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.

Friday 21 July 2023

wasps and cider

I've got enough new pictures to put together another set of postcards, which cost £5 and can be found here in my Etsy shop.

I'm slowly heading westward, my favourite direction. In a week's time I should be in Bath, for the Floating Fair. But this morning I'm out in the wide open Avon valley, near Melksham, and the mornings are chilly and misty, and rather nice to wander out in.

Here's a wasp, sharing my cider.

Tuesday 18 July 2023

hawking after swifts

I was thinking about Hobbies, the other day. The birds of prey, you understand, not the table football. I saw one last year, as we approached Day's Lock on the Thames, and it was breathtaking in its swoopiness as it chased swifts around the trees.
Are there, I wondered, any round here, at Sells Green? I've heard reports of them, but not from very reliable witnesses. But sometimes nature comes up with the goods most obligingly; two friends moored up here were rather excited to spot one, hawking around the reed beds here.
So that was a good reason to add one to a picture, and here it is, though I've drawn it as I remembered it on the Thames, because despite my standing around with the binoculars, hoping for a sighting, it hasn't reappeared, or at least not while I was watching.
And I've added my friends on their boat, too.

Friday 14 July 2023

Glow worms on a Wiltshire canal

Before I moved onto the canal, I'd only ever seen two glow worms; once in deepest Herefordshire, as we walked home to our tents after an evening at the pub, during a stint as strawberry picker in my teens; and once in a Devon lane near Modbury, thirty years ago, again returning from a pub.

Along the Kennet and Avon canal, though, there's loads, and sometimes the towpath resembles a flare path, confusing the RAF transport planes who are constantly flitting about overhead on their way to and from Salisbury Plain, so that you may find a Hercules unexpectedly parked outside your boat at odd hours of the night.

The Canal and River Trust have made some effort to respond to local wildlife needs by adjusting the mowing schedule, and places with known glow worm populations are marked by posts, so that the contractors can avoid them. But it doesn't always work, and now and then the old fashioned scorched earth policy is enacted. Though in general, this year, the towpath has been left to run wild, which is very nice for the environment, but annoys people who like to have a manicured lawn to step out onto from their boats. Guess they'd better get used to it, though; money is tight, and it's cheaper to not mow than to mow.

This painting is another for the calendar, and is set at Widewater, near Wilcot, where the canal briefly becomes a lake, because the landowner wouldn't let the canal through her land unless they made it picturesque, and paid her £500 too.

Thursday 6 July 2023

Bath's peregrine falcons

A peregrine flying over Sydney Gardens in Bath. Below, the Kennet and Avon canal enters a tunnel beneath Cleveland House, formerly the offices of the canal company. The second tunnel mouth at the far end of the gardens is surmounted by the head of Father Thames, for eastbound boaters; and the the nearer tunnel is ornamented by Avona, river goddess for those heading westward. 
The canal curves round to the east in the distance, along Darlington Wharf (where there’ll be a floating market in late July, that I’m slowly heading towards). Beyond is Solsbury Hill.
You can often see peregrines and ravens flying over the city; and from the moorings at the top lock of the Widcombe flight, you can see the peregrines going to and from their nest on the steeple of St John’s.

This picture is for mext year's calendar, but since it shows Darlington Wharf, where I'll be for the floating fair in a few weeks time, I got some copies printed up. You can get them from my Etsy shop, or see you in Bath!


Saturday 24 June 2023

at Badger Bridge

In this picture I tried to capture the late-June microseason when I was drawing it; the hawthorn blossom recently blown all away in the breeze, the elderflowers in full bloom, the flag irises getting a bit ragged, and the meadowsweet starting to look frothy.

The location is above Jones' Mill nature reserve, just outside Pewsey. A nice spot, where I met a badger carrying a cub in her mouth on May morning a few years ago. That's why I call it Badger Bridge there, and added one to the picture. Also a whitethroat, and the magpie who starts the day by tapdancing on my boat roof. Ruddy magpies eh?

After a move to All Cannings, I was able to work outside, because the moorings there are wide and grassy. There was a reed warbler right opposite the boat, and I got a very good view of it, as you see; but it was early in the morning and a bit misty.

Tuesday 13 June 2023

a dawn chorus and a barn owl

These midsummer dawns are too good to miss. So I went to the canal bridge where Hollybush Lane comes up from the very young river Avon, and you can lean on the gate and look down across the valley. And bang on cue, the barn owl ghosted past my right shoulder just after I started recording.

Sunday 11 June 2023

tickling the fish

The weather's oppressively hot, and there were rumbles of thunder in the distance. I remembered the thunderstorm we were caught in on Karen Bravo, off the Ebro delta on the Catalan coast, in 1982. I was down at water level, leaning out of the gun deck hatch, watching as each flash of lightning caught countless fish, frozen in mid-leap. I guess they were being tickled by the electricity.

So that's what I had a go at capturing, in this picture.

Saturday 3 June 2023

Kennet and Avon Canal map

Here's the map of the Kennet and Avon Canal that I've just finished. It's the first one I've done that covers the entirety of the navigation, from Bristol to Reading, and it's got things historical and contemporary, and wildlife in the places you'd expect to find it.

You can get one from my Etsy shop, if you can't track me down on my boat (currently in the wild Wiltshire wolds, but always on the move, if slowly).

Thursday 30 March 2023

song of the Welsh rivers

I will upset your tummy,
Sing the sad waters of Rhymney
We’re awash with your poo
Cries the brown tide of Ebbw
And whose fault is it really?
Purrs the urbane Ely
They think we’re all daft
Snarl the weirs on the Taff
We must stop them, we must
Call the torrents of the Usk
But be quick, or we die
Sigh the pools of the Wye

I was cycling along the bank of the Bristol Avon near Bradford on Avon the other day, and saw some dense clumps of yellow-brown foam floating downstream, or caught in the branches of a fallen tree. Turdbergs, from the sewage outfall a few miles upstream. I commented that it reminded me  of the Ebbw in South Wales, the river I lived close by and which ran alongside my school, and whose colour changed several times in the course of  the day depending on who or what was discharging into it. There was also an untreated sewage outfall just downstream of the shool. This was in the 70s, and it had got a lot cleaner in more recent years. But a friend who lives up the valley from there tells me that the bad old ways are back.

So I wrote this, based, of course, on Idris Davies' poem The Bells of Rhymney. You can find it, with others of his, in this post here

Saturday 25 February 2023

a Map of the Canal and Waterway Network of England and Wales

I drew this map two years ago, and was pretty happy with it, but following feedback, and particularly after my voyage down from the Montgomery Canal to the Kennet and Avon last year, I thought it would be improved if it were to identify the narrow canals.

These are the canals built for the use of narrowboats only; so there are several types of boat which simply will not fit into the locks on them, most generally widebeams.

As you see from the map, the north and the south of the network are cut off from each other for this class of boat. Though not for narrowboats! I really enjoyed our trip along the narrow canals last summer; the locks are so much easier.

...oh, I also changed that Leicester Longwool sheep. I wasn't happy with the first one.

Sorry, these images are fairly low-res. You can get hi res versions both on quality paper or as a download, on my Etsy shop, which you'll see linked over there on the right hand toolbar. Probably. Or here