Wednesday 8 April 2020

Journeys of the mind

As the writer Mark Twain quipped that the rumours of his death had been exaggerated, so the suspicions by some that the Shipping Forecast had drawn its last salty breath seemed to have been confirmed by the lack of apparent activity in 2019.

2019 admittedly was a time of false starts and failure to put plans in actions for numerous reasons from personal to financial.  If wasn't from want of trying, attempts to defeat those logistical huddles just seem to gel, to bring the kindness of many disparate parties into alignment failed.

The intention was to breathe new life into the project in the spring of 2020

How could we know, or ever imagine that the UK let alone the World would be brought to a standstill by a pandemic which has affected so many lives.

Given that no travel is permitted the project has been put into a kind of stasis until we know how things will pan out.

This leads me to the title of this brief post .. Journeys of the Mind, we can all journey to places old and new in our minds eye while we are locked down. I am privileged to be able to create artwork which by its very nature is a kind of mental escapism.

Tentative plans for European journeys continue and so those journeys of the mind will seek to substitute those physical tangible journeys.  I will pick up the project as soon as we are permitted and rekindle the creative fire that started this project.

Good luck and Keep safe until the next time


West of Scotland

Wednesday 26 September 2018

Chocolate and Perfume


A journey with a difference, unlike my previous solo journeys this trip was to take me to the small island of Caldey ( Ynys Bŷr in Welsh ) off the the South Pembrokeshire coast.
Lying just over half a mile off the coast of the coastal resort of Tenby the island is considered with one of the holy islands of the UK. A celtic monastery was established in the 6th Century.
The island is now a home to a Cistercian monastery and monks are involved in such diverse delights as fragrances, toiletries, cheese and the visitors favourite chocolate.

The brightly coloured houses of Tenby.

Travelling down from the North Pembrokeshire coast nice and early to avoid the crazy parking in the town of Tenby.  The team Me, my wife Marian and our dog Hector were greeted by beautiful sunshine as we headed towards to the harbour to purchase the tickets to take the boat out to the island.

Landing on Caldey
Caldey Island Monastery 

The island of tranquillity away from the hustle and bustle of Tenby

Strategically walking past the chocolate shop and past the beautiful black swans we headed to the cliff top location of Caldey's own lighthouse.

The Caldey lighthouse looking out from the South Pembrokeshire coast into the LUNDY coastal region and the north Devon coastline.

Out across the island towards the Pembrokeshire coastline

Still remarkably walking past the chocolate shop and not be tempted by the 'Brother Ted' soft-toys we headed back to the boat for the journey back to Tenby the busy tourist town and dense crowds of a warm August afternoon.

The artist's dog Hector looking to see if any treats are available on the way back.

Looking out across Tenby harbour and its old and new lifeboat stations.

Back on the mainland we could reflect on a calm sea, beautiful weather and a warm Welsh welcome.


Ayrshire Coast September 2018


Friday 10 August 2018

Wet feet and brief encounters


I made a decision on this journey to do something very different. From the outset I had made the serious rod for my own back to sail on various sea going craft on each region.  I decided to break that rule for the one and only time to truly get my feet wet by walking across the sands and water of Morcambe Bay.

Among the hundreds of Pink T-shirts

The rail viaduct at Arnside , the only way across the Bay so close to the open sea

I have always been fascinated by estuaries and to walk across across the mysterious and very dangerous Morcambe Bay was an excited opportunity too good to miss.

The rivers LevenKentKeerLune and Wyre drain into the Bay, with their various estuaries making a number of peninsulas within the bay. Much of the land around the bay is reclaimed, forming salt marshes used in agriculture. Morecambe Bay is also an important wildlife site, with abundant bird life and varied marine habitats, and there is a bird observatory at Walney Island. The bay has been fished for its rich cockle beds by locals for generations.
The only safe way across the Bay is to walk with a guide, the current Queens guide to the sands  is Cedric Robinson MBE who became the 63rd guide in 1963. Cedric has been guiding charity groups across year in year out, weather permitting for the princely some of £15 a year.

Cedric Robinson MBE The Queens guide to the sands.

To join a walk I decided to gate crash another charities 'party' as all walks are linked specific charities.  

Galloway’s Society for the Blind was established in 1867 and since then has evolved and developed to provide a range of services to over 7000 Blind and Partially Sighted people across Lancashire and Sefton and a range of talking newspapers available nationally.Operating from four Sight Advice Centres and with support groups throughout various towns and villages, the Society strives to reach out and provide an accessible local service. We pride ourselves on being big enough to cope but small enough to care.

