The Glorious Bung, Pembrokeshire, sand, sea & cliff
For every year of my life I have visited North Pembrokeshire, sometimes several times, experiencing all the different seasons and weather conditions imaginable from languid calm and extreme heat to the most violent of gales and the rain water freezing on the cliffs. I count myself so fortunate to have had the privilege of staying in Cae Rhedyn, literally 'Field of Bracken', known affectionally by all who stay there as 'The Bung'. The Visitors' Books testify to the importance of this place to generations of families - mostly the same folk year on year, with new youngsters growing into the adult custodians of the precious fabric of The Bung. I and my family have so many dear memories, and for me personally the place grips my soul's imagination and fires my creative spirit. The defining thing is of course the sea, a vast physical presence, and the relationship mankind has with it. It is the grandest of all elemental metaphors, and one's knowledge of its extremes shapes one's thinking. Foolish indeed are those who think they have conquered the sea, for the day will always come when such folk will, to their cost, find the awesome power of the elemental furies - sea, wind and rock. Only those with the greatest respect for and knowledge of the waters in this region will be safe and even such can be ambushed by circumstance. I have had so many adventures! - shipwreck [and I have lost one dinghy], dismasting [on one occasion out by the South Bishop], serious injury at sea, near drowning [swept off a rock as a child], and many of those hairy sailing moments which haunt my dreams for what might have happened.... But I have also had so many fantastic times - none as good as the simple circumnavigation of Ramsey Island and all the Bishops & Clerks, starting and finishing from Porth Sele, harnessing the powerful tides with carefully planned timing. So the fascination I have is reflected in all my creative work: music, art and poetry.
The Bung [oil pastels]
The Bung looking across Porth Sele
View of Treleddyn & Carn Llidi from road to St Justinian (acrylic)
This is the second large canvass I have painted - starting to get a feel for acrylic paints....
The Bung - four papercuts
These are a set of 'papercut' prints - all the shapes are cut out of coloured card and stuck together. It is quite fiddly work but quite satisfying in the end result....
(i) Welcome to the Bung
(ii) The Bung from Porth Sele (tide out)
(iii) The Bung from Porth Sele - early morning light (tide in)
(iv) The sunroom in high summer
Steps to Whitesands [coloured drawing]
These steps have long fascinated me - and they are a conduit to the wonderful beach of Whitesands [see charcoal sketch and the painting below]. They were renewed relatively recently - maybe five years ago? - and looked lovely, with new wooden railings. Then, astonishingly, we came by to discover that some of the wooden struts and railings had been forcibly removed to be burnt on the beach below! An extraordinary world we live in, full of such extremes! Thankfully that act of vandalism was a one-off. Why would anyone do such a thing? Probably drink....
The view from the top [there is a well-placed bench here] is one to savour: the entire beach, and the expanse of sea with at least some of the Bishops & Clerks on the horizon. The waves are constant and can be spectacular in the right conditions - great for surfing. There is nearly always some form of activity on the water - surfing, wind-surfing, kite-boarding, sailing, canoe-ing, or just the constant activity of birds: gulls of many varieties, ravens, peregrines [if you're lucky], choughs [even luckier! - these are to be found at St Justinian and Treginnis], the iconic oyster-catchers, cormorants, gannets, fulmars, and more. I've often sat here in the early morning and just watched for half-an-hour or so at a time. What a show!
South end of Whitesands [pen & ink]
The beach at the south end of Whitesands - charcoal & tippex
This end of Whitesands is cut off at mid tide from the main beach, and as my family was brought up scrambling [and climbing more seriously too] we used to enjoy exclusive ownership on an incoming tide, waiting until the last minute to pull ourselves and rucsacks up the cliff and back along the well-trodden path to tea, supper, card games [Racing Demon or Vingt-et-Un] and William stories read by my Dad.... I remember fondly hauling my first dog 'Leto' - still a puppy - up the rock-face after a spectacularly good afternoon here. It was her last visit to this place, as she died the following January in a freak accident, aged just ten months.
