First Quarter

Langsett reservoir from North AmericaIT’S A LOVELY Easter Day and also the last day of March so it seems the perfect opportunity to trawl back through my sketchbooks for the first quarter of the year to pick out the drawings that I never got around to putting online.

My first sketch was drawn from a photograph that I took on our first and sadly so far only walk around Langsett reservoir back in early January. The two stones are gateposts of an abandoned farm called North America.

silver birches at LangsettQuarter of a mile further on you come to a cleared area of plantation sheltered by a belt of silver birches. The habitat has been opened up to encourage nightjars and other birds to return.

A View from the Cinema

M62 from the Showcase, BirstallWe had most of the house decorated in February so I felt that I couldn’t settle down to work at home and as the weather was impossible for getting out drawing I took the opportunity to escape to the cinema a couple of times. This was drawn as I waited for the matinee showing of Lincoln. I wrote;

A few black-headed gulls and a carrion crow patrol the car park. A few tiny patches of snow linger on the fringes of the rough grassland. Dull bare trees shroud the busiest section of the M62 – currently being widened. The valley is more or less snow free, the higher ground snow-covered It’s easy to spot the cars that have come down from higher ground because of the 3 or 4 inches of snow that they carry on their roofs.

Dales Journey


Since I started writing the nature diary for the Dalesman I’ve been reading up on the history and the natural history of the Yorkshire Dales and, despite sleety, snowy weather, we managed a shore break, staying at Carperby in Wensleydale at the Wheatsheaf, the hotel where James Herriot and his wife spent their honeymoon. I’ve got out of the habit of packing for drawing trips so I printed out a check list that I’d made when we were touring eastern England a few years ago. One of the items on the list was a clutch pencil, not something that I normally think to take with me so when we stopped for lunch in Grassington I gave it a try. It’s probably marginally quicker than pen and the lighter tone brings the sketch nearer to watercolour than my normal pen and wash approach.

Mill Race tea shop

There’s a walk across the fields from Carperby to Aysgarth falls, where I sketched again in the Mill Race tea rooms. In the craft shop in the old mill there are photographs of Kevin Costner filming Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves at Aysgarth. The production spent four days here filming the encounter between Robin and Little John and, according to the caption next to the photographs, Costner’s wife had admitted that he was terrified when it came to the fourth day and he had to launch himself backwards several times into the foaming waters of the falls (flowing at 100 m.p.h. according the caption!).


HawesWe sheltered in the Dales Folk Museum on the Friday, familiarising ourselves with the history of the area and I drew the view from the cafe during our coffee and lunch breaks.

from the Bay Tree cafe

This gave me the chance to return to another medium that I haven’t used much recently; my Pentel Brush Pen. This forces you to work quickly and once dry its waterproof so you can add a watercolour wash.

Bronze age cupThere wasn’t much opportunity to draw as we made our steady progress around the museum and I found it difficult to choose just one item to sketch before we headed back to Carperby. I wrote;

This Bronze Age cup found at Crayke Farm near Hawes wouldn’t have been of any use to drink from as it is perforated by small holes, as if someone had pricked the clay with a cocktail stick around the base.

Wakefield One

Wakefield One celebrations9 March; This morning at Wakefield One, the metropolitan council’s new headquarters, you’re greeted by dancing caymans and wandering minstrels. The smell of freshly cooked medieval food wafts from the booths outside while inside there are the squeaks and occasional pops as balloon are made to order.

I’ve been invited to the opening of the new museum galleries as a thank you for helping out with some of the illustrations for the Charles Waterton exhibit. I squeeze in at the back of the crowd that has gathered on the landing by the library. Some students from Leeds camped out from 5 in the morning to be sure of getting a place but they’ve now had to close the doors to the queues outside.

Councillor BoxStanding next to me is a six year old boy wearing a cayman suit.

‘Have you been dancing?’

He’s overawed at the spectacle but his mum explains that no, he wasn’t one of the dancers but when he heard what was happening he insisted on wearing the costume. He reminds me of the boy in Maurice Sendack’s Where the Wild Things Are.

Councillor Box, leader of the council introduces ‘a man who needs no introduction’, Sir David Attenborough.



