8 a.m.: Sunrise over Coxley Valley. The pond and the bird bath are frozen over. One of our neighbours is clinging to a gate post as she negotiates black ice on the pavement.


10.15 a.m.: Wispy cirrus cloud is a sign of a change in the weather.

Sure enough, twenty minutes later on our walk around the valley, we’re already seeing cumulus moving in from the west below it.

As I write this, seven hours later at 5 p.m., the sky is completely overcast and we’ve had half an hour of light rain.

Foggy Morning

After my weekend watercolour workshop, it’s hardly surprising that Monday morning starts with me seeing potential subjects as the sun melts away the fog. But we’re setting out with places to go and people to see, so I’m sketching indoors again today.

The cushions provide me with a landscape in miniature.

Through  the top of a window I can see the branches of an ash, which is still hanging onto a few of its keys.

I add some crayoned colour to my cushion landscape.

Lenticular Clouds

Ingleborough sunsetLate afternoon and I pull in at the viewpoint to photograph the cloudscape as we cross the moor top between Hawes and Langstrothdale.

Lenticular cloud
Lenticular cloud

“I think those clouds are caused by air rising as it moves over a hill,” I suggest to the man who has pulled in just behind us to photograph them on his iPad, “I’ve been reading The Cloudspotter’s Guide, but I can’t remember what they’re called.”

“Lenticular clouds?”

“That’s right; you are a cloud spotter?”

“No . . . just nutty!”

Just as I’ve got myself back in the car and out of the cool breeze, I notice another cloud-spotting feature to the left of the lenticular cloud that is hanging above Ingleborough and I grab my camera.

Sun Dog

Sun dog
One of these bright patches is not the real sun.
Sun dog
Sun dog

“Have you seen the sun-dog?” I ask the man with the iPad; “They’re caused by ice crystals in high clouds refracting the light and they always appear at a certain distance from the sun – I think it’s something like 23 degrees.”

“I wonder if that’s because we’re at 53 degrees north?” He surmises.

I wasn’t too far out, it’s 22° but the phenomenon is a halo effect caused by tiny ice crystals in translucent cloud, so the effect is independent of latitude.

Sunset over Langstrothdale

With 'sunset' setting.

Half an hour later I take the opportunity to photograph sunset over the top end of the dale from the first floor window of our barn conversion accommodation at Nethergill Farm.

sunset langstrothdale

It’s the first time that I’ve tried the ‘sunset’ setting on my camera. It might have warmed up the colours a little but it’s more successful than the camera’s default setting which attempts to adjust the exposure to make the scene resemble regular daylight.


Nethergill Farm

Cloud Appreciation Society

Transit of Mercury

transit of mercuryI set up the telescope in the last patch of afternoon sunlight on our back lawn and catch an image of Mercury mid-way through its transit across the Sun. This is the first time that I’ve seen Mercury: as we’re in a valley, we’re never well placed to see its brief appearances at dawn and dusk.

transit telescope

I don’t have a solar filter for the telescope so I project an image onto a sketchbook page, then photographed the image. I feel that it’s safer to project anyway: a friend accidentally burnt out the lens of his smart phone when he moved his telescope into position, having briefly removed his solar filter to make it easier to level up the shadow. That’s £70 for a replacement lens but you can’t replace an eye as easily.


Detail from the projected image of the solar disc. Sunspots appear in pairs, magnetically charged as north and south: imagine a horseshoe magnet connecting them beneath the photosphere.

Squeezing my camera in between telescope and sketchbook to take the photograph resulted in an oblique view of the solar disc so I skewed and stretched the image in Photoshop to fit into a yellow circle (top image).

planetsIf we could see the Earth’s silhouette alongside that of Mercury, it wouldn’t be much bigger than the larger sunspot (left).

Seeing the progress of Mercury across the solar disc gives an impression of the scale of the Solar System; 99.8% of the mass of the Solar System is contained in the Sun.

A Smile in the Sky

cloudy skyWe’re disappointed that, with a near total eclipse due at about 9.30 this morning, cloud is covering the eastern sky but we’ve located our eclipse glasses from 1999, so, with ten minutes or so to go, eclipseI try looking towards the bright patch in the bank of cloud.

I’m astonished and delighted to see, in sharp focus, the disc of the Sun neatly perforated by the eclipsing Moon.

eclipse 2015As it progresses towards near-totality, the crescent shrinks to a slither which reminds me of the end of a finger-nail but which has been better described as a smile in the sky.

eclipse near maximum

It gets surprisingly dim considering that there’s still a blazingly bright crescent behind the thin cloud. The birds go quiet as if tricked into thinking that night is fast approaching.

A Second Sunrise

As the Sun’s disc begins to reappear there’s strange kind of second sunrise. It’s like sunrise but more brilliant, because the Sun is already quite high in the sky. The brightness over the fields reminds me of sunrise on the east coast where light reflected off the sea intensifies the growing brilliance.

Total eclipse, 1999.
Total eclipse, 1999.

I’m reminded not just of the total eclipse in France sixteen years ago but more recently of an annular eclipse that we viewed from Sandsend; a ring of fire rising above a hazy North Sea.

Back in 1961 I was lucky to be able to observe a partial eclipse by looking through smoked glass in the school playground at St Peter’s Junior’s, Horbury. We were told then that the next total eclipse visible in England would be visible from Cornwall in 1999. It seemed an impossibly long time in the future but I remember thinking how amazing it would be to see it. When the time came, the easiest option was for us to go and stay with my penfriend from schooldays, Philippe, in Lille. We made the right choice because on the day thick cloud obscured the eclipse in Cornwall.

