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Ever since the talk given by Marcus Taylor at the River Festival in September on the Cockshut I’ve been waiting for enough rain to have replenished the aquifer so that I could go on a hunt for its source. I was there yesterday (2 November 2022).
The Cockshut rises below Kingston Ridge on the eastern edge of Kingston village and enters the River Ouse on the other side of the Railway Bridge at the end of Ham Lane behind Lewes Recycling Centre.
The word ‘Cockshut’, Marcus explained, derives from middle-age English to describe ‘netting used to enclose an area to trap snipe or woodcock’ – suggesting that what was once a large marshy area south of Lewes was used in this way as a ‘cock shute’. He offered some additional possible derivations of the name, but favoured this one. The marshiness and tidal flooding has now long since been managed by culverts and drainage ditches, though persistent heavy rain will still swamp the fields around where the Cockshut runs.
The Cockshut always has water in it, though where, when and even whether it flows is another matter. It rises from a spring, to quote Marcus ‘under a hawthorn bush’ just west of Stanley Turner Recreation Ground in a field on the other side of Spring Barn Farm towards Kingston.
On close inspection you find a hawthorn hedge rather than a bush, with the Cockshut appearing either side of a farm drainage pipe which allows access between fields for animals to two adjoining fields. After heavy rain there is a steady trickle of water under the hedge which runs towards a large busy farmyard. For a hundred yards or so the Cockshut and the hedge are synonymous, until it appears as a narrow stream for 50 yards and then goes through another pipe, again to allow access to the field and runs the length of the farmyard just north of a couple of fishing ponds.
The Cockshut continues, contained in a straightened ditch or culverted its entire length next going under the Kingston Road now hidden under a dense bed of brambles and nettles or appearing between the low branches of shrubs and trees by the road. With barely any incline the lack of gravity appears to bring it to a halt and you have to wonder how the Cockshut can run at all. Signs point you back and forth along various South Downs Walks, including the Egret’s Way.
For a stretch by the pedestrian and cycle path it is hidden in a wet ditch, before being culverted for a short stretch to appear along the southern perimeter of Stanley Turner Rugby and Cricket Ground.
Much of the lower Ouse from here south to Newhaven flooded with tidal water making this entire area south of the A27 to the Ouse a marsh. Drainage ditches now abound and generally do the job and cattle are often on the fields.
The Cockshut is its most enchanting around the meadow south of Stanley Turner, bordered as it is with mature, mostly pollarded willow and home to swans and moorhens. The Recreation Ground, parking, walks around the sports fields and onto the meadow make it a busy spot for dog walkers.
It also provides panoramic views southwest to the Downs and Kingston Ridge, south east to Firle, east to Mount Caburn and at various points north to Lewes Castle.
Mist fills the hollows in winter and rows of a variety of mature deciduous trees announce the seasons. By chance you will cross the Greenwich Meridian here as you join the Meridian Walk for a matter of a few steps: it runs north through Lewes (Southover, High Street, Landport and beyond) and south to Southease. Don’t let me paint a picture of tranquillity though, as the experience requires acceptance of the noise from the often busy A27 Lewes by-pass.
The straightened length of the Cockshut that forms the boundary of the Recreation Ground was last cleared in 2013. Since then something of an avenue of willows has grown up through the sludge by the path around the meadow.
There are Lewes District Council plans for the meadow and Cockshut to reduce the presence of parrot feather which is choking the water, slowing down and preventing flow. It outcompetes native vegetation and blocks light. The idea, once the funding is in place, is to create a wetland habit – to ‘put the wiggles back’ and to include a couple of ponds. These plans were shared in separate talks at the River Summit given by Peter King of the Ouse and Adur Trust, and Matthew Bird of Sussex Wildlife and Lewes District Council – details can be found on their respective websites.
Planning Application SDNP/21/06027/FUL 6.8ha wetland habitat north of Lewes Brooks, including realignment of the existing Cockshut channel with the current route being infilled with spoil, a new channel created and groundworks creating a series of pools and raised areas. Construction of a bund to the southern boundary of the site. Alterations to access to the site and creation of a circular walk with bridge crossings and some areas of paved footpath.South Downs National Park Planning 21 December 2021
We might skip the history of the building of the Lewes bypass (unless others would like to enlighten me) and move on to Southover Sports Club, Ham Lane and the more intriguing 940 year old history of Lewes Priory.
The Priory, was the First Cluniac priory in England, was built not long after Norman Conquest as part of the Rape of Lewes by William de Warenne who was also responsible for the Castle. Both the Winterbourne and Cockshut, more akin to small tributaries of the Ouse or tidal creeks, flooded with the high tide and gave access to the Priory and to town at the bottom of Watergate Lane, by low draft boats.
The Cockshut and Winterbourne have flooded six times in 120 years. Persistent heavy rain on an already saturated chalk aquifer combined with a spring tide will do the job. In October 2000 a month’s rain over a couple of days combined with an incoming tide to cause flooding, as in 1911 and 1960. As I write the Environment Agency are completing repairs to the embankment along the Ouse from the A27 into town via the Railway Land, which should provide protection from the river, flooding again – though it won’t stop rain falling across the Downs pooling where it gravitates – the length of Winterbourne and Cockshut.
The other side of the A27, the Cockshut, straightened with a narrow path alongside it, is little more than a wide, water filled ditch, with a preponderance of parrot feather, dense beds of nettles, and until removed a year ago and burnt, a patch of invasive Japanese knotweed. There is access to Southover, the Priory Ruins and Convent Field and the path offers pretty views of the Castle,, though it is considerably blighted by the traffic that thunders back and forth along the dualled A27 Lewes bypass as it races between the Ashcombe Hollow and Southerham roundabouts.
Though easily followed via Ham Lane the Cockshut is barely visible and not accessible behind dense overgrowth just north of the Lewes Waste Recycling Centre – its journey ends through a sluice in front of concrete legs of the railway bridge which carries trains between London and Brighton to Eastbourne and beyond via Lewes. It is always covered in assorted graffiti tags and urban art.
By walking under the bridge onto the water meadow you can walk into town along the Ouse into Town to the Railway Land and enjoy views of distinct white chalk of the Cliffe.
