The Last of Yorkshire…


The Last of England - Ford Madox Brown

Yesterday was the anniversary of the momentous day when we finally said goodbye to North Yorkshire and, with a heavy heart, headed in to the unknown -Cumbria. Me and the cat journeyed West with the last of the moving boxes crammed into the trusty old Golf, and while Cat seemed quite content watching the windscreen wipers ( yes it was raining ) I was travelling with very mixed feelings…until we reached that magical stretch of the A66 when the mountains suddenly appear, all majestic and snow topped, telling me to snap out of it. Anyway, a year has passed, this picture has been on my mind “The Last of England” by Pre-Raphaelite, Ford Madox Brown, mostly because of the title and the sentiment- the look of massive resentment and resignation on their faces… I haven’t set foot in North Yorkshire since but maybe it’s time I did, to acclimatise before I go to Harrogate in April!

Map jigsaw, meanding the A591

We have celebrated this weekend with a retro Black Forest Gateau, a trip to Cockermouth (more cake) and finally fixing the road to Grasmere … sorry only kidding, just the jigsaw version which Rupert finished at last (it’s kept him busy and driven him mad every weekend since Christmas). There is going to be a bus to Grasmere soon though, over a temporary bridge and I can’t wait to visit again.

bear necklace by Kim Tillyer

This morning after nailing up a new bird house and hanging up a selection of nuts and seeds to attract some feathery friends, I put all your names in a mug and asked Rupert to pick one… so the winner of  my anniversary giveaway is Lucy McLaurin! Congratulations to you and thank you every one else for your comments. If you send me your address Lucy I’ll go to the post office this week. I’ll also be adding these new bear necklaces and some design samples to my Etsy shop later… I’d love to know what you think. The necklaces are a new and improved version of some I used to make a few years ago, these have sterling silver chains and findings and I’ve been doing rigorous testing (scrubbing with hot water, soap and a washing-up scourer) to make sure they’re robust enough to be sent out in to the world.

Mug design

Well, its a little chilly on this side of the room so I’m going to say goodbye for now and head over to the stove to have a think about more designs… perhaps Spring, Summer and Autumn to go with these wintery bears.

Bear mugs by Kim Tillyer

Reading: ” The Illustrated Herdwick Shepherd” James Rebanks (for historical reasons I’m nervous about sheep farmers but I was given this for Christmas and it is actually quite lovely with some great thoughts on the landscape and education and the importance of “running free”)                                                   Listening To: Lost and Found” Steve Mason ( The video is filmed in Snowdonia but it reminds me so much of here and driving in the rain and certain times and friends from the past)

Catching the Sky

blue sky in Keswick

Today the wind dropped and the day was reasonably dry and warm so I’ve just come in from an hour of stick collecting and branch cutting (laying a hedge to let in more light hopefully). Today is Imbolc… the first day of spring, Groundhog Day or St. Brigid’s Day and so, good weather and wood collecting are not necessarily a good thing. The Cailleach collects the rest of her winter fire wood at Imbolc if she intends to make the season last a good while longer (bad weather on this day was seen as a sign that the Cailleach was asleep and that winter would soon be over). Anyway, it was good to be busy outside, it was still light at five, the snowdrops have emerged and as you can see I’ve been catching blue sky in bottles this week to save for a rainy day!

bird house in Buttermere

On Sunday I discovered this little home in a tree on the side of Buttermere; I’m not sure if it had been washed there by the floods or if it fell from higher up but it looked rather sad and in need of a new roof. We walked around the lake, which I’d never done before. The path goes through a tunnel in the rock at one point and it was all very quiet and beautiful; a dusting of snow on the tops and the lake very still and green with orange bracken slopes, bright green moss and young silver birches with pink and white bark –  quite a colour scheme despite the late winter gloom.

