Wednesday 30 October 2019

blow the wind easterly

This is the latest picture from the drawing board. It's a night scene at Crofton, the pumping station that uses the original beam engines to lift water from Wilton Water to the summit of the Kennet and Avon Canal. It's wild country round there, with a remote feel to it that came as a surprise to me when I first went that way on the canal, having previously thought of Wiltshire as somewhere to the side of an A road or the M4 where London commuters lived. Ha. How very wrong I was!

I sort of recycled the owl from my previous picture. When barn owls are hunting, they usually do it close to the ground of course, where the voles are. But I've seen them sometimes go high high up, on their way from one place to another. 

The wind's been blowing from the east these last few days, and it's miserably chilly out there. But I've got the stove going and all is cosy on board Eve. The Army have been practicing with their big guns on Salisbury Plain, and this wind brings the sound right to us, making the boat rattle ever so gently. I'm moored in Devizes, at the top of the Caen Hill locks, and on misty damp mornings it's like being back in Wales, up on the mountain, except that these days I've got better clothes for keeping the weather out. And only five minutes away is the town, one of my favourite towns, with a particularly good bookshop. And I'm not just saying that because they've just put my Wiltshire White Horses map in a window display...

Thursday 24 October 2019

up the funnel

Today’s Inktober picture prompt is ‘dizzy’. This is back when I worked on Havelet, the BCIF ferry operating between Weymouth and the Channel Islands. We were in Falmouth dry dock for the annual refit, and the Chiefy, Jim Nelson, was binding about how the Irish Ferries boats alongside had beautifully painted funnel exhausts. So eventually I volunteered to paint ours to shut him up.

I took a tin of aluminium paint up the ladder that went from the engine room all the way to the top of the funnel, and lifted the hatch. The top was flat with a rim of a couple of inches. The floor of the dry dock seemed a very long way below. Well, tbf it was a long way below.

I hastily slapped on a coat of shiny silver paint on the rusty, sooty exhausts, and went back down, trying not to think of that drop...

Moments after the engines fired up, the exhausts were black and sooty again.

But at least I’d shut Jim up. For five minutes, anyway.

Monday 21 October 2019

Samhain fire

Here's a new picture, a party round the fire at Diggers, up near the Dundas aqueduct. Fires are a good way to socialise along the canal, what with narrowboats being a bit cramped inside. Well, mine is, for sure, you can hardly move without falling over bike bits and landing on art materials.

The weather's getting cooler, and the days shorter, as often happens at this time of the year. Yesterday it took ages to get the stove going properly, because I was using unseasoned willow as kindling. I'd chopped it up on the side of the towpath at Bradford on Avon; the tree had fallen last winter, and I'd misidentified it as a field maple, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered. The wood absorbed the heat from the firelighters, and hung around sulking and glowering like a Tory politician who's been found out.

Saturday 12 October 2019

the querulous tawny owl

Off along the Vale of Pewsey to drop off some of the new white horse maps at the Barge Inn at Honey Street, as they're pretty much at the epicentre of Wiltshire white horse country and you can see the Alton Barnes horse from the canal side there. It's also crop circle central, and has a terrific painting on the ceiling. If you haven't been there, get on down!

It's nice to see the place busy and welcoming again, after the recent change of ownership. Peter on Grey Hare had just arrived and found a mooring bang outside the pub, after setting off from where he'd been moored next to me at Bishops Cannings that morning. It was a wild and wet day, and just the moment to have a glass of something to ward off the chill.

Peter in happier weather, carving a walking stick

Back to the boat; I parked up in the village and transferred a bag of coal to my bike trailer. The gale peppered me with rain as I crossed the big open field to the canal. Blooming rain's relentless. As I type this in the before-dawn dark, it's spattering down on the roof above me as it has been all night, and all around the boat right now there are tawny owls quavering to each other; "How long? How bloody long?" It must be hard times for owls; I know that barn owls at least suffer in the rain because their feathers aren't water-resistant like most birds, because they're designed to fluff out and deaden sound. So sometimes in rainy weather, you'll see barn owls hunting in daylight in between showers.

the barn owl at Diggers, near the Dundas Aqueduct

Friday 11 October 2019

hare's ears and horses

A busy day in Bristol yesterday, which meant an early departure from the Vale of Pewsey to get there before the main morning traffic started. Fortunately, my sleeping pattern is all gone to pot at the moment, falling asleep with the dusk and getting up long before dawn. So I was bundling my stuff onto the bicycle in the dark at 4:30 or so, and pushing it along the very wet and muddy and slippery towpath. But the sky was clear, and the view to the south unimpeded and free of lights of any sort. So there was a clear view of Lepus, the hare, there below Orion. It wasn't quite one of those nights where the air is clear as crystal, the Milky Way glowing and the stars sparkling bright; but the hare's ears, not the brightest of the stars in the constellation, were clear to be seen and you can see why it got its name.

And so I was parked up in Bristol before 6 o'clock, and tucked myself up in a very warm and bulky parka, and went to sleep for a while, waking again for a breakfast of croissants from Asda and coffee from Macdonalds, enjoyed sitting in my safely parked car while watching the traffic jam that stretched out of sight in all directions. 

