is that for a long time I had limited energy. I honestly cannot tell whether my energy levels have returned to “normal” levels yet, or ever will. I find that it takes me a couple of days to recover from social events (and no, it’s not a hang-over as I don’t drink alcohol) or from traveling/visiting family or another town. Maybe, everyone my age is like, I don’t know.

I used to have ambitions or even a sort of “bucket list” of things I wanted to get round to doing, some time. I don’t much care for the term “bucket list”. If you haven’t heard about the term “bucket list”, it is a list of all the goals you want to achieve, dreams you want to fulfill and life experiences you desire to experience before you die. Here was mine.

  1. Learn to surf
  2. Learn to Meditate
  3. Walk the coastline of Gower
  4. Run a marathon
  5. Walk the pilgrimage route to Santiago del Compostela
  6. Visit Japan

I did learn to surf and I was very keen for a while, but I was never terribly good at it. I also once went on a 10-day meditation course. There was no talking for 10 days. Strangely, that was the easy part. I was running 20-25 miles on a weekly basis when my life took a swift left turn and everything ground to a halt in 2012. I am still active but I don’t run very far at all these days. I know I won’t be able to run a marathon unless I gave up everything else and just trained, ate and slept. There would be no energy left over for painting and making a living, so that’s out of the window. I cant afford to travel, not at the moment so it’s going to have to be number 3.Walk the coastline of Gower.

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I have a curiosity about exploring the whole coastline of Gower. I know and love certain parts of it very well, such as Three Cliffs Bay. As a painter of the Gower peninsula there are parts that I have visited and painted many times. However, there are also parts I have not visited for years, and a few places I have never visited. I did plan and start to walk the Gower coast in 2016, but it all came to a halt as I tried to cope with the repercussions of being made redundant from my teaching post where I had worked since 1999.

So start again. Here are my rules

  1. Travel in a clockwise direction around the Gower coast
  2. Travel by public transport and by foot.
  3. Walk on sunny days.
  4. Erm, that’s it.

I will document the walk with photos, sketches, and paintings. However, I am nervous about this. The big challenge for me will be in terms of my energy levels. The whole coastline is something like 38 miles long and I know I will have to divide that up into many short walks that will be very tiring for me. I will probably need a week to recover in between walks. I am nervous that I won’t have the determination to finish this, or something will happen to put me off, such as in 2016 when I got part way through in 2016 and gave up. I hate not finishing things.

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Coast Watch Station, Rhosilli

It will also be challenging for me mentally. When I was younger, I did many brave things on my own. I traveled around the UK and spoke at Academic conferences, I even traveled to Texas very soon after I passed my driving test and drove a hire car. The PTSD has had the result of reducing my life and what I do, either because I get tired or because I am fearful. PTSD means that my brain goes into anxiety mode very easily. My head will worry about the coming back before I have even left the house.  I will convince myself that none of the buses will arrive and I will be stranded in the wilds of the Gower and have to sleep under a bush. Yes, it all sounds stupid when I type it, but that’s the sort of thing that keeps me awake at 3am in the morning.

So I will have to prepare well, take a load of bus timetables and set off early and challenge the fear. A few weeks ago I panicked and jumped into the sea, thinking I was about to get washed off some rocks. Bizarrely, the evidence has given me confidence. The boots and I survived. It was uncomfortable but the boots dried out on my radiator. So I will make a start this week, even if it takes months to complete the challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Waiting for the Tide

Painting of Tenby Harbour

Before I visited Tenby, on the Pembroke coast, I had this vague idea that it was something like Barry Island, on the Glamorgan coast near Cardiff. If you have never heard of Barry Island, it was a Victorian holiday destination for day trippers from Cardiff and the South Wales Valleys. It had a “Pleasure Park” with rides and lots of shops selling rock and candy floss and it also had a Butlins holiday camp but the rides and the holiday camp are long gone now. It has a nice beach but its not as popular as it used to be.

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On Tenby Harbour Beach

Well, Tenby is nothing like that. It’s tasteful, historic, and enduringly popular.  I love Tenby’s real name. That is it’s Welsh name which is “Dinbych-y-pysgod” meaning fortlet of the fish. It still describes the old town well as as it’s solid town walls still survive as well as its harbour. Its a delightful place to visit with pretty Georgian houses and two large beaches.

