The Green City of Bath…

Before I set off for a half term adventure to Bath my friend lent me a little trug for tired little dachshund legs. A little beach trolley that we could pull our dog around in, should she decide to give up on walking. (Which is quite frequent.)

Let me explain, it’s not that she is ill, or arthritic …. we own a ‘cat’shund, a dog who thinks she is a cat. Unlike a normal dog that gets excited when you eagerly say ‘walkies’, our dog looks at you, rolls her eyes and raises a flippant paw, as if to say ‘no thanks, you go on dear, have a lovely time’ before readjusting her lounging position on the sofa.

So it was with trepidation that we set off on our city break, with my husband taking the gung ho attitude of ‘she’s a bloody dog! I am not pulling her round in a trolley!’.

Needless to say the last few days have been what we term ‘divide and conquer’, this used to be reserved for our two children, with a three year age gap. Now it’s teen activities / versus dog activities.

Finding dog friendly green spaces we discovered that Bath is one of the most beautiful and green cities that we have visited. Golden sandstone Georgian town houses, are gathered in terraced rows, proudly sitting against a vista of rolling hills and trees.

The streets are peppered with antique shops, bric a brac finds and quirky outlets, we are all coming home with a few vintage finds. After a ten mile walk on Tuesday, in which we strayed out of the city and found Prior Park (National Trust site), and then yesterday the Royal Victoria Park with its gorgeous botanical gardens, we thought the dog would have given up. However it turns out the sight of a squirrel can re-ignite some inner canine hunting instinct and spark a burst of energy big enough to put a race horse to shame.

She still had her moments though, which luckily for us meant a good excuse to frequent some gorgeous coffee shops and long lazy pub lunches. Her doleful eyes ensured lots of treats from cafe owners and even a carry from one of the teens. Especially after we stumbled across this smug pair:

A very dog friendly city, I highly recommend a visit. Not sure if the ‘cat’shund would agree, she is looking forward to getting back to her beloved sofa and blankets, but we will definitely be returning in the future.

Book Launch! Seeds of Promise … a new adventure…

A year and a half ago, one of my students from the Field Studies Council courses approached me to see if I was interested in making an anthology of nature writing.

We hilariously thought it would take 3 – 6 months to complete! Hats off to all the publishers and editors out there …. we finally made it a year and a half later. I am so proud of the end result, it took a lot longer than we had planned because we were fitting it in around work and other commitments. We also approached publishers but ultimately decided to publish it ourselves so that all profits can go to environmental charities.

It was a huge learning journey, one I am so glad to have made. The icing on the cake is the beautiful illustrations by talented artist and writer Sharon Williamson.

You can find Seeds of Promise on Amazon, I promise it will take you on a journey of natural world discovery and intrigue. I also hope it will be a great point of inspiration to anyone looking at getting into nature writing. I’ve included a few pages at the back of the book specifically on getting started.

I hope you enjoy!

A Place on Mars…

I’ve been very quiet on here since summer, mainly due to a hectic schedule during September and over-committing myself to too many exciting opportunities, meaning my freelance work has had to take a back seat, while I have been getting my PhD and other commitments back on track. My day job at Converge (www.yorksj.ac.uk/converge) has just come through two years of external research on our project – with hugely exciting results, so it has been all go – celebrating the outcomes and future planning for our team.

As part of my work with York St John University I had the opportunity to go to London for a few days to network with our London Campus. We stayed in Canary Wharf, which I had never visited before. It felt such an alien landscape for someone who is so deeply connected to the natural world, I found it a surreal environment, you could have dropped me on Mars for the same effect!

I was however, both surprised and delighted to hear a bird of prey from the 10th floor of the hotel. It was also encouraging to see ecological work being done around all the concrete and steel. I saw a beautiful yellow wagtail on the Lilly pads at the campus ponds.

It was a brilliant reminder of how important the natural world is to me and to experience something so hugely different to my usual lifestyle.

On another note … for anyone looking to take comfort from the natural world with winter approaching, I am running a Winter Solace Writing workshop on the 30th of Oct. Details on my Events page here.

Wild Camping

It was the sight of the tree canopy at night that most surprised me most when I went wild camping in the woods last Friday.

The camp had been booked with an instructor as a birthday treat for my 14 year old son and a couple of his friends. My husband was meant to be the ‘designated’ second adult to join the sleep over, but at the last minute fell ill with a stinking cold. So I got to go! Although of course – disappointed for my husband, I was delighted to have the opportunity to camp outdoors.

With no rain predicted we pitched our hammocks in a small clearing amongst Corsican Pine trees and decided not to bother with tarps over head.

The wood was eerily still at night, not creepy though, but quietly beautiful. I felt safe wrapped up in a sleeping bag cocoon and protected by the wood. The cool night breeze washed over my face and my body was warm and snug in thermals and eider down coziness.

It didn’t get pitch black, instead a white glow shone through the canopy, which looked like an ink blot painting against the sky.

I lay listening to sheep bleating in a distant field, the occasional ruffles of a startled pheasant and the shivering of the wind through the pine needles. At 4am the wood woke up with a cacophony of sound. The little chiff chaff merrily punctuating the air ‘wake up, wake up, wake up’ against an assortment of other bird calls.

When I say it was a ‘sleep over’ in the woods, not much sleep happened, but it was a wonderful experience to be immersed in the natural world overnight, to have the scent of woodsmoke on my skin and a warm mug of tea cupped in my hands at 6am.

For anyone interested in a wild camping experience we went with Forest Quest who I can not recommend highly enough.

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