And I too had a freak accident here, dislocating my shoulder as I scrambled up one day, causing such damage to my tendons that only after two operations [and loads more dislocations] has the joint become stable. It is a weak joint....
Wet sand on Whitesands - charcoal & tippex
This is a view from Whitesands beach towards Ramsey Island and South Bishop. The distant island is Carreg Rhosson [with Daufraich to the left of it], and the closer rock, looking like a pocket destroyer, is Careg Gefeiliog. The north end of Ramsey is a fantastic breeding place for vast colonies of sea birds, and also the home of the Peregrine and Choughs.
The drawing was most satisfying to do, with lots of finger shading. And again I used tippex to heighten the sun's reflection, shape the waves and delineate the distant cliff forms.
St David's Head is at the north end of Whitesands Bay. It is a very solid promontary, hammered regularly by huge swells which often break right over the end. Down on a ledge facing north-east is a plaque commemorating a Victorian photographer [I think - see below] who was swept away to his death in 1901. The inscription reads:
"In affectionate memory of James Duncan Smith of the Chancellor's Manor St. Davids, who was washed off this ledge of rock on the 26th of August 1901. His body was recovered in Ramsay Sound on the 14th of September and was buried in the Mumbles Cemetry on the 19th of September 1901"
There is very little, if any, local reference to this plaque, or to the story of James Duncan Smith. None of the guides I have seen mention him, which I find strange. I do not know for sure, for example, that he was a photographer - but remember being told such as a child. I do not know when or how the plaque was laid - it is a sizeable marble slab bolted at each corner into the rock, and could have been carried to the headland and lowered with ropes down the final bit of rock; it is a bit of of a scrambled descent but not very difficult.
What is indisputable is that his body would have been swept up and down the Ramsay Sound over the nearly three weeks before it was recovered.
Porth Sele [south end of Whitesands Bay, near St Davids] - charcoal & tippex
This was the first of three charcoal studies where I have tried to make the light as dazzling as possible - using tippex to get the whitest white. The view is from Cae Rhedyn, one that I have savoured for all of my life. This is a truly special part of the world.This is the beach from which I launched my first proper boat, a Sea Bat constructed with my Dad from a wood kit. I called the boat 'Fledermaus' and sailed her mostly only in the confines of this bay, not to start with being allowed into the tidal waters that are a short distance offshore. Fledermaus was like a flat-topped mini laser - a single-handed monosail which could be launched through surf. She was a pretty nippy, and sporty, the first boat I could truly call my own. We had a cadet as a family boat too, but that was not so easy to get out and wasn't used a great deal. One day in the cold Easter holidays my sister capsized it quite a way out, and she was too cold to right it. I picked her up to ferry her to shore, and when I returned to consider how to salvage the cadet, I realised that the boat was entirely upside down and already caught in the tidal stream. So we abandoned it, and notified the coastguard. A couple of days later we were contacted to verify that the boat found rigged but wrecked on Skokholm Island was indeed our abandoned vessel.
Cae Rhedyn across Porth Sele - charcoal [with some added coloured crayons & conte]
This is my very recent attempt at this view, and the one I prefer the most.
Cae Rhedyn - across Porth Sele [charcoal/crayon/conte]
This is the view I like best of Cae Rhedyn [aka "The Bung"], looking over Porth Sele and the endless waves making their individual assaults onto the beach. Waves look entirely different from the side. I have often swum in them, negotiated them both sailing out from the beach and surfing in - sometimes quite risky if the sailing speed means getting caught in the actual breaking of the wave. And I have watched others trying to sail out over the surf, sometimes to end up in disaster back on the beach, never managing to break through. And this beach was where I first launched my first ever boat "Fledermaus", that I had built with my Dad from a kit.
