Tag Archives: Wales Coast Path

Maps That Mean Something

“They were maps that lived, maps that one could study, frown over, and add to; maps, in short, that really meant something.”

Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals.

If you read my last blog ( Give me a map…) you’ll know that I put the blame for my love of maps fairly and squarely on my father.

Give me a map …

The responsibility for my love of poetry is less easy to assign to just one person.  This never mattered very much because it never occurred to me that I would need to get the two things to work together.  Doing the MA in Contemporary Crafts at Hereford College of Arts , however, has created some unusual alliances in the way I think about things.  Around about the time I was walking the Wales Coast Path around the South Gower, two projects were occupying my mind.

Higgledy Piggledy thinking

The first was how I was going to find away to convert all of the experiences and ideas of that journey into a map that made sense and the second related to a piece of work that I have been asked to submit for the exhibition called ’50 Bees – The Interconnectedness of All Things’.  You can find out more about the exhibition here .  Luckily I was reading ‘Art Quilt Maps’ by Valerie S. Goodwin.  One of the chapters is called ‘Map Haiku:Visual Poetry’ and set me on the way to making the sort of maps which reflect both the physical landscape and the way in which I experienced it when I was out there walking.

A word about Haikus and other forms of poetry

Lots of people don’t know what a haiku is.  This is because they didn’t grow up with my sister Helen.  By the time she was 10, Helen knew virtually everything in the world (or so I thought at the time).  It is thanks to Helen that by the time I was 8, I had been instructed in a variety of theories including how to mummify a corpse ancient-Egypt style, how to skin a rabbit and -most importantly for my MA – how to write a haiku.  A haiku is a form of minimalist Japanese poetry with a set number of syllables.  Strictly speaking, the first phrase should evoke the season to set the time of the haiku, the second phrase the place and so on.  Let me not, however, give Helen more responsibility for my love of poetry than she is due.  My mother was a poet whose work was best described as Vogon-like (only readers of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will understand – and sympathise).  I grew up with shopping lists written in rhyme, limericks on birthday cards and – worst of all – letters to teachers excusing me from games or for absence – composed as country & western style song lyrics.

The architects of my love of poetry

In some ways I failed to escape the early influences and I still find it incredibly easy to write in verse although I usually get bored and move on to a different activity after about 4 stanzas.  Luckily I live in Wales, a country with more than its fair share of poets.  I love the brooding melancholy of R.S. Thomas (Reservoirs):

“There are places in Wales I don’t go:

Reservoirs that are the subconscious

Of people, troubled far down

With gravestones, chapels, villages even:”

and I adore the imagery of Dylan Thomas(Hold hard, these ancient minutes):

“Hold hard, these ancient minutes in the cuckoo’s month,

Under the lank, fourth folly on Glamorgan’s hill,

As the green blooms ride upward, to the drive of time;”

So as I thought about the South Gower and the 50 Bees,  I wondered about using a haiku as a starting point.  Especially as I had no other ideas floating about in my head.  Rather than use a Japanese form of poetry, I did a bit of research and found that there is a Welsh version called an englyn.  There are 24 different styles of englynion which range from incredibly complex to just downright incomprehensible.  The englyn milwyr (soldier’s englyn) was the simplest: 3 lines, 7 syllables per line with the last syllable of each line rhyming.  I thought that the soldiers wouldn’t mind me borrowing and tweaking their englyn so I decided my verses would be in English and would go with the 3 lines, 7 syllables but not bother with the rhyming.  I started with the 50 Bees simply because time was pressing and I had been getting emails which urged me to send photographs of the completed work as soon as possible.  The COMPLETED work?  Small chance of that happening.  I had been assigned a bee called the Colletes Cunicularis which is a fussy eater of goat willow and has very specific ideas on where home should be – sand dunes.  Also, my bee was prone to dancing with all the other bees from her hive.  I liked that image and thought about it a lot as I walked around the sand dunes of Kenfig Burrows in Glamorgan.

Postcard sized embroidery of Kenfig Burrows

According to local legend Kenfig was once a rich town and its people were cursed after they failed to show shelter to an old man on a stormy night.  Voices on the wind were heard to cry “Dial a ddaw” (Vengeance is Coming) and by morning the whole town had been buried in a sandstorm.  It is said that the bell of the church can still be heard ringing from beneath the waters of Kenfig Pool.  That story helped my englyn along.

“Paths swept by wind, strewn with gold

are lost to all save those who

watch her giddy dance unfold.”

There we are – 3 lines, 7 syllables per line.  Easy – thanks to Helen and Mum.

It made my final piece of work for the 50 Bees exhibition almost logical.  I just scaled everything up and got my poetry in for all the world to see.

The Giddy Dance

I decided to apply the same methodology to the South Gower.  I looked back over the photographs I had taken and the sketches that I had made.  In my mind the images of stairs cut into the woodland floor and the smells of carpets of wildflowers were still strong; I remembered that I had been mulling over a problem and trying to find a solution that was proving to be irritatingly elusive.  3 lines, 7 syllables per line later, I came up with this:

“Heavy, heady, scented steps

Violets, Ramsons, Celandines

Perfume the path, the moment.”

