Tuesday, 17 July 2018

How to read water - The Packing Shed

Yesterday I went to a different part of the coast and decided this was a good opportunity to learn more about how to read water. Essex has some beautiful islands and interesting history, and I have wanted to visit The Packing Shed for a long time. The building sits on a small spit off the coast of Mersea Island. It was built for the packing of oysters, a traditional fishing trade in Essex since Roman times. There are five open days a year so I took the opportunity and visited with a friend. The only access is by boat....

When we arrived it was approaching high tide and you could see the beds that were used to filter the oysters before cleaning and packing. 

Inside the Packing Shed there is a small collection from its working days. These wooden boards were worn on your feet to stop you sinking into the deep mud that surrounds the island. 

Our visit included a cream tea. What an amazing view! And as we sat there we watched the tide go out. Soon the filter beds were covered.

This gentleman joined us at the table and told us about the history of The Packing Shed. He bought examples of oyster shells and told how the local oysters were devastated by disease on several occasions. The last survivors were sadly lost in the 1963 winter when this area of the coast froze over. Stocks were replenished from other sources and they have gradually re-established. Meantime it was suggested that oysters from Portugal was also introduced. These are a much larger variety and fairly resistant to disease, and so far stocks are doing well and traditional oyster fishing continues. We also learnt that the 'slipper limpet' was bought into local waters by US ships during WWII. Because these encrusted the bottom of the ship and slowed them down, they dragged them off using chains. The limpets have since grown in huge numbers, and frequently seen around the coast.  

Meanwhile the tide continued to go out, and the spit got smaller and smaller.

We could still walk around the last narrow stretch, being careful of the resident birds.


Maybe the time passed quickly because we enjoyed learning about the island and exploring, and it didn't seem long before we spotted the tell tale sign of the tide turning. We saw Samphire growing in abundance, a delicacy more seen in restaurants than in shops. 

The stretch of shingle stretched and stretched with the outgoing tide until we could walk right out. 

And once again island revealed the oyster filter beds, and The Packing Shed said goodbye to its visitors until next time. 

Something I learnt during my visit was the importance of this spit of land and the two small islands that lie next to it. Together these protect the main harbour and fishing grounds of East Mersea, reducing the silt and coastal erosion. I've read about this is the book 'How to Read Water' but it never occurred to me that these small islands so far from shore could have such an impact. So, granite and sea shells have been added to raise the height and stabilise The Packing Shed island, and more is planned in the near future. It was also interesting to learn that the shells come from local waters to maintain ecology, and that the granite is also carefully chosen too. It was a wonderful visit and the weather was just perfect with blue skies and a cooling breeze. I am already looking forward to my next visit!

This post is part of a project in an attempt to learn 'How to Read Water'. It includes daily observations and visits to local rivers over a 30 day period. You can read more about it here. 

Monday, 16 July 2018

How to read water - A visit marked with sadness

My second visit to the river was marked with sadness. As I took my photos I noticed a swan on the tide line, separate from all the others. A passing dog walker expressed her concern too, and a man  went to look at the swan and told us it had been shot. Apparently there was a hole in it's back, and it's prospects didn't look good. 

After much effort I managed to contact the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Protection of Animals) who luckily have a wildlife welfare team. I gave the location and was asked if I could stay with the swan or let them know if anything changes. Some time later I saw a voicemail, telling me an officer was on his way but would not be there until after 10pm. I had not gone prepared for a long stay. The evening had turned cool by now and my daughter had come down with coffee and warmer clothing for me, but by 9pm I decided I couldn't wait any longer. I needed to eat and still had things to attend to, so I phoned the RSPCA back, gave them precise location and update and let them know there was no change in the swans condition. By now there was no dog walkers or other people walking along the river so I was less concerned about the swan being disturbed. I had done all I could as there were no local vets open this time of evening, and I could only trust that the RSPCA would attend as promised.

The next evening I arrived at the river and saw the swan was gone. But after taking photos of the state of river, I started to walk along the sea wall and that's when I saw the swan. 

Maybe the officer had put the swan out of it's misery and left the body there; or maybe for some reason they did not come and the swan died of it's own accord. Either way the tide would have been high on two occasions since my visit, so I'm guessing the water carried it further along. Clearly it has been food for birds or maybe foxes, and it was sad to see the fate of this beautiful creature. When choosing to 'read water' I hadn't anticipated this might be part of my experience. But realistically, it is part of life and it was heartening to see the concern of other people who stopped to talk that first evening.

