March views

Sketches for the March book . . .

4th March. The tide is out and the muddy edge of the salt marsh is clearly visible. IMG_1754

Twice a day the tide comes in and buffets against this ledge, eroding it in places . . .


. . . and laying down sediment elsewhere creating new salt marsh.


On the grassy ledge is a crow – maybe not a universally popular bird with its harsh cawing call but there is a lovely reflected light in its eyes and on its wings and back.


Out on the tidal mud is a sleeping curlew. Even though its characteristic long curved beak is hidden beneath its feathers its outline is unmistakeable.


They make balancing on one leg look so easy!


Having a rest but keeping a wary eye on surroundings.


Then time for probing around in the soft mud looking for worms.


March can be such a gloriously moody month with dramatic heavy skies blowing across the muddy waters of the channel to the Welsh hills . . .

IMG_1676. . . and creating a muted tapestry at Battery Point.


The tide at Battery Point

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Battery Point is rather a special place as there is a deep water channel, the King Road, just metres away and large ships pass closer to shore here than anywhere else in the UK.


The tiny figures of a mother and child on the metal walkway get a grand stand view of this large cargo vessel. On a high spring tide the water rises to over 14 metres covering the surrounding rocks completely.

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Even on a fairly low tide it is still deep enough for ships to pass.


Portishead Point Light, commonly known as Battery Point Light stands on a dark rocky outcrop.  It was built in 1931, stands 9 metres (30 ft) high and is equipped with a white light which emits 3 quick flashes every 10 seconds.

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The muddy edge of the salt marsh gets buffeted by the twice daily tides – quite a tide mark.


A warm glow crosses the salt marsh at Battery Point as the first rays of morning sun cast their long shadows.

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A low tide view of the strata of black rocks while across the channel the sand banks off the Welsh coast are clearly visible.

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This is Woodhill Bay at low tide – the expanse of mud reflects the blueness of the sky interlaced with boulders and seaweed whilst the water beyond Battery Point towards the Severn Bridge is its usual reddish brown.

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A high tide with blue Welsh hills, a sunny salt marsh and reddish brown water streaked with blue.


From the far side of Battery Point looking westwards down the Bristol Channel. The white concrete base has its feet on this ancient rocky outcrop, a favourite haunt of Purple Sandpipers in winter.

Storm at Battery Point

IMG_0445The storm raged at Battery Point as the sunset lay across the bay.



Hardly able to stay upright in the full force of the gale a lone figure on the headland leaned into the wind.


Intermittent sheets of near horizontal rain blew across the salt marsh. The stinging rain lashed my face and blurred my vision but I could just make out a small flock of dunlin on the wing.


Their progress was painfully slow head on against the ferocity of the gale but when they veered in the direction of the wind they were swept out of sight at breakneck speed.

I was struggling to steer a straight path in this buffeting wind so quite a feat for these featherweights to stay on course. Nevertheless they made repeated forays fighting their way across the tops of the surging waves at the very edge of the salt marsh.

Towards the docks

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Vessels entering Royal Portbury Docks steam parallel to the dock wall just a stone’s throw from Portbury Wharf salt marsh making it a great spot to watch both ships and wildlife.  Above an oil pastel and pencil sketch of a pair of roe deer and tug.


I love this simple view with cool colours and a great combination of verticals and horizontals in this little sketch of teal flying towards the dock wall.


Further along the dock wall as the tide rises. . .IMG_8749

. . . and at dusk I could just make out the silhouettes of teal and the light on the end of the dock wall.


LIke a pair of giant crickets ready to leap! There is something curiously appealing about these cranes.


But I am not sure this cacophony of cranes and lampposts has quite the same appeal – interesting nevertheless.


This is another view I love – looking towards the lighthouse and to Severnside power station.  I never thought that I would find industrial landscapes quite so captivating but there is something about large bold shapes. Add to this the clouds of dunlin rising and falling in the foreground what could be better.


A closer view of the lighthouse on the dock wall with yet more teal . . .IMG_8752

. . . and the long view from just outside the lock gates at Portishead marina across Portishead Hole to the docks and Servernside. Portbury Wharf salt marsh is in the bay to the right.


A very colourful, bright and breezy day on an exceptionally high spring tide. The sea was rough and the waves surged across the marsh.

