Postcard from Lockdown

We moved house between lockdowns last October. In this home-centred world it seemed both fitting and incongruous. We didn’t go far, staying in the same quiet bypassed village. The two houses couldn’t be more different – from a tall thin 3-storey newish build to a single-storey thatched property dating from 1613. This cottage is known locally as Plague Cottage as it was a refuge for sufferers of the Bubonic Plague in the middle ages. This name resonates in present times, but we stayed with its later name of Bumblebee Cottage as it seemed more cheerful and the building looks like a domed hive.

When we first arrived, the cottage looked like something out of a Hans Andersen fairy tale – trammelled in ivy, over-shadowed by a sinister fir tree, its windows blocked by an overgrown buddleia. Brambles had woven themselves around every shrub, and a yellow rose had climbed up into the thatch. The house had been empty for a while and seemed sad, hunkered down, its thatch hat pulled down over its eyes.

During the first lockdown in March 2020, I spent every day drawing and painting, with the aim of finishing my book, A Year on the Jurassic Coast. The days flew by as I immersed myself in virtual walks along the coast, absorbed in recreating the beauty of the coastline of Dorset and Devon in pen, ink and watercolour. It went to print in June and came out in July, having a brief airing during the Indian summer in various galleries and shops until Lockdown struck again. I created an online shop at and then an article in Coast Magazine, in their October issue, lit up my book in a shaft of winter sun as we approached Christmas.

Now, settled in our dumpy little cottage, I am enjoying my studio in the garden which I’ve finally managed to sort out ready to start drawing, painting, writing, running workshops, etc. But of course, I have no visitors. So I’m writing this wish-you-were-here postcard in lieu of actually seeing people. I’m hoping that I shall be able to participate in Dorset Art Weeks at the end of May when I look forward to being able to welcome visitors. In the meantime I am again working from memories and my imagination. I’ve spent some time framing lots of old photos to hang on the wall to remind me of the good old days. I’m missing family and friends and, sometimes, even talking to myself!

When the weather allows, or quite often when it doesn’t, I walk through the village to the water meadows hoping to see a Kingfisher. This usually appears when my mind has wandered on to something else and, suddenly, one surprises me by skimming past my nose as I cross a bridge. I lean on the parapet watching the glossy mallards towing their reflections down the chalk stream. Winter-bare trees reveal their symmetry. Willows line up like a stack of coloured pencils. A heron stands motionless at the water’s edge pretending to be a piece of grey sky. Distant tangles of bramble have a purple tinge. I wait for the time when the sun starts to gild these with silver and then green.

The thatcher is coming on Monday to re-ridge our roof. The cottage will then look even more like a hive waiting for the buzz of bees. We make soup on the Aga, bake cakes and venture into the garden when the ground isn’t too wet, wondering what unknown plants will start to emerge as the temperature rises. Already there are hopeful clumps of leaves huddled against the frost. We are making raised beds for vegetables and I have trays of sprouting seedlings on the windowsills. It feels as though the whole world has gone into extended hibernation. We wait for the sun to release us from our house-bound dormancy.

Outside our front door, a witch’s broom is mounted on the wall. Lodged above it, under the thatch, is a blackbird’s nest. I used to see the occupant, watching me with a suspicious dark eye, last summer when I visited the cottage. We have left the nest where it is, wondering if she might return this year. Today though the weather is bleak and bird-less with an easterly wind finding gaps in doors and windows. The grass is white and so is the sky. People aren’t venturing out, so there’s no opportunity for a chat over the gate. We find our masks useful to keep our faces warm, and we walk, eyes downcast, fearful of ice.

It is quiet, hardly any traffic, the thatch muffles the wind. However, the evenings are gradually getting lighter and soon the days will be longer – we shall be able to see the way forward. We text, email, zoom, FaceTime, but miss hugs and seeing the grandchildren grow. The younger ones will be wary when we see them again – used to keeping their distance. We have all learned new habits, like crossing the road when someone approaches. I used to apologise – ‘nothing personal!’ – but now we all do it and everyone knows why. The world is different, birds sing more loudly, wild creatures venture into urban spaces, we feel our insignificance and vulnerability. Deep down, we fear for the human race and what we have done to the planet. There is a sense that the natural world is starting to bite back, that harmony may, one day, be restored and human beings put in their place. We hope that things may soon be different, that we may have learnt lessons.

