Wednesday 1 December 2021

a ship in the air

There's always something new to see in the sky if you're lucky. This appeared over Devizes the other day as I was cruising along the canal. You don't get the full 3D effect in the photo, but it was like the hull of a ship seen from underneath, cruising in turn along the sea of cirrocumulus stratiformis, or mackerel sky.

In vaguely technical terms (thank you, Richard Hamblyn's Cloud Book) the cloud layer is composed of ice crystals and supercooled droplets. Locally, the droplets are triggered to form precipitation, which falls as streaks - 'fallstreaks' or 'virga'. Hence, the description of what you see here as fallstreak or punch hole clouds.

But it does remind me of a boat. And particularly the one in Seamus Heaney's poem  from his collection 'Seeing Things', where he talks of crediting marvels, a mission statement I could entirely go along with when I first read it, and indeed still do

Lightenings viii

The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.

Tuesday 30 November 2021

the Kennet and Avon Wildlife Calendar 2022

My 2022 Calendar is now on sale for £10; if you're too far away from the K&A, or simply can't find my boat, then you can get one from Devizes Books, or online in my Etsy shop, free postage in the UK.

I'll also be at the Floating Fair at Bradford on Avon this coming weekend, December 4-5.

fox on  Pickle Hill, Vale of Pewsey

a wren at Smelly Bridge

starlings at Sells Green, near Devizes

a badger and otter at Bishops Cannings

jays in Conkwell Woods

more otter fun

Monday 29 November 2021

Waving to Kelvin and Helmholtz

At dawn, I went out to say good morning to the starlings in the reed bed. The canal was icing over; as the morning went on, the ice advanced from either side to meet in the middle, before the sun warmed things up enough to melt it away again.

But over to the east I saw row of curlicues in the clouds, like two intertwined sine waves.

It was a Kelvin-Helmholtz wave.You get these when a warm air mass is sitting on top of a colder one, and they're moving at different speeds. Very exciting, if you get excited by that sort of thing.

I do.

Sunday 14 November 2021

some like it otter

Here's the otter chasing a pike. I was worrying that our local otter had been killed; it hadn't been around for a few weeks, and I read that one had been killed down at Foxhangers, which is not so far away as to make it unlikely, given their wide-ranging habits.

But towards midnight last night, that familiar bump and swish, and I knew it was still with us.

This is the last picture for my 2022 calendar, which has been sent off to the printers and should be available within the week.

Friday 5 November 2021

the jays are busy in Conkwell Woods

The latest picture for the canal calendar shows Hibah and Clare on their boat Hunky Dory, cruising through Conkwell Woods on the Kennet and Avon between Bradford on Avon and Bath. There's the Dundas Aqueduct in the background. Hunky Dory, by the way, is a rather nice little boat that they hire out; details here on their website.

I like the sound of the jays screeching in the woods here in autumn, as they busily dedicate themselves to the task of redistributing acorns. Hence their name, Garrulus Glandarius - 'noisy acorn muncher'.

Only a few weeks now before the next Floating Fair at Bradford on Avon on the weekend of 4-5 December. We missed out all the fairs last year and earlier this year because of the lockdowns. So whiule I may wish that there were more stringent rules on distancing and masks in public places, I'm very glad that we'll be doing the fair again, because they're great fun.

And I must get the damn calendar printed ASAP!

Sunday 31 October 2021

the yickering of badgers

It was about 3 in the morning that I heard the otter go by, bumpity swish along the side nearest the bank, as they do when they're hunting the fish whose escape route is limited by the boat hull.

So I got my head torch and went out, in time to hear a great kerfuffle up by the swingbridge; a badger's furious yickering.

I wandered up there, and over on the other side two dark forms separated and went in opposite directions. One turned to look at me and showed its distinctive black and white face, before disappearing under the bridge.

So it seemed like a good incident to recreate in this picture, though I've set it at dawn, so there's more to see.

Sunday 10 October 2021

a sail leaving harbour

We came up the flight of locks at Caen Hill and spent a couple of days alongside in Devizes, recovering from the exertions of the ascent, though it had been made far easier by kind friends who'd come along and helped. But then it was time to move out into the Vale of Pewsey. We were fortunate to find a couple of prime moorings right by the swingbridge at Bishops Cannings, with a fine view across the Kestrel Oak field, and looking the other way across to Tan Hill, hidden there in the morning mist.