After the Snow


tree (horse chestnut?) in the snow in Ossett, 27th March.ALTHOUGH WE’VE had a covering of snow for a little more than a week it’s a revelation to suddenly have colour back in the landscape. The snowdrops have gone to seed during the time that they were covered in a little drift by the pond.

In the wood leaves of bluebells are greening the banks between the trees, while other slopes are still swathed with snow. In the fields on south-facing slopes the weeds and the oilseed rape seedlings are already established. This is a reminder to me that I must now start thinking about sowing seeds in our vegetable beds.


When the thaw gradually got underway a couple of days ago, Biscuit, who had been tramping around discontentedly in the solitary comfort of his snowy field (the two ponies that he was bossing around were his temporary guests and he’s back on his own now) found the first corner of grass to appear by the old shed and lay there in a heap as if he was soaking up the sun on a beach.

His method of getting  back up again was remarkably inelegant, pausing halfway for a few minutes in a sitting position more typical of a dog than a pony.


The snow brought not one but two nuthatches to the bird feeders. As far as I remember it’s the first time that we’ve seen two in the garden at once.

cat and pheasant

The lithe young grey cat who I think of as being a Jerry was shadowing the cock pheasant. The pheasant strutted around with his usual imperious haughtiness but wasn’t unduly concerned. The pair appeared to be more companions than predator and prey but when the pheasant started pecking the bare earth below the feeders the tip of his tail started flick, flick, flicking and the cat adopted a kittenish fascination as if he just couldn’t resist the pheasant teasing him to join in a game.


bloomerTHE PROOF will be in the tasting but this bloomer is the best-looking loaf that I’ve baked so far. It gets its name because it ‘blooms’ in the oven and I admit that I was concerned that it looked a bit flat and floppy when it went in. You start it off at quite a high temperature, 220°C, so the steam must give it an extra rise.

We couldn’t resist the new Paul Hollywood Bread book and we’ve already tried the pitta bread and his twisted wholemeal cob (which isn’t in the book). I think that I’m now ready to move onto the malt loaf and the rye, ale and oat bread.

When we cut into it, it had a good crust and even texture. Nothing wrong with the taste but I prefer the nuttiness of wholemeal and multigrain loaves but it does make nice toast. I cut down the suggested salt by two thirds so I’ve got to accept that I’m going to lose a bit of taste there for the sake of being marginally more healthy.



shedIN DECEMBER I bought myself a copy of The Allotment Year, fully intending to read the summary of jobs for each month and to put as many as I could into practice. Here we are one quarter of the way into the year and I’ve yet to do that. Perhaps April will be the time to start in earnest.

Thanks to the impetus given by having Paul the gardener coming for several morning sessions we did manage to do some of the structural tasks such as replacing the shed but it’s hard to see what I could have done to advance the planting of the vegetable patch when you look out on today’s blanket of snow.

hellebore in the snowTypically after snow there’ll be a degree of melting, followed by refreezing but this time the snow stayed powdery enough for the wind to blow it into drifts. Not the 15 feet deep drifts that they’ve had in Cumbria and elsewhere but when you tramp down our garden it’s obvious that in the shelter of our house the snow is shallower than it is further down and I think at least some of this reflects where the wind has scoured away and redeposited the powdery snow.

patio in the snowI can imagine that there would be turbulence in the lee of our house with more slack spots further down the garden, sheltered as it is by hawthorn hedges.

I’m glad I made the decision to start feeding the birds again. There are no small mammal tracks around the bird feeders. The largest footprints are those of the pheasants. Other than my size 13s that is.


spotlightsWITH BUS routes over the hills disrupted by the snow, we ended up taking a taxi to the matinee at the Theatre Royal and Opera House in Wakefield this afternoon. John Godber’s adaptation of Stan Barstow’s novel A Kind of Loving was as funny and evocative as the read-through which we attended in Ossett last summer had suggested. One of the hazards of a live performance; John Godber strolled onto the stage at the start of the production and explained that because Christine Cox who plays Vic’s mum had lost her voice he would be reading her part, while she continued in mime only (we did very briefly hear her in one scene).  I’d like to see the play again and hear her speak her lines but in most scenes you could have understood her character’s emotions without any dialogue. Every live performance is different and it didn’t detract from the experience, if anything it was another way getting us to use our imaginations to draw us into the story and the lives of the characters.