There is some benefit in being confined to the home. We have time to talk, to cook and get to know our surroundings intimately. Like creatures inhabiting a burrow, we are acutely aware of strange sounds, the weather, the phases of the moon and the smell of snow in the air. We have become familiar, even in the dark, with every twist and turn of our walls, know the texture of stone and brick. One day I noticed a distorted face marked in a knapped flint in the kitchen wall. The silence around us seeps into our heads so we hear our thoughts loudly. At night we shut the gate, draw the curtains, pour a glass of wine and try to avoid the TV news.

We are the lucky ones and I hardly dare begin to think about all those who are truly suffering during this time, especially children, missing their friends and schooling, perhaps neglected through poverty or depression. The homeless, the ill and the bereaved are the true casualties of this pandemic – people unable to get out of bed in the morning and who keep the curtains drawn to avoid shedding light on their pain. People who live in flats with no outside space, city centres where there’s nowhere to walk and those who have lost their jobs and income because of the situation. Whenever I start to get cabin fever, I have only to think of these people and I count my blessings.

I wish everyone health and happiness as we tread hesitantly into this new year. We have just had Imbolc – the pagan festival which marks the beginning of spring. It was on 1st February, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It is the Chinese New Year tomorrow, the Year of the Ox – a symbol of strength and forward movement, perhaps a sign of hope for the future.

New blog posts

Hello to all my loyal followers. I must apologise for the fact I haven’t been posting regularly, but I’ve been busy with my new book, ‘A Year on the Jurassic Coast’, which is due to be published in the next couple of months. I have now started posting blogs on my re-vamped website so please refer to that page for the latest updates. I now have an online shop to which I am still adding items. Copies of ‘A Year on Chesil Beach’ are available, as are greetings cards (useful if you’re unable to go shopping for these), prints and the wonderful salt-glazed ceramic bracelets made from vintage beads left to me by the late Joan Sydenham, widow of the late Poole potter, Guy Sydenham.

My new book will be launched on the website as soon as it’s published. I’m very excited to see it taking shape.

Do pay my website a visit and I hope you will continue to follow my blogs via this link. All the best in these strange times and stay safe.

Kimmeridge in spring

The light was brilliant reflecting off the outgoing tide. Kimmeridge’s shale and flat stones caught the shine and made me wish I’d brought my sunglasses. People and dogs scrambled over the beach enjoying what felt like the first real day of spring. High on the cliff, the silhouette of Clavell Tower seemed sinister and out-of-place. Built in 1830 as a Tuscan folly by Rev Clavell of Smedmore House, it was used originally as an observatory. In 2006 it was moved 25 metres back from the crumbling cliff edge. The sudden boom of a distant gun on the army ranges reminded me that this area is more than just a tourist attraction.

On the beach were ribbons of kelp, some still attached to their ‘hold-fasts’ which had anchored them to the seabed until they were ripped out by tide and currents. The erosion on the cliffs bordering the beach showed the layers of Kimmeridge clay, mudstones, shale and dolomites, creating a banded wall of different colours. These  chart the geological story of the Mesozoic era. Every so often the faint shape of an ammonite could be seen, some indented and others just shadows on the shale.

We visited the Etches museum – a beautifully designed building with lots of glass and space – showcasing the fossil collection of Steve Etches, a local man. Steve found his first fossil aged 5 – a sea urchin – in his garden. It started a lifetime’s passion. He has since become an expert on fossils found in Kimmeridge clay and donated his collection to the nation. It is now housed in this beautiful building where visitors can study the specimens and learn about their history.

Walking along the cliff top, the grass had that bright green appearance only seen in spring. Mauve periwinkles and wild daffodils added to the Easter-time feel. We looked down on small boats clustered on the shore waiting for calm seas. Coils of rope and lobster pots were stacked around the boat sheds. It was only the icy wind which reminded us that it was still early in the year.