I continued my walk along the sea wall as planned and this time I noticed other things:

A jelly fish. 

An oyster shell. I now know this variety originates from Portugal. More about that in my next post.

And I have been surprised at how much the tide changes day by day. It's one thing knowing it from a tide time-table, and another to witness and pay attention. I am trying to visit at roughly the same time and today, instead of a trickle, the water was still deep enough for this red boat to swing gently on it's anchor. 

These shallow curves of waterflow are also teaching me about the depth and flow. I wonder what other things I will be discovering, and hopefully there will be no more injured birds or animals. 

Friday, 13 July 2018

How to read water - In 30 days

Recently I bought a new book as I want to have a better understanding of tides and currents. I have lots of local waterways  and I would love to explore them in my kayak; however, lack of knowledge and experience makes me wary. But this is a good thing isn't it - because it would be foolhardy to go out into tidal waters without some knowledge and preparation. 

I have learnt so much from just two chapters and I thoroughly recommend this book if this is a subject that interests you too. We hear so much about the moon's gravitational pull on the earth and how that creates tides. But did you know that the sun also has a gravitational pull. How have I lived all these years and not realised?! Suddenly, so many things have become clear and as well as learning a lot it is also an enjoyable book to read. 

And as I read the book this morning, I was suddenly had an idea for a project. So for the next month I plan to visit the river every day at about the same time.  Naturally life goes on and there will be days I miss, but I'm looking forward to getting involved and seeing what comes from this.

And to start, I have unwrapped a beautiful handmade book that a friend recently sent me. It has a sea chart cover and watercolour painted pages that representing water. It's just perfect! I will make notes of all the interesting facts and things I learn. I knew I would find a special use for this book!



The purpose of my river visits are to observe and connect with my experience. Because, we can miss so much when our thoughts distract us. These are the times when our mind can be in a different time or place, and so it is my intention to practice being present and to  awaken all my senses. 

Today I paid attention to:
  • The tide lines, as these mark the highest level of the water.
  • Flotsam - what gets left behind along the tide line.
  • Wind direction and speed - It was a light breeze today but it was interesting to notice that it blew in the opposite direction from the flow of tide. This was deceptive, as on first glance you'd be mistaken to think the tide was coming upstream, but the photo below shows otherwise. 
  • The flow of water - being mudflats and estuary this makes for interesting features. I was reminded in 'How to Read Water' that when water runs through narrow channels it becomes faster and more active. I saw this for myself, and could see the directional flow. The boats on their mooring can tell you this too, as their bow always points to where the water is coming from. But today they were stranded on the mud, the water a mere puddle around their keels.

  • The current tide - it happened to be at it's lowest at the time of my visit. Probably the lowest water I have ever observed, although that might be because I was paying proper attention today rather than just noticing it as low tide. I realised that if I had boots on I could probably wade across easily. Many years ago, before a school was built this side of the river, children used to have to cross to the other side to go to school. They'd be ferried across by boat at high tide, and come across in a horse and cart at low tide. What a fun way to go!
  • Relation to the sun and moon - today is a New Moon so I couldn't have chosen a better time to start my project. This is purely coincidental and not planned!
  • Plant and animal life in and along the edge of the river - I was lucky to see a pair of egrets, and as always, the large flock of resident swans came up the causeway to see if I had any food. For the first time, I became aware of the funny padding sound that their feet make on concrete, and how their feet are reptile-like in appearance. I always admire the swathes of sea lavender and the reeds blowing in the breeze. Today was no exception.

  • How the water makes channels and gradually changes course - I love this landscape and have always been fascinated by this, but today I was even more attentive. I looked for small hollows in the mudflat, and others that have grown deeper. And I saw how  eventually a new water course has cut through, or a mudflat is separated to form an island. I also paid attention to the stickiness of the mud. In places there was water still lying on the surface, or making a small channel. Most of the mudflats are covered with course grass and sea plants. But one was partly exposed, the surface cracked and crusty. Perhaps it was baked by todays sun, because I am certain it is covered by each incoming tide. I will have to look on future visits. 

I will use my photos as a record and I plan to make a book to keep them in. Today's photo collection numbered 200+ but that's because it was low tide and I could see all the different landscapes and features. My main focus will be to record the tide levels, and learn to read the water. Of course I won't be an expert in 30 days, but I should know a whole lot more than I do now!  
So I'll be back with more photos and progress soon. 
Thank you for visiting...  