Water is not working and the water companies are entirely to blame – yet they pay out generously to executive and shareholders
I guess you missed the ‘lively debate’ on Radio 4 Today this morning on the despicable state of our UK rivers. We learnt about the exploitative behaviour of privatised water companies, paying out £75bn in dividends rather than spending the £60bn required investment to fix leaks, provide adequate water treatments, plan for and build reservoices and even build then operate desalination plants.
There was a gripping six minute exchange in the debating ring that can be the BBC Radio 4 Today programme at its best. If you put Chris Packham, George Monbiot, Bob Geldoff and Ian Paisley in a blender with a pint of rain water from Northern Ireland and a splash of English Chalk River you get the 21st century Feargal Sharkey.
After several sharp rebuffs Sharkey had Mike Keil (Senior Director of Policy, Research and Campaigns at the Consumer Council for Water) agreeing that consumers could not “tolerate water companies that behaved unsustainably and damaged the environment”. Keil started out on a ridiculous PR spin learnt no doubt from nearly seven years working for Severn Trent Water. He selectively quoted ‘the good bits’ from research saying that the “Sector was not failing, customer survey, with basic water service, 91% satisfaction, but, some issues: charges, trust,
This is the fourth or fifth time I’ve caught Feargal Sharkey at his best – in full flow taking the UK water companies to task about their appalling treatment (or failure to treat) water they take from our rivers. As a teen I loved the ‘Undertones’, but not all musicians and singers keep at that task for the rest of their lives (Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones excepted).
None of us should have to tolerate raw sewage in our rivers – but the water companies far from limiting emergency outflows to flood conditions repeatedly, you could see constantly, flout the rules and let raw sewage into rivers – which lines banks and spills out into the sea.
Feargal Sharkey accused the water companies of exploitative and unsustainable practices and called on George Eustice (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) to issue an enforcement order to water companies to comply with a series of exacting orders or face a fine of 10% of their annual turnover.
Mike Kiel initially sounded like an apologist for the water companies, making a deliberate and frankly ludicrous spin with the line that “Sector was not failing, that customer surveys showed that customers were 91% satisfied with “basic water service” … this is based on research he/they commission and interpret for public consumption. He is hardly an impartial observer being the product of the water industry working for Severn Trent Water for nearly six years.
Feargal Sharkey was impeccable in his response: extraordinarily reserved by saying that he took “a completely converse view” – a euphemism to me as I would have been rather more blunt and Anglo-Saxon in my response. Well versed in telling the truth to the PR spin, he explained that water companies had experienced “decades of underinvestment and profiteering by water companies”. It has been their “failure and mismanagement” which has brought this crisis upon us. Water companies, he explained, dumped sewage into our rivers for 6 million hours – that’s the sewerage issue, and now we are facing a water shortage. Water companies have given out £72bn extracted in dividends, yet they are saddled with £60bn of debt. To my ears this reads like asset stripping; running the water companies down, paying out maximum dividends, paying executives exorbitant sums and leaving far, far too little for investment in improvements – the very purpose of their existence. Feargal pointed out that between them just three senior water company executives got paid £10m between them.
It has been a catastrophe for rivers, lakes and trout streams, he explained. As a monopoly they can only be held to account by a regulator which is toothless (my words).
George Eustace, Feragal explains, has been writing letters to Sunday Papers asking the companies to behave nicely. Rather, he should (grow some balls – my words) and hold them to account.
Feargal says what we consumers should be making clear, that water “bosses should not be rewarded for failure. That there should be a link between salaries and what they deliver for people and the environment”. This is missing.
The waterworks are “about as Victorian as our roads are Roman. Water companies have a statutory obligation to build, operate and maintain sewage systems capable of effectively dealing with all of the effluent in those systems”, said Sharkey. He went on to explain that OFWAT argues that the water companies have had all of the funding required over the last 30 years to make the funding possible for the improvements that are required. Rather water companies have reduced their spend by over 40% and that is leading to the catastrophe we are now facing both in terms of sewage and water supply.
Feargal added that “London is now No.9 on a list of the 10 cities most likely to run out of water along with the likes of Cape Town, Jakarta, San Paolo and Mexico City”. We have indeed become a ‘third world country” (my words) – not thanks to the Tories, Thatcher and leaving the EU.
Water companies have paid out over £72bn in dividends; perhaps they should have spent more of that money on fixing their leakey infrastructure.
The answer according to Feargal Sharkey is that George Eustace, who has the power to issue an enforcement order, should do so – this is a clear legal instruction to the companies to do exactly what he wants and when he wants it done – any failure to comply with that instruction he then has the power to fine them up to 10% of their annual turnover.
Listen here >
I attend with trepidation. It’s not like singing. Imagine singing and finding for the first half-hour you are out of tune and that on a bad day there will be a lot of duff notes. Or is that just indicative of my lack of experience, that I should be drawing every day. That’s how the college student does it: all day, most days down at the studio. You have to train the connection between the brain and senses, the arm and the page.
Getting ready the night before would help; I don’t. Rather I’m making lunch, looking for paper and deciding how much clobber to take from first thing on the day of the class. I cannot transport my ‘studio’ to Charleston so some choices have to be made. I could turn up with a packed lunch and a smile and be able to enjoy the day: everything is provided, easels, materials, coffee and snacks. All I need is enthusiasm and a willingness to make mistakes, to listen to constructive criticism and to keep having a go.
We aim to start soon after 10.00am. The fifteen minutes before hand easels and boards and large wedges of paper are transported from Silvia’s car.
Charleston is closed to the public on Monday and Tuesdays so we have the place to ourselves – though the office is open and someone comes over to help make sure we have all that we need and the chef comes into the restaurant to order and take deliveries and prepare food.
we used to meet in Charleston Farmhouse itself; not in the studio space used by the Bloomsbury group (that would have been cool), but in a small alcove. That could only take a handful of people. I have no idea at all how I heard about the session; this would be November 2016. I’d been attending sessions in Brighton at the Sussex County Arts Club a few times a week for several months. Did I hear about it from someone there? Did I learn about it on a visit to Charleston? Or pick something up online when I was searching for something in Lewes? I know I was getting fed up of going into Brighton but found the life classes in Lewes were booked up.
There were twelve or perhaps thirteen of us today. I got myself tucked over to one side as out of the way as I could be while still able to get a clear view of the model.
