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Norfolk Broads

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It was one of those ‘how did I get here?‘ moments. When I should probably have been asleep, I found myself looking at photos of particularly small or rarely used train stations. Naturally.

Berney Arms Station was a swift return to familiarity. It’s one of the least used in the country, which perhaps isn’t surprising given its location, out in the open somewhere between Yarmouth and Norwich, very much in the realm of wildlife. Its erection is all down to Thomas Berney, who owned the land when the track was being planned; he was quite happy for them to proceed, but insisted that a station be included.

I remember the days when my sisters would take me to Norwich for the day, we’d usually go by train until, at some point, we converted to the bus. I would always ask if it was going to go the Berney Arms way; it took a little longer than the usual route through Acle and Brundall, but was most definitely the more open and scenic journey. Coasting across the Broads with close-up views of Berney Arms High MillCantley Sugar Factory and Reedham was fun, and still has a certain romance about it. I highly recommend getting off at Cantley and visiting The Cock Tavern.

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I can’t remember a single passenger ever boarding or alighting at Berney Arms. My understanding is that it’s most popular on Sundays, as it’s veritably spoilt that day with the service of no less than four trains. Currently, with the pub a victim of arson and the High Mill seemingly closed more often than not, it’s perhaps not as attractive a trip as it once was, but the station will remain a curiosity, I’ve no doubt.

And, rather further from home, I got to sketching this little station shelter below: Campbell’s Platform in the Welsh country of Gwynedd, erected in 1965. Its main purpose back then was to serve Plas Dduallt, a fifteenth century manor house, connecting to the main Tan-y-Bwlch station. I took a few liberties with the reference in a bid to make it seasonably cosy, with varying degrees of success. Lots of fun, though – what a great little station!

These quiet, often secluded little stops are far more appealing to me than the crowded chaos of a large one, no matter how immaculate or warm they are. They’re like having your own little stop – as, indeed, these two were to begin with! Maybe I will look at some more of these; there was a nice feeling of being on the right track whilst making them.

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It’s not often the windmills are upstaged in the Norfolk skies, but a murmuration of starlings should do it (yes, it’s a murmuration, not a menstruation; Chrome, please take note). A bewitching spectacle that can involve anywhere from a few dozen to a few million birds, it is primarily a defence mechanism against predators. It seems it has a similar effect on them as it does us – the hypnotic sight of countless starlings twisting and turning in unison makes a catch virtually impossible.

This was really just a bid to shake up the nine hundredth or so Norfolk and/or windmill landscape (not that I apologise for that). I tried to capture this phenomenon a year or two ago, but never posted it as I wrote it off as, well, dreadful. Looking at it now, though, I kinda like the landscape, so I’m showing it for that at least – and, if the starlings have taught me anything, there’s strength in numbers.

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broads-horseyrain3East Anglia is often said to be one of the driest regions of the UK. This is normally something I’d dispute, but I don’t think I can remember a dry spell quite as long as we’ve had lately – it must be eight weeks or so since our last drop of rain! With this, I thought I’d try and rescue two unspectacular landscape drawings, stitching in some angry skies and throwing the scene into a much-needed rainstorm. Sorry, sun fans.

Above, we have the approach to Horsey Windpump on a more traditional summer’s day. This was a last minute thing, as the way my fiddling with Photoshop was going, it looked more like spits and spots on a windscreen. It’s a new spin on the concept for me, anyway – and I’ve always rather enjoyed the way raindrops transform the passing landscape. From experience, I can say that Horsey Mere is not the most desirable place to be caught in the rain, even less should lightning decide to tag along. Stay in the car!

broads-caisterrain3The remains of Caister Castle, standing just to the east of the town, still looking out over the trees. Built for Sir John Fastolf, a soldier and knight who fought in the Hundred Years War and Battle of Agincourt, its construction began in 1433, making it one of the earliest and best-preserved ruins of a brick-built residence in England.

Fastolf would die at the castle in 1459, aged seventy-nine, and was buried ten miles away at St Benet’s Abbey. With no children, ownership of the castle was contested, but eventually it went to John Paston, a close confidante and advisor. Challenging the inheritance, the Duke of Norfolk would end up attacking the castle with up to three thousand men, ultimately succeeding in taking the site, however, it would once again find its way back to the Paston family on his death, with several others claiming it into the sixteenth century. The castle gradually fell into disrepair, and with a new manor built nearby in 1600 it was all but neglected, except the tower, which saw continued used as accommodation. Easily the proudest and most intact feature of the building today – I believe you can still access and climb it – the tower is not only testament to the craft of those that erected it but a marvellous landmark, a beacon of inspiration against the vast Norfolk skies. Oh, and as if that weren’t enough, there’s also a motor museum on the grounds.