In those days cigarette smoking was an everyday activity and you couldn’t evoke the late 1950s and early 60s without having the characters smoking in various situations. A silver cigarette case, a 21st birthday gift, features in the plot. But it was strange to catch a whiff of smoke indoors again after years of it being banned. Luckily it didn’t set off the alarms. It reminded me of a time when any cinema, bus (upstairs) or pub that you went in would have to varying degrees a fug of stale smoke which you’d carry it back home on your clothes. But I should explain that this was just the slightest hint of fresh smoke and we were close to the stage on row E in the stalls, so don’t let it put you off attending when the production moves on to Hull and Stoke!

corner of the room

Here’s a subject that most of us get a chance to draw every day, except perhaps the people who live in the old windmill further up the lane; the corner of a room.


Moving a little to the right, this jug on the hearth came from Barbara’s mum’s. I guess that it dates from the fifties but it could be slightly pre-war. It’s hand-painted with orange flowers. Marrying the curvy vase with the geometric pattern of bricks proved beyond me and I was unable to match up the proportions of the vertical and horizontal sections of the fireplace when I came to draw the bottom righthand corner of my drawing. My guess is that I drew the jug slightly larger than the bricks that I’d already drawn by the gas fire on the left.

mantaray bag

So for my next drawing I went for something with no geometric grid. This is my A5 size art bag, a grey Mantaray bag which I most often take with me for everyday drawing, such as this afternoon at the theatre.

Late Snow

redwingsIT SNOWS on and off through most of the day as we head towards what is predicted to be the coldest March weekend for fifty years. A flock of sixty or more of what I think are redwings heads north-east away from the band of snow that has been making its way up across the Peak District as warm air from the south-west rolls in and meets cold air from Scandinavia.

lapwingsLater a smaller flock moves in the same direction. Occasional groups of gulls and, at lunchtime, a ragged band of lapwings head in the same direction, away from the snow.

miniature daffodilsAfter stopping feeding the birds for a month we’re satisfied that if there are any brown rats around – and we’ve seen no sign of them – it’s not primarily our bird feeders that are attracting them. siskinToday great tits, blue tits, robin, siskins, chaffinches, greenfinches and pheasants appreciate the sunflower hearts on offer, each a little burst of energy for them.

Too Long a Winter

trainersEVERYONE IS getting fed up about the winter. It might not have been the worst but it seems to have gone on for so long, especially as it stretches back to merge almost imperceptibly with a long wet summer.

walletBut it doesn’t have to stop me drawing. I grab the nearest pen, the Lamy Safari that I like to write with and draw whatever happens to be around me. The only thing that I rearrange is my pair of trainers, taking them out from under the coffee table and setting them at what for a human sitter you’d call three-quarter face.

It’s surprising how fascinating familiar objects can be when you really look at them. Different types of trainers seem to have different expressions. Tongues, eyes and a hint of a smile give them an individual character that you’ve got to draw with as much care as you would a face. They even have a sole.

bowlThis is the first drawing that I started this evening. As you can see it took me a while to get into drawing. To me this looks rather stilted and awkward but perhaps that’s because the bowls and the vase are standing around like the guests at a party that hasn’t quite got off the ground yet.

I soon realised that the cartridge was running out so popped upstairs for a refill.

bookshelfAccording to a Horizon documentary that I watched last week the optimal way to increase your creativity is to take on a task which is moderately demanding. Sitting there doing nothing doesn’t free up the creative side of your brain as you might think it would do and nor does getting involved in a task that demands all your concentration.

So drawing a bookshelf, with those repetitive but slightly different shapes, must put you in the ‘Goldilocks’ zone for creativity when you’re drawing. Not too demanding but sufficiently engaging to get the creative parts of your brain ticking over.



THE SILHOUETTE was enough for me to instantly identify the bird; slightly stubby and with a sharp crest; a waxwing. It flew off from the weather vane on which it was perched and settled on the apex of the roof of the nearby bungalow, joining six more waxwings which were perched on the television aerial and chimney pot.