Listen to the morning sounds here. Somewhere in there is the last hoot of the tawny owl; and the dongdong of cowbells,  bringing a touch of the Tyrol to Wiltshire.

The night was so clear that the Orion Nebula (M42, to use its Proper Name) was clearly visible as a nebulous thing, and you could make out all of Lepus the hare, below Orion and endlessly chased by Sirius the dog star.

I got out of bed and opened the hatch cautiously, keeping all lights off so as not to mess up my night vision. There was a very noisy munching right net to the hatch; for the otter, as for big hungry tigers, table manners have no place. And it's hard to eat raw fish delicately, to be fair.

Presently the otter finished munching and departed; so I went out with the headtorch, in time to hear a great yickering coming from up by the bridge. When I got there, I saw the otter slink one way and another bulky form go the other. Then it turned and displayed its unambiguously badgery face to me, before trundling under the bridge and out of sight.
My cruising companion for the last couple of months has set off eastward now. Yet another farewell-but-just-for-now. It's all a bit ships that pass in the night, life on the canal. Or perhaps more like ships that pass in the day.  I remember a departure from Valletta, when our Filipino deckhands called across to their compatriots on an incoming bulker, "Mabuhay!" ...the easy camaraderie of the sea. And then on Condor 10, leaving St Malo for the last time, and seeing another Condor boat going in, and we waved to each other in passing, friends and acquaintances separated by water but maybe meeting up somewhere again, somewhere along the way.

Saturday 9 October 2021

the Starlings of Sells Green, and the Pickle Hill Fox

Here's two new pictures. I was moored at Sells Green near Devizes a few weeks ago, and the starlings were already beginning to gather there for their evening roost in the reed beds. As the autumn changes to winter, the numbers will increase, and the resident sparrowhawk will continue trying to nab one for  a dinner and again at breakfast the next morning. There's the fuel boat Aquilon, with Spencer at the helm in his teddybear hat. Though Spencer and Victoria have now sold the fuel boat, and it'll be operating under new owners now. Even in the couple of weeks since I dreew thius picture, it's already history.

Unrealiable history, of course. But then art is nature to advantage dressed. Or is that wit?

Hence this view of the Vale of Pewsey. You can't really see the Westbury White Horse from Pickle Hill, but there it is, bold as you like.

I picked up card reproductions of these two the other day, on one of my jaunts into Bristol. They're over in my Etsy shop.

I also picked up a new laptop, as the MacBook was dying on its feet. So it goes.

Battery's running low. I'll tell you about the otter and the badger tomorrow. Maybe.

Saturday 18 September 2021

Cetti's Warbler in Autumn

Now I'm moored in yet another of my favourite spot, by the swingbridge at Sells Green. There are reed beds here where there's a small starling murmuration  in the winter; already there's a few around, and a group of 20 or so dropped into the reeds at 7:10 pm on Thursday. 

I've also been hearing something that sounded tantalisingly like a Cetti's Warbler. But their song (or rather, call; it's not exactly tuneful, as you can hear) is perfunctory and abrupt, and followed by silences that can stretch for some minutes.

Anyway, yesterday morning I heard it plain, as can you, gentle reader. It's that sharp, staccato burst you can hear about halfway through this recording, then again just before the end.

It's the first time I've heard one at Sells Green, and the first time I've heard one calling in autumn. 

Friday 3 September 2021

Eve goes solar

The weather's been ideal for working on the boat; dry, but not so hot that it's painful to work outside. So it was time to get started on Eve's solar panels.

It's only taken seven years, after all. 

That's jobs for you, sometimes; if you don't get stuck straight into them, they can just fade into the background. But a few weeks ago, when I was moored up at Diggers, a chap kindly gave me a solar panel he was taking to the bins (the canal bins act as a sort of informal swap shop too; folk often leave stuff that's useful there, so that you can pick it up and reuse it). The panel is not working at full capacity, he explained, and he'd upgraded. But I put my meter across the terminals, and it was chucking out a healthy voltage. So...

Then on Sunday I rescued this timber from Bradford Wharf, and made a start on a combined roof box and panel holder.