Towards the Severn Bridge

There are two bridges spanning the Severn Estuary uniting England and Wales and it is the “second” Severn Bridge that is nearest to these salt marshes and the one which features here, although both are visible from the marsh on a clear day.


The “second” Severn Bridge was built in 1996, some 30 years after the first, and at the time of its construction I remember standing beneath its skeleton and marvelling at its sensuous, curvaceous outline snaking towards Wales.

Alas these beautiful, sinuous curves cannot be seen from the marsh . . .  rather more of a straight line across the horizon, but even so it still holds a measure of beauty as the light and seasons change.


When the sunlight hits the centre spans the suspension cables shine out like pale sails floating past the Welsh hills. This is a view from the marsh in September. . .


. . . and on a closer view the “sails” separate into a symmetry of cables. The bridge is a lovely shade of “cobalt turquoise light” in the sunlight . . .


. . . but most of the time, especially on overcast days, the bridge takes on tones of grey with only the supporting pillars visible. This is a view across the mud at low tide on a dull June morning.


. . . and on a September morning I was watched by a roe buck at Chapel Pill.


In this November scene you can see the zigzag of Chapel Pill on a flood tide. On a high spring tide this creek and surrounding salt marsh disappears under a metre of water, a great time to watch flocks of dunlin flying to and fro looking for a dry corner of marsh.


Here is a more muted October view of teal, salt marsh and bridge – no lush greens here.


A great September view of salt marsh and bridge. Lovely soft colours and a bit of “teal” action.


Similar colours in this sketch of canada geese which I love as it uses just three colours . . . and a bit of graphite. I think I should limit my colour palette more often.


Last but not least is a surprisingly bright view in November. This sunny autumn day gave birth to some wonderful blues but the colours of the marsh are a definitively autumnal mix of siennas and umbers.


Salt marsh at Battery Point

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Battery Point Light is arguably the most well known landmark in Portishead. With far reaching views of the Severn Estuary this headland was the site of gun batteries in the English Civil War, briefly during the Napoleonic wars and in the Second World War. Now it is a popular spot to relax and watch the world go by.

The tides are strong here and the only deep water channel, the “Kings Road”, runs just offshore so It is a spectacular spot from which to get an up-close view of passing ships.

The island off in the distance is Denny Island.

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The salt marsh lies just beyond this bright yellow sign warning of the dangers of “walking beyond the pebbles”, “swimming” and “windsurfing”.

It has a character all of its own and very different from that at Portbury Wharf.

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There are plants here not seen at Portbury Wharf such as the beautiful sea lavender and marsh samphire . . .  oh and the swathes of sea club rush which took on a lovely burnt sienna glow in this May morning sketch, whilst on the headland you can find the likes of rock samphire and rock rose.

The rocky outcrops at either end of this marsh attract flocks of turnstones and in winter purple sandpipers are frequently seen on the rocks below Battery Point Light.

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On high neap tides the muddy edge of the salt marsh is buffeted by waves. The Severn Estuary has the second highest rise and fall in the world with a tidal range of about 49 feet (15 metres) so on the highest spring tides the water spills over the top covering the marsh and rising high up the sea wall.

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The sea wall runs across the sea front from Battery Point to this row of houses and on top of the sea wall is the esplanade, a popular place to walk or just sit and admire the channel views. Beyond this narrow stretch of salt marsh the food rich mudflats attract many passing waders including redshank and curlew.

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Shelduck are common here as are the mallard which fly back and forth from the boating lake on the other side of the esplanade.

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Geese over the salt marsh (4 Canada and one Greylag) with Black Nore Point in the distance. This was on a stormy day – beautifully dramatic.

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In 2010 the Victorian Black Nore Lighthouse was switched off and is now a Grade II listed landmark. On a good day the island of Flat Holm is visible in the distance.

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A flock of wood pigeons coming in to feed on the salt marsh in front of Black Nore Point. Pigeons frequently take advantage of these herb rich salt marshes.


I will be adding more sketches of Battery Point and the salt marsh plants another day.

Below Portishead Pier

At low tide the walls of Portishead pier are revealed in all their textured, rusty splendour and the redshank rest on the glossy mud below . . .  a study in ochres. There are some great paintings using only ochres and the pier is certainly an inspiring tonal subject but today I could not resist the sight of the redshank flying past the yacht’s blue rigging. I love the asymmetry of the mast and the delicious combination of  “cerulean” and “cobalt turquoise light” amongst the ochres.