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

And the winner is.....!

A big thank you to everyone who left a link or comment during the 5 year anniversary celebrations of 5in5.  I entered all the names into a random selector: 

Get ready to spin the wheel...…

Drum roll please!!!!

The winner of one of my handmade books is...…

Congratulations Eileen!!  

I will be in touch and the book will be on it's way to you very soon. Thank you to everyone who has participated over the past 5 years, this has made it all the more fun. There is still time to join in this month.  Check out details here.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

5 in 5 - July 2018 - Printing, traditional Japanese style

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

Thank you if you have been celebrating 5in5's 
5th anniversary with me and visited over the past 5 days. 

This is your last chance to win one of my handmade books and here's how to enter: like my page, leave a comment, or link. Each one counts. 

And to finish the celebrations, here is this month's 5in5 collection:

Do you have Art Trails where you live? 
At this time of year here in UK, lots of artists open their studios, or display their work as part of art trails.  I love to visit when I can and last week I was especially pleased to visit the studio of Japanese print maker Akiko Fujikawa. Akiko uses traditional woodblock printing methods and tools, and cutting the designs is a skill in itself.  Most designs have several colours, each one requiring a separate woodblock and printing process. Registration is the term used to position the paper so that the different colours print in the right place, without overlapping or leaving gaps. There is skill in creating the design, the woodblocks and the printing process. 

The tool below is a 'baren'. It is used to burnish the back of paper when transferring ink from the woodblock. This baren was handmade in Japan by a master craftsman, and apparently cost £600! I had to ask Akiko to repeat this as I thought I misheard.  But no. It seems baren making is a dying art, and you can wait 3 years to have one made by traditional methods.   

Excuse the poor quality of photo below, but it shows some of the stages of making a baren. Akiko explained that you take a dried bamboo leaf and gently peel away individual fibres to make long threads. These are carefully twisted to make strong but fine lengths (see photo), then woven into mats. These form the underside of the baren, then layers of rice paper are added, one sheet every day. In total it takes 53 days to make one baren and the final layer is a bamboo leaf, twisted and tied into place.  It is very strong and a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. 
Who would believe this simple tool involves so much time and skill in it's making?

Bamboo leaves have many uses. Akiko makes brushes from the fibres, they are very fine and beautifully made. 

I learnt so much from visiting Akiko and will never look at print making in the same way again. It was a privilege to see these traditional methods being used and honoured.  Maybe one day I will go to one of Akiko's workshops and learn even more. 

Thank you for visiting.  If you would like to join in this month's challenge you have until 25th to take your photos and post a link to your blog. Here's how it works:

1.  Choose a location.

2.  Have your camera ready.

3.  Set a mobile timer for 5 minutes.

4.  Take as many photos you can until the time is up.

5.  Choose 5 photos to download and share by using the link tool (for this month only please go HERE to link)

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

If you want to know more about 5in5 there are details here.

And one more thing - when you use the link tool, please click on your post title.  This will show the web address. Please right click, copy and paste this as your link.  This will take readers directly to your '5 in 5' blog page and be easier for them to find.

I'll be back tomorrow, Wednesday 11th, to announce the winner of the handmade book and it's not too late to enter! Just like my page, leave a comment on any post from 5th July 2018, and/or join in the challenge and add a link. Each participation equals an entry. Good luck and thank you for visiting!!   

Monday, 9 July 2018

5 in 5 - July 2018 - Celebrating 5 years! Day 5

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

Welcome to the final sharing of past posts in celebration of 
5 year anniversary of 5 in 5!

Usually I share 5 photos on 5th, but to mark this special occasion this was the start of a brief look back in time at some of my favourite posts. I hope you will enjoy seeing these and that this will inspire you to join in. Full details of how to get involved are below.  

So let's get started! Here's a brief look back in time:

I hope you will feel inspired to join in by sharing your own collection of 5 photos. You can find out how to do that, and link 


I am planning a free give-away! To be in for a chance of winning one of my specially handmade books, just do one or more of the following: like my page, leave a comment or link your own 5in5 photo collection.  Each participation will you gain you another chance.  On day 7, Wednesday 11th July, I will randomly select a name and announce the winner. Be in it to win it!! 

Also, don't forget to come back on 10th for this months 5 in 5 photos.
Thank you for popping by and I'll be back here with more tomorrow.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...