Friday, 26 January 2018

The sleeping giant Bay of Biscay

For those of you who have followed so far on this journey I have focused on one region at a time, but as health, and the day job has got in the way I looked for options where I cross a number of regions in the one journey. Time for a bit of catch up as time waits for no artist.
With the great help from Brittany Ferries I decided to journey from Portsmouth to Santander in Spain. This journey would take me around the coast of France across the infamous Bay of Biscay to the holiday resort of Santander.
The two day sea journey would take me across WIGHT, PORTLAND, PLYMOUTH and BISCAY, 48 hours of ferry journey.
Like many of these journeys the whole plan was based on smooth linking of public transport, with only the smallest margin for error. The unexpected illness of a passenger on my first leg nearly scuppered the whole plan, but with the gods on my side I managed to leave my home town only 20 mins late as I headed to another overnight to London.
Arriving at London's Victoria early Sunday morning couldn't considered as one of life's pleasures, the hustle and bustle of coach stations is so different to any other transport hub. A combination of chaos and panic.
Out onto another coach, at least this time its directly to the ferry terminal.

Leaving Portsmouth behind

Once checked in and on board I was ready for the 24 hour journey out to the north coast of Spain.  As the evening drew in the weather began to change, from the relative calm of the English channel changed to the roller coaster of the Bay of Biscay.  The slow rolling of a relatively large cruise ferry felt like sleeping on the belly of a snoozing giant.
The morning brought calmer, but wetter weather and as the coast of Spain slowly came into view as we now seemed to guide towards our final destination.

The faint outline of the Spanish coast coming into view

As we slowly headed into the more sheltered waters around Santander the heavens decided to open
as we sailed past Cabo Mayor lighthouse.

Cabo Mayor lighthouse

Once docked we had 90 mins to explore the town of Santander before the homeward departure back to the UK.  If seemingly by magic the rain stopped and the sun made an appearance , if a somewhat brief one.
Santander Cathedral

I headed to the wonderful Santander Cathedral which predominantly dates back to the 12th Century.

Away from the bustle of the main part of the town it was quite and restful antidote to the ferry of eager holiday makers.
Typical multistory building on Santander's main street

Santander main thoroughfare is blessed with interesting buildings which I suppose are ignored by the busy shoppers.
As it was soon time to return to the ship the sun came out and the sea front took on a whole new look.

Beautiful sculptural artwork n the Santander keyside

As the clouds began t clear looking out into Santander marina

So it was back to England and the 24 hour journey back to Portsmouth harbour. As the ferry docked back at the terminal in mid afternoon it would be another overnight journey back to Scotland.

Portsmouth's naval heritage as we returned from Spain.
From the pitching of the ferry in the Bay of Biscay to the slow rumble of the coaches that brought back over the Scottish border. Two days of slumbering giant of non stop travel came to end and the achievement of 4 regions in 3 days.  Onwards and upwards to the new journeys in 2018.
Again I would like to thank Brittany Ferries for helping me to get to Spain and back.

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Take me to the Pilot! as the song goes........... Journey into HUMBER

'Take me to the Pilot' as the Elton John song goes...

This journey gave me the opportunity to see the work of the Pilot. Crucial and many ways unrecognised that keeps the shipping industry running smoothly.

The Humberside Launches moored ready work

Due to the support and generosity of Associated British Ports  I got to see the work of the Pilot close and personal. Out from their base in Grimsby in sunny Lincolnshire out to two vessels to drop off the pilot onto a ferry and a pickup from vessel.

Like many of these journeys this one started with another almost sleepless journey down from the West of Scotland to the East coast of Yorkshire to meet up with Colin Shores the skipper of the boat who took me out at Whitby. He is rapidly becoming a Shipping Forecast regular!

The amazing Humber Bridge

The initial destination HULL the current City of Culture who has suffered from being out on a relative limb, but finally getting the recognition as a cultural destination with a rich seam of industrial and maritime heritage.

An example of the forward looking redevelopment of the quay area of the City of Hull

After an afternoon in Hull it was over the architectural marvel of the Humber Bridge to the Grimsby for a seriously needed rest in a 'real bed' before heading the ABP Port office in Grimsby Docks.

The port office building, operational headquarters of the Humber Pilot.

