Tag Archives: Wild swimming

“Chiaroscuro” seemed like a good title.

IMG_1458These two pictures sum up last week as I prepared for my first big art fair, Art in the Pen, at Thirsk. I tried to work in the dark, gloomy cave of the house while the sun beckoned like a secret lover, through the lace bedspread, hung to keep out the bitey insects. Setting up outside I was driven back in by the glare or the wind or the fact that I looked like I’d been dip dyed upside down in a vat of pink from sunburn. The evenings of swimming were blissful though and I’m now slightly addicted to the well documented after effects of being in cold water; the silky cool feeling under the skin that contrasts with the warm surface and the release of endorphins that feels weirdly like the effects of …hmmm, less “official” methods (which I neither admit to, endorse or condone) but were once described thus by American chemist Alexander Shulgin … “I feel absolutely clean inside, and there is nothing but pure euphoria. The cleanliness, clarity, and marvellous feeling of solid inner strength continued… through the next day. I am overcome by the profundity of the experience.” Obviously swimming is a much more healthy way of feeling “pure euphoria” and less likely to land you in jail; it really has helped lift my blue moods when my natural inclination would normally be to curl up and nest.

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After an epic drive ( hot air blowers on full blast to stop the car overheating in the traffic jams) and still in recovery from a 3 day migraine ( brought on by dropping the settee on my foot during a mad hoovering session and not cured by standing for an hour, thigh deep in Scope Beck wearing just a t-shirt, hat and pants like a crazy old hobo) I made it to Thirsk and set up my pen (with lots of help from Rupert who’d been waiting there for hours).

It was a fantastic, if unlikely, event. As if by magic the slightly grubby and smelly animal pens were transformed by an amazing group of artists and makers who not only produce fabulous work but also design the display solutions (not easy making a sheep pen that was awash with slurry hours earlier, look like a gallery), and work like mad to make it all look great. I didn’t have much chance to look at everyone’s stands as I was on my own but it was so good to meet Hester Cox in person at last (my heart is set on one of her prints one day) and I spent a virtual fortune on some the work I saw on other people’s stands. My friend Sarah Ames wins my “resilience and tenacity” award for doing the whole thing on her own and driving all the way back home to Cockermouth every night! Sarah Robely wins “set design and catering “award because her stand was pristine and her lovely mum Shona, was there with home baked treats to feed to the 5,000. Bridget Wilkinson wins my “wow you’re an inspiration” award because she was so helpful, is a good friend and is making it work! I’ve also got to thank the lovely Penny Hunt  because she suggested I applied and her gorgeous work will be at the “Inspired by” gallery in Danby next week for her solo show, as well as Skipton Art in the Pen next month.

Ok, it’s no fun reading lists of links or thank you’s so I’ll stop now but if I missed you out it forgive me; everyone I met was truly inspirational and that’s before I think about all the friends who came and said hello. I’m still processing it all- months of isolation followed by a manic weekend of catch ups and emotion can be a bit overwhelming and I’m trying not to worry too much about all the ridiculous things I may have said or the faces I didn’t instantly recognise when they appeared out of context!

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I walked alone across familiar fields that belonged to another lifetime and stood watching a small drama as the sun set and a pair of  buzzards, disturbed by something not visible, called to each other and dipped and swooped with chattering, acrobatic swallows- rioting before bedtime.

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And so, after catching up with as many people as I could and wishing with all my heart I could spend more time with them, I took a massive detour home to avoid a traffic jam which would have meant needing to steam my face again with the car heaters. A two hour journey took four but I saw some great landscapes as trundled back through Kirby Stephen, Kendal and the South Lakes. I actually found myself saying “hello” out loud when Blencathra finally popped in to view and for a treat we went to the pub for chips before an icy, dusk swim in the river to wash away the sin of fried food. A tent was pitched right beside the swimming hole, as I’d guessed it might be, so we lowered ourselves in to the dark water upstream, trying to gasp quietly at the shock and swam quickly and breathlessly past the campers, trying not to alarm them. It felt quite exciting and the mossy rocks were like carpeted steps under the water- I wouldn’t like to be in water any faster though, it’s deceptively hard to swim against even a gentle current and I do quite enough of that on dry land.

