Art and Tapas

National Sculpture Prize 2016

On this day last year, I was proudly attending my daughter’s graduation ceremony in scorching Stoke-on-Trent. This year she and her significant other were with me again, this time at Broomhill Sculpture Park in cool for July North Devon, one of my favourite haunts, and only a few miles up the road. The tapas was (were?) excellent as always; even bigger and better if that’s possible.

Here is the work of the ten finalists in this year’s competition. The winner will be announced in October.

Artists’ statements and general information about the sculpture park and hotel are all available on the Broomhill website. Elsewhere in the grounds ………




How Victorian bathers came to take the health-giving waters at Ilfracombe

Today my old friend, Wools, and I visited Tunnels Beaches in Ilfracombe; a shameful first for both of us – it must be said, more so for him, as he has lived in this area for far longer than have I. It was an unseasonably warm day, the temperature reaching 19°C in mid-afternoon, and schools are closed for the week, so there were plenty of families enjoying themselves on the sand and rocks. The rock pools here are purported to be amongst the best in the UK.

The beach is accessed by around 200m of tunnels which were carved through the rock in the early 1820s by a huge team of Welsh miners, then a Bath House was built at the entrance which provided hot and cold saltwater pools for the use of the public. Tidal pools were also constructed on the beach itself, one for ladies and one for gentlemen; the ladies pool still survives, but the men’s pool has been destroyed by storms over the years. Bathing machines (movable beach huts) would be pulled down to the sands in the summer so that ladies could discreetly change into their bathing attire before taking to the waters, and swimming instruction was available. Of course privacy was guaranteed by sentries who stood guard around the pool perimeter and sounded a bugle if any errant male was seen attempting to peep. In 1905, after 82 years of segregation, the owners relaxed their straight laces, and mixed bathing was introduced. I expect the relatively recently deceased Queen Victoria was turning in her grave.   …click on pic to enlarge…

Today there is a fee charged to enter the tunnels (£2.50 for adults) and a snack bar, beach shop and toilet facilities are available. The men’s beach, with it’s function room and terrace, is sometimes closed to the public in the event of a wedding (as it was today), but there is plenty of fun to be had on the ladies’ side. The beach is a mixture of coarse black sand and flat pebbles, which proved ideal for skimming across the surface of the pool, and the atmosphere is quite enchanting; the high cliffs all around hide any sight or sound of modern life, and it was easy to imagine oneself living in another era entirely.

Victorian ladies and gents enjoying the beach at Ilfracombe
The Ladies’ Pool post-integration

While we were in the town, we also visited St. Nicholas’s Chapel, which was built in 1321 on a mound overlooking the harbour. It was originally intended as a place of worship for harbour folk, but has also served as a family home, a reading room and laundry, as well as a lighthouse. It is still a working lighthouse today, and is believed to be the oldest in the country. Ilfracombe has acquired a bit of a reputation over the years; the once glorious seaside resort of the Victorians has suffered somewhat from neglect and the rise of the continental package holiday, but there are some hidden gems to explore and lots more reasons to visit. A regeneration project has seen an injection of cash into the municipal funds and there are lots of improvements evident such as the harbour area (which is always buzzing with visitors), art galleries, installations and top-notch eateries.


In Verdigris

Last time I visited Verity was in October 2012. Today’s warm sunshine enticed me out to Ilfracombe where I found her with a fine veneer of verdigris and looking every inch a warrior for justice.

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It turned out to be a bit of a Damien Hirst day. We had a cuppa in his restaurant and then walked around his gallery space, both situated alongside the harbour.   …click on image to view large…

Calm after the storm

After weeks of strong winds and waves battering the North Devon coast, this weekend was sunny and dry. It seemed that almost the whole village was out and about and making the most of the fair weather. I went down to Crow Point, a spit of sand marking the point where the rivers Taw and Torridge meet the Atlantic.crow point after 044

This is the southern tip of Braunton Burrows , a massive sand dune system and Britain’s first  Unesco Biosphere Reserve. Crow Point has always been vulnerable to storms, but in the mid 50s tons of huge boulders were brought in to help form a strong defence. Over the years these have formed the base of an unbroken line of grass-topped dunes; that is until this month.