To find out more about the fabulous work this charity does check out their website
Even though the purpose of this project is raise funds for Macmillan , its good to spread the good around and as an artist I am acutely aware of the value of my eyesight.
Luckily this project was one of the few that I could do there and back in a day and this time, no overnight coach journeys.  phew!!  Getting down to Cumbria was an early start , not long after to 5 to get there for the start around 10.30 am.

Troon station at 5.15 am
After some decidedly dodgy train connections I managed to get to the scenic bayside village of Arnside to register and get the obligatory pink Galloways t-shirt.
We set off along the side of the bay for some miles , before we headed towards the sands.

Looking across the bay to the Lake District
A brief stop to have a bite to eat and a drink shoes and socks came off for the long walk across the sands and water. It wasn't until much later that what I imagined would be a soft soothing sand under your feet would be like hard impact textured clay.  Feet size like an extra of Lord of the Rings is small price to suffer for your art and good cause.  

Way out into the bay before wading through knee deep water
As we spread out across the bay looking back inland you realise how serene this part of Cumbria is away from the hustle and bustle of the usual tourist spots.  Without the marked out route by Cedric we would be at the mercy of quicksands and hidden water pools. Each route is set out for each journey and marked with beautiful laurel branches. 
Laurel branch markers.. part of Cedric's guidance for safety across the sands
Out towards to the River Kent that across the bay which would feel like a raging current up you knees. Walking in such deep water .. constant thought Don't fall, don't slip.  Reliving the nightmare of slipping and submerging myself, phone and camera ceased to materialise and we all made though, walkers , children and numerous four legged friends. 

Heading into the deep water of the River Kent as it traverses the Bay

The beauty of Morcambe Bay 
After some 4 hours of working we moved to the sticky black mud of salt marsh as we entered the last phase of the Bay walk.
Soon we would make the tiny station of Kent's Bank and the beginning of the return journey of back to Scotland.
I would like to thank Pam Davies, a local who kept the artist company across the bay with her endless locals information. Little did I know that I passed through Carnforth Station on the way back to my connection in Lancaster where the wonderful wartime classic movie was filmed.  One of the most famous features of this film was the station clock which is still a feature of the station.

The original clock from the classic film Brief Encounter
 The clock just managed to come into view when the train pulled into the station.

Soon we were rolling into Lancaster to connect my East coast line train back to Scotland. With time on my hands I managed to get a quick look at medieval Lancaster castle.

The stunning facade of Lancaster Castle.

The homeward back to Scotland, that was certainly tiring and at the same time rewarding .. definitely a brief encounter with the Irish sea.

Wednesday 1 August 2018

White Cliffs and more... I can see France from here


Back to the sea a little later in the year than I would have liked, but often logistic setbacks and huddles have become the nature of the beast.

This trip was planned to be one of the most intense ones yet, the west of Scotland to Dover and back in less than 36 hours. Just under a 1000 miles of travel mostly overnight. 
This speedy dash across the UK would take me most of the length of the country and from one coast to another. The plan is travel out on a scheduled seal watching trip with Dover Sea Safaris based out of the busy town of Dover. 
Early evening boarding the train from my home in Troon I was not looking forward to the two successive nights of overnight coach transport. The now familiar morning in Belgravia's street always coming quicker than you expect for an over night stop /start journey of comfort stops and motorway services. Today the streets of London already heating up early, another blistering day of this years unexpected heatwave.

From one bus to another in the chaos that seems to surround Victoria Bus Station I was on the second leg of my journey heading down through Kent, the Garden of England. Ominous dark clouds filled the sky. This wasn't on the plan, rain??  I was praying to all the travel gods clouds clouds go away!  The irony of travelling as part of a project based on the shipping forecast is that the weather is the ultimate arbiter of each journeys success. Most of the time you are in the hands of the vagueries of public transport, but anything involving the sea, comes down to  good weather in the end.

As we rolled into Dover the weather gods seemed to have looked kindly on me and the rain had held off and the calmness of the hot summer's day was only disturbed by the hint of a strong breeze picking up.  As I had the weather gods on speed dial I was hoping that the weather would stay 'boat friendly'

I was walked down to the promenade the iconic white cliffs came into full view loomed out of the horizon like a giant book end at one end of the town.

The edge of Dover town and the iconic white cliffs.