Tenby has a special place in my heart because in the midst of my PTSD breakdown and recovery I painted a picture of Tenby harbour.

Painting of Tenby Harbour
Tenby reflections (2013)

I was very emotionally fragile at the time and I really I enjoyed painting the pastel colours of the harbour buildings. I get a lot of pleasure from colour. Other people got pleasure from it too because it was one of the very first paintings I sold as a semi-professional artist. The collector who bought it later told me that she was going to redecorate her lounge to match the painting! I was so touched by this. I had so little confidence at the time that it meant a great deal to me. I also sold many prints this painting. As you can see I did many paintings of Tenby Harbour but I eventually moved on to other subject matters and different challenges. I particularly focused on people portraits closer to home in Swansea and paintings of Gower peninsula, closer to home.

So last month, I decided that Tenby was overdue a visit. I had been watching the weather forecast for weeks. Eventually the forecast was for a day of wall-to-wall sunshine.  The only problem was that it was very cold with a bitter wind. Never mind. I wrapped up well with thermals and two pairs of socks and got up early to catch the 7.50 train from Swansea to Tenby, arriving at 9.30.

I had set off early because I like to catch the morning light with its long shadows. I also wanted to see the harbour at high tide with the boats in the harbour. The only problem was that as soon as arrived at the harbour I could see the the sun was in the “wrong place” and most of the boats had been pulled ashore and covered up! The previous times I had visited Tenby was in the summer, later on in the day.

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Tenby – sun in “wrong place”

So, I had to wait. So did. I waited in the way I usually do, by moving. I walked and walked. In the end I walked around Tenby for 6  hours, taking photos of the shadows and the people. Despite it being mid winter it was the school mid term break in England (not in wales) and Tenby was full of families, wrapped up, despite the biting wind, and enjoying the sunshine.

I had chips for lunch watched by three beady-eyed seagulls and a chocolate ice-cream. I had to think about that as it was so cold but in the end I gave in had one – it was delicious.  I had intended to catch the 1.40 pm train back to Swansea but i could see that the light was changing and I knew that it was low tide at 4pm so I tried and waited some more. I walked up the habour walked and climbed half way down the steps to take photos of the four or so boats that were in the harbour. It was strange waiting for the tide and light because they eventually changed faster than I thought they would. All of a sudden the tide had retreated far enough for me to walk out into the harbour and take photos of the reflections. Bingo. This was what I was after.

Tenby Harbor
Retreating Tide

And then, almost miraculously the tide revealed the sandbanks on the far side of the harbour, by the end of the harbour wall and I could gingerly climb down some seaweed-covered steps and see the harbour in it’s full glory. I don’t think I took off my fingerless gloves once in Tenby, and I did appreciate the heating on the little train back home. I just made the 4.40 pm train back to Swansea and get home in daylight.

Tenby Harbour at Low Tide
Tenby Harbour at Low Tide
Painting of Tenby Harbour
Waiting for the Tide

My day in Tenby was all about patience and waiting for things beyond my control.  Looking at this, my most recent painting of Tenby harbour I can see how much my work has changed, and hopefully how much I have recovered from those incredibly difficult times back in 2012-13. The painting is much larger and calmer and more confident than any of those I painted before. Large paintings, almost by definition require confidence. The winter tones are less vivid than the summer ones, despite the bright winter sunshine. I will be back for the summer light.

See my coastal paintings for sale here

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Anatomy of a commission

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Hudson the Poodle

Here’s Hudson the black poodle. He’s a handsome chap. I was asked to paint a picture of him. Pretty straight forward, eh?

Well, the challenge was that the commission required that Hudson was to be portrayed not in this rural idyll but in New York City, waiting outside Malecon coffee shop where his owner popped by every morning for her coffee. Hudson is one of those super cool dogs that will just wait. He does not need to be tied up.

 

I was provided with a couple of photographs of the said restaurant but there were a couple of issues that needed dealing with. Take a look.

Firstly, there were signs and bicycles in the way of the front of the shop. There was no clear view. So I googled the restaurant in the hope that I might find some more useful photographs online.