The last couple of sessions I’ve taken a large whiteboard; I like the scale. I tape a section of wall paper lining to this with the intention of putting all the initial doodles and sketches together. As the model, it is Ruth today, will move slowly through a series of many short poses I like to try to fit them all onto the one page.
I use Crayola wax crayons; I don’t think wallpaper liner deserves pastels. I would try pastels if I had a large enough piece of cartridge paper – perhaps. Though I have found I can repeat the exercise, ‘copying’ from this sheet to further sheets once I get home.
For half an hour it is like being in a library, or better still, like sitting a formal exam. You can sense the concentration. The model moves like Salome in front of Solomon – but in slow motion, a movement that from time to time pauses for a minute. We sketch feverishly; one artist attacks their page as if they are shoveling coal into a coal-hole, most pick away studiously with less vigour.
I make the first mark. I have three complementary crayons: bright green, dark green and black. I work from left to right across the page alternating colours. I then fill in the spaces with small doodles or larger sketches. Afterwards I reflect: next time I will think of the entire sheet as a composition with the model smaller on the back of the sheet creating a timelapse effect (I hope) where I have captured her around the room as she moves.
There is no stage, possibly for the first time to my knowledge. In the past the model has been on this platform under a large window. Once we brought the model into the centre of the barn. This brings the model onto the floor and closer to us. We can draw in the round, she can approach us. Our angle will change without us having to move.
There were then two short static poses: two ten minutes each I think. I should note it down at the time, but I don’t and by lunch time the order in which I have produced multiple sketches on different sheets of paper using different tools is lost to me.
This might have been where we are invited to do a couple of exercises: drawing with the non-dominant hand (in my case my left hand) and drawing from memory – simply not looking at the model (though later in the day she was rather elegantly covered in a translucent piece of chiffon).
We break to give the model a breather, to admire each other’s work, talk about it and share notes and practices. Silvia was keen for us to take a look at ‘I Live Here Now’ by Liza Dimbleby.
It reminds me of how I used to sketch in my teens and twenties, on the beach in France, in the bars in Val d’Isere and even on the chairlifts. And then it died away until recently. Certainly in my teens my mother had encouraged me to have a pad of paper with me all the time and I did.
We drink tea or coffee and eat biscuits. We get some air or disappear into the barn for a bathroom break (an experience in itself as The Charleston Trust invested into new gallery and restaurant space some years ago – all swish with oak and glass around a small courtyard – like the corner of an Oxford college, a small one, like St.Edmund’s.
Round three: more poses, of course, always getting longer and with length a chair. I think it was 30 minutes or so to begin with, followed by an exercise where we draw from memory – only looking at the page. What I find I do is I recall all the problem solving moments, the insights I gained, and the techniques I used at the time to position things, to use negative space, to use the window from and chair … I lack natural insight from knowing my anatomy and underlying skeleton. But I give it a shot – whatever I am invited to try I give it a go and learn something from it, from what works and what does not.
I’m aware of Silvia doing the rounds, commenting, suggesting and helping correct other students/artists. As my mother would do when she was around she appears at my shoulder but I’m unaware of her presence until she speaks. It is like a voice through an earpiece, almost as if your own subconscious is pointing out something you are failing to see: her head is too large and the neck couldn’t support it.
I don’t question this nor fret about the marks I have already on the page, I simply add more, drawing over what was there even if it risks my having what could look like a model with two heads, or a model who had moved her head and I’d caught both positions. I am not here to produce a finished piece, mistakes are necessary and they tell their own story on the page.
Then lunch. I had mixed up various vegetable/plant based casseroles from the fridge with rice – this is ample. I could vanish off to Middle Farm Shop, we have an hour. The cafe at Charleston is closed. Several of us gather around a large round table in the restaurant. Today I get to know Ruth, our model. I have drawn Ruth three or four times now over 8 years; you’d have thought I would have drawn her more often – once or twice a year. I rather think that if we have twelves sessions a year then we generally have as many models, maybe eight with some duplication.
The truth is when you draw you see shapes, negatives space, limbs, tendons, patches of light and dark – not the person. Is this my mistake? There isn’t time to get a likeness of the model. I can do that, but it is an entirely different skill and requires a long pose, or the same pose repeated in order to spend 3 or more hours at it. (Note to self, a regular Saturday or Sunday slot at Sussex County Arts Club would give me this).
Onwards to a long pose so Ruth lies down. A bench/platform is created from tables with blankets and cushions. We draw on. And once again, as it produced some interesting results and a lot of positive comment we are invited to have a go at drawing this from memory – after Ruth had got up and gone.
Tea. More looking at what others have done and talking approaches. I asked a lot of questions about adding colour and the problems I’ve been having with watercolour and pastels. Keep it simple. Just two or three colours was the tip I took and will apply once I am home.
And then a warm down of shorter poses to end the day.
I scribbled these onto A4 or A3 sheets in quick succession. There wasn’t the ‘flow’ we had with movement first thing. I kept at it hoping to get the essence of something but wasn’t overly happy with the outcome. I keep everything regardless and will file it away once I get home. Sometimes I see a shape, or a get a feeling for a pose later and have ideas of doing something with it.
Once again we compare drawings, talk tools and technique and eventually depart, a few staying behind to chat and help load the back of Silvia’s car with the easels, drawing boards, materials and paper.
It’s been in the back of my mind having found local park benches burnt where I BBQ was placed, as well as ashes tipped against a fence and the sharp grill and foil ineptly stuffed into a litter bin.
This morning on BBC Radio 4 Broadcasting House there was a short item on banning disposable BBQs ASAP.
Helen Bingham from Keep Britain Today explained that as they reach 400 degrees they cannot be get rid of safely as you cannot pick them up or put them in a bin – ‘An environmental catastrophe”.
National Trust Scotland are calling to have them banned.
Craig Carter, London Fire Brigade said that sales of disposable BBQs should be banned. He is joining a petition set up by Toby Tyler whose 11 year old son Will stepped on the remains of a disposable bbq and was severely burned – so badly that Will needed skin grafts.
The petition can be found here https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/618664.
The call in the past had been to “enjoy the summer responsibly” is this good enough; it only takes one or two careless or irresponsible users of these BBQs to result in considerable damage – even danger to people, wildlife and infrastructure.
Playing devil’s advocate I thought. Paddy O’Connell wondered if we were being killjoys, that common sense is enough.
