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.
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
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.