After a briefing on equipment and what to do if I go over the side its out to the launches all kitted up for the ride out into the Humber.

Marine Services Manager Tony Lewis sporting the safety wear for the job.

After a briefing on equipment and what to do if I go over the side its out to the launches all kitted up for the ride out into the Humber.  

I was assured I was in safe hands on Geoff and Gary with other 50 years of experience. With amazing turn of speed we headed out to the ship 
The first journey was take the oncall pilot out to the vessel AutoPrestige to assist them on their entry into the Humber estuary. 

The launch maybe fast and manoeuvrable, but is dwalfed by the most of the ships that it services and only though great skill and experience can the pilot be transferred either on or off these vessels.

Pilot drop off successful and vessel on its way

With throttle opened up we headed of to the next job of the morning to pick up another Pilot , unlike the Auto Prestige and the side opening door this time it was down a rope ladder onto the launch. 

While the launch is pulled alongside the ship, the constant correction to maintain the launches relative position was astonishing.  Another successful pickup and back to the Grimsby quay to put my legs back on dry land.  Luckily the artist has good sea legs, this journey was one rocky ride on what seemed from the quay as relative calm. 
I can only imagine the same tasks carried out in much stormier seas and often in the dark. Only through the amazing attention to detail and the strictest of safety measures that this can of work can be done. The team told me that its those moments of board and leaving these vessels that are the most dangerous and its only concentration and utter professionalism that injury and even death can be avoided.Hats off to these guys and this amazing work!
Back on the shore and a welcome cuppa it was time to make my way back to Grimsby Town centre to start on the multistep journey by train and by bus back home to the Ayrshire coast.
Another interesting and often entertaining trip, with HUMBER under my belt now looking a mammoth one trip journey covering four regions in three days .. The trip to SPAIN.
Hasta luego ! 


Matt Booth,  
Deputy Pilotage Operations Manager Humber 

Tony Lewis, Marine Services Manager

The pilots and crew of Humberside Pilot Service

Management at ABP  Associated British Ports

Special Thanks .. To the top Amigo  Colin Shores .. for ferrying me about, feeding me, providing the shelter on this one.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Back on the water - Choppy water and transport poets TYNE

After some significant time where real life got in the way, at last back out on the water and what a great place to start off the beautiful Yorkshire coast out from a sunny Whitby. 

The plan to head up the coastline towards the hidden gem of the village of Staithes, a significant fishing port at the turn of the 20th Century and once home to a then unknown a young grocer's apprentice, Captain James Cook. 

Most of the journeys start with a packed bag and a train journey out of my home town on the Ayrshire coast on the West coast of Scotland and this was no different. The first leg of the journey took me to Middlesbrough to stay with a friend who took good care of me and a bed for the night before the early start to the coastal town of Whitby. As the train trundled across the Yorkshire moors I was struck by the beauty of the local geography.

The view from the Whitby bound train

On arrival I met up with my generous skipper Colin Shores, semi retired ex car-dealer now found working bliss through painting and decorating. Even though the sky was clear of cloud and the sun was already burning down, Colin advised me that I had picked the worst day in July for getting out onto the water. I was soon to learn a new meaning to the innocuous word"Northerly"  As we headed to the end of the pier to stare out to bobbing yellow buoy, it wasn't looking good.

As we headed back into the marina to talk to the harbour master I was beginning to think "Why today?" After looking out at the daytrippers out on the "pirate ship" in the rollercoaster sea , we decided to go for it and see what happens!

The calmness of Whitby marina on a beautiful July day.

The Sea Shores II in the deceptively calm Whitby harbour.

As we headed out into open water a steady rolling became rollercoaster to bucking bronco in places. Heading out to deeper water and turning North we pitched and rolled, a rough ride that told us one thing that the weather and sea conditions weren't giving up fighting against us. 

Colin, skipper and safe pair of hands.

Where did everything go?

It may seem a beautiful relaxed onshore, but it's important to remember that the sea can be a wild and dangerous place. Feeling that the sea conditions could put us at some risk if we continued to travel further up the coast, Colin expertly manoeuvred the boat back round to head back to the towards the safety of Whitby harbour. 

As we headed back towards Whitby we encountered the crazy people on the "Pirate pleasure ship" although I wonder in an open vessel the pleasure is quite the word!