The sides and lids are plywood, covered with pieces of old cratch cover and tarp. All recycled material.

Here's the panel in place. The wiring goes through a hole in the roof sheltered by the box, into the engine room.

I'll be tidying up that wiring. Sometime.

Down there it goes into an MPPT (maximum power point tracking) controller. Because solar panels chuck out a relatively high voltage, this device regulates the incoming electricity and presents it to the batteries in optimal form - lots when the battery's charge is low, and then just enough to keep it topped up when it's full.

oh dear, spaghetti...

This is the bank of four large leisure batteries, that provide the power for my domestic electrics - water pump, lights, 12V sockets. They can be charged from the engine's alternator, or a battery charger that runs off my suitcase generator (which I use for power tools, or when I want to use the desktop computer or printer.

The MPPT controller talks to my iPhone through Bluetooth, so I can see what's going on there. As you see, so far I've only harvested 2 kWh of electricity in total so far, but that's power that I didn't need to run the engine for, and it's early days yet; I shall be adding more panels.

Sunday 29 August 2021

the Throwleigh Green Man

That's the last of the twelve churches on the Archangel's Way; St Mary the Virgin, Throwleigh. This is one of the Dartmoor churches with three hares in, but I've already put the three hares of South Tawton into a picture, so this one has Throwleigh's green man instead, even if he does look a bit menacing. 

Then again, why should a green man be cute and cuddly? 

He's nestled among Jack by the Hedge (otherwise garlic mustard), and white bryony, which shares some of that human/vegetation thing with him. And the hawthorn in the background has may blossom on it.

It is a lovely spot. I first went there on a damp and misty day in early spring, and it was one of those moments that I inconveniently would rather keep to myself. So you'll just have to imagine it or go there yourself. Sorry!

Thursday 12 August 2021

glowworms everywhere

Since I moved up to Heron Tree on Tuesday everyone (well, several people) has (or have, as the case may be) been talking about glowworms, of which there is a plethora here, if plethora means quite a few. And I've not drawn a badger for a while, so there you go.

Before I moved onto the canal I had seen two glowworms in my life. One was in a hedge in Herefordshire, when we were walking back to our tents from the pub during a week spent strawberry picking after our O Levels. It was about the only time my red/green colour blindness manifested itself, as I thought it was a fag end and my friends said "But it's green!" 

And the other time it was on a lane in Devon. 

Since coming to the canal, I've seen 'em all over the place. The towpath resembles a flarepath with them sometimes, in fact, and you often have to jump out of the way as a Special Forces aircraft, on manoeuvres over Salisbury Plain, gets distracted and comes in to land and discharge commandos all over the place. Messy business, especially if they fall into the canal and have to be pulled out.

This little creature was walking along my arm as I sat outside chatting with my neighbour. Someone suggested it was a glowworm, but I really don't think it is*. It's quite similar to those ugly little ladybird larvae, though. Sorry, ladybirds, I'm no oil painting myself.

Canals are a valuable green corridor for wildlife. There has been criticism of the Canal and River Trust's mowing and hedge-cutting policy, the critics arguing that the CRT contractors cut swathes through rich habitats at entirely the wrong time, when a more sensitive and flexible approach would mean the plants could seed and the creatures mate undisturbed. They do seem to have taken this on board, and there are sections of the canal now flagged as glowworm habitats where mowing is limited or avoided.

*it has been identified as the larva of the common green lacewing, by a knowledgeable person in a Wiltshire wildlife group

Sunday 8 August 2021

chasing hares all over the place

It's been a while since I got any giclee prints done, but I've finally got round to it. These were printed by Niche Frames in Bristol, my fave fine art printers. There's a couple of older ones, but this first one is a new reproduction of a pencil drawing I did, of a roof boss in South Tawton church.

This one is the first three hares picture I did. Look closely and you can see Uffington, Glastonbury Tor and Capel y Ffin, too.
And then this springy one with primroses.

They're all over in my Etsy shop. indeed is my three hares map, which includes an apposite quote from a poem by Deborah Harvey, who introduced me to the whole hares and Dartmoor thing. And indeed, whose guerilla distribution of the previous version of this map led to the connection with the Archangel's Way folk in the churches down there.