Over the past decade I have witnessed some erosion of a section of the dunes, but today I saw for myself the devastating damage caused by a series of storms which the whole country has endured in the first few weeks of 2014. One section of the dunes, maybe 300m long, has completely disappeared exposing a row of boulders. I have no idea of the probability of a new dune forming; I suspect it is a no-hoper. The dunes are populated by a tough grass called marram, and without that  any man-made construct will not last; it will be washed and blown away. So now the very end of the sand dune spit, home to Trinity solar-powered lighthouse, is an island at hightide.  click on pic to view large

This guillemot became a casualty of our severe February storms
This guillemot became a casualty of our severe February storms

Paper darts and arts

For much of 2012 St. Anne’s Chapel, in a shady, cobbled walkway in the centre of Barnstaple, was wrapped in scaffolding, undergoing extensive restoration works. Then in September last year it was unveiled as an Arts  and Community Centre with a vibrant programme of events, music and exhibitions.

St-Annes-Chapel-BarnstapleDating back to the early 14th. Century, St. Anne’s has enjoyed previous incarnations as (among others) a Chantry Chapel, when a trust fund employed a priest to sing masses for the deceased whose wills supplied its revenue. This chantry was abolished in 1585 after the dissolution of the monasteries under King Henry XIII, and the assets were acquired by the mayor of Barnstaple and his associates. It was later used as a grammar school, a Huguenot place of worship and a museum. The Huguenots were French Protestants who escaped from religious persecution in northern France and arrived in North Devon from 1685. They were warmly welcomed in Barnstaple and given the use of St. Anne’s Chapel on Sundays only, as it was being used as a school during the week.

During the renovations many items were found by the builders and contractors under floorboards, in the eaves and behind the wood panelling; these items were carefully collected as it was clear that they had been lost or hidden by former occupants and could be of historical importance. The items were all carefully logged by the then manager, Peter Doel, and gradually a clearer picture of the building’s past began to emerge. Some of the found objects were marbles, dried peas, nuts, beads and paper darts; these darts were tipped with broken pen nibs and had obviously been thrown up into the wooden rafters by schoolboys. Other interesting items were found in cavities in the exterior walls known as putlogs; these holes were left after the scaffolding from the original build had been dismantled, and over the years, builders have stuffed various items into the holes. The objects found in the putlogs include scraps of plaited withies which would have tied the scaffolding together, and more recent empty cigarette packets.img031

After the restoration, The Arts Council England and Barnstaple Town Council commissioned Devon artist, Lesley Kerman, to make a piece of art to be installed at the chapel which would illustrate its rich history. With the assistance of children from two local primary schools, Kerman designed and made three clear resin blocks incorporating some of the objects found within the building, and other items which would symbolise notable citizens or groups which had strong links to the chapel. One such person was the celebrated playwright, John Gay, who attended the grammar school which used the chapel until 1910. The crocodile model in the Centre Block represents a character in his controversial play, “Three Hours After the Marriage”. The oyster shell in The East Block was probably left from a worker’s lunch and was found wedged between the shaped stones which made up the arches above the windows and doors; it would have ensured a perfect fit.

The completed resin blocks are fitted into three putlogs in the chapel walls, and have become permanent parts of the fabric of the building. A book explaining the provenance of each item in the blocks is available to buy in the chapel itself.  Entitled “The Secrets of St. Anne’s”, it is a well written and fascinating history of the chapel and costs £4 (its ISBN 0953173062).


I was paying my second visit to St. Anne’s today in order to see an exhibition of paintings, collage and ceramics inspired by the sea, by local artists Fiona Bates and Jan Sears.  I could easily have left there with armfuls of purchases; if only I was better off! I made do with a couple of postcards but some nice memories.BTC St Annes Chapel -2

National Sculpture Prize

Brromhill 014Now in its fifth year, the National Sculpture Prize is an exciting challenge for new and emerging UK-based sculptors. The ten finalists exhibit their entries in the lower field at Broomhill Sculpture Garden, North Devon for the whole of the summer, and the winners of the judge’s vote and the public vote are announced in October. Previous winners include Glynn Griffiths, Wenqin Chen and North Devon’s own Suzanne Hobbs.

