Saturday 27 January 2024

the Aldermaston Wharf Tea Rooms

Aldermaston Wharf is a lively spot on the Kennet and Avon Canal in Berkshire; ABC hireboats operate from there, and these rather fine tea rooms, that I've just done this picture of. There's prints of it over in my Etsy shop, and it's one of six postcards in my latest set.

Saturday 20 January 2024

ice on the canal

The last few days have been very cold; my thermometer showed a ground temperature dropping to -12C overnight. And the canal is frozen over, up to IC5-6 on the Canal Ice Scale.
But boaters need to stay warm, and not all of them can get to a coal merchant and carry sacks back to their boats. So there are fuel boats serving the canals. But the West End of the Kennet and Avon, from the bottom of the Caen Hill locks below Devizes to Bath, didn't have a working boat after the last operators stopped, last year.

So the folk at Bradford Wharf Services,* in conjunction with charity Floaty Boat, have organised fuel runs on Ishtar, crewed by volunteers. Here they are in action; they arrived here in Bathampton on Wednesday, and breasted up on my boat overnight as the light was failing.

Shortly after setting off on Thursday morning, they had to stop; the ice was just too thick. We're all waiting for the thaw now.

*this is a link for ordering fuel for your boat; there's also an option for 'paying it forward', where you can put in funds for fuel for boaters who can't afford it.

Thursday 4 January 2024

Saint Roch in the forest

Saint Roch caught the Plague while ministering to its victims in Piacenza, Italy; he retired into the forest, where a virtuous dog brought him bread and licked his sores until he was healed. So Roch ended up beatified, but nobody remembers the dog's name. Unlike Saint Guinefort, a greyhound whose story is very similar to that of the welsh dog Gelert, and who became a folk saint (that is, popular with the people, not so much with the Church).

I based Roch on a person who lived in the woods on the canalside until recently; and the dog is Bobby, another boaty neighbour's companion. I like the idea of using rather more contemporary models for saints; like my version of Melangell, who was a bit of a hunt sab in her day, but is usually portrayed a bit drippily.

Sunday 12 November 2023

the Kennet and Avon Winter Floating Fayre at Bradford on Avon

The winter fayre is fast approaching; it will take place on the weekend of 25th and 26th November, on the upper and lower wharves and the West Barn at Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire.

It's always a lively occasion, with excellent things for sale and things to do and eat.

And I'll have my new calendars there, as well as the usual maps, cards, and poetry.

Friday 10 November 2023

the Kennet and Avon Canal Wildlife Calendar 2024

Rooks at Horton Bridge (with fieldfares and a muntjac)


Fresh from the printers, here's my new calendar. Contains twelve whole months, with a wide variety of wildlife, including the beavers that have taken up residence on the Avon!

Here's what the layout looks like

And if you can't find me on my boat (I'll be at the floating Fayre in Bradford on Avon on the last weekend of November, otherwise somewhere in the wilds of Wiltshire) you can get one from Devizes Books, or my Etsy shop here

Tuesday 17 October 2023

a grass snake at Claverton

Doing the last few pictures for next year's calendar, I'm hopping to and from around the months that are left to do, rather than drawing things in the one I'm in right now, which is October, at the moment.

So here's one for April, the cruellest month according to TS Eliot. It's the pumping station at Claverton, where a water wheel operates a pump to push water up the hill into the canal. The water is pumped electrically these days, but the old system has been restored, and works sometimes for open days.

From my mooring on the Semington aqueduct, I look across the broad floodplain of the Avon and watch the autumn progress. The field of maize harvested, the rooks wheeling over the trees and dropping to pace the stubble. The deer slipping oin and out of the big field where the cattle have no escape from the frosts that have begun, and sit there looking resigned and stoical in the morning mist.

a sun dog, in there somewhere

Tuesday 5 September 2023

the Pear Tree Churches

I wanted to look at the church of St Mary the Virgin in Limpley Stoke, in the valley of the Avon between Bath and Bradford on Avon, and as I was driving by the other day, I stopped.

There's a pear tree in the north west corner of the churchyard, and I remembered someone telling me about the Pear Tree Churches around here. So it was nice to see an actual tree, with pears on.

The story goes that King Aethelred gave the Manor of Bradford to the Abbey of Shaftesbury, perhaps as expiation for his involvement in the murder of his half-brother in Corfe Castle. And the Abbess had pear trees planted on the boundary of the manor, and then chapels built to go  with the pear trees.

As stories go, it's hard to track down any record of this story beyond local anecdote, but as anecdotes go it's a nice one. And in the town of Bradford, below the chapel of St Mary Tory, is the Ladywell, formerly the town's water supply; and it's been decorated with seven pear blossoms, to indicate the seven churches within the estate; Atworth, Bradford, Holt, Limpley Stoke, South Wraxall, Winsley and Wingfield.

Anyway, here I was in the presence of the pear tree at the church of St Mary the Virgin, in Limpley Stoke, formerly dedicated to St Edith (and a pilgrim trail begins here and goes 40 miles to Wilton in Salisbury). Not the original pear tree, which would have been about a thousand years old by now. But still, unimpeachably peary.

Going in, you immediately see the original saxon door to the church, from back when it was smaller, now beached in the middle of the nave.

A memorial slab on the floor of the nave was so worn that it was hard to make out what it was; if you squint a little, you may see a manatee there.

Outside, I nibbled blackberries, while a dog walker told me that this was originally a Knights Templar place and the coffin lids in the churchyard dated from then. Not sure how reliable that gen was, tbh.

The walker followed his dog down the field and out of sight. I picked two pears and put them in my pocket to take home.