Lost and Found

A word is a piece of language. In the same way a pebble, a shell, a shard of china are all fragments of a language, a message from the past. Each object bears the mark of its history and traces of its journey to the present day, to the time when I pick it up and try to read its story. Sometimes the writing is clear and sharp like the imprint of a fossil, sometimes obscure like reading copper-plate writing through a green glass bottle.

These findings have often been lost for millennia and only arrive on the shore, and into the present, through the actions of waves, tides, rock-falls and longshore drift. For many years I have walked the strandline of the Jurassic Coast, picking up objects that catch my imagination. I now have bowls, jars, tins and boxes of this beach-treasure. It is time to catalogue my collection and write the history of the objects from the clues borne by each one.

I am starting by drawing each piece, building up the image with tiny strokes of sepia ink. This enables me to get to know the nature of each fragment. The slow process of drawing allows time for reflection and speculation on each mark – what caused a scratch, a crack, a particular colour or sheen . . . By the time I have finished drawing, I know my subject intimately. I have examined its shape, texture and colour using my hands and my eyes. A story has started to emerge from each object and I start to piece together its lost words.


A Year on Chesil Beach

I apologise to all my followers for not having posted a blog for a while. This is because I have been busy creating a sketchbook of Chesil Beach. This has just been published and features different places along the Chesil bank at various times of the year.

The idea came from having written many blogs about Chesil for the BBC Wildlife website as one of their Local Patch Reporters. Once these blogs were published, they disappeared into the ether. I therefore decided I would use these as the starting point for my book before they were lost forever. I wanted the printed version to look just like an original sketchbook, so had it bound with board covers and a metal spiral binding for the spine. I hand-finished each one with a title label on the front.

The book is a mixture of handwritten text and illustrations in ink and watercolour. I follow the seasons and the months, starting with Spring and ending with Winter, featuring plants, shells, fossils etc found along the coast. Birds, fauna, boats and lobster pots all appear, in fact anything that caught my imagination in the unique habitat of the Chesil bank.

I enjoyed revisiting all the locations along the Chesil and, each time, came across new things to write about. Quite often it was the small things, like finding a grasshopper on the pebbles at Abbotsbury, that most inspired me. By publishing A Year on Chesil BeachI wanted to rediscover and celebrate the diverse environment found along the Chesil at different times of the year. By putting everything together in one book, I feel I have gone a little way towards portraying some of the mystery and beauty of the Chesil coast.

I am pleased to say the book is proving popular in Waterstones (Dorchester branch), Waterstones (Bridport branch), the Gallery on the Square (Poundbury) and Dansel Art Gallery in Abbotsbury. It will be available in other outlets soon.

I am now planning the next book and will cast my net wider to include the whole of the Jurassic Coast.


A Year on Chesil Beachis published by Archaeopteryx-Imprint Ltd and is available from their website

An Array of Hedgehogs

A few months ago I posted a blog about Henrietta and her urchins. The story had ended on rather a low note when I found a dead hedgehog by the roadside. However, I’m pleased to say that we still have an array (the technical term for a group of hedgehogs) thriving in our garden and, although it’s difficult to be certain, one looks very much like Henrietta.

Over the summer we watched two young hedgehogs coming out at dusk from their nest under the shed and running playfully around on the patio. One in particular seemed intent on running laps for several minutes before stopping for food. We put out cat food (jelly-based and meaty) garnished with a few mealworms. We had been advised that too many mealworms are not a good idea as the hedgehogs seem to get addicted and this can cause huge problems. The following information has been copied from the Hedgehog Street website:-

‘Rescue centres up and down the country are seeing increasing numbers of their prickly patients with metabolic bone disease, which is linked to feeding large amounts of mealworms. Metabolic bone disease is a very distressing condition which basically robs their bones of calcium and leaves them so weak that they are barely able to stand up.’ 

Another issue is overfeeding which results in a hedgehog too fat to curl up and defend itself.

Our hedgehogs grew and seemed to thrive. Some kind neighbours fed them while we were away at the beginning of September and had fun sitting in the dark watching the antics of the young hedgehogs who would come and nibble their shoelaces!