Several photos of Malecon restaurants in different locations in NYC. The second problem is that Hudson in the original photos was sitting in grass and I could not see what sort of tail he has and what happens to it when he sits down, whether he tucks it under or not. So I searched for some poodles images. Did he have a long or short tail?

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Hudson sitting on the lawn

So I spent a morning using a photo editing program called Gimp (an open source version of Photoshop) and adding poodle tails, taking out bicycles and playing around with compositions.

I finally decided that I lived the photo with the lit interior best. I thought the lights would make a more interesting image. I had a problem deciding where to place the dog as he was black and would not stand out against the dark background. Initially I placed him to one side in front of the plant container but finally settled on in the foreground so that he was the main focus of the picture.

So I send this final image to the customer to check that she’s happy with the composition and I have the right sort of tail for Hudson before I make a start painting. I also got her to agree to a rectangular canvas, rather than a square one, that way I could fit the dog and all of the shop front in easily.

My final problem is that I added a shadow to the dog to give the picture a more dynamism but there were few, if any shadows in the photos I had. I so searched the internet again for reference images.

 

So I did a lot of thinking about the likely direction of shadow that the awning would likely cast and the length of the shadow, drawing lines on the image I’d sent to the customer. So once, I decided on these things and also kept in mind the information I had in the original photos I got started. I began with the letters of the restaurant name as I this was the element that I was most concerned to get right. Once I had painted these in, I relaxed and enjoyed the work. As I was using a small canvas (41 x 33 cm) it was easy to turn and paint upside-down, side to side as well as right side up. Overall, allowing for dying times, the work was done over three days.

This is what I painted.

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Hudson, New York

If you are interested in finding out more about a commission, click here

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International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is a worldwide event that celebrates women’s achievements – from the political to the social – while calling for gender equality. Its roots can be traced to 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding voting rights, better pay and shorter working hours. The first time there was an a “Women’s Day” it was a year later, on February 28, 1909 in New York. March 8 was suggested by the 1910 International Woman’s Conference (attended by more than 100 women from 17 countries) to become an “International Woman’s Day.” In 1911, it was celebrated for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on March 19. In 1913, it was decided to transfer IWD to March 8, and it has been celebrated on that day ever since.

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Frauen Tag 1914

After women gained the vote in Soviet Russia in 1917, March 8 became a national holiday there. It was also celebrated by the communists in China from 1922, and after founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Mao Zedong declared that ‘women hold up half the sky’ and March 8 was made an official holiday and women were given a half-day off. One can help but wonder that if it had been a international Men’s Day they’d have been given a whole day off! IWD  was finally adopted by the United Nations in 1975.

The original aim – to achieve full gender equality for women the world – has still not been realised. A gender pay gap persists across the globe and women are still not present in equal numbers in business or politics. Figures show that globally, women’s education, health and violence towards women is still worse than that of men.

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Former Cricketers

In Swansea there will be an exhibition of Swansea-based female artists’ work at Cinema & Co. It is meant to show case the work of female artists, myself included. My painting “Former Cricketers” (above) is included. It is from my “Hollowed Community” project which focused on theme of declining community and the lack of sustainability (that means families with children) in areas such as Brynmill in Swansea due to (pretty much) unchecked studentification. The exhibitions will run from March 8th to 20th. There is an opening event on Thursday March 8th 6 pm to 8.30 pm. There will be performances, paintings, films and some “extra surprises”.

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If you want to read more about the “Hollowed Community” project click here.

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Time to Call it a Night?

I woke up a bit earlier than I usually do this morning. It was just before dawn. The night was no longer inky black but had a bluish tinge to it. The light has been changing ever since. Now it is mauve. It will lighten until the light is pinkish, then finally white. Throughout the course of the winter I have been used to waking in the dark and waiting for the sun to rise. No so much recently. The days are lengthening noticeably. Instead  of night arriving unexpected at 4 o’clock it now holds off about tea time. This gradual lengthening of the day has a natural rhythm and logic.

