Easter break….

A week on the Scottish Coast. Each day filled with sea air, beach combing and woodland walks. We were lucky enough to find some plant fossils in the shale rocks.

Much needed time for writing and creativity after a busy couple of months. Looking forward to delivering more nature based creative writing courses over the next few weeks including a nature writing poetry master class and a woodland inspired four week writing course which I am planning for June / July.

I always love returning to the home comforts of Base Camp and my gorgeous cats! I think they enjoyed having the house to themselves for a week, although we have been getting lots of cuddles .

Exploring the work of Constantin Guys…

Yesterday I picked up a book of sketches by Constantin Guys on a second hand shelf at the City of York Art Gallery.

I had never heard of Constantin Guys before, but the drawings and ink washes immediately caught my eye.

‘…born in a Kissinger, Holland, in 1802, the son of a chief commissioner in the French navy. In 1823 he joined Lord Byron’s and expedition to fight the Greek war for independence.’

His artistic career didn’t fully flourish until he was in his 40’s and in 1854 he was sent ‘to the Crimea to cover the movements of the English, French and Turkish troops in their fight against the Russians.’

He was famous for his illustrations of life in Paris, as well as his war drawings. I love the immediacy of the work and the way that simple mark making has created the energy and movement of the soldiers and horsemen on the page.

Although a very random book to find and purchase, I came home inspired, wanting to learn more and to practice capturing movement through simple lines and mark making.

All quotes taken from: Smith K, (1978) Constantin Guys, Crimean War Drawings 1854: The Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio.

The Iron Coast…

‘For when the sea is calm [says Camden], the waters at Skengrave being spread as it were into a plain, a hideous groaning is often heard in these parts, on a sudden, and then the fishermen are afraid of the sea. They believe the ocean to be a huge monster which is then hungry and eager to glut itself with the bodies of men.’

Folklore attached to Skinningrove – taken from The Iron Coast by Jane Gardam

Bright skies greeted us driving over the North York Moors to go to the coast today. I met with my best friend on the beach at Skinningrove. A little known place with a huge stretch of sand. Steeped in history Skinningrove is a Viking name – which meant Skinners grove or pit.

At one time Skinningrove was home to a large iron works which opened in 1848. Today you can find remnants of the iron industry along the coast line.

I love the raw beauty of this coastline. The Cleveland Way coastal path runs through Skinningrove which is situated between Saltburn and Staithes, the cliffs above Skinningrove are breathtaking and pass by abandoned Alum Works where huge pits of land have been carved from the cliff. Now filled with bracken and heather they are both eery and beautiful at the same time.

I would take this coastline over any other, any day. For anyone interested in the North East Coast I highly recommend The Iron Coast by Jane Gardam which captures the visceral essence and history of the area, illustrated with black and white photographs taken by Peter Burton and Harland Waltham.

Mini Adventure: The Sumptuous Dyls Cafe in York

I can not encourage you enough to visit the gorgeous Dyls Cafe in York. Saturated in beautiful colours and a range of art work and graphics it’s a visual feast.

Based in a small tower that held the motor for moving Skeldergate Bridge in York, the cafe now has a fairy tale quality. Plants trail from windows, you follow a tight winding staircase to each floor, the top floor is a tiny round room at the top of the tower, it feels like you have been transported to another time.

I love the quirky style and humour of the decor. It’s a little adventure just spending time soaking up the atmosphere. I don’t get to go that often, but I have to say it’s my favourite cafe in York based on the interior and setting – great coffee and food too!!

Happy New Year!

We welcomed the New Year with a walk along Hunmanby Gap beach today. A few brave folks were having a New Year’s day dip in the Sea. Strolling along the sand, listening to the waves rolling in and feeling the wind on my face was enough for me.

I would love to claim credit for making pebble pictures of 2022 and a spiral, but we found these along our walk. Today’s adventure was a treat for our Dachshund who doesn’t care for walking much, but does adore the beach. It’s so cute to see her giddy with excitement on the sand.

I was thinking about New Years Resolutions as we walked. Mine this year is to keep on keeping on. Writing is a lengthy process, it’s too easy to give up. I’m going to press on with writing daily and forging ahead with my PhD. The process is as important as the end product. Over the last 7 years I have gradually phased more art and creative writing into my life, I’m looking forward to devoting more time and attention to writing and creativity during 2022.

Happy New Year!

I wish all the best for everyone for 2022!

Dreaming of St Cyrus…

Last summer, completely by accident, I stumbled upon the breath taking nature reserve of St Cyrus. I only found it because we were looking for somewhere to let the dog stretch her (very short sausage dog legs) and to break up our journey travelling through Scotland.

We followed a track that took us from the road across a wooden footbridge and sand dunes to the beautiful wind swept beach of St Cyrus. We weren’t expecting the vast stretch of sand before us, but there was also another surprise that was one of the strangest things I have ever seen in my life.

We walked for a mile along the beach and found an inlet of rocks and granite stone. In one of the inlets thousands and thousands of sprats had been trapped by the tide. Maybe chased in by birds? The whole pool was glittering with fish as they jumped to get air. Another young group of walkers was trying to dig them a trench to reach the sea. It was an eery sight as the pool glittered and fizzed with fish, many that hadn’t made it lined the edges of the shore line.

Further around the inlet the rock pools were deep and round with perfect clarity, lined with shells and fronds of jewel coloured seaweed.