After a well earned lunch we headed by land to the village of Staithes via road which beckoned so tantalisingly from the water, but may have been a risk too far to venture by sea.

The access for the general public is a car park at the top of the hill so even with summer visitors the streets of Staithes remain quiet and nostalgic charm which belie the the harshness of life that the residents must have endured during its fishing heyday.

Staithes has a particular facination as the home to a group of twenty to thirty artists known as the "Staithes Group" or the "Northern Impressionists." The group contained renowned artists such as Edward E. Anderson, Joseph R. Bagshawe, Thomas Barrett and James W. Booth.  Dame Laura Knight became the most famous member of the Staithes Group; she and her husband and fellow painter Harold Knight kept a studio in the village

Looking out to the headland of the bay that was clearly visible out to sea when we were bobbing about in the roller-coaster waters of the North Sea.

After a cup of coffee is was back on the long days journey to home in the West coast of Scotland. 

Whitby station inundated with what seemed hundreds of schoolchildren and retired day trippers I climbed aboard the train back to Middlesbrough in the first leg of my journey. What I hadn't expected that the conductor would be the famous Graham Palmer, the bard and poet of Northern Rail. Destinations introduced in rhyming couplets what could be a better way to end of the Yorkshire leg of the journey.

Sitting waiting for my next connection to Darlington to pick up my train Edinburgh and then on to my home town Troon. An eventful and memorable trip... onwards to the next Forecast area...

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The not so graceful swan

The project continues at a slow pace for 2016 but will burst into new life as we enter into a new year. I was surprised how my brief encounter with the grim reaper would throw a ship size spanner into the works along with keeping the artist on a regular income.

As the not so graceful swan glides on the surface the feet of planning continue to make headway as leave one year and into a new.

Due to the kindness of BBC Humberside's presenter Phil White I was given an opportunity to tell the Shipping Forecasts story on live radio. As we have noticed from previous entries that wasn't the first time on the radio, but in the past we had the opportunity record the interview and edit out those "I forgot my lines" moments. While you unexpected sit there on the sofa waiting for the the proceeding record to finish all sorts of thoughts cross your mind, will I lose it? will talk utter nonsense?  Those who know me know I'm quite good at that.  As the record faded out my introduction to live radio was a remarkably calm and relaxed affair and I managed to share my vision and story with some unexpected ease.
The challenge was to get some local help in the two Sea areas local to the BBC Humberside audience TYNE and the obvious one HUMBER .

Within an hour or two of the interview I was offered transport into both of those areas off the Yorkshire coast.

The first of those was an opportunity to take to sea on a historic Yorkshire Coble, a traditional fishing boat of the North East of England. A craft that was made famous by the Victorian heroine Grace Darling who with her father sailed out in treacherous seas to save the crew of the 400 Ton Steamer the "Forfarshire" I'm personally hoping for a little less adventure when I join the crew of the boats the Three Brothers or the Gratitude. #

The Yorkshire Coble
I'm particularly looking for to taking to the sea in 2017 into the HUMBER region aboard this beautiful boat or the Three Brothers shown below;

The Three Brothers

As always the project has been subject to the vagaries of the weather, particularly in the winter.  With the generosity of Colin Shore and his Jeanneau Merry Fisher boat. I look to make the journey from Whitby to the the historic sea part of Staithes, a long time artists colony which will take me into the TYNE region.

Other journeys are at tentative stage : WHITE and PORTLAND will be completed in 2017 due the generosity of accommodation from a long standing customer of mine Pam Du Val who is lucky to live on Portland Bill.

These are just the first few of many, 2017 will be a major catch up year for the artist and the journeys that will follow to put the show back on the road again.

The search for new music continues with the kind support of the American singer  Sally Ellyson who I have discussed using the beautiful song

A beautiful and poignant song that would be a fitting addition to the project.

Troon -Ayrshire coast November 2016

Thursday, 2 June 2016

An artist's boat ran aground - the tide has slowly returned.