The sudden arrival of British Summer Time (BST) or Daylight Saving Time (DST) when the clocks are turned forward an hour in late March does not. It feels like we are catapulted into the summer with more light than we know what to do with. I find it odd that I am sad at the arrival of BST because all that extra daylight means I can paint for longer. I should be happy. I am happy but the abrupt lengthening of the day feels  wrong. The “loss” of an hour is also tiring. It’s much worse in the autumn. Instead of easing into winter we are hurled into the darkness. Others feel this way too.

The EU is debating this right now. There have been calls for the European Commission to launch a “full evaluation” of the current system and come up with new plans, if necessary. In Europe, currently, EU law sets a common date in spring and autumn on which clocks must be put forward and back by one hour in all 28 member states. Supporters of the DST say it saves energy and reduces traffic accidents but critics argue it can cause long-term health problems and studies have generally failed to show significant energy savings associated with the shift.

Blue Hour on Uplands
Blue Hour on Uplands

They hate it in Finland. More than 70,000 Fins (out of 5.5 million) signed a petition asking the state to give up the practice. French MEP Karima Delli argued that moving clocks forward to summer time left people tired and led to increased accidents”Studies that show an increase in road accidents or sleep trouble during the time change must be taken seriously”, the French MEP said, adding that estimated energy savings were “not conclusive”. Belgian lawmaker Hilde Vautmans, however, said that changing daylight saving could mean either losing an hour of daylight every day for seven months in summer or sending children to school in the dark for five months over winter.

Night Walks
Night Walks

I was surprised that the USA also uses DST. I assumed that with so many time zones, nine, that they would not have wanted the added complication of DST.  It was introduced during the Second World War and most mainland states areas still have DST except Arizona (although the Navajo have DST on tribal lands). Many studies have been done in the US that show the negative effects of the biannual shift to DST. Losing that hour’s sleep in spring affects health; strokes and heart attacks are more likely, there are more traffic accidents and it affects relationships, tiredness causes more arguments.

Night on Oakwood Road
Night on Oakwood Road

Interestingly, one big country has tried life without DST. In 2011 Russia   (who have on less than 11 time zones in their massive country) first tried clocks on year-round summer time but that proved unpopular then in 2014 switched to permanent winter time or “standard time”. Russian MPs said permanent summer time had created stress and health problems, especially in northern Russia where mornings would remain darker for longer during the harsh winter months. However, I have yet to discover whether the return to permanent “winter time” is popular with the Russian people.

So if I want to avoid this biannual lurch forward and back in the day, I can move to Russia, Arizona or one of the other 70 countries that don’t bother with it including Japan, India, and China.

Night Falls on Uplands
Night Falls on Uplands
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Gower Woodland Walks

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The Ford at Ilston    Limited edition signed mounted print £45

It’s still winter here in on the Gower peninsula, Wales. However, the days are starting to get noticeably longer. Instead of night arriving at 4pm, now on a clear day it doesn’t go dark until 5.30-ish.  There are more sunny days now too. It’s still very cold, but sunny. Spring is round the corner. Nature has taken note. Tiny snow drops gather in little crowds along the river bank where we often walk in the woods near the ancient Ilston village in Gower. I can also see sturdy green shoots pushing their way up through the mud. Hundreds of them. There is lots of mud as it has been a very wet winter. The path is inaccessible unless you are wearing Wellington Boots (“Wellies”).

The stream is full and rushes across the Ford at Ilson. You have to be very early to catch the sunlight on the water here. For most of the day it is in shadow. I really like painting the woodlands in spring.  Before the leaves have comes out there is still lots of light on the ground and reflecting on the water. Even when the bright green leaves pop out there is still plenty of light in the early morning light. Every time I visit the woods the light is different. The plants and flowers change. The blossoms will go through nature’s spectrum: white, yellow, blue and white again. The snow drops will be replaced by clumps of small yellow daffodils and primroses, then by the violet bluebells and finally by a thick carpet of white wild garlic. They each make a fantastic and hurried show before the foliage of the beech trees casts heavy shadows throughout the woods in May.

A Bridge in Ilston Cwm
Bridge at Ilston Cwm    Limited edition signed mounted print £45

For a fantastic map of Gower click here.

If you are interested in seeing more, prints of my Gower Woodland landscape paintings can be found here  or double click on any of the images in the gallery below.

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