The whole bay was stunning, there was hardly another person for miles. A few tiny bothies were visible set back in the dunes. Someone had used driftwood to create some fabulous shelters, some of the wood was so weathered it looked like rivulets of water in the sand.

I woke up this morning dreaming of the beach, of the crunch and dig of sand under foot, the sound of the wind sweeping the bay and the pull of the tide.

At the end of the walk, we found the visitor Center with a poem carved into stone marking the placement of a time capsule. If I could bottle St Cyrus and take a lung full of sea air whenever I felt like it, I would have done so!

Marram Whispers
Secrets over time
Blown Sands.
Colour dusted wings
Dance over
Flowers of memory
Lark silvery notes
Soar above the sea
Rhythmic sighs:
Wind woven sounds
Singing the song of
St Cyrus

By Lesley Harley

Walking to Loch Brandy

A recent hike in the mountains of Glen Clova took me to Loch Brandy (sadly not a Loch full of actual Brandy according to my Scottish husband).

The hike gave me the opportunity to begin working on a new collection of poetry. I have been reading Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, which I am thoroughly enjoying and is helping me to develop my writing.

The poem here is not yet fully finished, reading it again I have more words to cut. A fine poem is like a painting – many layers and edits are made before the finished piece is ready, and for a true artist there is always something that could be tweaked.

Loch Brandy itself has a mysterious causeway running over quarter of the Loch. Some say it was made for fishing the lake – you can see the outline of the causeway when you stand on higher ground. The Loch glittered as we paddled due to the fragments of fine sand – quartz and granite which sparkled as we stirred up the water.

We encountered what I think was an ermine moth caterpillar half way up the mountain, hence the reference to the moth in my poem. We also saw several peacock butterflies which appeared so fragile and beautiful against the landscape.

I would love to hear from any other poetry writers – any recommendations of books or resources. I would also love to read your poetry.

*Walking to Loch Brandy is copyrighted to myself. Please do not reproduce this writing or poem without my full permission. (Emma McKenzie).

The Whispering Aspen Trees

‘Willows whiten, aspens quiver,

Little breezes dusk and shiver

Thro’ the wave that runs for ever

By the island in the river

Flowing down to Camelot.

Four gray walls, and four gray towers,

Overlook a space of flowers,

And the silent isle imbowers

The Lady of Shalott.’

Taken from The Lady of Shalott by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

There’s a line of trees at the edge of the racecourse field in York that catch the wind on the rise of the hill and if you close your eyes, you could be standing by a waterfall or rushing water.

Even in the slightest breeze they quiver and whisper and are totally magical if you stop and take the time to listen and notice the movement of the leaves. They always remind me of the Lady of Shalott poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson. I’m not 100% sure if they are Aspen, but they had me intrigued enough to look up the folklore and mythology related to Aspen trees.

I found this fabulous website Trees for Life and learnt that Aspen were thought to have ‘magical qualities to safeguard the bearer from psychic as well as physical harm.’ A crown of Aspen was thought to allow the wearer to enter the underworld and also to return safely. I recommend visiting their page to read more.

I love how one observation can open up a new world. The Trees for Life Project is based in the Highlands of Scotland and aims to restore the Caledonian Forest. You can donate trees to their project as well as learn about the many wonderful species. I’m already forming a plan for an adventure (but maybe when the midges are less voracious)!

Walking hand in hand with John Muir

It’s no secret that I love books. Reading is travelling in the mind. Diving into another world, or places that we haven’t yet had chance to explore.

Recently I’ve been lucky enough to have been working on a project about Darwin for the Field Studies Council. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Darwin’s life, but was also surprised to discover that after his epic voyage on the Beagle he rarely travelled and stayed within his home for much of the rest of his life. (Mind you – five years at sea might have felt like enough travelling for one life time!)

Reading about Darwin inspired me to learn more about another naturalist, John Muir (1838 – 1914). Much less known in the UK John Muir started his life in Dunbar, Scotland. His Father was strict and John Muir had a harsh upbringing. To escape he often wandered into the hills and found solace in the natural world.

When John Muir was 11 his father moved the family to America to pursue a new life and the preach for the Disciples of Christ, a strict religious order. Muir left home at a young age of to pursue work for himself (he was a brilliant inventor and engineer), Muir also continued his pursuit of knowledge of botany and the natural world and in 1867 decided to walk 1000 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.

Muir often slept wild, meeting strange folk along the way as well as discovering for himself what we now know as some of the greatest national parks such as Yosemite.

Muir published eight books over his life time recording his findings and thoughts. He is now known as one of the greatest environmental philosophers and the person who first put forward the idea of National Parks.

Muir recognised our disconnect from nature and worked hard to protect the world and find balance. I love his words about life and death that reflect that humans are often divorced from the life cycle and the natural world. We often see death as a medical failing. There is much comfort in John Muir’s words which also make me more determined to appreciate each day that I have.

‘Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave has no victory, for it never fights. All is divine harmony.’ John Muir

The pictures are from the Scottish Hills as a nod to John Muir’s birth place. I highly recommend a visit to John Muir Country Park if you are in the East Lothian area. My favourite beach is Ravensheugh Beach – also a place that the artist William Turner made some beautiful paintings and somewhere I will be visiting as soon as possible.

Recommended Reading for your own adventures:

On the Trail of John Muir – Cherry Good.

The Eight Wilderness Discovery Books – John Muir. Diadem Books.