Many pieces from previous years’ competitions are still exhibited in the field alongside the newest sculptures, so there really is a feast for the eyes. And delicious food and drinks are available at the hotel, as well as the original beautifully landscaped garden which is full of every kind of sculpture imaginable. Some of these are pictured in my blogpost from last year, On Reflection.

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“Erratic Boulder” by Jake Rusby (2011 finalist)

Today, Nee and I started up at the hotel with a fantastic tapas lunch, then spent a long time in the lower field getting up close to the NSP exhibition. I have three clear favourites but haven’t yet come to a decision as to which sculpture I’ll be voting for in the public vote. In no particular order, my top three are:- “Myriad” by Sam Zealey, which looks like a large column but is not solid. What look like jets of water falling from above are, in fact, white cords through which the woodland and sky can be still be seen. I enjoyed taking pictures of this piece from different angles; “digital rendition n.3” by Joseph Hillier a geometric metallic human form,some 3 to 4 metres high, standing sentinel-like in the meadow and representing the role of science and technology in our world; “Familiar” by Dorcas Casey which sees three elevated animal heads, domestic goat, horse and ox, draped in clothing and blankets which have been treated with resins so they have set into solid folds. The artist intends the creatures to appear benign and comforting with an underlying malevolence.  … click on any pic to view large …

Broomhill’s website has information about all the entries, along with Artists’ Statements, and you can vote for your favourite too. If you’re ever in North Devon I would highly recommend you spend a day (or a half day) in these beautiful gardens, soaking up some of the wonderful tranquil atmosphere and eating from the delicious menu. Today we had a selection of tapas with homemade bread – I believe it’s the tastiest food available in the region. Below are the remaining seven sculptures.

Vitanee’s photos are here; they are far better than mine!

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Croyde Market….it’s back!

Our school, and my employer, broke up for the summer holiday yesterday (deep joy for all involved) and I took the opportunity of a free day to visit Croyde Village Craft Market in the neighbouring village. The market has been running in and around the village hall for several years, but after a change of management last year has been transformed into a thriving, buzzing hub of creativity twice a week smack bang in the centre of this busy tourist and surfing destination.

Poster illustration by Jo Isaac who is also the market manager

Today there were about two dozen stalls selling locally crafted items such as silver jewellery, driftwood frames, fused glass decorations, printed t-shirts, felt slippers, swimsuits, photographic prints, turned wood and much more. I spent a fascinating hour browsing and chatting to the craftspeople about their wares, and spent more money than I should have.

My favourite stall was selling the beautiful bowls, plates and other items made by wood turner Dave Tozer who has a gallery and workshop near Barnstaple, our nearest town. The woods in evidence were ash, elm, oak, beech and maple, but I thought the most beautiful pieces were made from burrs, the knobbly lumps which sometimes occur on the sides of trees but never develop into branches.

Spalted wood
Spalted wood

The spalted woods were also interesting; stunning patterns and colours develop in wood which has been cut and left on the ground for a year or two where various fungi and parasites get to work on it. Once the dishes, plates, bowls and other vessels are turned, Dave polishes them or treats them with vegetable oils which makes them suitable for food use. They just scream out to be picked up and caressed!

I bought a lovely shallow bowl made from burr oak which I plan to keep in my bedroom, possibly for my rings.

… click on any picture to view large …

A Space for Art

Once a year (if I’m lucky) I get to accompany one of our school’s art teachers to GCSE Moderation Day – representatives from four or five local schools bring a pre-requested sample of their pupils’ artwork and it is all re-marked by the group. This will show up any anomalies in marking and ensure that all the work is looked at fairly. It is one of my favourite days of the year; a day of wonderment and delight at the amazing talent of so many of our fifteen and sixteen year olds. Today was that day.

In the inspiring setting of Ilfracombe Art College, atop a hill overlooking the town and the stunning coastal scenery, seventy one portfolios were scrutinised, representing four schools in the area. Amid the oohs, aahs (and a few ooers), helped by copious amounts of hot tea, consensus was reached and minor adjustments to marksheets made where necessary.

