Tag Archives: Winter

Wildlife, Water and Work in Progress


A little over a fortnight since my last blog post and I’m sitting quietly by the stove trying to work out if it’s even possible to coherently share some of the ridiculous things that have happened lately and where to start. This is where being a proper writer would help… or if only I’d taken pictures as proof. Well you’ll just have to imagine if you can:-  the aftermath of the snowstorms, the heating oil arrived at last, the cupboards restocked with Marmite and bread flour and all is as it should be; except that as the snow melted and spring seemed to be arriving, the water went off. Much of the country had similar problems including Jackie Morris and the designer/shepherdess  Alison O’Neil who both endured similar lengths of time with no running water (and electricity in Alison’s case). For 8 days, while waiting for the plumber, we wrestled with the ancient pump (the water comes up from a spring near the beck and it had frozen) and the horrible tanks in the attic; lugging buckets up from the beck for toilet flushing and wrecking my plastic free intentions by buying gallons of bottled water. It was horrible, one trip to the beck was enough for me, I ached all over and the romance of rural life was hard to see. It shouldn’t have taken so long to fix but the house is old and crumbling and the whole experience was incredibly stressful, dredging up memories of the last days at Snilesworth and making me militant about the absolute priority that should be given to making sure people all over the world have proper access to clean drinking water and sanitation. We take water for granted, especially in the Lake District and hardly ever stop to think how amazingly lucky we are. Water Aid do great work in this area, as I’ve mentioned before,  so maybe I’ll ask my landlords to make a big donation!

As a side issue we discovered that there was a monster living in the attic. We’d heard him moving his furniture around in the night but whilst battling with water tanks and  float switches in the terrifying attic, Rupert found the “droppings” of something evidently much larger than a mouse. Thankfully not rats, my friends assured me, but more weirdly … weasels or stoats. Really?! I haven’t been able to eat from the stoat plate since all our chickens got murdered when we moved here and now it seem the culprits live upstairs!

This house is connected to the old cottage next door, so we had a bit of sorting out to do in there too ( burst pipes, Aga issues etc) once the water was back on and I decided to put some of our washing up in their dishwasher since we don’t have one. The cottage is dark and slightly haunted, having been empty for a while, but I’m never too worried, even when I realised that the front door was ajar when I went in to collect my pots in the evening- I probably didn’t close it properly. In the back kitchen, loading my tray I heard a very strange noise and realised I wasn’t alone. Shuffling , scratching, banging sounds that were obviously a brutal burglar nicking the collection of Beatrix Potter figurines, came from the front room and I prepared to meet my doom armed with some crockery. Creeping round the corner I came face to face with a tawny owl who was jumping up and down on the windowsill trying to get out. As I write I can hear the owls, they call constantly even in daylight and I love them but not upset ones in a confined space. As I edged forward to try and open the door the owl swooped silently into the other room and eyed me from the top of a wooden screen before hurling itself into the mirror over the mantlepiece, scattering trinkets and old photographs.We played this game for half an hour- I considered taking photos and wish I had now but I just wanted to set it free without getting it’s talons stuck in me. Eventually the poor thing was so fed up of flying at the window that I managed to catch it (wearing an enormous pair of gauntlets that were lying  around- it’s that kind of place) and set her down on the gatepost outside, part of me wanting desperately to keep her. Away she flew, without a sound or a backward glance leaving me to recover from the shock. How did she get in, walking through the half open door or falling out of the attic after the plumber left a hatch open? Summoned by too many owl drawings and not enough flowers?

I feels though I’ve waffled on enough now, you probably had to be there, but anyway, it sets a scene. I live in a very odd place and I think if it weren’t for my precious, occasional bookshop days, I would be going a little bit crazy by now. It’s important to have a bit of human interaction and lately that has felt more important than ever.

When not fetching water or wrangling owls I’ve been drawing swans, preparing to send an image or two down for an exhibition in Bristol next month and being inspired by a folk tale based in Grasmere called the Hunchback and the Swan by Taffy Thomas , a local storyteller. I’ve just found this wonderful animation by Dotty Kultys based on the story today  

Isn’t it great and the music too! Now I need to keep drawing because I have lots of ideas but they’re not popping out how I want them too yet. Here is my swan, the Lady of the Lake.