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Now I’m going to tidy up the boxes still to be unpacked and see what I have left to take to Skipton on the 12th -13th of August and prepare for a workshop at Greystoke next week. Thanks again to everyone who made it a fun weekend. I have loads more to say but I’m having think first and anyway, it’s time for coffee and baking a cake I think 😉

 

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“Just put your feet down child, the water is only waist high, I’ll let go of you gently, then you can swim to me.”

kitchen studio

I made myself a nest of velvet pillows, a strong coffee and promised I’d write while it rains the now customary July deluge outside. I think it’s probably been the longest gap in my blog posts since I began 8 years ago but at least this gap has been a relatively good one and not caused by rotten boyfriends or evil landowners.  Since April I have been in a strange place… simultaneously showered with positive comments and opportunities, whilst wracked with a deeper than ever lack of self belief and confidence. No sooner had I returned from British Trade Craft Fair with a book full of contacts and exhibition offers then I panicked and started looking for part time work, any work that was regular REAL work. I think it’s called Imposter Syndrome and it’s very common apparently, especially amongst us over sensitive “arty types”! Anyway, I ended up with a part time job at the Herdy Shop, some regular stockists for my work, some exhibitions and even occasional workshop teaching, so of course I’ve been rushed off my feet and become rich beyond my wildest dreams. That’s a lie, I’ve been pinned to my chair by inertia on the days I don’t work at the shop and bursting with frustrated creative energy on the days that I do; well I’ve always been a fickle creature. On balance though I have to say things have been moving slowly in the right direction since BCTF and really ever since moving to the Lakes. Things have been happening and nothing has stayed the same which is probably why I’m not always comfortable… I’ve been compared to a limpet, hard to shift from the security of my “home scar”.

cyanotype by Kim Tillyer

There is a little house on the side of Cat Bells which looks from a distance as though it is totally isolated and empty; in fact it’s quite hard to see, framed by trees and slate grey like the mountainside (not like this little white cottage of my imagination). I wonder who lives there… more than anything else I imagine myself living there as I do with lots of the idyllic places here in the Lake District. A home, a place to dig and plant and light a stove for bread and coffee. It makes me sad to see empty places and the culture of property as investment, I’m a romantic idealist with no understanding of economics which is probably why I will never own my own home and will always wish I did.

 

Needlefelt sheep by Kim TillyerThe best investment I’ve made this year was made on a muggy day in May when I had been feeling really low and anxious about returning to Osmotherley for Art in the Shed. Rupert was driving us through Ambleside when on an impulse I demanded we stop and look in the outdoor swimming shop and maybe find out about wetsuits. Before I knew what was happening we were stripped off and being politely squeezed into black rubbery suits in the tiny warm shop and trying not to panic (I’ve been trapped in changing rooms before unable to extricate myself from a too tight top so I was wary). Rupert, being shy, left his shirt on which gave the bizarre impression that his wetsuit had a collar and was maybe a little more formal than mine. Anyway, Pete from “Swim the Lakes” was wonderful and patient while we giggled and struggled and we left the shop £300 lighter with two big pizza style boxes containing our shiny new wetsuits and that giddy feeling when you’ve done something a bit naughty.

It was over a week before we finally got to immerse the wetsuits for the first time (Art in the Shed turned out to be a great success and I was reminded -though I never really forget -how important my old friends are to me and that community of supportive women that I miss so much in my new life.) We were cautious, I’m the kind of person who swims at the edge of the pool and still worries that someone may release sharks through the air vents (blame James Bond and several bad swimming instructors in the the 1970s) The moored boats which looked so close suddenly seemed miles away. Swimming in the open air is so different … everything is moving around you, clouds, trees in the wind, ripples on the surface and it feels as though you’re not getting anywhere; only the mountains stand still. The wetsuits give you a strange buoyancy and it took me a while to realise that the best thing to do was relax, slow right down and just enjoy the sensuality of it, I’m doing it for pleasure not sport. Kelly Kettle tea and Digestive biscuits are part of the deal, taking part in triathlons is not.