After months absence away from the project the artist is back to working on the next set of journeys on this enormous venture across water and paint.
I had expected that the winter months would be quieter due the uncertainty of the weather, but I couldn't expected the turn of events at Christmas. I suffered a heart attack a week before Christmas, frighteningly unexpected for a reasonably fit 54 year old with none of the risk factors other than a very stressful life before becoming a full time painter. It has been a long road to full fitness and after two heart operations it was prudent to put the project on hold until I felt confident of travelling out to sea.  It is a well worn cliche, but not without truth that after an event that your heart stops you take stock and reassess your life and look at the World with new eyes.  During the recovery period  I have never painted so much and expanded my creative horizons. My senses have been more acute, whether this is "real" or a psychological consequence of my "cardiac event" I may never know, but the effects are refected in the way I look at the art , including my own.
Even though I made the decision to not to travel whilst building up my strength and confidence to travel alone I have continued to work on the music side of the project. I have recently been offered a beautiful work by the contemporary composer Poppy Ackroyd. A video of this work "the Glass sea" is included:

A number of other International artists have expressed an interest in the project and more names will be revealed as and when they come on board.

I have recently finished the project work for the Cromarty area. An initial decision to not include geographic markers in some of the painters has been abandoned as in some cases a feature will encourage sales which is the ultimate purpose to raise funds for Macmillan Cancer Support.

Tarbet light -storm
I made a decision a stormy piece for the CROMARTY region as it seemed in keeping with the often wild and unpredictable seas of the Northern coast of Scotland.  The Cromarty piece is also unusual in that I have worked in mixed media, adding detail and structure with crayon.  Each piece for the project is not only a journey of geography, but also a creative one and I am sure it will develop over the life of the 31 regions.

I am currently working on the painting  for the FORTH region and will be posting an image in the next post along with some news of further journeys in the coming months.

This update is only a short one, but it was meant to reassure supporters of the project that the rumours of the Artist's demise have been somewhat exaggerated and things are back on an even keel ( to strain the boating metaphors )

Another BIG BIG Thanks for all those who sent me good wishes, prays and thoughts which helped enormously in feeling a new fitter version of my former self.

REMEMBER you can still give via my Just Giving page , no amount too small for this amazing cause.

Troon - South Ayrshire - June 2016

Friday, 1 January 2016

All at Sea , but the music and the words go on

6x6 inch Acrylic wash on paper ( available for the Winter Season )

As we came to the end of the year its a good time to look at a year on when the project was merely a crazy idea.  Although the idea of basing an artistic project on the Shipping Forecast has been in my head for some years it was only the end of 2014 when it started to come together.
So how far have we come?  The Opening event at the Thistle Gallery in Glasgow started the project with 31 postcard sized pieces painted in the gallery during a Winter's Sunday.

10 months on and 5 regions under my belt, 2016 should see many more regions completed and thoughts are now moving to exhibiting the artwork influenced by my journeys so far.

THAMES, MALIN, CROMARTY, FAIR ISLE and FORTH now completed. HEBRIDES is coming soon in 2016 . Other regions well into the planning include PLYMOUTH, PORTLAND and WIGHT.

Some of the views from the Journeys so far............

Sunrise on the River Blackwater from the barge "The thistle"
The Ayrshire coast as we head out to the Island of Ailsa craig

Looking out into the bay from the Mareel in Lerwick Shetland

Back on the mainland looking out across the Pentland Firth to Orkney from Thurso.
Port Edgar Marina on the Firth of Forth.


The literary element has continued to be a success with the contributions of Sir Andrew Motion ( Poet Laureate 1999 to 2009 ) Simon Armitage CBE, Don Paterson OBE, and the Estate of George Mackay Brown.


The New departure is the planned collaboration with the award winning Film and TV Composer Andrew Phillips we hope work together to produce a contemporary music setting for the Shipping Forecast theme with the help of a number of International Artists.  The artists that have already agreed include UK musician and composer, Peter Coyle  and Canadian Cellist , Julia Kent

Before the sale of the main art works their are a number of ways that you can support Macmillan Cancer Support and the project: I have a Just Giving Page connected to the project and for the Winter Season I still have a number of small acrylic studies on paper which can be purchased to support the logistics of the project as we head into a New Year.


Winter Season artworks on paper:

I would like to thank the following people for their kindness

Top Sail Charters   Maldon Essex
Mark McCrindle - Ailsa Craig Trips
Stuart Garrett - MD Northlink Ferries
Sarah Young - PA Northlink Ferries
Colin Henderson - Edinburgh Boat Charters
Simon Armitage
Sir Andrew Motion
Don Paterson
Peter Coyle
Elizabeth and Kris Bevan - Estate of George Mackay Brown
Macmillan Scotland

A very special thanks to Carol Dunbar of the Thistle Gallery for backing up this crazy idea in the early days!