Sunday 1 August 2021

on being a pilgrim

I went down to Belstone for the launch of the Archangel's Way. I arrived in time to see and hear the bellringers, who were spending the day ringing all the way along the Way, start up the peals in Belstone church, setting the little stone-coloured moths fluttering on the walls. Jim Causley sang a couple of special songs for the occasion and we all joined in with To Be A Pilgrim and Bread of Heaven. 

One of the church team recorded an interview with me and I said some blether or other that I felt daft about afterwards about pilgrimages. I do feel ambivalent about bandying the word around too freely. Like hygge and mindfulness. They should be just Things You Do without having to label them. And the adventures you have on the way make the arrival special and significant, like Cavafy's Ithaka

Jim Causley, and Paul Seaton-Burn Being a Pilgrim

My adventure started with fighting the inclination to bottle out of going at all. And then noticing that one of the car tyres was cracking because the rubber's perished, so I went on a side adventure to a tyre depot near Bruton, which was on a farm and had great piles of huge tractor tyres and, as it turned out, none that would fit Dilys. But seeing the piles of huge tyres like a rubber Stonehenge in the rain was memorable.

And then before I rejoined the A303 at Sparkford, home of the Haynes Manual, I stopped to refuel at a very busy petrol station, and I saw that the Macdonalds next to it was utterly rammed, a foretaste of what the road would be like all the way into Devon now. 

Passing Exeter, the voice of Satan, or, as I used to call it, the Sat Nav, helpfully whispered that it had found an alternative route that would save me 20 minutes. Fool that I was, I hearkened unto its words and went astray, up sunken lanes with no passing places in a convoy of other fools who'd listened to the same tempting advice.

We drove through picturesque villages where the natives scowled at us and I consoled myself with the thought that they were all retired civil servants from the Home Counties and serve 'em jolly well right. Which was probably entirely unjust. 

We drove past a couple of prangs. And a group of caravans that had given up the unequal struggle against this sudden jetstream of numpties and hauled up tight into a passing place, where they probably still are, brewing a consoling cup of tea and assuring each other that they mustn't grumble.

For the return journey, I used mindfulness and went across country to Crediton and Tiverton, and it was all very nice and hyggy. Except for Tiverton of course. So there. Who would true valour see, watch a good movie.

the morris team arriving

the sheep sang alto and very nice too

Sarah Cracknell and the Growing the Rural Church team 

Monday 26 July 2021

Stella Maris

That morning we’d been anchored up, round in Mount’s Bay;
Fuel filters had been on the blink, and Knut and Ove looked none too bright
Hunched over coffee in the mess, after an all-nighter.
The forecast by now was looking grim, but we got under way;
Sheltering’s all very well, but you don’t get paid
For fannying around. Beyond Wolf Rock the swells
flung into scudding spindrift. By dusk the wind was off the scale
And us hove to against it. Boy never left the helm, and laid
The bows into the waves that boiled around us.
Below, the crash of crockery and crew came from the mess;
Up here, the groaning in the rigging was the only sound,
A crazy sort of calm in the storm's eye, but calm of sorts it was.
Crackling on Channel 16. Hans, his face lit by the radar
Murmured “Freighter. They're in trouble back there.”

I wrote this about my first trip at sea, on seismic survey vessel Karen Bravo. We were transiting from Germany to Fleetwood in Lancashire, and the evening of 19th December 1981 found us off Land's End in the ferocious storm that saw the destruction of freighter Union Star and the Penlee lifeboat Solomon Browne, and their crews and passengers.

I was thinking about that night, yesterday when I heard that RNLI crews have been attacked after being criticised by the likes of Nigel Farage for saving the lives of migrants rescued from the Channel. 

The painting at the top is a night view off Fraserburgh, from when we used to run in to shelter there during filthy weather in North Sea winters.

Sunday 25 July 2021

the launch of the Archangel's Way at Belstone, 31st July

The Archangel's Way is a new pilgrim route that winds round the north side of Dartmoor from Brentor to Chagford, I've been doing lots of drawing for the folk down there, and this picture of St Mary's church at Belstone is the latest. And it's at Belstone that the route is being officially launched, on 31st July, with all sorts of activities on offer. Here's the link to some more info on it.