Until next time. x

Reading: “A Line Made by Walking” Sara Baum  Listening to : ” TheBedlam Stacks” by Natasha Pulley ( audio book)



Unwritten Fairytales and Lost Horizons

I’m blaming my new glasses for the time it has taken me to settle down to write tonight- that and the mountain of pancakes I made (it’s Pancake Day here in the UK) even though I’m home alone (banana with maple syrup and whipped cream, mmmmm ). I got new varifocals last week and they make me feel like somebody else; somebody I don’t like the look of, who most probably took a large dose of Mescaline or whatever makes the carpet come to life in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas; the floor now ripples in a disconcertingly trippy way! The new frames, which I’d hoped would make me look more à la mode, remind me of my first pair of NHS glasses when I was about 8; the world has a frame around it again and I’m reliving all my childhood hangups about being the kid with glasses.

*I just looked up à la mode and it can also mean “topped with ice cream” …

February has been beautiful so far and a little bit of motivation has returned. The late winter snow seems to be an inspiration every year and I’ve been busy making new things, doing some drawings in my digital sketchbook and going on  small winter adventures. Last week we went up Carrock Fell and, after worrying my way up the steep bit, I lost myself in admiring the scattered diamonds, wind etched snow fields and iced bun rocks. We drank hot tea in a shelter cairn and I  galumphed along following Rupert’s footprints on the stumbly trek back down. There was a cloud full of snow behind us, the wind spun powder in to our faces and the snow was up to my knees in places; I couldn’t stop thinking of the film Lost Horizon. In the picture above, you can just see the sunbeam hitting a group of trees at Skiddaw House, one of the most remote hostels in the country, miles from any road- perfect spot for an artist’s retreat!

I’ve been making new lampshades and making the most of bright days to photograph them- which seems a little back to front. Each one took longer than ever to make as I got carried away with the embroidered details and deciding, after continuing with the exercises in my Dream Plan Do book, that what I enjoy most about my work is making something really special that can sometimes take days to complete. The shades and lamps have just as much work in them as a framed piece,  so that although pricing will always be difficult, I have made a promise to myself that I will stop undervaluing these pieces.

I’ve had a complete creative block lately and felt really quite low but in the last couple of days I’ve made time to mess about with my Wacom drawing tablet and found myself doing what I always used to do as a child which was drawing stories  just for fun and escapism. The little house, above, started off after driving past the white climbing hut at Stair. As I drew and played with the Kyle T. Webster brushes, the hut evolved into strange a fairytale that hasn’t quite been put in to words yet….

Today my lovely friend Susie , from Glaisdale where we both grew up, shared a picture of her mum who would have been 100 today. The picture was of a small girl with big boots and an enormous hair ribbon. Anyway I had some more fun doodling my imaginary version, perhaps she lives in the little white house? perhaps she’s just going to visit? Either way it’s nice to retreat into your imagination when it’s cold outside and your glasses are upsetting you.

Now, I have promised myself that I’ll print two more pieces of fabric tonight ready for stitching tomorrow so I’ll start to pipe down. The room smells of snowdrops and it’s time for a cup of something warm. There are other things to talk about… how it’s easy to get cocky and mess up all but one of your printed tiles by forgetting to rotate the writing, how the one mythical chilblains become a real thing when taking photographs in the snow and how it is possible, even when feeling a bit fed up , that some excellent fiddle playing might cause you to stop the car to dance a jig on the darkened fell side like the shadow of the girl  you used to be.

