(64) Loch Ness, (65) Inverness, and (66) John O’Groats

GB 64-66 sm Our virtual journey is at an end. The traditional end-point for the island of Great Britain is John O’Groats (or the beginning point; end, begin, all the same), and so after all the cities and dramatic valleys we end at a tiny hamlet, well less hamlet and more medallion of bacon, or lardon, on the way to the Orkneys. People walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats for charity, or to see how far it is, or just to explore a route across the island of Great Britain. I can vouch, it’s a long way, with a lot in between. You have to miss a lot out; you can’t explore Great Britain and see everything. Doing this virtually means you miss out on meeting all the people, but on the plus side you don’t have to meet as many people. I don’t think that’d be a problem up here. In Edinburgh during the Festival maybe, or London while Camden Market is on, or Manchester on a Saturday night, or Bournemouth beach after lockdown is lifted (or even before), too many people for a crowd-avoider like me. The north of Scotland is significantly less populated, though I am sure it still gets a lot of tourists.

And why not, it’s spectacular. Loch Ness is a highlight, stretching up the Great Glen and slicing Scotland in two. I have started getting very interested in the geology of Great Britain, and I bought a book all about it, and have watched some shows on YouTube that talk about it, but I feel like I still have a way to go before I can really understand it – Britain has a very deep geological history. What is now Scotland in fact was once on a different continent to England, something which can never happen again in our lifetimes, at least not geologically, though maybe geopolitically. The area that is now the border between the English and the Scots is roughly where the geological border lies. But then you have the Great Glen, up in the Highlands of Scotland, a massive deep diagonal lobotomy through the head of Great Britain. The faultline is called the Great Glen Fault, where two tectonic plates meet and move slowly in different directions. In the Ice Age huge glaciers carved up this land, and glacial erosion in the Quaternary period formed the immensely deep freshwater lake called Loch Ness. The bit I drew was of Urquart Castle, from street View (but obviously on a boat, so Loch view) (incidentally, wen you use Google Street View here the little yellow person icon changes into a green Loch Ness Monster). You’ve all heard of the Loch Ness Monster, aka Nessie. It’s a monster that looks a bit like a plesiosaur or a dragon, and has to hide with his family of other Nessies whenever those damned scientists come along (I think they’ve had enough of ‘experts’), and there’s this family who helps them out, a couple of kids and a bloke with a big bushy red beard, he plays the bagpipes to warn them I think. I saw a documentary but it’s been a really long time. Actually I did watch a movie about it called “Loch Ness” with your man from Cheers in it, I actually saw that at the cinema in 1996. Bit of a story to go with that, I was on a date in central London, and we decided to watch Loch Ness at Leicester Square. I remembered it was a fairly boring film, but we heard this loudish bang during the film, thought nothing of it. Afterwards it was freezing outside but we walked down by the Thames talking about how Loch Ness wasn’t all that, until time to go home as I had college next morning (I was heading back to north London, she to south). But then the bridges across the Thames were closed, and I was stuck. The reason the bridges were closed was because the loud bang we had heard was actually a bomb going off on a bus on Aldwych, not that far away. It was an IRA bomb, but unannounced (often there would be a phone warning in those days) – this one was being carried by the bomber but went off accidentally while he sat on the bus. There were quite a few IRA incidents in the mid 90s. So, many of the bridges were closed, meaning I was stuck on the other side of the Thames. My date’s friend was picking her up by car and offered me to stay over if need be but I really needed to get home so I could be up for college next day (I was so responsible) so I said I’d be fine. I walked for ages down the Thames until I got to a bridge that was actually open; by the time I managed to walk back up to Trafalgar Square, absolutely freezing in the light snow, it was way too late for the tube (which I assumed would be closed anyway due to the bomb, that was a thing) and wondered if I’d need to walk home (which is about a four hour walk), there was thankfully a Night Bus. The good old N5. So, when I think of the Loch Ness, I think of that freezing cold night. 

