Jurassic Coast

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 http://www.seashed.co.uk 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.

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 www.archaeopteryx-imprint.co.uk

Sea Wall

Sea wall was the name given to the South Dorset Ridgeway by those who lived in its shadow. It was seen as a natural barrier, keeping back the sea that raged against the Chesil Bank and the Jurassic Coast. This was the inspiration to my book which has just been published by Archaeopteryx Imprint Ltd.

I collected extracts from some of the posts published on my blog for the BBC Wildlife Magazine and mixed these with some of my poems, most of which were written last summer, but I have also included some from ten years ago when I lived at Kingston Russell on the landward side of the South Dorset Ridgeway. Several of these poems have already been published in different anthologies and poetry magazines such as Poetry Wales and South.

I then decided to create linocuts to illustrate my work. Originally I planned to make about six but, in the end, I was having so much fun, that there is a linocut on almost every page. Owls, hares, newts and skylarks are some of the wildlife touched on in my writing. Underpinning everything is the prehistoric landscape of the ridgeway itself. It is impossible to walk this ancient way without being aware of those who lived and worked there in times gone by. There are traces of worked flints, stone circles and sarsen stones. But there is also the indefinable sense of many footsteps ghosting the way. And, beyond the Ridgeway, is the sea in all its changing moods.

I enjoyed creating the book so much, I am already planning my next one on Chesil Beach and the Jurassic Coast so watch this space!

Sea Wall is available from www.archaeopteryx-imprint.co.uk for £10 plus postage & packing.

By-the-Wind Sailors

A gale force south-westerly was blowing so I headed for Hive Beach, Burton Bradstock on the Jurassic coast to do some wave-watching. The sea was huge and grey topped by white manes. A deep roaring sound filled the air as waves broke across the shingle. Curds of foam were blowing across the beach like enormous snowflakes.

I walked head down into the wind scanning the strandline. What looked like a piece of clear cellophane caught my eye. On closer inspection I saw a beautiful whorled pattern like a spider’s web and realised it was a tiny By-the-Wind Sailor jellyfish (Vellela) only about 1cm across. It was transparent and delicate, but marked with a concentric pattern and topped by a tiny translucent sail.

I then noticed that there were hundreds of these tiny creatures all over the beach. Some were a deep sapphire blue and up to about 8cm long whereas others were completely transparent. All were whorled like finger prints and delicate as glass. They were scattered all along the strandline like miniature shipwrecked yachts. The tiny tentacles on their undersides weren’t apparent, but, when I picked one up it left inky blue residue on the palm of my hand.

Like exquisite solar panels, the tiny medusa convert sunlight to energy, their small sails align with the direction of the prevailing winds and they are carried helplessly along, often to be wrecked in their thousands on the west coast of America. It is unusual to see them in Dorset. Storm Desmond has caused the biggest influx of these marine creatures in a decade.

I’ve never seen these beautiful little crafts before and it was both exciting and sad to see so many stranded on the shore, left high and dry by the rough seas.

Poetry Day – 4 of my poems

In the uncertainty of dusk
pipistrelles gather invisible sound
picking up echoes of warmth
from old stone walls
winding in the whirr
of insects’ wings
darting closer
in faltering light
weaving me into their loom
of silence –
netting thoughts.

I hear my daughter indoors
practising her scales,
notes swooping
dipping –

roosting even now
in my mind
undisturbed by time.

Chalk Ghost
Chalk ghost on the windowpane –
a barn owl drawn by its own reflection
flew into the moonlit glass last night,
left its outline etched in flight dust.

Swooping Narcissus-like
on its rippling image
left the imprint of each feather –
whirlpools of dust for eyes,
emptiness where the beak should be.
How the glass must have screeched
when the talons flexed.
closing on that wraith-like prey.

published by Poetry Wales

Written in Chalk
Beneath this swaying field of flax
a sea bed swarms with coiled creatures
tiny ammonites
cochlea echoing with Jurassic surf,
snails curling round pebbles
imprinted with the cicatrice
of fallen petals.

Below the keel of plough
fossil fish spawn in salt-white sponge
swim through ancient coral
brittle as bone.

When the moon brims over Knowle Hill
a tide still turns beneath the earth.
Moths move in shoals
through scented waves.

Close layers lie undisturbed –
memory written in chalk.

This evening
picking beans after a thunder shower,
shed blossoms cling like drab insects
to my fingers.
Late sun, yellow as pumpkin flowers.