swimming in Bassenthwaite

Since the first tentative dip I am slowly gaining a little confidence. I’m not particularly fit and I’d like to be before I risk swimming too far but it is the test of mental strength that interests me more. In Loughrigg Tarn the shady bank, warm, silty mud and waving tendrils of water plants initially worried me …what is below me? what if I can’t touch the bottom? What if a swan gets angry? Fear of the unknown, of the dark, of trusting in your own abilities. It’s a kind of vertigo and the only way I can deal with it is to concentrate on what I see above the water… I am surrounded by water lilies, yellow flag irises and reeds with clumps of slimy eggs like frog spawn (water snail? fish?). I am Ophelia in a Pre-Raphaelite painting,  I’m no longer a dumpy middle aged woman in unflattering Neoprene. The water is holding me up and I swim further than before. In Blea Tarn we swam in the rain, mesmerized by the patterns of concentric circles as the raindrops fell. It felt ancient as though something from the ice age could still be lurking and I could feel the stroke of soft weeds on my ankles.  Suddenly Rupert stood up, the water wasn’t as deep as I had thought, the comedy of it lost as he told me the rock we had been aiming for was actually a drowned calf! Still it was exhilarating and somehow all the better for the rain.

infinity pool, Lake District

And so, before you run away because you really didn’t want to read about swimming, here is the reservoir above the house (I’m not sure if you’re allowed to swim really but its our drinking water so…). Icy cold infinity pool and deeper than anything. I have walked past it when the surface was crystallizing to ice before my eyes and it was deep in the shadow of the fells but conquering my fear and swimming across its bottomless depths has been a real achievement for me. The picture below was taken by James from Cumbria House B&B in Keswick. He and Ruth joined us one afternoon for the comedy of “changing into wetsuits in public without revealing your bum”. I was again transformed into a small black pudding while Ruth actually does look like a Pre-Raphaelite painting and is the most lovely person. making me feel welcome when I first came here and knew nobody.

Swimming, picture by Ruth Burgess, Cumbria House B&B

Well, I’ve managed to spend all day pondering over this writing, no wonder I don’t do it very often, it’s time to cook and make more coffee. I promise I will write again soon with an update on exhibitions and stockists and arty things and I (probably) won’t mention water once…

Reading: “Dip” by Andrew Fusek Peters    Listening To:   “The Fog” Kate Bush

Hylas

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A week off, an early morning and a head full of questions, decisions and deadlines. Actually I was woken at 5 am by a blinding headache and the cat singing  tunelessly outside the window, so I’ve been thinking deeply about “The Meaning of Life” and wondering if Tuesday could have been more perfect.                           The view above is from a fairy tale pool, high up on the fell side where the waterfall has created a deep basin of mirror clear icy water. Hot from climbing, we  soon grew used to the cold and it felt like the most exclusive private pool in the world with views across the mountains framed by rock and Rowan trees;  money couldn’t buy this. I wish I could describe it more perfectly… it was Waterhouse’s “Hylas and the Water Nymphs” or a poem by Yates.

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The water was so clear its depth was deceiving and I couldn’t reach the bottom, though these words kept popping in to my mind…

 “Just put your feet down, child
The water is only waist high
I’ll let go of you gently
Then you can swim to me”                                                                                                          The Fog-Kate Bush

We also swam in Buttermere and Crummock Water but the dark water doesn’t feel the same, I’m not a brave swimmer and like to know what’s in the water with me!

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So, home on Witchmountain and the garden is heavy with the scent of lilies,  sweet peas and purple bean flowers. Everyday I find myself hunkered down snaffling wild strawberries like a hungry bear, lost in the gorgeous scentiness of them and the memories of my Grandma’s garden. If only it were possible to live like this all the time…but I still have the work situation to sort out and it seems that the part time offer has now been withdrawn , or at least made unviable financially, and there is it seems, more pressure than ever to get me chained to the coffee machine…my lavender scones are just too damn fine! Perhaps there is still time yet to be spotted by Anthropology and asked to design a new range for them ..but hey ho, it looks like my next design will be an apron!

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Today ( now that it is properly Day and not Dawn) is a little grey, so I will be able to work on this Autumnal design without the garden calling to me.

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And now I’m just going to close my eyes for a moment and imagine I’m back here …

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Reading :- A  magazine about coffee   Listening To:- Sycamore Sykes  “I Told the River” and Steve Mason “Lost and Found”