To my wonderful wife Marian for being in the rock in the Sea of Craziness I continue to throw myself into!

Ayrshire Coast
January 1st 2016
Email :

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

FORTH - A grey day under the bridges

The forth rail bridge completed in 1890
For months I’d moved across the open waterlike a wheel under its skin, a frictionlessand by then almost wholly abstract matterwith nothing in my head beyond the blissof my own breaking
From the Wave by Don Paterson OBE.

The next journey was a long time coming, even though geographically it was one of the closest from my home on the West coast of Scotland it was by its very nature highly dependent on the weather.
As we head towards the end of the year time was running out to get to the water before the bad weather became the norm.
Due to the great generosity of Colin Henderson of Edinburgh Boat charters the plan was to head out on the Firth of Forth from South Queensferry at the foot of the iconic crossings joining Lothian to the Kingdom of Fife.
Week after week the weather continued to defeat us with a succession of Atlantic fronts heading in bringing with it high winds and days of rain and more rain. To add to the complication the plan was to match up the visit with an interview with the Glasgow Herald and photo-shoot so each weekend meant planing against the weekly weather forecast, emails exchanged. There are so just many balls to juggle in the air and it seemed that we would never match everything together and the Scottish weather would continue to beat us..

At last the weather gods were kind and we found a slot of a few hours that would be suitable to head out on the Forth without gale force winds and horizontal rain.
The Edgar Marina is nestled between the current Forth road bridge and the construction of the Queensferry Crossing which cannot come soon enough for the travelers and the local economy as days before the journey fractures were found in the road bridge closing the bridge until the end of year. The history of the site goes back to the eleventh century, but it was in the early Nineteenth Century that a pier was built and has continued to have naval connections until the site became a marina in the late 70s.

Edgar Marina in South Queensferry
Sitting close to the marina is the recently fated road bridge and beyond the road bridge is the engineering and architectural wonder of the Forth Rail bridge whose structural dominance has made it an iconic feature of Scotland known around the World.

Colin Henderson my skipper for the day welcomed me on one of their yachts ready for our trip onto the Forth. Colin strangely sharing a very similar career in IT networking, a World I left some years ago to pursue the rewarding, but uncertain career as a full time artist.

Heading out into the Firth of Forth.

It was time to cast off  and we slowly slipped from the moorings and headed out into fairly calm water. The Estuary and sky a uniform slate grey so typical of many November days.

The Queensferry crossing under construction

Its only when you get onto the water you see the scale of the bridges at this end of the Forth, the current towers of the new bridge construction jutting out into the sky. We slowly turned and we headed Eastward towards the road and rail bridges.
The road bridge was built in 1964 and an immense suspension bridge over over 2,500 m and has carried over 65,000 vehicles a day.

Looking out to the North shore in Fife
Colin handed over the control of the yacht to me, the yacht feeling quite responsive, a pleasant change to my journey out on the Thistle from Maldon in Essex when the size and age of the barge was more of a fight for my untutored and inexperienced hands. In the slightly more choppy waters of the Forth I slowly took us under the road bridge and headed towards the iconic rail bridge.

Skipper Colin Henderson of Edinburgh Boat Charters

The huge distinctive red brown structure grew closer, a bridge like no other crossing this the stretch of Scotland since its opening in 1890. 

Historic photograph showing how the cantilever bridge construction.
Looking under the existing road bridge to the iconic Rail bridge

Its quite an experience to see the bridge from the water, the immense construction an artwork of perfect proportion an awe inspiring achievement for British engineering. We continued to out Eastward under my novice steering until a suitable moment to turn and return towards the marina and back to dry land. Heading back under the rail and road bridges I handed the wheel back to Colin to bring her back to her mooring.
A short journey for the FORTH region, but an enjoyable and interesting one. To see the bridges from a new perspective will remain with me even though the grey dreich day tried to defeat the mood, but enjoyable company and a warming cup of coffee on our return made the days travels a great success.

The journey onto the Firth of Forth only making me look forward the next journey out into the wonders and delights of the areas of the SHIPPING FORECAST.

Scotland Dec 2015