Reading: “Wildwood-a Journey Through Trees” Roger Deakin.   Listening to: The Gloaming  and ” The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock” Imogen Hermes Gowar (Audio book)



hedgehogs by Kim Tillyer

I’m writing this by the stove wearing mittens and several jumpers, facing the big sliding glass doors that replace what would once have been the barn doors to the top floor of a traditional Cumbrian bank barn. The ground rises steeply so that, while the other side of the house looks out on to the tops of trees and it’s like being in a tree house, this view puts me at mole’s-eye-level, watching the birds hopping about in the fallen leaves above my head. A wren like a fat mouse, two woodpeckers, whose scarlet feathers look pretty flashy for a Northern bird, nuthatches, tree creepers and all the usual bird feeder suspects just busy “being”. Meanwhile, inside, the cat has been precariously and unusually (she’s not cuddly) balanced on my leg, perfecting the art of looking casually relaxed in the most uncomfortable situations whilst I sit and wrestle with the meaning of life, a thousand forms of self inflicted angst and the awful guilt of needing to move my leg.

Winter came a couple of days after I wrote the previous post and I think I’m missing the calming effects of swimming because I decided to hand my notice in at work yesterday after reasoning that life is too short for battles over dusters and it wasn’t fair on either of us. Yet again I have cast myself adrift on a sea of ideology and land looks a long way off!


Perhaps Rupert has made the link between swimming and my emotions because last night he was reading up on cold water acclimatization and pricing up neoprene gloves and hats… maybe I’d better snap out of my blue mood quickly!  Cold water swimming seems to be one of those things that are in vogue at the moment, a bit like the sudden popularity of the term Hygge. The connections with mental health are fairly well documented; I don’t think it’s surprising that various ideas of “self care” and ways of tuning in to, and finding solace in, the natural world are popular at the moment- a time when the world seems particularly precarious and ideological divisions are widening.

Cards by Kim Tillyer

Here in this corner of the Cumbrian mountains the snow came like a gift to a million Instagrammers. Experienced mountain types dashed out to enjoy the alpine conditions from the tops while at lake level the rest of us had trouble getting anything done because there was too much lovliness everywhere you looked…dazzling snow with firey autumn leaves, azure skies, frosted rose hips and pink alpenglow evenings.

sunset, Langdale

If you have been reading this blog for more than one winter you will know that snow and winter are a special time for me – despite the constant moaning about cold fingers and trying to feed a ravenous stove. I’m hoping that inspiration will strike as it often does in the long winter nights; time to reflect and reassess is part of the creative process but it often feels self indulgent and it’s easy to feel guilty when you’re not as busy as those birds outside the window.

Last week I had a huge last minute treat which was a place on a “Quirky Workshop” in Greystoke with Emma Redfern. We spent all day being shown how to make messenger bags, being fed and indulging in the luxury of taking time to make something. I used a half finished embroidery project I hastily took with me as well as some pieces of Spoonflower fabric; luckily Emma and my table neighbour Tara were able to let me use some of their lovely fabrics too as I hadn’t had time to get any myself. A guilty pleasure or a vital reminder of the importance of companionship, craft and simple pleasures? I certainly felt inspired and happy that evening and more than ever aware of the dangers of too much solitude and creative isolation.

embroidered messenger bag by Kim Tillyer

Now it’s getting dark outside and the trees are just silhouettes against an elephant grey sky. Time to close the curtains, stoke up the fire and get busy in the real world instead of this virtual one. Thank you for reading x


Reading: “Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow” Peter Høeg and “What They Didn’t Teach You in in Art School”  Rosalind Davis & Annabel Tilley

Listening To: I’ve been listening to “Carrie’s War” by Nina Bawden on the radio, in the bath, because nothing quite beats warm bubbly water and a story from your childhood to make life seem proper cozy 🙂


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

Last Day of the Year 2013


Dear neglected readers of Witchmountain, this New Year’s Eve finds me sitting by the stove with my feet on the table reflecting on the passing of the year and what the future may hold. I’m also drinking  strong, freshly ground coffee in an Anthropologie mug with a slab of home made stollen and a wedge of Stilton…telling you this makes me ponder the impression we give to others of our lives, through heavily self censored social media, blogging and everything. It is possible to become totally hung up on how fun packed and perfect everyone else’s lives appear to be because no one shares the grimmer, less photogenic bits. Still, writing this blog I can present my life on Witchmountain as I would wish it to be and how I hope it would seem if you called round for coffee – you’re welcome any time ( turn a blind eye to the muddy drive, the dusty floor and un-plastered wall, the rising fears about paying the bills and the sometimes crippling discontent and look instead at the view of rain soaked hills, an arrangement of branches on the table ready to be drawn, reflected rainbows from the window crystals or the new chickens tidying up what the blue tits drop from their feeder).