Around the end of September, things seemed to change. The energetic lap-runner didn’t appear at his usual time and we’re wondering if he’d reached sexual maturity and had gone off to new pastures. We decided to put a camera out at night to monitor the activities. This showed at least two hedgehogs are still in the garden.

We have two commercially made hedgehog houses and one homemade one. We provided straw and piles of dead leaves and were pleased to see at least two of these houses are being used, as well as a compost sack half full of earth which has been topped up with leaf litter by an enterprising hedgehog to make a cozy nest!

In the last week or so every scrap of the food is disappearing overnight and we think this is because the hedgehogs are fattening themselves up ready for hibernation.

Our near neighbours have created hedgehog access holes in their fences and gates. The whole village is becoming more hedgehog-aware and reports have come in of hedgehogs in several gardens nearby so we’re hoping our hedgehog population will be booming next spring.


Growing on the Edge

Behind the Chesil bank at Abbotsbury, there is a hinterland, neither beach nor countryside. This area between high tide mark and the beginning of fields is known as the Littoral Zone. This is an apt name (regardless of the spelling) as the sea rarely reaches this area, so it is often littered with a strange array of objects, blown by the wind and caught in the scrubby undergrowth. This marginal area is joined to the land by a coastal path, a kind of selvedge that binds the border of the beach and attaches it to the countryside beyond. Yet this path also acts as a separation zone, the plants either side of the track being quite different.

Just as thoughts crowd your mind between sleep and waking, so the findings in this marginal area are random and sometimes disturbing. Ragged feathers and weathered scraps of driftwood mingle with plastic bottles, brightly coloured cigarette lighters and cellophane packaging and a nightmare selection of anglers’ rubbish. Light pink sea fan coral flits on the breeze and sometimes fossils of sea urchins surface from the shingle when you least expect to find anything worthwhile.

Mid-September and the sun is low in the sky, silvering glimpses of the sea and glossing the pebbles. I walk along the coastal path where teasels form a palisade to the seaward side. On my right, bordering a field, are tall stalks of seeding wild leeks (Babington’s leeks). These nod their heavy heads in the wind – clusters of dark brown seeds with wispy tendrils attached.

On the edges of the beach are the rubbery bat-wing leaves of Sea kale draped on the shingle. A few thrift flowers are in bloom, incongruously pink among the autumn colours. Sea campion is still flowering, the delicate bell-like shapes inspiring its folk-lore names of ‘dead man’s bells’, ‘witches’ thimbles’ and ‘Devil’s hatties’. The pale pink tassels of Tamarisk hang beside the path, decorating the tangle of twisted trunks and fringing the shady tunnels within the clump.

From the corner of my eye I see the seeds of the Creeping thistle float then vanish on the wind.

An island beach

In July I visited the Isles of Scilly, staying on Bryher. I spent a lot of time on Great Par beach, sketching and beach-combing, finding tiny pieces of sea-smoothed china with cryptic squiggles of pattern, purple and yellow flat periwinkle shells, flat top-shells with their zig-zaggy stripes and pointed limpet shells with holes drilled in them by the sea.

It was just after the full moon and the tides were very extreme – the locals call them ‘bad tides’ as they make boating difficult. On Great Par it was very low tide and I found the beach dotted with stranded jellyfish. The most noticeable were Blue-fire jellyfish – a deep purple/blue the colour of Scilly seas in summer. These varied in size from tiny blobs to side-plate-sized.

Compass jellyfish were also scattered around the tideline. They were large peach-coloured discs with distinctive dark brown markings radiating from a central small circle, just like the calibrations on a compass. The edges were outlined in dark brown spots which coincided with the spokes of the ‘compass’.

There were one or two Moon jellyfish, completely clear discs like the bottom of a pint glass, through which you could see the pebbles, soft-focus and distorted.

In the shallows where the tide was turning I saw something small moving towards the sea. Bending down I could see what looked like a miniature lobster, about two centimetres long. It stopped and seemed to be aware of me, lifting its tiny claws in a show of defiance. This was a Squat lobster. They find shelter and protections from predators in small cracks in the rocks and are quite common on Scilly.