And on this beach I sailed my dinghy in for the last ever time, shoulder dislocated and not happy at all! My boat was taken back up the cliff to be carted back to Dorset and sold. But I have powerful memories of setting out from this beach and pitting my wits against the unforgiving tidal races - into Ramsey Sound [the picture at the head of this website] and down to the south end of the island before heading out to round South Bishop [with the now-un-manned lighthouse]. That's when the tide needs to be turned - not too soon, not too late - to sweep my little craft northwards round Careg Rhoson [sometimes spelt Rhosson] and past the basking grey seals on North Bishop - "Sunset Island" for us, who view it from Cae Rhedyn - before turning in sharp towards Careg Trai and the relative safety of Whitesands Bay. To be caught the wrong side of St David's Head would be a complete disaster, so this is the part of the trip when I pray that the wind doesn't desert me, and I crab the boat halfway between south and east, all the time looking nervously at my position relative to the promontory. The occasional gain southwards gives rise to a confidence quickly dented by any slippage in the other direction
Looking towards Carreg Gafeiliog & Ramsey Island [pastel on card]
South end of Whitesands, looking towards Carreg Gafeiliog & Ramsey Island - pastel on card
Cae Rhedyn looking over Porth Sele [gouache 30/i/10]
This is another attempt at capturing this fine view - the wave breaking seen from behind and to the side, and the light coming from the East. The gouache is painted on a sheet of [pale blue] mounting card. Below is a photograph of this picture. I had intended to use this painting to experiment with 'fixing' the gouache paint [because if applied too thick, it cracks and even flakes off]. I decided to use a spray glue I'd bought before Christms in The Works. After shaking the can, I pressed the nozzle, but to my horror the can burst into spray, discharging the entire contents of the tin - stickily - in less than half-a-minute. I managed to put it into a rubbish bin for most of this time, rushing upstairs and into the garden. Maverick didn't care less! The painting was now splattered with specks of the wretched stuff....
So after cursing the situation and spending ages de-sticky-fying [a George Bush-ism?] the floor, waste-bin, walls, my clothes, hands, face & glasses, I thought of using the now useless painting as the basis for another picture, overpainting it with oil paint thinned with linseed oil. The result is the picture after this one:
This photograph is all that now remains of this picture, as I overpainted it with oil paint.
This is the resurrected glue-splattered painting [see above] and uses a linseed-rich oil paint mixture. It looks resplendant in the sunshine.
Same view, oil with lots of linseed mixed in....
Round the back of Carn Llidi [pastels]
There are lovely walks inland from Carn Llidi - our local "mountain" [595']. The flora is lovely - heathers, huge foxgloves, tiger lilies, wild roses, orchids, and many other rarities. I am so ignorant when it comes to flowers & grasses, but it doesn't stop me from loving what I see. Even the lichen is fantastic, covering all the rocks with coloured crusts. The land is grazed by semi-wild ponies. There are adders, grass snakes, lizards, frogs, toads, thousands of rabbits, many badgers, and of course all the birds you could wish for - including peregrines, buzzards, kestrels, ravens, huge greater black-backed seagulls [probably the most ruthless of all these hunters], right down to all those "LBJ"s - little-brown-jobs - which look so much more fascinating when viewed close up through binoculars. The ever industrious larks and linnets define all areas, especially the ever-present song. For the other smaller birds, it is the little stonechats, yellowhammers and goldfinches that feature highest amongst my favourites.
Round the back of Carn Llidi
Crochan - a wonderful beach in north Pembrokeshire [gouache on mounting card]
This is the most perfect beach ever - inaccessible enough to keep most people away, and a spacious, sandy beach with plenty of driftwood for making a bar-b-q fire. It is accessed by abseiling down a piece of cliff with the help of a length of thick rope that has been here ever since I can remember [that's over fifty years - probably renewed from time to time....], and walking round a rocky promontary to the main beach. The incoming tide would trap you if you left returning too late, and many's the time we have had to wade or even occasionally swim back round. On the beach itself there is an amazing natural arch in the cliff, over which fulmars nest. One year a hapless kestrel nested too close to the fulmars, and the chicks and adults were subjected to the projectile puke that the innocent looking fulmars - sweet faces, evil behaviour! - hurl at potential threats. I doubt that the chicks would have survived the endless onslaught....