Heading into to report my arrival to the tour company ,a young enthusiastic lot this Dover Sea crowd, all wetsuits and chandlery and buckets of enthusiasm.  Soon kitted out in weather proof jackets and life jackets we headed down to the marina to board the beast of the inflatable RHIB that would take us up a sizeable section of the Kent coast to the tranquil estuary of the River Stour and its current seal colony. 

Waiting to leave Dover marina

Slowly heading out of the harbour we were halted by a leaving ferry, it is easy to forget that this is one of the congested stretches of water in the World. Once the ferry cleared Dover port on its way to France we headed on our way picking up speed as we skirted the Kent coast. As we left the white cliffs behind us as we headed past Deal pier and Sandwich bay on our way to Pegwell Bay not far from Ramsgate.

The seal colony almost oblivious of our presence

The tranquility of Pegwell Bay 

The great thing about this trip is was one of contrasts , the high speed turns and manoeuvres and then slowly coming to rest of the River Stour in Pegwell bay as you slide slowly down with the tide past the resting seals with their pups.
The estuary used to be a World War One port, so totally out of bounds to anyone but the MOD. The port shut after the wars, but the land remained in MOD hands and subsequently was never developed. It became a nature reserve by accident.
As we slowly slid out of Pegwell Bay back into the against the head wind we were warned of a more bumpy ride on our way back to Dover. 'Its just like riding a horse'  apparently.

Out into the English channel we picked up speed and the power of the RHIB opened up. nothing like being more than a foot off the water.  The return journey took us closer to the shore where you could marvel at the beautiful coloured houses along the Deal shoreline and the beached wooden boats along its shingle shore.
Veering away from Deal pier was more fun-ground ride than nature trip and once again the powerful chalk cliffs reared up above us .

The chalk cliffs studded with flint and topped with green

A moment of stillness after a hot octane dash across the water

A last look before back into Dover marina

You only get a sense of the scale of the white cliffs when your at sea and you can clearly see why they are a Great British icon.

One of the many cruise ship visitors to Dover.

Back into Dover Marina and almost time to leave again for London.
Just time for a well deserved fish and chips before back to the hustle and bustle of London streets.

Back onto another overnight coach, hardly seems 24 hours since I did this, oh yes, it was only 24 hours since I last did this. Soon the delights of nature would be replaced by the drowsy blur of brake lights and the pale hue of restaurant windows as we stuttered out of the congested heart of London onto the misty now cold expanse of motorway.

I would like to thank the team at Dover Sea Safari for an exciting and informative journey along the Kent coast. Well worth the trip if down that way and you have the sea legs for it..


Friday 26 January 2018

The sleeping giant Bay of Biscay

For those of you who have followed so far on this journey I have focused on one region at a time, but as health, and the day job has got in the way I looked for options where I cross a number of regions in the one journey. Time for a bit of catch up as time waits for no artist.
With the great help from Brittany Ferries I decided to journey from Portsmouth to Santander in Spain. This journey would take me around the coast of France across the infamous Bay of Biscay to the holiday resort of Santander.
The two day sea journey would take me across WIGHT, PORTLAND, PLYMOUTH and BISCAY, 48 hours of ferry journey.
Like many of these journeys the whole plan was based on smooth linking of public transport, with only the smallest margin for error. The unexpected illness of a passenger on my first leg nearly scuppered the whole plan, but with the gods on my side I managed to leave my home town only 20 mins late as I headed to another overnight to London.
Arriving at London's Victoria early Sunday morning couldn't considered as one of life's pleasures, the hustle and bustle of coach stations is so different to any other transport hub. A combination of chaos and panic.
Out onto another coach, at least this time its directly to the ferry terminal.

Leaving Portsmouth behind

Once checked in and on board I was ready for the 24 hour journey out to the north coast of Spain.  As the evening drew in the weather began to change, from the relative calm of the English channel changed to the roller coaster of the Bay of Biscay.  The slow rolling of a relatively large cruise ferry felt like sleeping on the belly of a snoozing giant.
The morning brought calmer, but wetter weather and as the coast of Spain slowly came into view as we now seemed to guide towards our final destination.

The faint outline of the Spanish coast coming into view

As we slowly headed into the more sheltered waters around Santander the heavens decided to open
as we sailed past Cabo Mayor lighthouse.

Cabo Mayor lighthouse

Once docked we had 90 mins to explore the town of Santander before the homeward departure back to the UK.  If seemingly by magic the rain stopped and the sun made an appearance , if a somewhat brief one.
Santander Cathedral

I headed to the wonderful Santander Cathedral which predominantly dates back to the 12th Century.