Meanwhile in my “studio” the colour scheme is very blue and white as I continue to plan what to take to BCFT in April. I bought some lovely Pink Pig sketchbooks and have been printing and embroidering covers for them on heavy calico. I was so pleased and flattered when they were spotted by the company on Twitter; they were really complimentary which is always such a nice thing when you’re working in isolation in a barn and have no one to get feedback from except the cat!

a busy desk

The days are racing on and by the time I’ve finished typing this it will already be almost halfway through another week and only four days before I pick a winner for the giveaway in the last post… so if you haven’t left a comment there’s still time and if you have then thank you ( and good luck).

embroidered sketchbooks

This is only a short offering today, I have to try and finish designing the catalogue and price list I’m making so that I can post it out to the galleries who have already requested one. I have to continue with product development and working out prices and terms and conditions and how to stick my stand together and most importantly I have to feed the stove because its getting dark and cold now and I need a cozy nest to work or I just huddle and go sleepy like a bear in a cave hoping to hibernate. The wind is picking up again so maybe the Cailleach is stirring…

Buttermere tunnel


A year can fly…

Derwent water after the floods

This past weekend marked a year since the first night in our new home in Newlands Valley; the anniversary has so many emotions attached to it that it was a roller coaster of feelings and memories . The snow had given way to warm rain and greyness so Sunday’s walk was along the shores of Derwent Water, where this storm damaged jetty appealed to my introspective mood… a metaphor for life with its wild ups and downs, rakish camber and, well … the obvious question where is it heading and where do you go when you reach the end? I lay awake for hours the other night with so much I wanted to say about this year and how I got here but the rapid approach of BCTF and the fact that for the moment this blog serves as my website, not just a confessional, means I’m more aware than ever of the need to keep a stiff upper lip, appear positive and not get on my soap box too often. However, just for today let me remind you of what I had to leave behind…

Moorside House Snilesworth Moor in happier times - owned by the evil Hortons of Snilesworth Lodge

…not just a house but a home, a garden, a history, a way of life, family, friends and belonging to a landscape. Congratulations to all those involved for living with your consciences for a year and especially Mr Toby Horton who is currently adding to his community spirited portfolio by failing to supply residents of Ingleby Greenhow with reliable running water from the private water supply he owns; some things never change.

And so the only thing to do is keep on looking forwards, treating others with the kindness and compassion you’d hope for yourself and trying to negotiate the slippery pier without falling in too soon.

House drawing by Kim Tillyer

Last week I received the not unexpected news that the gallery in Keswick were having to make staff cuts following the floods,  and so my year in the Lake District ends as it began, with a search for work and security whilst also throwing myself more wholeheartedly than ever into a more professional approach to my artwork. I’ve really enjoyed my time at Northern Lights Gallery and I’m so sad it’s had to end, not to mention a little worried. I think it is important that people realise just how seriously affected many people have been, and will continue to be, by the floods, not just businesses that actually flooded but also those who are suffering from the road closures and drop in visitor numbers. It’s an ongoing thing and sadly so many small galleries and creative businesses  in particular seem to have been hit over the important Christmas period. Independent galleries are vital in supporting many other small businesses, providing a shop window for all those artists and makers slaving away in leaky studios and cluttered kitchen tables; they also make our towns more attractive and uplifting. So here is my appeal… if you can, please support small galleries and independent businesses, don’t go in and ask for the artist’s website address so you can try and get it cheaper, don’t pick up a greetings card to jot down a name and then walk out without even having the grace to part with the £3 for the card ( it happens ) and if you have a moment have a look at this from Snug Gallery in Hebbden Bridge.

Magic tent by Kim Tilyer vases by Kim Tillyer

Well, the kettle on the stove is about to boil so I really need to be brave, make a pot of tea and make a start on cobbling together my stand design; it will involve cutting and measuring and is bound to end in tears which is why I’ve spent all day avoiding it!

Oh my goodness! I nearly deleted this whole post by accident just then, what a fright. Just time to say THANK YOU yet again for reading, commenting and being generally lovely. To celebrate my first year in the Lake District I’m going to do a long overdue giveaway. If you’d like to be entered in the draw to win a pair of  mugs, embroidered lavender sachet, bear pincushion and various other design samples,  just leave a comment – and share this post on Facebook or Twitter if you can. I’ll pick a winner on February 6th… the last day I spent in North Yorkshire and my parent’s wedding anniversary. Good luck x

witchmountain anniversary giveaway

Listening to:  Kaleidophonica by Spiro ( perfect soundtrack for driving around the mountains )