From my experience (and occasional use of them down on the pebble beach at Seaford), responsible users douse their disposable BBQ with water before bagging it up to take home.
I look forward to the first Tuesday of each month with trepidation; I’ve been attending a life drawing class at Charleston (in the Hay Barn conversion for the last few years). The models are always very well chosen: good at their job! able to hold an interesting pose and ready to try all the things that Silvia suggests, which includes continual movement, as well as movement into a short poses, and then of course the class short pose (one to five minutes), the longer pose (ten to 20 minutes) and about as long as we go (45 minutes).
I was brought up on the 3 hour pose. The single, carefully executed effort to reproduce exactly what the eye can see. This is not Silvia’s approach; this is art from the heart and soul, on the fly, capturing the sense of the movement, the essence of the model. I’ve come to prefer sketches completed in a few minutes, while last time I ran off more than 30 ‘doodles’ onto a lengthy sheet of wall liner paper using wax crayons – the movement continual, each sketch possible a few seconds each.
This has been invaluable on my recent efforts to capture the ‘essence’ of club swimmers slogging it up and down the pool. Capturing the feeling, sense and movement of limbs and water, with the added complication of reflections is proving one heck of a challenge! Going out to sketch trees is proving easier – though fraught with its own problems. Does a tree keep still? How do you fit it onto the page? How do you different between tree species without going into the detail of a leaf or the bark?
The cost is still £55 for the day – which is excellent value for 6 hours at Charleston. We start at 10.00am and finish at 4.00pm. It isn’t all drawing. There are a few coffee/tea breaks (coffee/tea, milk and biscuits provided). And we break for an hour for our picnic lunch. We can sit in the Charleston Café (they are closed on Tuesdays) or find a spot in the yard. Or make a dash for Middle Farm along the A27.
I go away mentally and even physically exhausted. I like to ‘knock ’em out’. I also keep everything – religiously. This was my later mother’s mantra. I still have drawings I did with her in my early teens, and a few self-portraits done even younger, and the odd girlfriend from my mid to late teens (clothed I must add!). I never attempted a nude until my early twenties (and the drawing wasn’t what either of us had in mind). Then one class in Primrose Hill in the 1990s and nothing until we moved to Brighton in 2000 – and the first classes with Sussex County Arts in Brighton from 2014 or so, with Silvia at Charleston since November 2016.
With the unusually fine and dry weather the back ‘yard’ here in Lewes is a temporary studio. Feeling like San Diego I feel confident to leave boards, easel and all the accruitments of my ‘practice’ out – currently just watercolour onto cold-pressed cartridge paper.
No budget sees me being resourceful. I have come to love wall paper lining and wax crayon. The very materials my mother started us kids off on when we were little: I cannot remember when I started to draw as it would have been age 3 or 4, as soon as I could hold something in my hand and not be inclined to eat it or shove it up my nose or into my ear.
I’m wasting time. I have two drawings marked up to paint and want to press on. Both are someone in water – both are of one of Silvia’s models ‘Dave’ in this instance (my wife has said she is fed up of seeing naked women all over the house so I’ve been working up sketches I have of ‘Dave’ and ‘Tim’).
Come to think of it, that is ‘Tim’ falling into the water (clothed as a swimming coach who someone has pushed into the pool, while the swimmer is ‘Dave’ – as Dave is bald which makes it easier to turn the top of his head into a swimming cap. Neither actually look like they are swimming, which is the problem.
I have been drawing swimmers in action – a challenging task! All swirls, shapes and somewhat reminiscent of a series of too short time-lapse photographs in which everything is blurred.
I digress. There is a class coming up, this Tuesday 2nd August, at Charleston – in the fancy new Hay Barn rather than in the infamous Farmhouse. If are planning to attend or have questions get in touch with Silvia by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want a lift from Lewes email me: email@example.com
My first Tuesday of the month life drawing class doesn’t come around quick enough, so, for the first time in nearly eight years of doing this, I’m making time to take pieces created during the class to rework. For the first time since an A’ level in art 50 years ago I am using colour; it’s taking time to figure it out! This is Liz from Life Drawing 7 June 2022: redrawn onto cartridge paper with a fineliner pen then a watercolour wash added.
Above: Liz, from June 2022. From Qi-Dong movember drawings where only her arms were moving. Various attempts at adding colour.
There are new skills to learn (and costs to meet). I prefer to work on A2 sheets or, ideally larger … which requires a lot of paint: good watercolour can cost £15 for a 15ml tube. I am still trying different approaches: from a small set of watercolours to a few tubes of primary colours (red, yellow and blue) and mix everything up. This is what my late mother did with us as children: only primary colours, no such thing as black, that sort of thing.
Having started with some of the individual and sets of drawings I did of Liz at the June session I then went digging around in my archive. I remember the session drawing Dave back in November 2016; it was only my first or second session at Charleston with Silvia MacRae Brown.
Above: Dave from 2016, from the original charcoal drawing reworked and painted up in various ways
In due course, so long as it doesn’t bring too much additional expense, I will finally use boxes of acrylics, even a set of oil paints, gifts I believe from as long ago as my 18th, 21st and 50th birthdays bought for me either by my motheror a girlfriend. I’ll need to get some tips before I start.
My mother will come into this often. From as young as I can remember we were learning how to create an observational drawing: each other watching TV, a bowl of fruit, other still life: shoes, toothpaste, flowers in a vase – that sort of thing. Each of my siblings and I developed our own styles and interests: for older sister Jane it was female fashion, for my older brother Nick it was racing cars, for me it was portraits and for younger sister Joanna it was animals; in particular horses and dogs. We were told never to throw anything out: I still have some of my efforts kicking about, self-portraits age 12 or 13, old girlfriends from my teens, a pair of cowboy boots … Over the last 7 or 8 years of life drawing (I started out going to Brighton to attend sessions at Sussex County Arts Club) I have kept every sketch, the good, the bad, the half-finished, the overworked, the misshapen, the clumsy … It is to these piles extracted from folders behind or under the sofa that I am now seeking inspiration.
I rather prefer my technique of November/December 2016 when I first visited Charleston. We sat, six together in a small room in the farmhouse. I couldn’t use my learned technique of carefully and very slowly marking up and measuring out proportions, limbs and muscles – there isn’t time. But at least I combined the two: take a moment, take a careful look, figure out where the drawing will sit on the page, get a few ‘landmarks’ in place: bellybutton, head, hands and feet, the external genitalia …
Above: Dave as Tim in the style of Egon Schiele. Tim as Tim – in the style of Egon Schiele.
