Recently I was asked to write a guest blog for Polpier & Penpol, a luxury guest house overlooking Mevagissey harbour. They asked me to write about the South West Coast Path, which is visible from the windows of the accommodation, as it crosses the harbour before snaking along wooded cliffs and away. Hopefully it will inspire some of you to get your walking boots on, whistle for your dog, and set off on your own walking adventure!
Seven years ago, on a chilly autumn morning, I found myself catching my breath while looking down on the harbour at Mevagissey. Sniffing around my feet was my companion, a six-stone Rhodesian ridgeback dog called Jess. She and I had set off on foot from Minehead in Somerset 26 days earlier. In just under four weeks we’d hiked 361 miles, but we still had a long way to go. Ahead of us stretched another 270 miles to reach our destination, the end of the epic South West Coast Path.
The SWCP is one of the longest national trails in Britain, making its way across vast beaches and along exposed cliffs, through forests and over moors. With every mile there is the chance to see an array of wildlife, seals and dolphins, choughs and lizards, not to mention the many species of wild flowers. But for me the best thing is that the whole path is dog-friendly. It’s quite something to be able to set off with your four-legged chum on a ramble that could potentially go on for months. And that is exactly what Jess and I did.
Walking side by side for seven weeks brought us together in a way that I couldn’t have imagined. We shared the same struggles, we slept together, ate (enormous quantities of food) together and limped in sync at the end of the day. We revelled when the sun came out and shrunk into ourselves when it rained, squeezed together under my umbrella. I looked out for her and she made me feel safe. On more than one occasion, as a lone woman, miles from anywhere, I was grateful to have Jess nearby. Her calm demeanour helped to dampen my overactive imagination, particularly my worries about the threat of werewolves whenever we encountered fog.
At the end of a gruelling day Jess was the perfect drinking buddy, in that she didn’t drink, so cost me very little. However her presence, curled up in front of a crackling fire, or begging for pork scratchings from a fellow punter, was a great way to start a conversation. I lost count of the number of times I heard “your dog’s gorgeous, what is she?” I loved being able to tell people that ridgebacks were originally bred to hunt lions. Something about the dichotomy between her fearsome heritage and laid-back demeanour made people smile.
At the start of the trip I had worried over whether Jess would be allowed in the pubs along the way, but we were never turned away, in fact Jess was often shown to the cosiest spot, invariably in front of a fire. At those moments I was happy to tag along as her sidekick and reap the rewards of the best seat in the house.
We made the most of every mode of transport whilst on the coast path, from the steam train that raced alongside the River Dart, to buses and ferries and even a cliff railway at Babbacombe. Jess took each new vehicle in her stride and was soon leaping aboard ferries and jumping on and off buses like an 18 year old backpacker.
For all her poise, Jess did show her hunter’s instincts every now and then. One memorable time she ran full pelt towards the cliff edge after a herd of moth-eaten wild goats near Crackington Haven. Fortunately my panicked shout of “STAY!” stopped her in her tracks as the goats scarpered over a ridge. Another time, while walking through fields near Exmouth, she caught a young rabbit. Appalled, I screeched for her to “DROP IT!” and it bolted down the nearest hole, apparently unscathed. One afternoon, while I was sketching the fishing boats on the shingle shore at Budleigh Salterton, I heard an ominous crack and turned to see Jess treading on a crab. Luckily a nearby fisherman noticed the plight of the crustacean and pulled Jess off it before popping it back into a large blue bin.
Seven years on, I look back at walking the South West Coast Path with Jess as one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. She is nine years old now and starting to go grey around her muzzle, and our walks are no longer measured in miles but minutes. Recently we’ve acquired a new addition to our pack, a miniature dachshund called Peanut who, despite her diminutive size, has boundless energy. While I’m looking forward to rediscovering the South West Coast Path with Pea, seeing it afresh through her eyes, I’ll never forget my 630-mile walk with Jess.
When I launched the revised edition of A Brush With The Coast and its paperback sister, I announced a prize draw - the first 100 people to buy a copy of either book from my online shop would be entered into a hat to win the original South West Coast Path map artwork from the book.
Well, I've drawn the winner and am pleased to say that its Samantha McLennay from Chester.
Thanks to everyone who has bought my books so far, your support is much appreciated and I hope you're enjoying them!
Happy summer to you all! What a fantastic few weeks it’s been. I must admit it’s difficult to work in the studio when it is so lovely outside but my husband and I (and the dogs of course) have been going for a swim most evenings. It’s such a great way to end the day and it cools off the dogs.
I have in fact been working really hard and as you will see there are lots of new things on my website. I have also finished four new paintings for The Mulberry Tree Gallery in Swanage, and I am currently working on another four for Fowey River Gallery.