At the top of the Great Glen is Inverness. I have to say, I found it hard to find something on Street View I wanted to draw. I think I imagined more than I got, I thought maybe there’d be a great whisky shop or statue of Nessie or Ted Danson, but in the end I found this nice bridge across the water. What I really liked about it was the couple in the foreground, sat by the river, the woman’s head resting on the man’s shoulder, it just seemed warm and touching. I’ve kept in the people were I can in these drawings, because I’ve learned that geography is not just about the inanimate objects, but the inanimate human beings as well. It’s a nice view of the bridge looking over at the church, but these people give it a warmer, happier feel. Inverness is often voted the happiest place in Scotland, which makes me want to visit it more now. Apparently the accent is quite different, with none of the usual rolled ‘r’s, but the accents change as you get further north up here and can be quite different to what English or other people expect to hear from a Scottish voice. I want to travel just to hear all these accents, as interesting as differences in geology. Inverness historically was a stronghold of Gaelic speakers too, though use of the native language has dwindled over the years. Scottish Gaelic is similar linguistically to Irish and Manx, and also related to Welsh, Cornish and Breton, the Celtic languages. I know a little Irish, just a few phrases really (nobody in my Irish family spoke it), but the only thing I ever learned in Scottish Gaelic was “Alba gu bràth” which means something like “Scotland forever”. 

We can’t stay in Inverness forever, so time for the sixty-sixth and final stop on this long journey, John O’Groats. As mentioned this is where charity walkers like to start or finish. The spot I chose to draw is right by the edge of the sea, at the little harbour where you catch the ferry to the Orkneys. The town is apparently named after an old Dutch ferryman. There’s not much here, but it’s the knowledge that you’re right at the tip of this big island with thousands of years of history and culture behind you. It’s been a fun journey, I hope to do it in person someday, but for now I’m at the desk in my house in California, the air quality from the wildfire smoke still making it hard to breath outside, a global pandemic making everything difficult, my son just started his first day of Junior High, all completely remote, and we had no big summer travels this year for the first time in ages. I suppose it’s good, we can sit at home and see the world in other ways, but we are looking through a keyhole, seeing only the bits we want to see, not hearing any real voices, or accents, not smelling the air or tasting the food, not getting a chill from a North Sea breeze or drenched in a Mancunian downpour or sun-burned on a Cornish beach, no exhaustion from climbing steep hills in Bristol or Edinburgh, no rushing to finish my sketch so I don’t miss the last bus out of Portmeirion. I should write a final page to close out the book, that I will keep to myself; I’ve left it blank. Anyway I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey, even the long rambly often nonsensical and sometimes made-up-ish posts that go with them. If I ever do exhibit shows again this will be a fun curio to look at, of a virtual journey in a year when were were told to stay home. What a bloody year. I hope next year is better than this.   

(29) Menai Bridge, and (30) Conwy

GB 29-30 sm
The last of the Welsh trilogy brings us right up to North Wales, although I wish I’d made space for the interior. I had to weigh up whether I needed to include Wrexham, but later on leave out Sunderland? It’s a weighty issue, and I’d only be including Wrexham because they knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup that one time. I really enjoyed this spread though, I hope it shows. It was a very enjoyable virtual journey, very peaceful. It was still a couple of days or so before our flood, when I was still at the desk downstairs, and so it’s funny that two bridges ended up on these pages. Or not. But I imagined myself walking these areas, like Tony Robinson in that TV series I have watched a lot of lately. I’ve been thinking a lot about walking the UK, planning out hikes, right down to deciding which walking poles to bring. Of course I would need to factor in sketching time, so each walk would take a lot longer, but I draw pretty fast, and can always do half and finish the rest at the local pub in the evening, listening away for accents and dialects. I studied the history of the English language, and one of my popular-academic linguistic heroes lives up this way, David Crystal, on Anglesey. I have read many of his books, and I’ve always wanted to meet him and talk language and its history and future with him.