They’re a reminder that although we’re already into the three months that the meteorologists refer to as spring, spring proper isn’t quite with us.

We’re having odd flakes of snow here today and a cold breeze. My thermometer is showing that it’s 5 degrees above freezing but the breeze makes it feel much colder. Cars coming down from the hills are covered in inch thick snow. Perhaps this is the reason that these waxwings have turned up here today in the Calder Valley.

Earthworm Sprinting


MEANWHILE in the meadow all is harmony. Well, that’s not strictly true, it’s more like the tense calm in the build up to the big three-way shoot-out at the climax of a spaghetti western. Two new ponies appeared in the meadow yesterday and you wouldn’t expect Biscuit, the resident, to share and share alike.

ponyThey appeared to be grazing happily together but then when they got down to the bottom corner there was some kind of disagreement. Biscuit chased the smallest pony, trying to bite it on its hindquarters. The small pony kicked its hind legs as it galloped away.

This morning the small pony was grazing some distance away from the other two, although when something surprised it at the top end of the field it galloped back to join them.

BiscuitBiscuit’s plan seems to be to control the water supply. The other newcomer, the pony with a white flash and white socks on its hind legs, had taken a short break from grazing to drink from the plastic bath (it’s turquoise) that serves as their water trough. The small pony also made a move towards the bath.

At this stage Biscuit appeared to notice what was happening and he swaggered towards the bath to take a drink. He’s a stocky horse, especially compared to the smaller pony.

It was rather like the saloon scene in a spaghetti western.

Mole Hills

mole activityGood news about those ‘rats’. It looks as though, although we might have the odd sign of rat activity further down the garden, the concentration of excavations around the bird table are the work of moles.

This morning Barbara spotted a pink thing wriggling near one of the little mounds. No, it wasn’t a rat’s tail; it was a large worm, risking its life by coming to the surface in the daylight.

There was soil movement a few inches away from it and something grabbed the worm and attempted to pull it underground.

Somehow the worm escaped and did the equivalent of an earthworm Olympic sprint. It headed off and, I guess in less than a couple of minutes, made off in a straight line to the edge of the patio, a distance of about five feet. It didn’t use the S-shaped wriggling motion that you might associate with an earthworm and instead stretched out in a straight line. A worm in a hurry.

There was more earth movement amongst the mounds but we never glimpsed the creature that was burrowing.

moleI’m not saying that the omnivorous rat wouldn’t occasionally hunt worms but I feel that it would have been willing to emerge at the surface momentarily to catch this prize specimen. What we saw was precisely the behaviour that you’d expect of a mole. I moved the bird feeders a week or more ago so spilt sunflower hearts are no longer the attraction. I think that the spilt husks and the droppings of birds such as the pheasants must have built up the fertility of the soil here, resulting in a growing population of earthworms, which would attract any mole that happened to be passing through our garden.

And if I saw a series of little mounds anywhere else I wouldn’t hesitate to identify them as mole hills. Rat burrows, I feel, would normally have an entrance somewhere but no holes have appeared in this part of the garden.

catBarbara had watched earlier as the small grey cat that visits our garden closely observed the earth movements. Cats traditionally chase rodents but this one, which is young and playful, would equally take an interest in a mole.

A few days ago I watched this cat, which reminds me of Tom from Tom and Jerry, on our lawn having great fun stalking, pouncing and playing with a pigeons feather.

Newts by Torchlight

rocks by the pondTHERE’S ICE on the pond this morning which has largely melted away by lunch time. At sunset Barbara thinks that she’s spotted our first frog of the year. I focus the binoculars on it but can’t make up my mind whether it’s a frog or a dead leaf that has been blown into the pond.


When I go out to take a closer look it has disappeared. If it was a frog it could soon hide itself amongst the luxuriant pondweed but I’m pleased to see two or three smooth newts.

newtThe pond has never looked better. We replaced the liner last year and I added plenty of oxygenating pondweed which has successfully established itself in the deepest section. It’s hard to believe that a year ago this was nothing more than a hole in the ground.

frogAll we need now is those refugee frogs from next door to find their way here.

I go out later with a torch which isn’t powerful enough to enable me to see deep into the pond but I do spot a single newt in the shallow section.