I sold out of my book A Brush With The Coast a while ago, and now A Brush With Anglesey has also sold out. I’ve been wondering for a while if I should reprint A Brush With The Coast and after lots of emails and enquiries from Waterstones – as well as galleries – I have decided to do it. Now I’ve made the decision I am very excited about it. I am taking the opportunity to add more images and tweak the writing. Also I’m going to make it smaller (the same as the Anglesey book) so it’s easier to handle. It won’t be ready until Christmas but I’m sure it will be worth the wait!
I hope you all like the new work.
Here we are once again; my favourite time of year. Already I am itching to light my first fire, but today the weather has taken a turn for the better so I will have to wait.
I have had a very good summer which ended in a nearly sell-out show in Fowey. The private view was a lovely evening with just one small blip: while I was merrily downing my third glass of wine I was discreetly informed that I had forgotten to sign one of the paintings. Strangely, this is not uncommon and for some reason I often leave one or two paintings unsigned per show. Unfortunately (or fortunately) it had sold, and the couple who had bought it needed to take it home so I was required to sign it there and then. As a rule I don’t carry paints and brushes around with me and so, roping in a few guests, asked the local artists (who were taking advantage of the free wine) if any of them could run home and get a brush and some paint. Signing is a tricky business at the best of times but with three glasses of wine and a small audience it was fairly nerve wracking. However with a brand new brush and tube of black paint – which I watered down with white wine – I managed to perform the task without making a complete fool of myself, and even earned a round of applause!
Now the show is over I can concentrate on other things. I hinted in my last post that I was going to embark on a new project and that is exactly what I have done! I am in the throes of writing and illustrating my first ever children's book. I am relishing the challenge and it's been just the thing after months and months of painting. As soon as I can I am going to do a separate blog all about the book and how I have gone about creating it. There's so much more to it than I ever imagined when I first set out on this project.
Until then, here are some very early sketches, a few more developed sketches and some teasers of images from the new book.
Hopefully it will be ready for Christmas and I will keep you all informed.
Happy February everyone! It's a funny time of year, a lull before the mayhem of spring. I love it; it gives me space and time to concentrate on the year ahead. The Fowey show is slowly taking shape and I am very pleased so far. While that is my main focus, a few other things are happening in the background.
The first, I am revising A Brush With The Coast and have reformatted it to be smaller (the same size as A Brush With Anglesey). I think the new size will make it more accessible, and I've also added a few more images. I'm not totally sure if I will reprint (it will depend on demand) but I have enjoyed making the tweaks.
The second very exciting thing is that I am about to launch – exclusively on my website –these four brand new limited edition prints. This will be the first time I have published my own prints. I'm working with the printers to get the colours right at the moment but I hope they will be available late Feb/early March. I will send an email to my mailing list with all the details as soon as they are ready, and the original paintings will also be available to buy on my website.
Thank you so much to everyone who has written a review of A Brush With The Coast, either here on my website or on Amazon. I've been running a prize draw for all those who bought my book online and then wrote a review on Amazon, and I'm pleased to announce the winner - Sandra Mänty from Finland! Sandra's prize - an original framed watercolour from the book is winging its way to her now.
Sign up to my mailing list here to be kept up to date with any future news and competitions!
I have had a fantastic few months' painting and posting! My book has really taken off and I have been over the moon with the positive feedback. Last month I won the non-fiction category of the Rubery Book Award – it came as a complete surprise and really bolstered my confidence.
Waterstones in Truro have really got behind me and have done a great window display with my actual walking boots and even my traveling easel!
I've also had articles in a few magazines, which has been very exciting, including Cornwall Today, Country Life, Country Walking and Purbeck Magazine
I have taken over a room in our house purely for the wrapping and posting of the book (2,000 books take up a lot of space). We've worked out that there are four tonnes of books in our spare room! Luckily it is on the ground floor.
In between posting I am painting and have sent new work to The Mulberry Tree Gallery and Fowey River Gallery.
Many thanks to everyone who has left a review of the book online and thank you for all your lovely emails, I really appreciate your support.
I'm very excited to say that the book is printed and ready to sell! At the moment it's only available through my online shop, but I'll keep posting updates as and when it reaches other stockists!
So, a few weeks later than I had hoped, the printers are finally printing my book! The last few weeks have been the most difficult of the whole self-publishing process but things are now moving. Yesterday I popped into the printers to see how it all works - it was odd to see my images everywhere and fascinating to see all the different stages.
After Easter I'm going to send out an email with all the book details and how to pre-order a copy... not long now!
So, only a few more weeks to go before the big event!! Everyone who has signed up for my mailing list will get an email as soon as my book is available to buy, so keep an eye on your inbox! It's going to sell for £40 plus p&p and for that you get a whopper of a book and hundreds of pictures plus a good read and I will sign every one!! There will be a book launch at Waterstones in Truro in April and I will keep you all informed about the dates nearer the time.
As I've mentioned, all the images from the book will be available to buy at my Open Studio event in May (again, details will follow).
In the meantime, here are a few more images to whet your appetite...