A Wind from the West

windswept treesVeils of grey cloud in ripple-mark patterns scud along from the south-west against a pearly glare which is all we can see of the midday sun. The wind up here at Birstall retail park flattens the spring loaded signs, bends the trees and grabs at the doors of the Pizza Express  so that the waitress has to reset the door-opening mechanism.

Comet Hunting

before dawnI’D HEARD that not much of Comet ISON had survived its close encounter with the sun but I took a quick look out of the studio window just before dawn just in case.

Even scanning with binoculars, I couldn’t see any traces but conditions weren’t ideal as there was a glow of streetlights over in the direction of Wakefield and a low bank of cloud was beginning to form in the east.

Juvenile Gull

herring juvenileAfter a couple of sessions sketching from hides I thought I’d take the opportunity to work in more detail from a photograph on my iPad as we sat in a waiting room yesterday, which probably explains why the proportion of head to body has gone awry. Colour added later.

The juvenile herring gull, photographed in September, was swimming along on Peasholm Park lake, Scarborough, looking rather worried as we passed by in our dragon-boat pedalo.

Herring gulls don’t moult into their full adult plumage until their fourth year.

My Dr Who Diary

Lett's Schoolboy's Diary

I’M ONE of the generation who can remember where they were when they heard the news of the assassination of  President Kennedy (just returned from the Friday evening church youth group) fifty years ago but I’d forgotten that the following day saw a happier event when the first episode of Dr Who was broadcast.

Dr WhoI’m travelling back along my own timeline by digging out my 1963 Lett’s Schoolboy’s Diary from the attic. Unfortunately the only event that I recorded for November that year was bonfire night. Not very helpful in building up a picture of the era.

My shiny new 1964 diary.
My shiny new 1964 diary.

I didn’t get into my stride with a diary until the following year but when, aged twelve, I started so enthusiastically (I dropped the colour after 3 weeks) we were still mid-way through the first series of Dr Who so a Dalek appears in my entry for Saturday 4 January;

‘Doctor Who was good today’.

I hadn’t quite got the hang of critical reviewing. In the previous year on the ‘Films seen during the year’ page of my diary I’d summed up Ben-Hur as ‘a good film’ but Tarzan goes to India got a more in-depth review; ‘some excellent elephant shots’. No wonder big screen spectaculars made such an impression on me as television was still 405 lines and black and white. But, as you can see from my postage stamp-sized sketch, the new science fiction series was a hit with me and I could imagine it bursting into colour.

At the barber's, 4 January.
At the barber’s, 2 January.

Unfortunately I no longer have two pieces of Dr Who memorabilia from the 1970s and 80s. One was a sketch that I made of one of the later Doctors, Sylvester McCoy, at a book awards event , the other a copy of Dr Who script editor Terrance Dicks’ paperback guide to the first ten years of the series. But where those two items ended up suggests the effect of the show on the creative imagination of children.

I’d asked Sylvester McCoy to sign the sketch for my nephew Damian, who was Dr Who mad and who would often wear a dressing gown and an extra long scarf, like his hero. And occasionally a piece of celery in his button-hole like Peter Davison’s Dr Who.

3 January, using my chemistry set, a Christmas gift from my parents.
3 January, using my chemistry set, a Christmas gift from my parents.

Damian has apologised to me for losing the sketch years ago! But he is now an architect so if you think you can detect a Cyberman or Dalekian influence in a building, it could be one of his.

The paperback went to Wilfrid, the son of one of my art college tutors, who sometimes quizzed me about the early episodes as he could remember only as far back as Jon Pertwee. Wilfrid went on to create puppets for Spitting Image including an irradiated sea monster for the French version of the show which wouldn’t have been out of place in Dr Who.

The fondly remembered American science fiction series The Outer Limits also features in my diary. Much as I appreciated the Doctor, I liked the slicker (for the time) production values of The Outer Limits and I liked the way that, as a series rather than a serial, you would find yourself in a completely different imaginative world with each one hour episode.

The Beverley Hillbillies

The Beverley Hillbillies Television shows feature a lot in the diary including including The Beverley Hillbillies (Friday 4 January). The six o’clock comedy slot on ITV, which included such series as My Favourite Martian, Mr Ed and Petticoat Junction, was a feature of week-day evenings; a break between school, tea and an evening session homework. pen

Some things never change. January 4: ‘I did my homework with my new pen (3/6).’

Half a century later my search for the perfect pen, the one that’s going to improve my handwriting and my drawing, continues.

My fascination with any technology which would help me to see the world around me in a different way had already started too;

Looking out over the railway and Storrs Hill road.

2 January; ‘I went on a walk over Storrs [hill] down to Horbury Bridge. Tested telescope.’


This was a pocket-sized telescope/microscope but the sky was the limit as far as my ambitions were concerned and later in the year I saved up to buy a reflecting telescope kit (£7 from Charles Frank’s of Glasgow).

I remember the thrill of seeing the tiny points of light of the stars come into focus scattered against the inky blackness; that feeling of looking into the depths of space. And of course back in time too . . . perhaps the light from some of those stars had been travelling for fifty years . . .

15 September 1964; ‘Got 50 lines ughh! for not backing book. Did homework. At 8.15 pointed (with Mum’s help) the telescope at the moon. My mother pushed up the mirror too far and out of focus. Eventually we got it focussed. You could see the craters. With Dad out we looked at starfields invisible to eye.’