I was more pleased with the englyn than it probably deserves and this may have been because it kick started a design idea for a map of the South Gower walk.  I did a postcard size sample piece to just make sure I had the colours, lines and textures going the way I wanted them to.

South Gower 1 – Postcard

I came to the conclusion there wasn’t enough map-like content in my postcard.  It could as easily have been an atoll in the South Pacific as the coast of South Wales.  I refined my design and my colour palette and started again, this time working on watercolour paper rather than fabric and layering up glazes before stamping the text on.  I’m not that keen on stitching into paper and I’ll probably be altering my techniques before I do the next map but I’m not dissatisfied with the outcome of the South Gower map.

South Gower Moment

Felly, i ble nesaf?  Wel, es i am dro dros y mynydd lleol sef Mynydd Llangeinwyr.  Roedd y gwynt yn gryf iawn.  Tynnais i luniau gyda chamèra ac yn fy llyfr sgets.  Wedyn, daeth y geiriau’r englyn yn hawdd.  

My next map is probably going to be based on a walk I did over Llangeinor Mountain.  Llangeinor is a tiny hamlet on an ancient drovers’ route across the Glamorgan uplands.  On the day we crossed these now barren moorlands, the wind was harsh and bitter so:

“That wind – cuts through cloud spun light

carving shapes, crafting shadows,

splintering the dry stone walls.”

I’m not sure what sort of map I’ll be making to go with this englyn but I’m pretty sure that it will be one to frown over, study and it will mean a bit more than if I’d just drawn the route.

Never written an englyn: try now! 3 lines, 7 syllables per line.



And do something different now…

About three years ago a friend and fellow gardener told me of a wonderful book she had read called The Morville Hours .  Written by Katherine Swift it tells the story of the creation of a garden at the Dower House in Morville, Shropshire.   The Morville Hours is not your normal gardening book of Latin plant names (don’t do them), pests (got too many of them) and so on; rather it is an invitation to follow the author on a very personal journey of self-discovery with digressions into planting, history, nature and the priniciples of the Benedictine Rule.   I know this because three years after Susan lent me the book, I have reached page 164 (which means there are 184 to go: at this rate I will finish the book in October 2019).

Dyffryn Gardens (National Trust)
Dyffryn Gardens (National Trust)

I should now apologise to those who lectured on the Creative Writing Course at the University of Glamorgan, in particular Maria Donovan , Barrie Llewlyn and Rob Middlehurst because my speed and enthusiasm for reading books is no further advanced now than when they despaired of me between 2004-2007.  Maria instilled the values of sharp editing and good punctuation into me, Barrie taught me objectivity and quality control while Rob and I shared a fondness for 1940s detective stories and surreal humour.   None of them persuaded me to read for the sake of reading.

For a little while I considered whether I should continue my embryonic career in writing but when push came to shove, I found that I could either write or sew – there wasn’t enough in my creative reservoir to do both.  The call of the needle and thread proved stronger than the pen or keyboard and the rest is history.  Except, that is, for me  nurturing a small disappointment that I never did the MPhil in Creative Writing.  At the end of this month however, I embark on the MA in Contemporary Crafts at Hereford College of Arts which should satisfy my postgraduate tendencies for a bit.

Carnedd Cynddylan
Carnedd Cynddylan

I was accepted onto the MA course by virtue of embroideries like ‘Carnedd Cynddylan’ and ‘Dark Tonight’, and tempted by the prospect of learning how to blow glass and forge metal that I could use on pieces of Textile Art.

dark tonight

Over the summer my idea for the MA project has developed and spread like one of the plants in Katherine Swift’s garden.  At first I intended it all to be inspired by my interest in landscape history.  Then I thought about how I could incorporate myth and legend; next came the need to include artefacts and relics; now I realise I have the opportunity to include all the things I learnt through studying Creative Writing with Maria, Barrie and Rob.  Whether all my ideas and plans will ripen into fruition is another matter but I am nothing if not optimistic.

Back at the start of the year I set myself some goals (as opposed to New Year’s Resolutions).  The first was to do some form of further education so I think that one can be ticked off as achieved (or at least a work in progress until December 2017).  Another was to end the year leaner and fitter than I started it.  To this end my sister and I have been doing a 500 mile challenge to raise money for the British Heart Foundation. (You can track our progress here .)  It started back in March with the Carmarthen Mayor’s Race and

I am not the green dragon.
I am not the green dragon.

our challenge finishes next weekend at the Swansea Bay 10k.  In between, my quota of 250 miles has seen me doing a fabulous run around the National Botanic Gardens of Wales,  trekking miles along the wonderful Wales Coastal Path

Llanrhystud Beach
Llanrhystud Beach

and completing the iconic Severn Bridge Half Marathon.

Sut ydy’r her  o deithio 500 milltir cysylltiedig â Chelf Tecstilau?  Oherwydd fy mod i’n cael fy syniadau gorau drwy bod y tu allan.  Does dim ots a fydda i’n rhedeg, cerdded neu eistedd a chael picnic!  Mae rhaid i fi fod yn yr awyr agored i gael syniadau ac ysbrydoliaeth am waith creadigol.

