Wednesday, 19 April 2017


“He tried to get the moorings there removed” said Julian off Bimble.
Julian cuts the grass for Wiltshire Council, shifts the roadkill;
“mostly you can chuck it through the hedge, but cats and dogs
get taken in, whatever state they’re in, and logged;
someone might be missing them.”

He sails the pounds
from Hungerford to Horton, more or less, stays round
the Vale of Pewsey where he works. 

We met at dawn.
A kingfisher bashed a minnow on the branch, then darted on,
a quick blue spark against Widewater’s reeds.
“Spent thousands on the legal fees, for all the good it did.
Still, he keeps the gate locked at the top of the track;
can’t keep folk out, there’s been a path since back
before King Alfred came and met his thanes,
there on the tump. They went and beat the Danes,
way up there on the Downs. See the lane?
The winter the canal froze hard,
they had to carry coal and water down from the end.”

A buzzard circled Pickle Hill; the stockman on his quad
moved the electric fence across the field a little way,
called out in Polish for the herd to graze.

We brushed the dew off meadowsweet
and butterbur, grown shoulder high,
through which the ways to moorings had been bashed
for boats at least half hidden from the track;
Eve, Netty, Bimble, Jessie, Arran; making home
here for a few more days, then moving on.

Below the big ash, where the ground is clear,
around last night’s fire circle lay empty cans of beer 
and smoke-blacked cooking pots on half a scaffold plank.
A small child’s bicycle leaned on the bank.

Across the bridge we passed the big new house
in whose walled gravel courtyard sat a Jag.
Along the drive’s wide closely-tended verge,
rebellious moles had tumped the smooth mown grass,
and grey hairs on a strand of wire showed how
the badger made its customary way
into the pasture where, above the grazing Jacobs flock,
the tilting billboard claimed ‘we want our country back’.

I began this poem last summer, shortly after the Brexit vote. We were moored in a part of Wiltshire that is pretty much the epicentre of the places namechecked in Edward Thomas' poem Lob, one of my absolute favourite poems both of his and indeed anyone's. I've changed the name of the character in the poem to Ed as a nod in that direction, as I'm not sure whether the original chap approves of finding himself in someone else's poetry. (postscript: Julian is perfectly OK with being named, so I've changed his and his boat's names back to the proper ones!)

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

sun pillar and swallows

Here's a sun pillar, at dawn over the Kennet and Avon Canal at Sells Green in Wiltshire. It's caused by the sunlight being reflected by falling ice crystals. We were moored here for a week or so, and ticked off the waypoints of the spring as they passed us; the first willow warbler a few days ago; yesterday the first sedge warbler. And two swallows which flitted past, heading north. They are evidently making a summer somewhere else, because we've seen no more, yet.

While we're thinking of odd and beautiful things in the sky, here's a circumzenithal arc, or possibly a parahelion, caused by the light refracting through a horizontal layer of ice crystals. This was at Avoncliff on May Day last year.

...and here's a pair of sundogs, either side of the setting sun, near Lympley Stoke last winter. You can see the flooded Avon down there in the valley.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

watching stone curlews

I drove to Pewsey to pick up some prints from the gallery; it's closing down, sadly. I commiserated with Sandra and Heloise; it had been a nice gallery, and they had been very generous with their showcasing of stuff.

Returning along the Vale of Pewsey, the tops of the downs were in cloud. Near Alton Barnes a great flock of birds circled above a ploughed field. They reminded me of the great peewit flocks we got in Lancashire in my youth, though these were not peewits. I didn't recognise them, so pulled over and took some photos on maximum zoom, as they didn't show any inclination either to land or to come closer.

Stone curlews, Peter Munt says, and how could I argue? 

As I looked through the books in the Devizes Oxfam shop, the two volunteers behind the counter discussed the signing of Article 50, which would be happening at about that time. "I gave my vote to my granddaughter" said one; "she's too young to vote, but it'll affect her for a lot longer than me." Granddaughter, 13 years old, is pro-european; so her grandma voted against her own preference. I congratulated her. 

