Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Adventures with Alice

"Let's get together again" we said.

We had loved the four day Summer School with Alice Fox and didn't want this time to come to an end. And so I suggested a house that we could hire and lured Alice with the thought of being on an island. Luckily it worked, but because of Alice's heavy work schedule we had to be patient... so it was eighteen long months later that we headed out across the causeway. 

 There was beautiful daffodils to welcome us...

And cosy chairs around the log fire.

And it's here our adventure began.
Alice called it: 'Personal and collaborative responses to landscape'.

We called it magical.

We were surrounded by a wide expanse of marsh and mudflats, and a horizon that stretches forever. Alice had warned us that much of our time will be spent outdoors, what ever the weather. And so we had come prepared with waterproofs and thermal layers; most of which remained unpacked because the weather took a turn and blessed us with clear blue skies. We were glad of our jackets and hats though, as there was a chill to the breeze and this would be felt when we sat quietly observing, sketching, or writing. Alice encouraged us to spend time alone, to use this time to explore our creativity and sense of connection. And we all welcomed this permission. Because while it is good to have company and to spend time with friends, it is a different kind of experience, alone.

After exploring and unpacking (done in that order for some of us!) we met back at the house for dinner. That was when we discovered
another talent of Alice's. Her home cooked meals became a highlight of the day, and quick trips back to the house for tea were just an excuse for a slice of homemade cake that would make a master baker proud! I was excited to have this time and opportunity to work with Alice again and I had not given much thought to meals. These turned out to be understated and Alice got it absolutely right in her choice and menu. We felt very well looked after, and this added to the weekend's memory and experience. Our first day ended with Alice showing us examples of her work. I was inspired and buzzing with ideas and went to bed fully sated, excited for a new day to begin.  

Some of us got up early to wander the island before breakfast. Ideas were already bubbling, and inspired by Alice's mark making I tried not to use my camera as my automatic way of recording. Instead I folded a piece of A3 card, with the idea of making a book of my walk. I set off with the card folded in one hand and a graphite stick in the other. They made contact as I walked along the sea wall.

Frequently I ventured off to explore the marsh.

This landscape might look bleak and dull, but look close and you find hidden surprises.

As a photographer it is hard not to frame and shoot.  But I wanted to push myself outside my comfort zone and to try something different; so I used Alice's encouragement to make marks. I sketched, did rubbings, and sometimes sat to write down my thoughts and observations....

Back at the house I added colour to some of these.
This book is still work in progress, but shows some of the recordings I made on this early morning walk.

The next photo shows my meandering; the marks made with graphite stick held against the card. Their random, uneven lines are a
response to my unsteady footsteps as I explored the sea wall and marsh. I love this irregular shape that captured time and place. But what I discovered, when I unfolded the card at the end of my walk both surprised and intrigued me, and it still does. 
You see, to make it easy to draw, I walked with the card folded into a thick wedge. I started at the house and marked this with a X. I did not plan or even think about where I was going with this idea, it was just an unconscious piece of work that was experimental and fun. While I drew I looked where I walked - this was important if I was to keep myself safe. The mud is deep and potentially dangerous, especially as I was on my own. Each time I came to the end of a fold I turned the card and continued it onto the next page. 

Why was I surprised and intrigued?

Because without any intention or plan, my marks ended exactly where they began. I had no way of seeing what came on the page before or after, as the card was folded for the whole walk. If the mark had ended at a different edge I would have flipped the card over to continue. I could have ended with a blank space, or with my mark somewhere else completely different on the A3 sheet. I was surprised to find my mark back where it started. Just like my walk.

 A  cut across the centre fold meant I could make a simple book structure. Inside you get a glimpse of my rubbings and sketches.

This had started out as an experiment, just to satisfy my excitement and eagerness to get started. I was already bursting with ideas but after breakfast Alice planned to talk about what our time together would look like.
I'd better tell you about that next time!

