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Norfolk Broads

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? 😉

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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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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 colloquial 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.