Newlands Church

Snuggled by the stove with the last of the Christmas cake, a slab of Stilton and a pot of strong coffee. The cat is asleep in a perfect curl on the round footstool and I can’t hear anything but the crackle of the fire (ok thats a lie, the computer is whirring annoyingly but I didn’t want to spoil the picture … actually if you could see the picture it would be spoiled by the fact that my head is caked in hot henna and wrapped in cling-film and a bobble hat- but for the moment you must imagine I’m looking glamourous in some sort of cashmere lounging outfit). Proper Winter came and changed everything; even if it was for just a weekend. It’s easy to be cynical and mock the sudden glut of snow scenes on people’s Facebook pages, the childlike excitement when snow is forecast, the birth of hundreds of slightly muddy, doomed snowmen but here in rainy grey England there’s no denying it is an event that can still seem magical… so long as you don’t have to travel anywhere and it doesn’t go on too long.

On Thursday, waking up to the transformed landscape, I took myself on a tiny first winter ascent of Snab Bank, I had the whole valley to myself, virgin snow, spirals of spindrift and shocking blue skies not seen for months. Its nearly a year since I came here in deep distress and it felt unbelievably good to be standing in this wonderful place soaking up the light and vitamin D ( although I keep wondering how on earth all those polar explorers managed to keep going- I was exhausted and realised I would be the first to be eaten in a disaster scenario).

towards Keswick from Snab Bank

Last week I mentioned the fact that I was missing my snowed-in time and how important it is to me for some reason. My brother read the whole of “The Long Winter” by Laura Ingalls Wilder when he was here at Christmas and I’m sure it’s books like that as well as a kind of Northern race memory (?)  that makes winter such a special and potentially creative time; perhaps its just the enforced stillness. Anyway, I was freezing last week, trying to save firewood, so I finally got around to making a little work space in the small room. It’s like a cell or an old fashioned school room… no distracting view through the window when I’m at my desk. I drew things and listened to Howard’s End on the radio and got excited by cyanotype again. “Only connect”

2bears cyanotype

I am easily distracted and who can blame me with a head full of bears and icing sugar mountains outside the window?

snow scene

So this week I am trying to be more organised and practical… my tax return is done, velvet has been ordered from Glasgow, ceramic printing experiments continue and I’ve paid the final installment for my stand at BCTF this April. Now I can’t sleep with worry and excitement and ideas and panic but as Rupert said this weekend, whatever happens something will happen and it needs to because I can’t survive on occasional Etsy sales so it’ll either make me realise I have to change direction or encourage me to keep going. The show is in Harrogate from April 10th – 12th and I think my stand is N27 so come and say hello if you’re there.

bear hug cyanotype

Now I think it’s time for some music while I wait for the henna to do it’s herbal alchemy. Recurring in my head at the moment …”blue, blue electric blue…

Reading: ‘Feral” by George Monbiot  Listening to: “Sound and Vision” David Bowie


“We could run when the rain slows”

Low High Snab

All good intentions have fallen by the wayside already and this, which was meant to wish you a Happy Christmas and then a Happy New Year has now become a distraction from the muddled pile of receipts that is my tax return and the even bigger empty void that would be  labeled ” plans for the British Craft Trade Fair” if you could label voids.

Today has been a day of melancholy and many jumbled memories after the initial jolt of hearing that David Bowie had died. I’ve long since got over the teenage obsession (which meant I stayed up all night sometime in about 1983 just to catch a glimpse of his bum in the video for China Girl; before they banned it) but today I’ve remembered that Bowie really has been the soundtrack to my life and one of the few artists whose music I still actually buy. I’ve been playing “Bowie at the BBC 2000” and “Heathen” and thinking about a conversation we had at Christmas about the emotional effect of music; I said I found it hard to listen to music that meant a lot to me or reminded me of certain people and places, particularly when I’m alone, and that generally I fill the silence here with radio 4 . Well today it has been loud and wonderful and I didn’t even cry until “Conversation Piece” (remix on Heathen) came on (I have no idea why- something in the tone of voice?) and instead I felt comforted somehow, less scared, more inspired and just thinking… wow what a life, what a legacy, imagine how many people are listening to his music tonight and reliving moments from their own precious histories ( I hope that makes it easier for his family ).

etching by Kim Tillyer

Anything else seems mundane after that news. Here in my little world life goes on and small steps are taken on steep slopes and steeper learning curves and daily battles are fought against inertia, creative block and the all pervading damp and endless sodding rain. I’m missing Winter as there has been no magical period of snowed in-ness yet and no bright days (another reason I’ve been slow to write as there were no pictures to show you), just a couple of brief snowfalls that didn’t hang around.