I picked up the new Wiltshire white horse maps from Minuteman Press in Bedminster, and jolly nice they are too. You'll find them in my Etsy shop should you want one.

Monday 7 October 2019

the White Horses of Wiltshire

This is my new map of Wiltshire's white horses (and of course Uffington, which is in Oxfordshire but I could hardly leave it out now, could I?). It's available from my Etsy shop in various sizes; here's the link to the big version (it comes in A3, A4 and postcard)

 I've taken some liberties with perspective, distance and orientation, because some of the slopes upon which the horses are found are north-facing, and some (well, the Devizes one at least) are so shallow that the horse is considerably foreshortened. Do you draw them as seen from below? From some distance away? From above? It all depends. So it goes. 

My friends made some useful and helpful suggestions for Things To Put On The Map. Without Deborah Harvey's compendious knowledge of West Country history, I'd never have known about the Salisbury Hob-Nob, a hobby horse with hobnails for teeth and a nasty bite. And although to my knowledge the RAF never dropped horses by parachute, only mules by glider, and then only in the Far East in the Burmese jungle, Richard Jones pointed out that one of the most useful gliders in that war was the Airspeed Horsa, many of which took off from Wiltshire airfields on D Day. Which is enough to get it onto the map; I do like drawing aeroplanes. Ditto the Westland Dragonfly up at the top there, suggested by Christine Beckett. There is an obscure horse reference there, and if you can identify it you will win a round of applause. 

There's a couple of artefacts from the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes. I went there to find the Romano-British horse and rider brooch found at Cold Kitchen Hill ('thought possibly to have a religious significance', which an archaeologist friend says is what they say when they haven't a clue), but also found the Marlborough Bucket, which was worth the entry fee alone. It's decorated with heads and horses, and is reckoned to be Gaulish work. The Celts apparently used their buckets to binge from (they'd have fitted well into canal society, particularly the society of Sherry Jim, I reckon); and the decorative metalwork would have enclosed the wooden staves of the bucket, which was left as grave goods in a burial near Marlborough. Anyway, the representation of the horse is interesting to compare with that of Uffington, although Uffington predates the Marlborough Bucket by a considerable time. Probably.

There's Wayland the Smith, outside his smithy, which is a long barrow on top of the North Downs near Uffington. If you leave your horse there with some money, the elusive Wayland will shoe it for you. Best not get on the wrong side of him, though, he might make a drinking vessel out of your skull like he did with Niðhad's sons, though admittedly Niðhad had hamstrung Wayland. The story of Wayland was brought over by the Saxons, so I've given him yellow hair. He features in the Anglo Saxon poem Deor, by the way, each verse of which features someone having a truly horrid time, and then ends with the refrain Þæs ofereode,  þisses swa mæg - 'that came to an end, this may well do so too.' A bleak sort of comfort, but one that I've recited to myself fairly often in hard times. (If you want to recite it too, then þ is runic 'thorn' and pronounced 'th', and all letters are sounded; thus 'ofereode' is 'over-eh-odour')

Some horses had makeovers; so there's been a horse at Westbury for longer than the present one may suggest, with its Stubbs-ish appearance dating from 1778. And some are relocated; so the Devizes white horse is on a hill around the corner from the earlier one which had a far more imposing position on Roundway Hill, from where it would have been visible for miles across the vale of the Wiltshire Avon. The Alton Barnes horse was inspired by envy of that at Cherhill to the north, and its construction was complicated by the chap employed to do it scarpering with the money. 

Coincidentally, the white horse at Alton Barnes, which is less than five miles from where I'm moored right now, is in the news this morning after an Extinction Rebellion logo appeared on it. Apparently it's being removed even as I write. 

Anyway, there we go. I think I'm going to have to scan the picture again, there's a line across it where there's a dead spot on the scanner. This picture is five scans stitched together, and it's a damn nuisance when something slips through like that. And it's pouring down now, and to get the computer up and running I need to stick the generator out on the back deck, and then put a brolly over it. And that can wait till daylight, and as there's a neighbouring boat I can't run the genny before 8 o'clock anyway. 

And then I can send it off to the printers. And tidy up the damn boat. Honestly, it goes to pot when I'm working on a picture.

Sunday 6 October 2019

failing to identify birds

After a few days alongside in Devizes I headed out into the wild Wiltshire wolds. The weather's turned cold and damp, which is just right for skulking inside the boat and getting on with drawing. I'm working on a map of the Wiltshire white horses, and hope to finish it today. So more of that later...

There are still swallows around; it comes as a slight surprise to see them, now that I've got used to it being fairly seriously autumn. And passing the big field where the wheat is grown, the one with the kestrels' oak in it, it is now ploughed and harrowed, and there was a flock of small birds that I wasn't able to idnetify. So I went back with the binoculars and camera, and ...they weren't there any more. So I'll say they were bramblings, because why not?

Cycling is a challenge up here on the long pound when the ground isn't dry. Even with the big knobbly tyres on my Overbury bicycle I managed to fall off right outside Nipper's boat; then on the way back again I did the same thing in exactly the same place. He found it highly amusing, anyway.