So, let’s have a butcher’s at the first drawing then, this is the mighty Menai Suspension Bridge, which crosses high above the Menai Strait that separates the mainland from the island of Anglesey (Ynys Môn in Welsh). The bridge was built by the great civil engineer and architect Thomas Telford and was opened in 1826, and the road that goes across it is actually the A5 – the very same road that links up what we call Watling Street, although that Roman road did not come out this far, although in that Watling Street book I started reading the author does continue past Wroxeter and up to Holyhead, but fails to talk about this amazing bridge. So technically this links it up with the first spread of the book. Now, this sketch was drawn on the Anglesey side of the Menai Strait, so technically it is not on the island of Great Britain – exception to the rule – but you can see the island of Great Britain in the drawing so no rules broken. The name “Anglesey” is likely of Viking origin, but the best place name on the island is unmistakably Welsh: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. It means “Stmaryschurchinthehollowofthewhitehazelneartotherapidwhirlpoolofllantysiliooftheredcave”, which is easy for you to say. It’s where you go to take a picture of the train station sign using panoramic mode on your phone. I have to go there.

It’s North Wales, so another castle was needed, and I like the one in Conwy, mostly because Caernarfon would mean backtracking again, and I’d already done that, or putting the first sketch on the bottom of a spread, and I had done that already. I’m trying to make the book interesting to pick up and look through. Not that I have any interest in publishing, this is just a curio to bring to events in future, but it’s good to mix it up. I get it right a few more times, and less right on a couple, but mostly I’m very happy with the spreads from Wales onwards, and this one more than most. I love a bridge, I love a castle. So for Conwy I needed to find a good angle, and so I went across the River Conwy and found a nice spot next to a little cottage, I can imagine standing here sketching, maybe with the brolly sticking out my coat, saying hello to a local old fellow who passed me by, and nodding while I pretended to understand what he was saying to me, and complementing him on the beautiful countryside as if he was personally responsible for it, and him telling me something about how when he was a kid he’d catch cockles and cook them up for breakfast but that his grandkids just want to listen to records and go to London and work at desks, but they come back for Christmas and they always want cockles for breakfast, but I’m a bit old to get out there now with my back the way it is. Nice chap, this completely imaginary passer-by. Now the castle itself is another one built by Patrick McGoohan from Braveheart, and it is a World Heritage Site. It is a proper example of a proper castle, one that if you have kids and they like castles you should take them to this one.

There’s a lot more in North Wales to draw – coastal towns like Llandudno, which always reminds me of Neville Southall, the great Wales and Everton goalie (and a great follow on Twitter), the peaks and valleys of Snowdonia, and resort towns like Rhyl to draw caravan parks, chalets and chip shops. But as it is, we had to get back to England, to the Midlands, to draw yet another bridge – the very first one made of cast iron…

(26) Swansea, (27) Portmeirion, and (28) Harlech

GB 26-28 sm
Part two of the virtual trip through Wales, Two of three. Wales is not a big country, although there is a lot to draw and you could fill whole books just on the castles. But I am on the clock, so whistle-stop it is. It’s a beautiful place, and I had to totally miss out Pembrokeshire. But here is a spread of three interesting places. Well, I assume Swansea is interesting. I liked their football team being in the Premier League. So that city is first up: Swansea. I went around the town virtually looking for something that would make a good illustration. One spot there was a bloke who looked he had fallen over, and as the virtual camera went down the street, all you see looking back is this guy just lying on the ground, nobody helping him. It looked like it was early morning  and perhaps he was getting over a night out but seeing someone just lying on the ground in Google Street View was a bit disturbing. I couldn’t virtually help, so I just felt virtually guilty. I remember once years ago in London, down near Leicester Square, I was on my way to the night bus stop after visiting friends in Notting Hill, and this old man who had been at the pub walked nearby me, tripped and fell right onto his face on a doorstep, CRUNCH. Good job I was there, I stayed with him until the ambulance came. Anyway, on this virtual occasion I kept wandering virtual Swansea, and this old boarded up run-down theatre building opened its legs wide and held out its chest and roared “whooooOOOOOAAAAAHHHH TO BEEEE or not to beeeee….”. It looked very dramatic. I just had to sketch it. Swansea is known as “Abertawe” in Wlesh, that is, the “Mouth of the River Tawe”, and it is Wales’s second city. Because of its copper smelting past Swansea has another nickname, “copperopolis”. I grew up very near to the police training school at Hendon and that’s what we called that place too. One of the most famous people from Swansea was the poet Dylan Thomas. I’ve not read much Thomas, I know a few lines, but they all make me think of that one guy lying on the pavement in Google Street View, unhelped and helpless.