Treginnis Farm [black felt tip]
Treginnis Farm - now one of the Farms for City Children
This is a City Farm for Children, offering residential opportunities for children who have never made the connection between the food they eat and the farms and animals that produce this. It feels friendly and welcoming and this image holds a sense of excited anticipation: what exactly is there just around the corner?
I enjoy illusions, and this image leaves much for the imagination to fill in - although so familiar are we with houses and buildings that we do not encounter any difficulties....
Carn Llidi from the south end of Whitesands [felt tips/pastels]
Whitesands Beach - a quick sketch of a most familiar view!
This little picture-postcard-of-a-view is from the best end of this magnificent beach, where we occasionally spend a happy afternoon with whatever children may be on holiday with us, often the only people here if the tide has already cut this end off from the main beach. We can clamber up the cliffs here and it is just a few hundred yards back to a cup of tea, toast, cake and an evening of supper and cards....
Large pastel drawing of the wet sand on the south end of Whitesands at low tide:
Whitesands at low tide [pastel Dec 2010]
Barry Island beach at low tide [pastel on card]
Barry Island Beach - pastel on card
Treginnis from St Justinian [oil pastel]
Coastline beyond St Justinian
The cliffs are wild and mostly inaccessible round Treginnis, and it is in the caves along here, as well as across the water on Ramsey Island, that the grey seals breed. The pups are born as early as August and as late as December. Immediately the mum goes into the water a bull seal is waiting to mate with her. The pups gain an enormous amount of weight very fast, and have to be ready to swim quite early on. There are nearly always a few dead pups to be found in the Spring, victims of a bull seal or a storm. Round this particular piece of coast, too, are choughs and ravens, each species an absolute delight to watch in aerial display, especially the ravens when courting. And of course there are the various raptors: kestrels, buzzards and the awesome peregrine falcon.... In the Sound, opposite the aptly named "Bitches" [the rocks jutting out from the island into the tidal torrent], there are often schools of porpoises. Once there was a Risso's Dolphin washed up on Porth Sele, so maybe some of the fins we see are these?
Treginnis from St Justinian [acrylic on board]
This is a large acrylic painting of Treginnis (palette knife on board, 30" X 20"). I used iridescent white to try to capture the intensity of the sun's reflection.
St David's Cathedral [oil pastel]
St David's Cathedral
There are very few viewpoints affording the longer-distant picture of this Cathedral, and its compactness and positioning are never more obvious than when standing a few hundred yards up in the city itself, on the steps of the celtic cross in the centre. Amazingly the level here is the same height as the top of the Cathedral tower!
St David's Cathedral [drawing]
This Cathedral is of huge importance to me. I have been inside as chorister, worshipper in my younger CofE days, and latterly as visitor. The chorister bit used to be great fun, especially at Easter [I haven't been to St Davids at Easter for the past twenty years or so], as I was welcomed as a tenor [nostalgic sigh....] and got to know my fellow singers reasonably well. We used to rehearse in the organist's house in the 'close', down past the Bishop's Palace ruins. What fantastic houses these are!
I love the idiosyncracies of the cathedral: the outward leaning pillars and the consequent gaps between the walls and the magnificent Irish oak-panelled ceiling; the discernible incline from East to West which used to make me wonder if the two mobile choir stalls [in the nave] might perhaps slowly slide down the aisle, if someone forgot to lock the wheels!....; the fabulous carvings underneath the misericords, one of which depicts a boatload of seasick passengers; the Archbishop's seat - wow!; and the ceiling under the tower, with an inclined mirror to help one view it without getting neck-ache.