Over the last few weeks I have ‘had a go’ with watercolour, watersoluble pencils and charcoal. I am yet to break out the acrylics or oils though I have a few canvasses that have been kicking around for years.
If I’ve learnt anything in the last month, for me, at the moment at least, it is very much a case of ‘less is more’ – a wash on a sketch yes, but adding layers of colour is not yet something I can do with any accomplishment. For a start, I need a colour reference – the model in front of me ideally, if not a photograph to work from. This is colour added to a Frankie image:
I am still a few months short of visiting Lake Wood across all seasons. My first visit was on 19 October. I wonder if I was making a visit after a busy summer season before a clean up, or after a warm summer weekend as I couldn’t help but note then, as I did today, on the discarded coffee cups (Costa), beer bottles (Budweiser), vodka battles (Stolichnaya), crisp and sweet bags. Since that trip I have been prepared to collect some litter so long as it doesn’t require gloves or anything larger than a large poo bag … I have filled a shopping bag on one occasion, and then again a bin liner.
Solutions to such problems of litter, graffiti, a few fires and frequent abandoned deposits of dog waste are welcome. I rather think it starts with trips to the site with local primary school children on litter picking and other trips so that in the decades to come they want to take care of the place.
But please don’t let me put you off – the litter and graffiti is low-key. I’d like to say it is idyllic, and visually it is indeed a treat for the eyes to enjoy a late 18th century early 19th century landscaped garden in the style of Capability Brown. Idyllic for me, however, requires minimal interfering noise from traffic hurtling along the Uckfield Bypass, or negotiating at speed the chicances – despite poor visibility around Rock Road, which takes up two sides of a triangle – so 2/3rds or more of the perimeter of the wood.
Parking, and especially departing the lay-by here requires nerve as from both directions, both hidden corners, vehicles can emerge at speed and they are never sympathetic to find you pulling out.
Something needs to be done about noise pollution and behaviours which I struggle to deem ‘anti-social’ so much as ‘lazy’, ‘thoughtless’ and ‘unsympathetic’ – people who can’t be bothered to take their litter home with them having walked in with an energy drink, MacDonald’s milkshake or Wild Bean Coffee. Certainly the take away outlets need to do more to advise and educate their customers – indeed, I think local councils should demand that such outlets as a condition of their licence have clearly visible and well communicated posters regarding litter and the environment.
The current signage that relies on a collection of icons that misunderstood or ignored is not the answer. Or use emojis … at least apply a language that is in common use. Actually, I have come to understand that a lot of signage attracts its own problems by providing confusing, multiple messages. Just two would do: take your litter and dog’s shit home. Digital might help.
This is what I made of Lake Wood in March 2022 > https://bit.ly/3xG3v5S
Lake Wood and The Woodland Trust Mission
Whenever I visit a Woodland Trust wood I go to the Woodland Trust website, read up on it (no matter how many times I have already done this) and download the Management Plan which, as the name suggests, is a dry, practical description of the space, its opportunities and problems and the plans for the immediate 5 years and then 50 years hence. Few of us visit these woods unless as children are likely to care – another good reason to develop interest and love for the woods at the youngest age. I’m thinking age 4 and up – though I can’t see a local nursery, even a primary school, visiting given the health and safety risks of a deep, boggy lake and rocky outcrops, let alone fallen trees and decaying trunks. (Which to my mind age ten sounds like bliss).
I would like an illustrated map. The above is what I produce on AllTrails.
Nothing overly revealing if the ancient trees and some habitats need to be protected, rather than advertised to the world, but a map matters for habitats and paths. And here, as in many woods these days, people treat a track/path or ride as a guide or point of reference and eagerly venture off into the woods whatever the time of year, emerging and blossoming plants.
The Woodland Trust Mission
All management plans open with this statement:
To realise all the environmental, social and economic benefits woods and trees bring to society, we:
- Create Woodland – championing the need to hugely increase the UK’s native woodland and trees.
- Protect Woodland – fighting to defend native woodland, especially irreplaceable ancient woodland and veteran trees; there should be no loss of ancient woodland
- Restore Woodland – ensuring the sensitive restoration of all damaged ancient woodland and the re-creation of native wooded landscapes.
I’m learning as an elected town councillor for the Green Party (any surprises here?) – that wishing for everything even where there is a conflict of interests, that delivering a generous management plan such as they requires wider collaboration, positive communication and engagement with the very group that is always the issue when it comes to the environment – us! People!
Lake Wood, Uckfield
From the Woodland Trust Management plant I read that this is a “3 acre spring-fed lake created from an earth dam”. It includes ‘aramatic outcrops of Cretaceous Ardingly sandstone covered in mosses, lichens and ferns’ – indeed it does, though in places every inch of the stone has been carved into with a knife or chisel so that Gary can declare his love Courtney.
This is ‘a semi-natural woodland’ – ‘although much of it was extensively modified in the late 18th and early-19th centuries in the style of Capability Brown by the enlargement of the lake and the planting of exotic trees and shrubs’. Indeed. Though Capability Brown couldn’t see 250 years ahead to the space coming into public ownership and the burgeoning time engulfing the garden with the modern essentials the residential dwelling: easy access to the countryside and roads that allow you to drive at the greatest speed possible for that road.
We learn that “Trees planted at the time included beech, lime, horse chestnut, sycamore, coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) and Monterey pine (Pinus radiata)”. I am too early in my woodland journey to be able to identify some of these readily. I have learnt that both mid-winter and mid-summer offer valuable indicators. I am starting to visit woods with a mind to picking out just one tree at a time until I know it.
Some of the trees sit like giant bonsai on the tops of the stone outcrops overlooking the lake. This, the huge specimen trees, some touching 60 or 70ft I am sure, the twisting hornbeam and the views onto the lake, as well as discovering its steps, tunnel and boat house dug into the stone are all fun.
We learn that the October 1987 hurricane took down a lot of trees here. Many have been left in situ have well and truly bedded down. Many have produced an abundance of new shoots, or support ‘companion’ trees and shrubs – others will rot down over 100 years or more.