Looking to Catbells from High Snab Bank

The most exciting thing that has happened recently was the etching day I went to in Penrith yesterday. We each made a small copper plate etching with aquatint, under the guidance of Bill Cummings and as usual it made me wish I could do more… if only the equipment wasn’t so expensive and if only my hands would fit in rubber gloves ( my hands are still grubby even after a long bath listening to a murder mystery whilst viciously scrubbing my ink black fingers like Lady Macbeth). The image of the cottage above was the first print, before we did the aquatint  and a lot of the detail was lost.

drawing bears at work

So I continue to doodle and vaguely plan my long postponed debut at the British Craft Trade Fair, which is in April so that probably means it’s time to stop being vague and get  motivated! The mugs I printed before Christmas seemed to sell well so I really do need to decide on designs and start getting serious, it really is no good still wondering what to be when you grow up when you’re nearly 49 and life is so god damned short.  Oh to be a fat, furry cat on a patterned rug, with not a care in the world…

the cat at Christmas

Best and happiest wishes for the rest of 2016.

Reading :- ” Maigret Omnibus No.7″ by Georges Simenon  Listening to:- Heathen by David Bowie


plate design by Kim Tillyer

I started writing this last Friday, the day before Storm Desmond showed up…..

Have I told you that this house feels like a boat at the moment? Not that it’s moving, just that it sits here at the head of the valley with it’s stern to the prevailing wind and rain which slams into it as it rushes down from the fells and it sounds like crashing waves. In front the track becomes a river; cutting channels in the fallen leaves which never got dry enough to crunch through . The land rises steeply at the back where a tortured, pollarded Sycamore holds bird feeders that swing out almost horizontal in the wind and the woodpecker clings on like a trapeze artist; the only bright thing out there (recently I saw bullfinches who were pretty snazzy too but preferred nettle seeds behind the oil tank to swinging about for peanuts). It has rained for days and days and days *** Here I was going to insert a big rant about MPs voting to bomb Syria and Climate Change and biblical floods but I think I’ll leave it to your imagination. It’s frightening and frustrating and I despair ***

cat and woodpile

So after I wrote that, things went crazy and after getting home on in gale force winds, clearing fallen trees from the lane, we battened the hatches and spent all of Saturday feeding the stove, catching drips in buckets and feeling helpless to help but guiltily cozy as the disaster unfolded just a mile down the road. Twitter was the only way to make sense of it… real time posts as the water levels rose in Keswick, inching up the glass storm defense and eventually tipping over to inundate the town for the second time in 6 years. Now everything I was going to write seems self indulgent and ridiculous. We walked up Latrigg yesterday, as the day was insultingly sunny and calm, and marveled at the scene below- Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite Lake joined in a continuous stretch of shimmery water – one lake to rule them all.

Keswick and Bassenthwaite floods from Latrigg

It was beautiful and fascinating from a distance but back in the town I felt guilty and too ashamed to even take a picture of the river as people’s homes and businesses were spilled out on to the pavements in muddy piles. It was horrible and reminded me of what I was going through this time last year; losing your home, no running water, mud. I wanted to help but it also made me painfully aware that I’m not yet a part of this community.

rural solitude drawing

Anyway, there is a fundraising page here and various collection centres for donations of food and clothing across Cumbria so hopefully by sharing this I will be doing what I can. I tried to drive to Braithwaite ( our closest village)  today, armed with a shovel and a yard brush to help the clear up but there was a digger clearing a landslide so I had to turn around. I’ll try again tomorrow. Meanwhile my heart goes out to all those affected, I wish I could do more.

cherry cake

Whenever I write a blog post I upload the photographs first with a vague idea of what I wanted to say but to be honest it’s completely slipped my mind now! I think it was going to be a thing about how excited I was to have sold some work at the Great Print Exhibition, amongst such great company, followed by a mention that these cushions are now in my Etsy shop; I might even have been going to share the recipe for my wonderous cherry and almond cake…

Little House cushion

I wanted to write things about the fact that its a year ago exactly since I first saw this place and how that feels, and about how the cat now occasionally sits on me  which is cozy (until she bites) which makes me understand (almost) how easy it might be to turn in to a crazy cat lady if only to save on heating bills! The reason the cat sits on me could be that my daughter bought me a polar bear onesie as a surprise the other day and it makes hibernation even more tempting.