We finished in time to make a quick tour of the ‘A’ Level exhibition upstairs where students of eighteen years were showing their work of two years which they hope will get them a place at university. It was stunning.   …click on pics to enlarge…

I have decided that I will make my own portfolio and enter the GCSE next summer (or the following one if needs be) as I didn’t have any art instruction after the age of fourteen. Watch this space!

A level art Installation


Guest Photographer : Dan Oliver   click on pic to view large…

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Down End, CroydeMy son has been taking pictures for his school art project entitled “Close-up”. Rather than being a random selection of pictures taken through a macro lens, he has looked at a specific location, Down End Croyde Bay in North Devon UK, and recorded the many and different elements that make up the whole.

The beach is not just the sand and the sea. Here we see rock pools, vegetation, flotsam and jetsam, marine creatures, dune grasses, rock formations and short-lived messages. …click on any picture to start the slideshow

Pictures taken with Canon EOS 400D mostly using 28-90mm lens.

Encounters with war games

SWCoastPathIt’s half-term holiday here in Devon, and as the weather is so beautiful, my colleague and friend, Lorna, and I decided to meet up for a walk along a part of the South West Coast Path which happens to be right on our doorsteps. This marked path runs right around the coast of SouthWest England for 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset to Poole Harbour in Dorset and is a popular destination for walkers on everything from a day’s stroll or week’s walking holiday to their life’s work.

In 2012 Mal Law ran the entire path in 16 days, 9 hours and 57 minutes. An averagely fit walker should complete it in about eight weeks. Most people take their time and walk a section of the path at a time, completing it over the duration of several years. It takes you alongside some of the most breathtaking scenery the UK coast has to offer, through protected landscapes and areas of special scientific interest and outstanding natural beauty. In my opinion the cliffs of North Devon and Cornwall are amongst the most beautiful coastal features in the world.

NDevonLorna set off from Woolacombe and I joined her in Croyde for the next leg. We fortified ourselves with Marmite sandwiches and tea at Down End, Croyde, then set off. Large chunks of the cliff here have collapsed into the sea following the supremely heavy rain we’ve had recently, and we were interested to see the construction of what seems to be an “underground” house being built into the hill at Oyster Falls. I will have to keep an eye on that. Climbing up and over the headland the vision of Saunton Sands stretched out before us – miles of pale sand and sparkling ocean. It was hard to believe this was February.

It was disappointing to see that the wonderful driftwood sculpture I came across last summer (see my blog post here) had succumbed to the recent Spring Tides and was now on it’s side, disshevelled, and resembling nothing more interesting than a bonfire waiting to be lit. coastal path 011By way of recompense, however, half a dozen Royal Marines in full combat gear suddenly came charging out of the sand dunes on dune buggies, roared up the beach and started doing some tight manoevres in the sand which was quite surprising but entertaining. Only one guy managed to tip his vehicle over on a tight bend (which was also quite entertaining).

Although Braunton Burrows is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, bizarrely the army is allowed to use the area, drive all kinds of vehicles through the dunes and use it as a combat training ground. To be fair, in all the years I’ve been walking there, I’ve only come across them 3 or 4 times, but when they are there they certainly make their presence known.

After a long 3 mile saunter along the sands we left the beach and headed over the dunes (Burrows) towards Braunton. The SW Coast Path actually avoids Saunton Sands and instead trails through the Burrows; we had made a slight detour to experience the cooling sea breeze. Just before leaving the Burrows we encountered more army guys with their camp, guns and surveillance equipment and bunches of grass on their helmets. It felt quite surreal to be walking along with our sunglasses and water bottles through a bunch of guys in the midst of their war games – I didn’t really know where to direct my gaze and at one point found myself looking straight down the barrel of a gun (hopefully loaded with blanks!)

Now we were on the home straight and could see Braunton nestling into the hills before us, we both started to feel our feet and joints complaining. Lorna walked for 15 miles; I think I walked 9 and am certainly feeling it now!  click on pic to view large ….