We learn that ‘the northern part of the site is largely overstood mixed coppice of hazel, hornbeam and sweet chestnut with semi-mature birch with oak standards’ – which is also where, if I recall, there is the densest carpet of wood anemones I have seen anywhere.
Over the next 50+ years
“Many of the existing over-mature trees will have died or been windblown but another cohort of mature trees will have been recruited as potential veteran trees across the site”.
Areas with a light tree canopy tend to have a ground flora dominated by coarse species such as bracken and bramble.
There is a Woodland Trust to ‘connect people’ with woods.
However, I would like to see parts of the woods close to trampling feet, dog mess and littering. I cannot see how any space on the edge of a rapidly growing urban area can otherwise protect its intrinsic value. Volunteers are already involved, so if there isn’t a ‘Friends of Lake Wood’ there needs to be one.
The site has a WT access category A: high usage site, regularly used at all times of year with more than 20 people using one entrance every day. There are 2 pedestrian access points from Rocks Road although parking is very limited.
There is ‘anti-social behaviour including litter, fires, camping, swimming, boating and vandalism. I’ve never seen boating, swimming or boating, though the odd fire is lit – the constant problem is litter. Today’s haul included the usual sinners from takeaway outlets McDonalds, Costa and Subway as well as bottles of drink (beer, Coke, water, milkshakes, a yoghurt) and sundry bits of sweet paper wrapper. Last September or October I filled an entire shopping bag with the remains of a large alcohol and energy drink fuelled picnic.
There’s lasting damage to the trunk of a 230 year birch which now features a large wrap around penis and balls. I think an arborist is required here. Soap and water? Careful picking away the affected bark? A strong detergent or a power hose would surely risk killing the tree?
The sound of aeroplanes coming into London disturbs the peace frequently enough, though nothing is shocking as the first time (and last time) you sit outside at the The Hurlingham Club and have a 747 jet land on your head … every 7 minutes.
The management plan says that the 19th century sandstone wall will be replaced by a wire fence when it fails. This unfortunately has been done and what is left is a large gap which filters the noise of traffic on the busy raised Rock Road. The ‘Slow’ signs here are ignored – with people stopping in pop-up lay-bys left and right of the road the speed limit ought to be dropped to 30pm and traffic calming measures put in place.
As for the Uckfield-by-pass …
Why should any through traffic be allowed to blight the lives of the local residents? Speeds should be reduced with signage to explain why and better noise screening put in place.
The barn at Charleston Farmhouse – Artists’ Studio and Musuem
I took up life drawing in 2016; until then I’d only even drawn portraits and things: buildings mostly. Initially I attended Sussex County Arts Club in Brighton, turning up a couple of times a week over many months, possibly 18 months on and off, before I heard about the day-long sessions run by sculptor Silvia MacCrea-Brown at Charleston Farmhouse. I’ve been a regular ever since. I think we try to make 10 sessions over the year, always the first Tuesday of the Month. Maybe we don’t meet in January or February (too cold for the model), whereas in late July, certainly August we are in the ‘summer barn’ at Friston Place which can see us in the enclosed garden – life drawing outdoors. Though the model may need a parasol and sunglasses!
My late Mum (who gained an MA in Fine Art from Durham University) would be proud of me; and intrigued though this wasn’t her style or approach. Coincidentally she was taught by Quentin Bell when he was a lecturer at King’s and says she baby sat for his children Julian and Virginia I suppose. She was from the school of art where you sit carefully observing a single pose for several hours and execute it with scientific care and a soft pencil. She draw us like this, and in due course I was drawing my friends too in a similar fashion. What we get with Silvia is art as being, the heart and soul of putting marks on a blank sheet of paper, drawing from the shoulder, drawing at speed. At least that is how I have come to see it.
Today was a challenge like no other.
Usually a model will make a series of poses, say ten poses each lasting 3 minutes (minimum) or six poses for 4 minutes or some such. We may follow up with poses of increasing length, say a couple of at 30 minutes that a ‘long one’ of 45 minutes. Not today. Never with Silvia. She always has a trick up her sleeve which I feel conjures out of us a playfulness, and character that would otherwise be lacking.
Liz is a wonderful model: beautiful, intelligent and keen for ‘her’ students/artists to have a chance at creating some magic (even if we’re everything from novice to professional). The ‘warm up’ of a series of short poses was instead a series of semi-constant movement using Qi-Gong. Her feet and torso solid, Liz moved her arms synchronously in the same repeating pattern. This was one heck of a challenge. I like a 1 minute pose that I may complete in 10 seconds, but here the movement is constant. I made it up as I went along, at first establishing the torso/trunk and head as best I could, and then picking a moment that I would return to hoping to capture that moment. I then found myself trying to add to my initial doodle in the fraction of a second that position was repeated.
After several attempts at this I then tried different things: making the trunk as hesitant as the arms/hands would appear, and then getting as many stages of the hand and arms as I could – forgetting about the torso/trunk and legs, only adding these later. It felt like trying to capture a moment of a hummingbird feeding, yet Liz moved really slowly. It was a challenging ‘warm up’ – far more challenging that lots of ‘short’, static poses of 3 to 5 minutes, and more challenging than drawing with your non-dominant hand only (left in my case) or drawing with your eyes closed. I proposed ten drawings. I used a fountain pen with black ink. I tore them from a pad so that they could be shared with the class. We do this: all work out on display to view and discuss.
We took a break: coffee/tea and cake.
Next up a 30 minute pose. Liz sat. Looking at it I think I rushed setting out the pose. I do chance it which means I can dislocate a shoulder or shorten a leg, and most easily of all, turn fingers into a bunch of bananas/broken twigs. I tried some pastels. I wonder if I can ever get away from black ink on white paper – that or lumps of charcoal. I lose something I feel when I take my time and it gets fiddly. Or I make it so. I admire the artist who gets the pose as simply as possible than adds a few dashes of watercolour.
Lunch. We bring our own packed lunch as the Farmhouse and kitchen is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. I usually bring something or make a dash for Middle Farm.
An hour to make friends and catch up with others. May of us have been doing this for a few years. I was missed at the last three sessions; the first I had Covid, the second I had a terrible cold and the third I had a family funeral.
After lunch we began with the only long pose of the day. I think it was 30 minutes, or was it 45 minutes? Liz got herself comfy on a sheepskin rug and pillows and by all accounts fell asleep. We drew. I ventured into colour – a new development for me. So far I’m only having success adding a simple colour wash to ink drawings.