It was an even quieter than normal Christmas this year, with my small family at different ends of the country for the first time. I spent the day with my “grown up” children flying kites, playing “once a year” board games and keeping family traditions alive by setting fire to puddings, trying to get my son to eat sprouts and all that. Father Christmas did actually land on the roof on Christmas Eve, I heard him skid to a halt and slide a bit, perhaps too many whiskies? I’m sure it was him and nothing to do with the lumps of roof mortar I found on the grass in the morning.


And so tomorrow will be 2014 and it will be over 5 years since I graduated and 2 months since I left the gallery. I’m currently in agonies of indecision and turmoil as, predictably, the perfect job cannot be found in time (either the wrong job nearby or the perfect job too far away) and the luxury of time and savings to invest in my own work are just a dream still. I live in hope though.


After a lovely few days in the Lakes this week it was good to get back with a bag of new brushes, ink and pens from the Heaton Cooper Gallery shop and to find a parcel from Spoonflower waiting in the shed. I love the fabric and roll of wrapping paper that I had printed by them and my frustration is only that I know I should be out earning a wage not drawing owls and bears…unless … unless…


Anyway, it is time to fetch more logs and cook something delicious for a new Year’s Eve treat. I hope you all have the very best 2014, thank you for reading and commenting and generally being so wonderful and kind and supportive. Don’t forget, if you’re in the North I still have a small selection of work at the Joe Cornish Gallery , along with Jane Thorniley-Walker; our space is upstairs and we’d love you to visit!


Finally here is my Witchmountain New Year’s Honours List, just some of the wonderful people who have made 2013 for me… Charlotte Bezzant, Hunt and Gather Design ( Moira), Jenny Pepper, Mima , Peter Leeming and Ruth Fairbrother and “Rockyhud” and Mr Voakes! Thank you all and so many more.

Happy New Year and much love. x

Reading: “The Tiger’s Wife” Téa Obreht   Listening To : “Vespertine” Bjork

Winter Light


This evening I went for a shuffle through the woods in the fading light, collecting pine cones and moss and scuffling through the soft piles of leaves which are still deep and crunchy. These are things we never seem to grow out of, like the slight rising fear of the dark path through the trees and the howling wind in creaking branches. There were big storms here last week and a beautiful beech tree had fallen, taking two others with it, such a sad thing to see. Well so far it has hardly felt wintery at all and it’s hard to get in a festive mood with such bright, sparkling days.


I still haven’t come up with a plan to make my fortune yet but a few small Etsy sales and one in the gallery have made me feel slightly more cheerful…it’s also taken me this long to sort out the general admin of my life…tax return done, oil tank filled, bedroom tidied and various bills paid. My walk to the post box is probably one of the nicest in the world, especially if it’s to post an Etsy order.


Meanwhile I’ve been trying to remember some of the things I learnt at college, I even dug out my old files and had a go at making a repeat pattern, never my strongest point- needless to say it didn’t match up and drove me insane so I just ended up coloring it in and resorted to torturing my printer by feeding fabric through it instead.


All this was because I got hooked on Spoonflower‘s website and wanted to do lots of digital printing. I’ve ordered two small pieces, one is the bear cub and the other a pair of owls, just big enough to make cushions I hope. I can’t wait for them to arrive, and to make some more designs. The small sample below is nearly finished and will be a framed piece to sell on Etsy.



And so another Sunday is drawing to a close, last Sunday we went to Mima and I finally saw the watercolour exhibition. It was lovely to see the gallery so full and so many people taking a real interest in the work… a child was lying on the floor pretending to swim because he said the piece reminded him of the sea! I bought a brooch which felt funny but I did get a 10% ” daughter’s discount” and hopefully the t-shirts will be in the shop by now so I can be totally Tillyer themed!


Now I must drink chai and plan some kind routine for the coming week.

Reading :- ” The Buddah of Suburbia” Hanif Kureishi    Listening To:- 6Music tribute to Nelson Mandela