Away from the bustle of the main part of the town it was quite and restful antidote to the ferry of eager holiday makers.
Typical multistory building on Santander's main street

Santander main thoroughfare is blessed with interesting buildings which I suppose are ignored by the busy shoppers.
As it was soon time to return to the ship the sun came out and the sea front took on a whole new look.

Beautiful sculptural artwork n the Santander keyside

As the clouds began t clear looking out into Santander marina

So it was back to England and the 24 hour journey back to Portsmouth harbour. As the ferry docked back at the terminal in mid afternoon it would be another overnight journey back to Scotland.

Portsmouth's naval heritage as we returned from Spain.
From the pitching of the ferry in the Bay of Biscay to the slow rumble of the coaches that brought back over the Scottish border. Two days of slumbering giant of non stop travel came to end and the achievement of 4 regions in 3 days.  Onwards and upwards to the new journeys in 2018.
Again I would like to thank Brittany Ferries for helping me to get to Spain and back.

Wednesday 27 September 2017

Take me to the Pilot! as the song goes........... Journey into HUMBER

'Take me to the Pilot' as the Elton John song goes...

This journey gave me the opportunity to see the work of the Pilot. Crucial and many ways unrecognised that keeps the shipping industry running smoothly.

The Humberside Launches moored ready work

Due to the support and generosity of Associated British Ports  I got to see the work of the Pilot close and personal. Out from their base in Grimsby in sunny Lincolnshire out to two vessels to drop off the pilot onto a ferry and a pickup from vessel.

Like many of these journeys this one started with another almost sleepless journey down from the West of Scotland to the East coast of Yorkshire to meet up with Colin Shores the skipper of the boat who took me out at Whitby. He is rapidly becoming a Shipping Forecast regular!

The amazing Humber Bridge

The initial destination HULL the current City of Culture who has suffered from being out on a relative limb, but finally getting the recognition as a cultural destination with a rich seam of industrial and maritime heritage.

An example of the forward looking redevelopment of the quay area of the City of Hull

After an afternoon in Hull it was over the architectural marvel of the Humber Bridge to the Grimsby for a seriously needed rest in a 'real bed' before heading the ABP Port office in Grimsby Docks.

The port office building, operational headquarters of the Humber Pilot.

After a briefing on equipment and what to do if I go over the side its out to the launches all kitted up for the ride out into the Humber.

Marine Services Manager Tony Lewis sporting the safety wear for the job.

After a briefing on equipment and what to do if I go over the side its out to the launches all kitted up for the ride out into the Humber.  

I was assured I was in safe hands on Geoff and Gary with other 50 years of experience. With amazing turn of speed we headed out to the ship 
The first journey was take the oncall pilot out to the vessel AutoPrestige to assist them on their entry into the Humber estuary. 

The launch maybe fast and manoeuvrable, but is dwalfed by the most of the ships that it services and only though great skill and experience can the pilot be transferred either on or off these vessels.

Pilot drop off successful and vessel on its way

With throttle opened up we headed of to the next job of the morning to pick up another Pilot , unlike the Auto Prestige and the side opening door this time it was down a rope ladder onto the launch. 

While the launch is pulled alongside the ship, the constant correction to maintain the launches relative position was astonishing.  Another successful pickup and back to the Grimsby quay to put my legs back on dry land.  Luckily the artist has good sea legs, this journey was one rocky ride on what seemed from the quay as relative calm. 
I can only imagine the same tasks carried out in much stormier seas and often in the dark. Only through the amazing attention to detail and the strictest of safety measures that this can of work can be done. The team told me that its those moments of board and leaving these vessels that are the most dangerous and its only concentration and utter professionalism that injury and even death can be avoided.Hats off to these guys and this amazing work!
Back on the shore and a welcome cuppa it was time to make my way back to Grimsby Town centre to start on the multistep journey by train and by bus back home to the Ayrshire coast.
Another interesting and often entertaining trip, with HUMBER under my belt now looking a mammoth one trip journey covering four regions in three days .. The trip to SPAIN.
Hasta luego ! 


Matt Booth,  
Deputy Pilotage Operations Manager Humber 

Tony Lewis, Marine Services Manager

The pilots and crew of Humberside Pilot Service

Management at ABP  Associated British Ports

Special Thanks .. To the top Amigo  Colin Shores .. for ferrying me about, feeding me, providing the shelter on this one.