. . . and that was not the only blue in Portishead hole – lying in the mud was an old oil drum masquerading as a mooring buoy.


The reflections from the pier, yacht, buoy and redshank bounced off what little water was left . . .


. .. and when the sun shone wonderful blue “mud shadows” were cast. . . not so much ochre after all.



Salt Marsh Summer Colours

. . . August sketches from a two hour walk on the salt marsh

Oh what a wealth of colour and moods in such a short time and if that was not enough I was in the company of three roe bucks and a host of shoreline birds.

Salt marsh sketch - vivid colours of summer

I arrived on the marsh at sunrise and was greeted by a glorious sky of rich reds and yellows.

Salt marsh sketch - Sunrise over Avonmouth

The night had been stormy with torrential rain and thunder but the dawn broke dry with a magnificent sky as I looked towards the three wind turbines at Avonmouth.

Salt marsh sketch - Sunrise over the Severn Bridge

Soon the vivid yellow sky faded as the sun rose higher and the clouds increased behind the distant Severn Bridge . . .

Salt marsh sketch - the marsh was bathed in reds and yellows

. . . but a red glow still streaked the marsh and these lovely colours bounced off the salt marsh grasses with the Welsh hills in the background.

Salt marsh sketch - towards Portishead Pier and Eastwood

Looking across the salt marsh towards Portishead Pier and the tree clad hill of Eastwood.

Salt marsh sketch - towards the Severn Bridge

As the sun disappeared behind the clouds the marsh colours became more subdued.  The brilliant indian and winsor yellows of the grasses were replaced by a duller yellow ochre in this view towards the Severn Bridge.

Salt marsh sketch - the track

Etched into the landscape is this well worn green track in the middle of the salt marsh leading from Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve to the channel’s edge.


Salt marsh sketch - mainly blues and yellows

An hour after sunrise and all traces of red have gone replaced by some gorgeous shades of blue . . .

Salt marsh sketch - what a contrast of colours

. . .  contrasting brilliantly with the vivid yellows and greens where the sun peered through the clouds and touched the marsh. I love these colours.

Salt marsh sketch - clouds of winsor blue and ultramarine

For a while even the voluminous clouds were deep, rich blues of winsor and ultramarine . . .

Salt marsh sketch - squall in channel

. . . but before long a series of grey squally rain clouds blew up the channel . . .

Salt marsh sketch - rainbow over Portishead Pier

. . .  each with a rainbow dancing in attendance – this one off Portishead Pier.

This was how I left the salt marsh at the end of my dawn walk on a typical English summer day – what a wonderful morning.

Salt marsh pheasant

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I see pheasants on the salt marsh regularly . . .  an interesting backdrop for a pheasant!

A cock fight in December



There was much parallel walking as these two cock pheasants strutted and postured on the salt marsh . . .


. . . and then a flurry of feathers. In the background the cargo vessel Danica Sunrise edges her way into Portbury Docks on low water.


This territorial dispute went on for ages and so engrossed were they that my presence remained unnoticed.

Colours in the cockfighting sketches : indian red, cadmium red, burnt sienna, alizarin crimson, raw umber and cobalt turquoise light plus the addition of raw sienna in the sketch above.


On a previous visit . . .

IMG_3580 . . . a sudden flurry and that lovely staccato purr of wings of a cock pheasant bursting from the flooding marsh just ahead of me. It is such a pleasure to see and hear them on the marsh . . . and the navigation buoys, docks and Denny Island make for an unusual view.



The buoy is the middle one of three marking the right hand (starboard) edge of the shipping channel into Royal Portbury dock. 

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Moods of Denny Island

One minute shining like a beacon in the sunlight then suddenly dark and brooding against the Welsh coastline.

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Denny – one island but so many faces – the atmosphere changes with light, tide and viewpoint.
A series of watercolour and crayon sketches on Arches Aquarelle hot pressed paper.

A half acre of scrubland in the middle of the Severn Estuary, Denny Island often appears as a distant focal point in my work –  the artistic full stop.

It is surrounded by sand banks, the Welsh Grounds, which glisten when exposed at low water and its southern most shore marks the boundary between England and Wales.

The moods created by the changing light, tides and perspective fascinate me and this series of rough sketches (10 x 6 cm) reminds me of Denny’s endless variations.

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On a grey winter’s day Denny took on a beautiful, muted simplicity – no detail just a simple shape and cool colour.

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