After that we returned to movement, but this time with a pose frozen for a few moments, even a few minutes. For me this was enough (usually), to get a flavour of the pose, everything positioned just about in the right place with an opportunity, very tentatively, to try and get a sense of Liz by adding features to her face. Liz had music to do all of this too, haunting songs, nothing familiar but all beautiful.
These multiple poses are something I could work with – on even larger sheets, recreating what I was doing today, trying to fit in the ‘right’ combination and number of poses: say three to five main poses, with eight or nine minor ones.
And so the day came to an end – it was 4.00pm. Like others I felt I had been sitting an exam it was that intense, though far more fun.
I took up visits to woods in general and Woodland Trust woods in particular to give that part of my day no longer occupied with e-learning at GBMET a focus. This has seen me travel back and forth across East Sussex, with some trips into West Sussex and over the border into Kent (just). I may say that in time my current tramping ground is the South Downs.
The Woodland Trust provides the detail on the history and management of the wood I visit, along with guidance on the flora and fauna to expect. I rarely get the parking right and can differ up and down local lanes several times before I get it right.
As petrol prices have gone through the roof my trips have spiralled ever closer to home, within 5 miles of Lewes, and on foot on local walks in every direction from the Winterbourne to Juggs Lane, Egrets Way and the Railway Land Trust, Malling and Southerham Nature Reserves, Malling Field along the Ouse to Offham and of course Landport Bottom and the Old Racecourse.
I had already completed six or more visits to Sussex Woodland Trust woods before I took a punt on Moat Wood, East Hoathly. We know the village from ‘outlier’ bonfire events – always a nighttime November trip, so hardly an opportunity to take in the countryside.
I’ve now been back to East Hoathly at least ten times in nine months, most times varying the visit a little, either parking up on South Street in the layby or by the Church. I’ve also wondered well beyond the woods into the surrounding fields. The temptation has even developed to move here, with a few properties coming up which have looked interesting (if not always affordable). Anything away from Lewes, its connectability, schools and ‘quality of life’ and resources becomes more affordable if you want a detached house, a patch of garden and somewhere to park a car.
The Mission of The Woodland trust is to ‘improve woodland biodiversity and increase peoples’ understanding and enjoyment of woodland’. I can get behind that, and apply the same thinking to Chalk Downs and hedging and coppiced fringes into woodland and suburban back gardens. I apply this to the shambolic ‘rewilding’ of my own urban garden which has had ten years of ‘nomoever’ and a lot of mulching.
Moat Wood is an easy, short circuit on the flat. The rides can be muddy and on some paths are best tackled in wellies or sturdy boots. There is one bench on the corner of one walk and some hefty downed trunks that afford a good bench and picnic spot south of the spartan remains of a mediaeval moated farm. It was designated a Scheduled Monument by English Heritage in 2000, which gives the site additional protection against unauthorised change. This might not be enough to prevent the site being closely fringed by busy roads and housing development.
There are two recommended spots to park, either by the Church in the village car park or by the side of the road, or on South Street where there is a layby with space for several vehicles. I’ve always been able to park, often being the only vehicle in the lay-by.
Location of East Hoathly in East Sussex, southern England (cc OpenStreetMap)
I’ve not tried the entrance closer to the A22 because there is nowhere to park and I’ve learnt to stay away from the often busy and noisy A22.
The entrance to Moat Wood off South Street, East Hoathly.
I may try some early morning trips here when the traffic should be lighter. I’m afraid that traffic noise and overhead planes are impossible to avoid anywhere in Sussex as we’re criss-crossed with commuter routes and underneath some of the busiest skies on the planet for planes with Gatwick and Heathrow close, let along Luton and Stansted beyond and local airfields sending up small craft.
My knowledge of the trees is limited but growing: I can identify a handful of trees though generally will need a leaf to go by, rather than figuring it out from a trunk or twig. I’m getting there. You also need to see the trees at different stages of growth from sapling, to mature and ancient trees.
Oak over the moat and April, June and January
Moat Wood offers all the stages through to mature trees of maybe 150 years old. For truly ancient trees of 200-300 years old you need to look further afield … of come back in a century. I know my oak:
I love to find woods through The Woodland Trust ‘Find a Wood’, read up the introductory blurb on the website and then download the Management Plan.
The three strategic aims of The Woodland Trust that I’ve picked out are to:
- Protect native woods, trees and their wildlife for the future
- Work with others to create more native woodlands and places rich in trees
- Inspire everyone to enjoy and value woods and trees
This is a fine balance which opens the woods up to access to the most invasive of all species: us, our dogs and behaviours while working with local councils, and land owners, which might include a property developer or farmer, or a wealthy individual with a philanthropic turn. Woods in Sussex are largely unconnected and isolated; either a patchwork of often visited spaces close to urban sprawl, or a wet or deeply incised space which couldn’t be commercially turned over to farming (or a commercial shoot) as well as apparently random spaces that few people ever visit which might offer the best sanctuary of all. We don’t take kindly to being kept out of a wood and protect our rights of way and footpaths stoically.
It required significant donations from local people in East Hoathly and the East Hoathly and Halland Parish Council to purchase Moat Wood Moat for the Woodland Trust in 1999.
The Woodland Trust Management Plan for Moat Wood tells us that:
The majority of the canopy of Moat Wood is dominated by mature oak, grown as high forest, with a mixed species understorey.
This canopy was drastically opened up by the storm of 1987 and subsequent clearing operations. These cleared areas are now dominated by a mixture of natural regeneration and coppice re-growth, particularly of hornbeam, along with a few surviving planted oaks.
My multiple visits to Moat Wood are shared on All Trails and a selection of my photographs shared to Google Maps. My photographs, trails and even these notes are essentially a personal aide memoire. I’ll revisit what I have written and build on what I know over the years.
Moat Wood from South Street, around the ‘moat’ to the A22 perimeter. You could try and cross this busy dual-carriageway – I haven’t.
The policy for Moat Wood is of ‘minimum silvicultural intervention’ which means there are no operations such as coppicing, thinning or felling.
All I’ve been aware of is the clearing of some of the saplings, bracken and brambles that were choking up the southern environs of the 13th century moat – cleared during a dry spell last autumn they became soggy over winter but at least make it possible to make out the old moat and what would have been a farmstead. It requires a lot of imagination to picture it. The joy though is to see the trees and plants change so much during the seasons, with autumn and spring by far the most colourful, while the contrast between mid-winter and mid-summer couldn’t be greater.