But for now I think it’s best to just be quiet, hope that the kettle boils soon and that the wind and rain settles down and gives us a break. Stay safe and warm where ever you are. x

embroidery detail


Nature Cure

stormy Cumbrian sky

Getting out of the house to deliver work was good today. It has become too easy to stay in my grey stone nest, looking out of the high windows at the storms and not venturing out until the weekends when I gasp my way up a fell, rewarded with paper wrapped sandwiches and a view to lift the spirits and feed me for another week. The wild weather lately meant that the weekend was postponed until Monday and the walk was an easy one, up Loughrigg Fell to gaze down on silvery flooded valleys and across to various Pikes and Stickles and knobbly hills whose names are becoming woven into my life like a poem muttered repeatedly, like a mantra, under my breath. We played at surviving by getting in the billowing “group shelter“,  a large blue, bottomless tent that made me think of  John and Yoko’s “Bagism” peace protests or getting trapped in the sheets while building dens in the bed as a child.

The poison path, yew berries at Grasmere

The storms had loosened bright scarlet yew berries, a trail of poisoned beads and shaken the last of the leaves into a soggy carpet that smelled delicious. Walking through a wood in Autumn is like walking along a beach… impossible not to fill pockets with collected treasures, a jewel coloured leaf, a sprig of sticky pine, an acorn perhaps (although like beach treasure they never look quite as bright when  brought indoors and dry). It makes me feel like a child, sticking leaves in my hair and swishing a freshly fallen bamboo pole, pretending to be a pony… forgetting the horrible indignity of being, in reality, a nearly 50 year old in a second hand raincoat and borrowed hat who should probably be more dignified or risk frightening other walkers.

detail of polar bear mug design

I’ve really agonised over writing this blog today because its been such a rotten few weeks, my self confidence and faith in personal and professional relationships felt shattered and for various reasons I was feeling that perhaps writing was my undoing. Perhaps the internet is no place for openness and candid musings when we’re always being warned to guard our identities and upgrade our privacy settings. I felt unsettled enough to read back, to double check to see if I had given away too much or spoken out of turn or been mean inadvertently. I thought about who I want to be and the kind of people I respect (I’ve been reading Richard Mabey’s book “Nature Cure” and he absolutely isn’t afraid to speak his mind on subjects close to his heart) and decided that I am not ashamed to bare my soul here so long as it’s balanced with good stuff too and doesn’t involve the entire laundry basket of dirty linen. Because sometimes it’s important to admit that things go wrong, that its not all primrose paths and that you have to walk up some pretty spiky, slippery tracks to get the sandwiches.

top of Loughrigg in a borrowed hat

And …”Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.”—Jodi Picoult

In other news, today’s drive took me to the lovely Eden Valley home of Jenny “Boo and the Noodle” who is having an Open Studio this weekend to raise money for a new village play area. It looks like there’s going to be everything you could ever want for the dreaded Christmas Shopping, and all handmade in Cumbria; including beautiful prints, exotic faux cacti pin cushions, textile artwork and some rather swishy Witchmountain mugs.


boo and the noodle open house

And so getting out of the house proved to be the best thing I could have done. I left the mountain in a storm of pouring rain and despairing tears and drove east into a massive double rainbow over Penrith. Heading home there is a point on the A66 when Blencathra looms beside the road and all the now familiar mountains of this magical corner of Lakeland are suddenly revealed in moody layers and it actually sends a shiver down my spine.

And so to bed. Thank you again for reading whoever and where ever you are, it means the world to this mountain hermit x

Reading:- that Richard Mabey book Listening to:- “Courting the Squall” – Guy Garvey