Now, with my colander
by the open kitchen door,
the sun makes a square on the red lino.
Outside hens peck at shreds of light.

Soon bats will draw down the dark,
But I’ll leave the door open,
breathe in the honeysuckle air
while moths circle the lampshade
dizzy from touching the moon.

published by Poetry Wales

Poetry by Jennifer Hunt (copyright applies)
Photo by Brian L Hunt



I am the wanderer on the greenways
and the ghost ways. My bare feet hear
the beat of others’ journeys, feel the heat
of those who’ve passed this way before.
Old songs echo in the hollow ways.
The anvil strikes and, in my head, the thud
of clay upon the potters’ wheel.
I tread the hare-path on the open downs.
Sometimes I kneel or lie awhile
my ear pressed to the ground. I hear
the throb of axes, crackle of bones,
the cries of those who lie deep down
buried in time’s hard layers. In snickets,
leys and field paths I know the corners,
hollow stumps, causeways and bends
where ancient stones have left their mark.
I smell honey and herbs, the crush of sap,
woodsmoke as dusk thickens the air.
On the ridgeway I shapeshift,
sometimes a deer, sometimes a hare,
drifting along the long white edge
between sea and clear chalk streams.
Dewponds and springs refresh my feet
as I pace endlessly without rest
keeping the spirit-ways open
for those who follow on.

Fossils, myths and new shoes

Last day of the summer holidays and Chesil Beach is empty. It lies like a bleached bone along the Jurassic Coast. The sky is a pale and distant blue. Autumn term is dawning and six year old Jago is moving up from the ‘Mary Anning’ class. He has his new school shoes and is noticing everything today – a lit-up moment between past and future.

We walk down the path to Cogden beach among clouds of Common blue butterflies and floating thistledown. Three-year-old Finley is singing to himself and jumping dramatically over piles of rabbit droppings. Jago can’t wait to find a fossil. On the beach he lifts a huge stone, shouting he’s found a dinosaur bone. Every stone seems marked with the traces of past life, spirals which could be ammonites, ridges that hide belemnites, curves of ancient shells and fish. I point out the seed pods of the Sea kale to Finley and he immediately starts picking off the dense black balls and planting them in the shingle.

Along the strandline is a silvery line of hundreds of dead whitebait, looking like twists of silver paper. A huge pipe, about thirty feet long, has been washed up on the beach. It is covered, inside and out, in Goose barnacles, stranded high and dry. The legend was that these goose-shaped shellfish with their long necks, eventually open their white wings and fly away as Barnacle geese.

This theory of spontaneous regeneration was put forward in the Twelfth Century by Bishop Giraldus Cambrensis who said that Irish Churchmen would eat the Barnacle goose during fasts because ‘these birds are not flesh nor being born of the flesh for they are born at first like pieces of gum on logs of timber washed by the waves. Then enclosed in shells of a free form they hang by their beaks as if from the moss clinging to the wood and so at length in process of time obtaining a sure covering of feathers, they either dive off into the waters or fly away into free air.’ This myth became widespread.

At the edge of the shingle the yellow flowers of the Horned poppy are glowing like the autumn sun, contrasting with clumps of silvery-grey Sea Kale. Today summer ended. The sky is shimmering in the puddles on the path. Jago jumps in, forgetting his new shoes, scattering shards of pale blue water across the pebbles.

Butterfly Bonanza

The Buddliea I planted last year is hanging its purple lamps across the garden and, above it, is a constant whirring and buzzing of insects – bees, hoverflies, moths and butterflies. I looked out yesterday and saw a Humming bird Hawk-Moth hovering from flower to flower. I rushed to get my camera, but when I got out there it had vanished. Then there was a vibration next to my right ear and it zoomed in, touched down briefly on my chest then flew off.

When the sun appeared yesterday I saw Red Admirals, Tortoiseshells, Peacocks and a beautiful female Brimstone. After the recent cool damp weather, these butterflies seemed galvanised into a flying fluttering frenzy by the sudden heat of the sun’s rays.

On the ground was an enormous caterpillar – that of the Elephant Hawk Moth. It had fearsome ‘eyes’ and dinosaur-grey skin which rippled and wrinkled as it shimmied along. I watched it till it reached safe cover. These caterpillars feed on Fuchsia, among other things, so I was glad I’d planted a Fuchsia shrub.

Today it is grey and dull again, but I keep looking out in the hope of seeing the Humming Bird Hawk Moth again.