Temperatures are set to climb further still next week. Fingers crossed for a nice downpour to cool off – maybe a flash or two of lightning, too? 😉

ashtree-3aNow, here’s a horror story for Valentine’s Day: I’ve recently had a bit of a rift with my beloved. Yes, I’m talking about Photoshop. After just a few minutes of use, my brush strokes would begin stuttering on contact, not responding to what I was actually drawing; if I drew a curve in the two or three seconds it took to wake up, I’d get just a straight line from point A to B. Not the most patient at the best of times, having to wait seconds to get a responsive brush quickly became a no-no for me, and, with no settings adjustments seeming to make a difference, I had to reinstall the software. Fingers crossed, it does seem to be restored to working order, now, thank goodness!

Similarly restored is our subject, Ash Tree Farm Drainage Mill, though the reference for this drawing would surely have been back in its working days of the early-to-mid twentieth century. The dreadful storms of January 1953 blew the mill’s sails off, and from then it would lie derelict until about 2007, when a new cap and sails were fitted. Now, it’s a pretty sight just off the busy A47, linking Yarmouth to Acle – it actually sits in a region between the two known as Nowhere – and then onto Norwich. Having done that route so often, I’ve long thought of the mill as the first landmark en route to the city, or equally a sign that we’re almost home.

I can’t claim that the aforementioned gremlins were obstructing any creative cavalcade; it has, so far, been a very slow year on that front. That said, the reinstall at least gave me an excuse to sit down and make something, and that’s no bad thing even if I did perhaps take a predictable route. When life gives you wind, make windmills, as they say.

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It’s quite a departure from the usual Norfolk landscape, with two hundred foot chimneys and silos on the bank of the River Yare. This is Cantley Sugar Factory, which opened in 1912 and has slowly but surely grown into the monster you see today – one of only four sugar beet factories left in the UK.

It has a reputation as something of an eyesore, and that’s understandable. It seems to threaten the puny windpumps across the river, who try their best to defy by facing the other way. It’ll loom over many a photograph. But, having grown up fascinated by the immediate juxtaposition of old and new industry – like gasometers and inexplicably tall chimneys of the old power station – I don’t really mind it. For me, it’s just another piece of the landscape.

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That being said, after taking the perceptions into consideration and having looked at some shots of the machinery, I did get a thirst for the excessively industrial; something harsh and overbearing. With that, I found my way to 3D and started randomly throwing steel and piping together:

Less regimented and just a bit of a mess at the moment – perhaps that works in its favour? – but it’s thrown up some exciting ideas. Maybe there’s something in a typeface using these elements? It would be fun to try and construct some monstrous three-dimensional letters, but it seems as though it could look rather sharp in 2D.

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I feel like the title of this post promised so much but delivered so little – sorry about that. Perhaps one day I’ll draw a sugar daddy to make amends. It’d be rude not to.

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With a swift spot of twitching this evening, I found my way to the cormorant. Expert waterfowl with a preference for coastal areas, you’ll find plenty perched about the Broads, using high branches as a lookout or settled atop the sails of windmills to dry their wings before the sun. Brograve Mill in particular almost looks wrong without its watchful residents.

My second drawing was referenced from a daylight shot, but I dialled it up somewhat and went for almost silhouette with saturated colour; trouble was, this led to further dallying and switching hues around. I couldn’t decide which to show, so here’s both of them – at least they are apparently enamoured with one another…

I’m sure there will always be room for more birdwatching, broadland or otherwise. Watch this space.

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The idea that I’m playing with windmills on a regular basis probably won’t surprise any friend of this blog.

This week it was reported that £4million is being pumped into the Water, Mills and Marshes project. Among other pursuits afforded by the grant, twelve derelict mills are set to be cleaned up, restored with the assistance of mind-bending 3D laser technology and, most importantly, preserved for the future.

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So, in response to such happy news, here’s an assortment of old mill and pump studies, 2D and 3D, given a splash of colour and some Photoshop filters. They might not have found a place in my postings over the last couple of months, but they certainly come together here, in celebration of these beautiful structures.

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I’m not sure quite how far the grant money will stretch, but perhaps, in years to come, there will be a few more sights like this about the Broads. Here’s hoping!

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