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Norfolk Broads

broads-bittern2Back to the thirties and Secrets of Nature, and through our time-warp binoculars we’ve spotted another broadland birdie: the bittern, described in the documentary as a ‘queer’ and ‘invisible’ character of fawn and brown stripes. Poor luv! Doubtless, such camouflage and the spear-like bill probably serve her well as she tends to her young.

Here’s the iconic boom of the male’s mating call, a frequent noise throughout the spring and summer, especially at dawn and dusk. One of my earliest memories of the Broads is being at Hickling Broad and hearing that curious sound – this seems even more special now, learning of how rare they are.

This was fun enough, but I’d like to try and focus more on that patterned plumage. I’ve something else in mind for the bittern, perhaps other birds too if I’m able to materialise the image. We’ll have to see!

broad-rotf1As is often the way on YouTube, link from video to video and you will come across something of interest. This time, a 1930s series of documentary films collectively titled Secrets of Nature. Happier still, East Anglia was given generous coverage and so I couldn’t resist using the film as reference for some sketches, most of all the rather lovely shot of a man punting toward a working drainage mill. I could very well be wrong, but I’m wondering if it’s a working Brograve Mill as it looks about the same geography, same size and even appears to have the trademark lean. This, incidentally, was said to have been caused by the Devil himself – apparently preferring the Norfolk Broads untouched, legend says he tried to blow the mill over several times.

On top of that, it’s also claimed that Sir Berney Brograve, who commissioned the structure in 1771, was actually chased by the Devil into the mill one night: “The devil pounded his hooves on the door trying to get in, but Sir Berney stayed put, too afraid to come out. When he woke the next morning the door was covered in hoof prints.”

Spooky. Such stories even led to it earning the local name of Devil’s Mill.

broad-rotf2Of course the objective of this particular film, The Raiders of the Fens, was not to speak of the mills, but the birds nesting in nearby sanctuary, so I felt compelled to move in that direction. The above is rather a sketchy attempt at capturing both the beauty and devotion of a young mum; the Montagu’s Harrier hen muddling through and guarding her eggs. Hmm. Well, there’s always next time I suppose – and indeed there surely is more to come from this fascinating series.

mill-sun-01In bouts of boredom or procrastination I often find myself in Photoshop, just doodling and playing with the brush tool – perhaps hoping something will stick, perhaps not. It certainly doesn’t often result in anything worth sharing. Last night, I began fiddling with the brush configurations and casually switched on ‘Wet Edges’, an option I’ve rarely used, if at all. That’s one of the things I love about Photoshop; I’ve been using it for almost a decade, and still there are new, undiscovered corners.

Something about the translucency of the strokes and the mixing therein led to attempting a sky, which in turn led to the above. Perhaps it’s the calm after our earlier storm? It was nice to break away from reference images, and there does seem to be a different texture and feel about it. Hmm. I’m sure I’ll give this another go someday, devoting a little more time.

In honour of this inspirational tool, I have named the setting Wet Edge. It sounds very Norfolk. I imagine it’s not far from Cockshoot Broad.

lightning-02…Aaah! I’ve mentioned my desperation for an impressive thunderstorm a couple of times recently.

Well, yesterday certainly delivered; for most of the afternoon and into the evening we were bombarded with not only heavy rain (or rather angelpiss – hat tip to Gregory!) but frequent flashes of lightning and rumbles of godlike fury. I’ve always been told that a measure for distance on the delay between flash and rumble is one second = one mile. If that’s so, then this was very close, and didn’t seem in any hurry to move along.

lightning-01Such excitement brought out these very quick stormy sketches. Being out on the Broads probably isn’t ideal in an electrical storm – I can say that with some experience – but, from a safe vantage point, the landscape certainly allows a spectacular show. Seeing them light up the dark in an almighty display of power, it’s no wonder our ancestors thought the man upstairs was livid.