Passing the estimable Devizes Bookshop while looking for a 12V socket (as you do) I was hailed by Jo, who's just been reading a proof copy of Richard Beard's new book and is very impressed. I said I was too (just finished reading it myself, and when I get a moment, I'll be writing a review). 

Back on the boat, I was just in tine to tune in to BBC Wiltshire to hear Richard not quite manage to plug his book. Still, he does good radio.

Back to the drawing board. This little picture at the top of the page is going to be a badge; I've just got a fresh batch of 'put the bunting out' ones done, and thought it'd be nice to have a new design.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Wiltshire wildlife

This is my weekend picture; some of the flowers and beasts around Caen Hill. In the top right corner, you can see some of the locks on the Caen Flight, the staircase of locks that takes the Kennet and Avon Canal up from the Avon valley to Devizes and the Vale of Pewsey. In the distance is Roundway Hill. Creatures included are grass snake, slow worm. wood mouse, hedgehog, badger, fox, roe deer, tawny owl, pipistrelle bat. The flowers are primrose, wild garlic, bluebell, thyme, lemon balm, and foxglove.

 Now it's done, I'm having a beer and contemplating a fry-up. 

It's three years now since I committed to buying my boat, and move onto the canal. Crikey! Now, excuse me, I've got BEER to drink. 

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Idle Women

Some of the women on the Kennet and Avon canal, for International Women's Day. Because they do stuff for themselves. And they rock. (if you click on the pic it'll probably get larger. Sorry)

Sunday, 5 March 2017

not seeing goldcrests

The longer hours of daylight are making a big difference to life on the canal. I look up from my desk after a quick bout of painting, and see that it's already dawn, and the tea isn't even finished brewing.

The blackbirds and thrushes are singing away in the rain, just as they were doing in yesterday's misty start. I was out looking for bullfinches and goldcrests.

It sort of goes against my ideal of birdwatching, accepting gratefully any bird that comes along, but not actively seeking them out. But it is so nice to see these birds. Particularly goldcrests. Until recently I'd only knowingly seen one once before, when it stopped to perch on the railing next to me on the Pride of Bilbao off Ushant. 

Then six weeks ago I watched a little bird flit across the canal up into an elder tree; I casually assumed it was a wren and wondered why it was behaving slightly differently to the usual wrens, who mostly stay low. So I watched and watched, and realised what it was.

And now I know to look for them, I do keep seeing them. One regularly visits the elder tree by my boat, hunting up and down it for insects; there were two together the other morning, piping and (I guess) canoodling. It's a useful reminder that even if I think I'm walking around with my eyes wide open, I'm still missing what's right there in front of me.

The day warmed up and the sun shone bright as you like, burning off the last of the mist in the valley. The crocuses growing by my mooring rope opened out wide. Cheerful walkers lugged their rucsacs along, and hireboaters chugged by in a leisurely way, on the beer already.

Then the wind got up enough to make a swell along the canal, all of an inch high, and the tarpaulin over the front of the boat flailed as though we were rounding the Horn, and a ferociously cold rain pelted us all.

But there was a rainbow afterwards.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

making cocoa for Saint David

When David lived in Ewyas, in a hut at Llanthony,
He’d sometimes pop to Partrishow for tea with Issui.
They’d sandwiches with watercress, and water for a brew,
and they’d discuss the sainthood lark for half the afternoon.
But with such steep tracks to walk before the setting of the sun,
They’d say their fond farewells and Dave would set off down the cwm;
And Issui said ruefully, “I’m a martyr to these hills, me”
and David held his hand a while and said “you certainly will be”.

Saint David lived for a while at Llanthony (Llandewi Nant Honddu). Issui, or Ishow, had his cell by a well above the Grwyne valley, at what is now called Partrishow. He was murdered there by a traveller, and his shrine in the church that was built there became a place of pilgrimage.