I walked off behind the beach around Samson Hill where clouds of butterflies flew up where my feet brushed through the bracken. There were small copper butterflies, meadow browns and six-spot burnet moths. It reminded me of how things were when I was a child, before the advent of pesticides and industrial farming. Here on this small island in the Atlantic was a butterfly paradise.


Henrietta and her urchins

We couldn’t believe there was a hedgehog in our garden. It was mid-morning on a Sunday towards the end of May and a portly looking hedgehog was scurrying around collecting mouthfuls of dry leaves then disappearing under the shed. We watched her for a couple of hours, realising she was a pregnant female making a nest.

She appeared again later in the day gathering more nesting material. Then we saw nothing of her for a couple of days. We put out a large shallow dish of fresh water and bought meal worms and hedgehog food which we put behind a paving slab we had propped against the side of the shed. The food disappeared so we replenished it each evening.

Then Henrietta, as we called her, started appearing regularly at dusk. She would have a long drink, eat some food then trot off around the garden. One evening I saw her heading down the road towards the recreation ground. This was a bit worrying, but it is a quiet village road so I hoped she would be ok.

A couple of weeks went by before we started seeing the urchins, or young hedgehogs. They were almost round with little pointy snouts and would drink together from the dish. We think there were three, but were never sure if we had seen all of them at one time. Soon the food started disappearing very fast and we had to stock up on meal worms, their favourite food.

Now, as it gets dark, around 10pm, the two-month-old urchins come out from under the shed and, after a feed and a drink, they run back and forth, disappearing among the herbs. They even found a lost tennis ball in the flower bed and pushed it out on to the path. Our neighbours have cut openings in their back gates to allow access for foraging hedgehogs.

However, we haven’t seen Henrietta now for about ten days. I’m hoping it’s just that she’s weaned her young and has left them to be self-sufficient, but yesterday as I turned off the main road to the village I saw a grey smudge, a sketchy outline, unmistakably hedgehog, lying flat as a child’s discarded drawing on the slip road.

I walked back to look more closely and felt inexpressibly sad that this could be Henrietta, now just a matted grey shape of crushed prickles, the snout upturned cartoon-like.

We are continuing to feed our two remaining hedgehogs and have installed a hedgehog house ready for hibernation time. We still hope that perhaps Henrietta may still be alive and will come back one day to have another litter.

Poem a Week

Last January I decided I would write a poem a week throughout 2016. This is why I haven’t produced a blog for a while, so I apologise to my followers for my year’s absence. I have always written poetry, but since finishing my MA at Bath Spa in 2001, my forays into poetry have been sporadic. In 2015 I wrote a lot of poems about the South Dorset Ridgeway and collected them into a book called Sea Wall which I illustrated with my own lino-prints. So, in 2016 I decided the time had come to apply myself on a regular basis to see what came out of it. A friend joined me in the challenge and we met weekly to read and discuss our poems.

Sometimes the poems came easily, but other weeks I had to struggle to produce something, but I very much enjoyed the challenge of digging deep and writing on a weekly basis. Occasionally, like the seventh wave, a poem would emerge which seemed greater than the others. Some poems were little but deeply felt, others were longer and had their own agenda. It was both an exploration and a revelation and I soon found I had quite a reservoir of poems.

I then decided to send a few to poetry competitions. By the end of the year my work had been shortlisted in several competitions including the Ver Poets Open Competition, the Yeovil Literary Prize and the Bridport Prize (two poems). This was encouraging and I decided to continue with my poem-a-week in 2017.

Looking at my file of work from last year, it is a diary of the seasons, but also of my memories. I have found most poems are closely linked to nature and the landscape, so, in this way I have continued my nature writing, but changed the shape of the text on the page.

Here is the little poem that was shortlisted in the Ver Poets Open Competition:-

School milk

The morning bell sent us clattering
from the chalk-fug of the classroom
scraping wooden chairs
elbowing and chattering
out into the January air.

There on a trestle in the shade
stacked crates of frosted bottles
silver tops balanced on small towers
of frozen cream
sticking to lips
as we tipped iced milk to hot mouths

eyes tilted to the snow-filled sky.

I remember how the chill crept slowly through me
an ache in my throat.

Jennifer Hunt