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Warley Place - my annual pilgrimage

Every year I make a pilgrimage to Warley Place, one of our Essex hidden gems. This was once a magnificent house and estate, and in 1875, aged 17, Ellen Willmott moved here with her family. Over the years Ellen created a garden here at Warley, and a reputation for herself as a plantswoman. She subsidised the excursions of plant-hunters who would bring back plants for her and sometimes name species in her honour. 

Ellen never married and lived at Warley Place until she died there alone, in 1934. Ellen was quite a character and sadly her fortunes dwindled over the years due to her excessive spending. Warley Place was sold to a developer to pay off Ellen's debts but luckily the proposed plans were rejected. The war came, and after that the land was declared Green Belt. But by this time the house and its buildings were in such bad state that they were demolished. 

Over the years the land became overgrown and a haven for wild life. The loss of the garden is a travesty, but thankfully, in more recent times, The Essex Wildlife Trust leased this wilderness and started to reclaim it. Gradually, just like Heligan Gardens in Cornwall, Warley Place has slowly began to reveal some of her history and splender. Let me show you....

Here is one of the gateways into the former garden.

Among a field of narcissus stands this ancient walnut tree, part of
its trunk now artificially supported.

And here is the same tree, with Ellen Willmott taking tea.

This is part of the formal garden. If you look at the wall closely  you will find metal pins which once supported climbing plants.  It is said that Ellen was a harsh employer and she would sack a gardener who left a weed in place. Nowadays foxgloves and wild flowers are now left to grow freely. I'm not sure what Ellen would say, but I know I love to walk between these shoulder high plants that line the woodland paths!

Where the house once stood you will find this wonderful basement kitchen with it's glazed tiles.  Listen quietly and you can almost hear the chatter of scullery maids and a bustle, as meals are prepared.  

This plant tag is dated 1859 - it's handwriting still as legible as the day it was written.

Other plant tags found in the garden are beautifully stamped. But it is the collection of handwritten labels that I admire and wonder about. What was the name of the person who wrote them?  And did they shared Ellen's passion for gardening, or was their labour a means of providing a roof over their head and food on the table?

If you look for them, there are lots of hidden clues and remains to find as you wander around the garden.  I liked the layers of rust and beautiful shape of these gates. They were once the entrance to a gazebo that is currently being rebuilt. 

And this lovely flint is the original floor of the gazebo. How exciting it must be to clear the thick undergrowth and find original features such as this.  Gradually the garden is revealing her glory, though there are no plans to rebuild it.  I like that it will always retain its mystery and be a haven for wildlife.

This is the former conservatory where Ellen Willmott would sit and write letters. You can still see the remains of its mosaic floor and channel where the central heating pipes ran.

There is a story that John Evelyn, diarist, bought the Manor of Warley Magna in 1649 and planted a row of sweet chestnut trees. The first tree in this photo has been dated to around this time, so could this be one that still stands? I bet it's gnarled trunk could tell a story or two.

And finally, the reason for my annual pilgrimage. How could I miss these spectacular drifts of narcissus?  It  is fitting that a track runs through Warley Place, the original route for travellers going to Canterbury in the Middle Ages. It is a place of sanctuary and solitude and I feel blessed that it is somewhere I can visit whenever I choose.

If you would like to read more about Warley Place this is a brief but interesting article.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

5 in 5 - Melanie - March 2017

Melanie is my friend who lives in Australia and she loves photography.  Every month since the start of this challenge Melanie has taken part in this monthly meme and as she doesn't have her own blog I post here. I love that we have found a way for her to take part, so over to you Melanie:

March 5th arrived and signalled that a sixth of the year has come and gone.  The reality of it now being March hits hard what happened to the first two months of 2017?  So many things I thought would get done in January and February still wait for my attention.  I have not neglected the 5 in 5 photos though finding it something that even if I am exhausted I can still fit in as indeed happened this month.  I had spent March 5th listening to authors talk from 9am until 6pm and bombarding my head with so much conversation which definitely left me exhausted.  It was the annual Adelaide Writers Week an event I usually make sure I am around for and this year was no exception on each of the six days it runs you could find me amongst the crowd that flocks to hear authors speak.  March 5th was day two and during the day I heard authors talk on subjects of crime, war, politics and history and about books of fiction and non-fiction.  When I got home I needed a photographic subject that required little effort from me and shells sprung to mind.  When I first moved to a home near the beach I was fascinated by the variety of shells to be found on the beach and rarely took a walk on the beach without bring home a few of them.  Soon a jar which used to hold spaghetti was full to the brim with small shells and shells lined my kitchen window sill.  Thankfully over the years my fascination with shells dwindled else  we might have had to build a new room on the house just for shells.  They I hope will proved an interesting subject for my March 5 in 5 using a few photos of those on the window sill and a picture of the jar with small shells.   Maybe one of these days I will look more into shells and their classification but in the meantime I will just enjoy their beauty.  One thing the photos of the shells on the window sill has shown me is that they have collected rather a lot of dust so I guess it is time I gave them a wash.

Thank you for sharing these photos, Melanie, and as always for taking part, especially as the busy Writers Week is a good distraction. I hope you enjoyed the event, I know how much it appeals with your love of books.

I am fascinated by shells too, they have such wonderful shapes and patterns. When ever I get the chance I love to visit shell grottos, often making detours or special journeys to do this. And I have shells dotted around my garden collected from different beaches around the country, they make memories of happy times and places. I am fascinated by the spirals and the way creatures make these their home.  Do you collect shells or have an interest in these, I wonder?

Hopefully Melanie will be back next month and I look forward to you joining us. Thank you for popping by, it is great to have your company.

If this has inspired you to pick up your camera and join in please go to the original post where you will also find out how to link in.

And to find out more about this monthly photo challenge, and how this started, please go to this post.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

5 in 5 - March 2017 - A day with Joy

Welcome to '5 in 5' where on the 5th of
each month I post 5 photos that I have
taken in 5 minutes.

The other week I was lucky enough to meet up with my blog friend, Joy. Her mother lives about an hours drive away and as she was staying with her for a few days Joy invited me to meet up. Of course I said yes!

We arranged to meet at Greensted Church, which is the oldest wooden church in the world. Excavations undertaken in  1960 revealed the two earlier timber structures dating from the 6th, and 7th centuries and the church's history includes the work of Saxon, Norman, Tudor and Victorian builders.  As you can imagine, it is an interesting place to visit. Unfortunately we couldn't venture inside as the church was locked, but there was enough in the grounds to appreciate and photograph:

I was interested to find a 12th century Crusaders grave...

And a lepers hole...

 Can you see it in the wall here?

And finally, the wonderful craftsmanship.  I took lots of photos of the textures and grain of the wood I used to use textures as a layer beneath a photograph, to add detail and interest. Perhaps I will get round to doing this again one day.

But for now I am sneaking an extra photo in of Joy. We had a lovely day, visiting the steam railway and enjoying lunch in a pub that Joy used to know back in the days when she lived locally. Come back again soon Joy!

If you fancy picking up your camera to join in with 5in5 it could be lovely to have your company!   

Here's what you do and there are more details here

1.  Choose a location.

2.  Have your camera ready.

3.  Set a timer for 5 minutes (I use my mobile phone).

4.  Take as many photos you can (or wish to) until the time is up.

5.  Choose 5 photos to download and share by using the link tool below.

                              You have until the 25th of the month to add your photos.

I seem to have a bit of a history theme going on as my post last month was about my family tree. And I always look forward to seeing what others share, so thank you to Melanie, Paula, Mary-Lou, Melissa, Karen, Susan, Alexa and Borqna for joining in last month and linking up. I am often inspired by others ideas and photos, so please link below if you would like to take part. I'll be back next month - enjoy the weeks in between... 

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