I think that’s my fix for now. I wonder if we’ll get anymore this summer? Just as long as they keep those electric tentacles off the windmills, eh…

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berneyinn-4aSituated somewhere between Great Yarmouth and Reedham, Berney Arms is about as splendidly isolated as it gets. If you’re not approaching by boat, the only vehicular alternative is getting off at the dedicated train station. The stop was erected in 1844 – the landowner, one Thomas Berney, agreed to the railway’s construction only on the condition that a station was placed on the way.

It at least affords greater access to the drainage mill. Berney Arms High Mill stands beside the River Yare, now bereft of almost all the dwellings that stood in the vicinity and dominating the skyline by itself.

But I suspect that, for many, even the glorious windmill couldn’t overshadow the other pillar of this unique area: the eighteenth century public house, the Berney Arms itself. The establishment lasted long after the aforementioned community disappeared; sold on its quirkiness alone, business was consistently strong – indeed, pints were still being pulled until October 2015, when closure came with the departure of its landlord. At some point since it has suffered at the hands of vandals and arsonists. A shameful desecration and a sad end of an era. Hopefully, it will one day reopen its doors.

The area is reachable on foot – if you’re prepared to make the five mile treck from Great Yarmouth across the marshes – along the Wherryman’s Way footpath. I suppose it was a handy option for walking off that pub lunch. Enchanted as I am with the place, it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for a while now. One day, when the weather is just right!

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stbenets-2Contrary to my previous post, it’s been lovely today. Hot, but not too hot. Later on, however, the sky developed a bit of a temper and I became hopeful of a storm, but as yet nothing has happened. Just like my previous post, I’m holding out for a rumble…

That would explain the attraction to a particularly stormy reference photo and a return to St Benet’s Abbey after almost two years. (The early days. I posted five images in that one post – what’s happened to value for money?)

I’ve done lots of atmospheric-minded stuff quickly and with a limited palette, if not entirely monochrome; some of these were initially to be colour but didn’t turn out well, hence the reduction. Tonight I didn’t allow myself that safety net, and tried to capture in full colour that powerful, moody light as it bathes the ruins – something I’ve always loved about the onset of a thunderstorm.

This was fun. I am enjoying this particular brush – the same as I used last time for my picture postcard. Its long and weathered shape is coming in handy for both brick and vegetation, not to mention texture. I did end up spending longer on this than I’d planned – just a creep over the hour – but that was only because I was having too good a time marking the ruins. No complains there!

I wrote at some length before about the rich history and lore wrapped up in the remains; it really is a tremendously stimulating place, and so I would recommend a visit if ever you can – when the weather’s nicer than this, though!

broadside-1-captionedThe heat, am I right folks?

As sweltering as it’s been, the week has been less than productive. I’ve barely been able to function, never mind sit in front of a computer and make stuff – and it looks to be continuing for a little while yet. At least it means time in the garden, the whiff of nearby barbecues, and ice lollies a-plenty!

After much desperate fumbling, look what came out. What a surprise! It’s like they’re instinctive; I never tire of them! The foremost windpump is based on an old reference from Ludham, and I believe has since been demolished. I wish it were still here. I improvised the rest to try and give a quintessentially Norfolk picture-postcard image – in composition, at least. Of course, where else would one rather be in this weather? I did attempt to add colour and gradients and goodness knows what else, but felt it stronger without the adjustments.

The postcard concept came to me after a hugely important item on the local news, highlighting how few of them are sent these days. As if the windmill weren’t a natural subject before that: like most five-year olds, I indulged in deltiology and put together – and filled – an album of windmill postcards which I could marvel at, draw from, or both. I called it a ‘Walbum’, and no day out was complete without a new one to add to the collection. I wonder if my parents still have it…

Oh, and just for luck: here’s a piece several months old, somehow overlooked back when I was playing with brisk settings (something I really ought to get back into, as it was a heap of fun). It’s rather stormy – might we get a rumble of thunder soon? Fingers crossed.

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