In much the same way as Katherine Swift and the garden at Morville came together to produce a magical book that was as much about the human condition as it was about gardening, I find that just being outside is a huge inspiration to my Textile Art.  I saw  the glistening raindrops on moss covered stone walls that edged the lanes I was running through at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales, I felt the sense of isolation and aloneness along parts of the Ceredigion coast and I smelt the swirling muddy waters of the Severn Estuary.  These are memories which no camera could capture as an image.  The next time you find yourself short of inspiration, try moving through the landscape whether it’s a worked garden like the one at Morville , the wild and rugged hills of Wales or anything you are within reach of!



Less is More

“You can’t see the forest for the trees”

Once I make up my mind to do something I am completely committed.  It’s getting to the point where I make up my mind that causes me trouble.  Take going on holiday for example.  When I was young there was no choice when it came to destination or activity.  We had days out  when Mum convinced us that walking miles, beachcombing and swishing little fishing nets in mountain streams were the ultimate holiday pastime.  Picnics of squidgy beef spread sandwiches and  warm orange squash with the promise of an ice cream cornet for good behaviour were all we wanted – which is just as well because that was all we got.

Black Mountains Picnic
Black Mountains Picnic

These days I keep my holidays short and pack them with all sorts of activity.  Last week I combined walking part of the Wales Coast Path with, amongst other things, meeting my chum Lorraine from Greenweeds.  Lorraine tries her very best to get me interested in and interacting with social media.  To some extent, she has succeeded but not, I suspect, in the way she anticipated when she created this website.  Anyway, let’s go back to the Wales Coast Path.  The weather on Tuesday started off cold and squally and ended up like the tail end of a hurricane.  Not ideal conditions to be walking along cliff tops with waves crashing on jagged rocks a couple of hundred feet below.  Nevertheless I started walking at Llanrhystud and aimed for Aberystwyth.

Is this the way to ...
Is this the way to …

Before the weather closed in I got some spectacular views of where I’d been

Llanrhystud Beach
Llanrhystud Beach

and where I was going.

Yes,  that path is heading for the cliff edge ...
Yes, that path is heading for the cliff edge …

Photographs like this are not much use to me as an artist.  They’ve got too much detail and not enough atmosphere to remind me of what it was like to actually be in the landscape.  Diolch byth am fy llyfr sgets!  Mewn gwirionedd, dw i ddim yn dda iawn yn tynnu neu beintio go iawn ond dw i’n mwynhau sgetsio. Using a sketchbook allows me to pare down the information and give myself a starting point for a piece of textile art.  These are some of my sketches of the part of the Wales Coast Path between Llanrhystud and Aberystwyth and I don’t apologise to purists for the standard of drawing.

Sketches on Artist Trading Cards
Sketches on Artist Trading Cards

These sketches are the size of Artist Trading Cards and you can find out more about the background of ATCs here.  They are a perfect example of how working with less can bring you more.  Even if you don’t get involved in the trading aspect, restricting your design information to a small piece of card can really focus your mind on what’s important in your artwork.  ATCs are a great way to network with other artists but also help you to develop your own abilities.

Day 2 of the holiday involved a trip to Dolgellau to visit the amazing wool shop Knit One , which is run by the beautiful black cat, Bramble Murgatroyd and her assistants, Angharad and Kate.

Bramble surveys her realm
Bramble surveys her realm

Bramble, Angharad, Kate & I would never have encountered each other if it hadn’t been for Lorraine persuading me to use Twitter as a form of micro-blogging.  In 140 characters and 4 images, I can show the world – or at least the tweeting part of it – what I’m up to as an artist.  I soon realised that more people are interested in what Lily, my cat, is doing than what I’m creating.  In this example of less being more, getting a tweet from Bramble about how cats don’t like circular knitting needles, led to me spending a fabulous morning in Knit One having a lesson in how to knit using a  magic loop.  On the journey back to Aberystwyth, my sketchbook was at hand, recording less detail and more memory prompts.

Slopes of Cader Idris and Tal-y-Llyn
Slopes of Cader Idris and Tal-y-Llyn
Near Corris
Near Corris

With a rucsac packed full of fleece that Lorraine didn’t want, day 3 saw me back in Llanrhystud, this time walking the coast path south towards Aberaeron.  The weather was glorious, the terrain kinder and the views spectacular.  I could put some photographs here to prove it but my third example of less being more comes from looking for shapes and lines rather than a whole picture.

Shapes, textures, shadows
Shapes, textures, shadows
Lines and angles
Lines and angles

Incidentally on my way back from Dolgellau I called into the Centre for Alternative Technology which is where I first discovered Permaculture.  For ditherers like me, being spoiled for choice can be a real challenge because I spend too much time and effort on trying to deal with the whole picture Instead of the bits which are important.  There’s a great website describing Permaculture principles that you can view here and I’ve deliberately directed you to Principle 7 which is about designing from patterns to details – useful when you can’t see the forest for the trees .

Last word to Bramble
Last word to Bramble