The Management Plan for Moat Wood has more to say on these moated farmsteads:
This type of moated site is likely to have been a prestigious domestic or religious settlement containing timber-framed buildings and been built between 1250 and 1350.
There are around 6000 moated sites known in England, mostly built between 1250 and 1350. They form a significant class of mediaeval monument and are important for the understanding of the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside
Some of the mature oak is currently affected by chronic oak decline and ash is affected by ash dieback
There are ‘ancient woodland indicator ground flora species’ such as bluebell, wood anemone and wild garlic. These are glorious as early March, through April to May.
The coppice regrowth around the moat will be re-cut on a short cycle (2-5 years) to maintain open views of the feature.
There is a ‘naturally regenerated understorey of species such as hornbeam, birch, hazel, holly, sycamore and sweet chestnut’.
According to the Management Plan parts of Moat Wood outside of the Trust’s ownership are ‘threatened by unmanaged conifer plantations’ in one area and ‘attempts to remove all vegetation prior to submitting a planning application in another’. It is one of the main principles of the Woodland Trust to protect, maintain and restore this species-rich habitat.
Read on then act. Responses must be in by a week on Friday, the 10th June 2022.
This is an article by Cllr Adrian Ross
“As you may know, the Generator Group has now submitted an application to South Downs National Park for the ‘demolition and development of bus station site’. This is a full application for planning permission, rather than the request for advice that they submitted in August 2021.
The Green Party councillors of the town (Lewes), district (Lewes District) and county (East Sussex) have reviewed the plans in detail and do not think they are suitable. The ‘elephant in the room’ is that the proposals fail to identify a suitable alternative site for the bus station. Instead, they propose temporary on-street bus stops, or ‘three bus stops plus waiting and seating facilities on Phoenix Causeway’. Neither of these come anywhere near the Lewes Local Plan requirements for ‘an operationally satisfactory and accessible site’ or a ‘suitable alternative town centre site … offering the same or better undercover waiting facilities’.
The proposals would leave bus passengers waiting under small shelters, directly adjacent to a very busy road, that they would need to cross to change services. It would also leave the bus companies without space for buses to wait between services, almost certainly leading to gridlock around the town’s narrow streets.
We have many other concerns with the proposals too, notably:
- the proposals offer no affordable housing
- the plans don’t include enough one-bedroom properties, so badly needed by young local people
- requirements for zero-carbon homes and the use of sustainable materials have been ignored
- there is no assessment of the air quality impact of moving the bus station
- viability calculations appear biased to justify not meeting policy requirements
if approved, the plans would severely constrain options for the far bigger North Street Quarter.
If you agree with our concerns, then please respond to the application – we need South Downs National Park to know the strength of opposition to these plans in the town.
Comments can be submitted via the South Downs National Park planning site at https://planningpublicaccess.southdowns.gov.uk/online-applications/ by searching for application SDNP/22/02197/FUL.
Objections need to be on the basis of planning policy, so we have written an extensive assessment detailing the policy non-compliance that we have identified.
A summary is below, and our full Green Party response is available here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1b8KGHFyrN1ZvCuZQ8Oy5cn0Q353jXgMW/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=102816289702924531298&rtpof=true&sd=true
Alternatively, to make it easy for as many people to respond as possible, we have developed a template response which can be submitted in a few clicks, or edited as required.
Here’s a link to it : > https://actionnetwork.org/letters/respond-to-lewes-bus-station-application-sdnp2202197ful/
NOTE : if you put the objection in your own word it will carry more weight – Editor)
- Please do take the time to respond to these proposals, which jeopardise public transport in our town.
- Please share this information as widely as you can and encourage others to record their objections too.
There is no agreed plan to replace the bus station, as required by South Downs Local Plan Strategic Site Policy SD57 (for ‘North Street Quarter and Adjacent Eastgate Area’).
Neither of the ‘two potential options to replace the existing facilities’ meet any of the requirements of Policy SD57, Policy SD19 (Transport and Accessibility), Lewes Neighbourhood Plan objective 10 (Village & Town Connections) Lewes Neighbourhood Plan Policy HC1 (Protection of Existing & New Community Infrastructure) or Lewes Neighbourhood Plan Policy AM2 (Public Transport Strategy).
The obvious solution to keeping a bus station in Lewes – i.e. retaining it on the existing site – has not been properly evaluated.
The proposals offer no affordable housing, in contravention of South Downs Local Plan Strategic Policy SD28 (Affordable Homes), which requires a minimum of 50%. This is despite the apparent absence of any extraordinary costs such as flood defences, decontamination or provision of community facilities.
The mix of home sizes is not compliant with South Downs Local Plan Strategic Policy SD27 (Mix of Homes), with a significant shortfall of the one-bedroom properties that are in such short supply in the town, and so needed for local young people.
With the proposed relocation of the bus station, the development must be considered to be a ‘major development’ according to SDNPA’s definition. South Downs Local Plan Core Policy SD3 (Major Development) requires that development proposals should be zero carbon and use sustainable materials. Current proposals are not compliant with this policy requirement.
The ‘Air Quality Assessment’ does not consider at all the air quality impact of moving the bus station, so does not meet the requirements of South Downs Local Plan Development Management Policy SD54 (Pollution and Air Quality).
Regarding viability, Generator Group bought the site in April 2021 in full knowledge of all planning policies. Government guidance is clear that ‘site purchasers should consider [policy compliance costs] when agreeing land transactions.
Government advice is also explicit that ‘the price paid for land is not a relevant justification for failing to accord with relevant policies’. So, if Generator Group overpaid for the land, then that is their mistake and responsibility; residents should not have to pay for it through the loss of both a bus station and affordable housing.
Finally, South Downs Local Plan Strategic Site Policy SD57 (North Street Quarter and Adjacent Eastgate Area, Lewes) requires redevelopment plans ‘to be considered as one’ and proposals to be ‘consistent with other phases/schemes’. If approved, the bus station plans (especially the proposed relocation of the bus station) would seriously constrain options for the far-larger and more strategically important North Street Quarter. Therefore, SDNPA must not grant any approval for the bus station site ahead of the North Street proposals.”