So I moved on from Swansea up the coast, missing out the impressive Pembrokeshire coast, Carmarthen and Cardigan, Aberystwyth and Dolgellau, and stopped in Portmeirion. I have wanted to visit Portmeirion since my brother showed me the TV show The Prisoner when I was a kid; this was “The Village”, the place you couldn’t escape from, ebcause you would be chased by large white balloons (why didn’t Number Six carry a knitting needle?). While the show was a bit mad, I loved the music and those opening credits, and the colourful locations, and McGoohan’s indomitable, suspicious, suppressed-sense-of-humour personality. It’s always amazing to me that Portmeirion is a real place, and most people I know who have been there say it’s a nice place to visit. It was the bright idea of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis who back in the 1920s wanted to build an Italian style coastal town on the breezy banks of a Welsh estuary. It reminds me a bit of the town in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I just want one of those jackets that Number Six wears, the black one with the white trim along the lapel.

Next stop, I actually had to backtrack a bit and go back across the Afon Dwyryd to the coastal castle town of Harlech, on Cardigan Bay. I used to think it was called that because it gets a bit cold sometimes. I like the look of Harlech, the landscape around the castle and town looks like it could inspire an epic poem. Lot of steep hills in the town as well, but I drew the castle, another one started by Edward I, the English conqueror of Wales. Wales has a lot of castles, largely because of English kings such as Edward I building them to keep the Welsh locals in check. You’ll remember Edward I if you saw the mid-90s fantasy movie Braveheart which of course wasn’t based on true events except those that are an unintended coincidence. In that made-up drama there were a few ‘real’ historical figures such as Edward Longshanks, the villainous English king with an indomitable, suspicious, suppressed-sense-of-humour personality, played by none other than Patrick Number Six McGoohan himself. He also played the prison warden in Escape from Alcatraz starring Clint Eastwood, who in turn also played the Outlaw Josey Wales, thus coming full circle.

Next up on the virtual tour of Great Britain in 66 sketches, the final leg of Wales, and then we turn back to the midlands of England.

A Pair of Days at Disneyland Paris

Disneyland Paris Castle sm
And so after so many places in Belgium and Holland we returned to France, and to our first visit to Disneyland Paris. We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel for that walk-right-into-the-park experience, and we were not disappointed. My wife is a huge Disney parks fan but has only been to the original (like a million times) so this was a novel experience. I have to say I really liked it, it wasn’t as crowded, the sidewalks seemed to be wider, the two arcades behind Main Street were nice and accessible and I really liked the Castle. I had to sketch it. Everything was a bit different from California, Space Mountain for example (which is still Hyperspace Mountain) repeated Star Wars phrases in French (naturally) and had an outside starting point, while Thunder Mountain Railroad was definitely longer and faster, and was located on an island that the ride went under a tunnel to get to. I also really liked Pirates of the Caribbean (“les morts ne raccontent pas d’histoires!”), probably more than the Californian one. The maze of caves near the pirate ship too was so much fun to run around. And of course, serving champagne on Main Street during fireworks (though I didn’t indulge). So yes, we liked it.
Belgium Thalys to Paris sm
Our Thalys train from Brussels to Marne-La-Vallee was, amazingly, on time. I was sketching with the brush pen here, my son wearing his new Charleroi shirt. We spent some of our time on the train playing MarioKart on the Switch (I lost). When we got into Disneyland we had dinner at ‘King Ludwig’s Castle’, a lavishly decorated Bavarian themed restaurant, and we had hearty Bavarian fare (on our first night in France).
Disneyland Paris Fire Hydrant sm
On the other side of the main park, in the place where California Adventure would be, is a second park called Parc Walt Disney Studios. I liked it there, although there was not as much going on, except the incredible Ratatouille ride. That one we enjoyed. In that whole area there were a number of mobile food carts, one from each culinary area of France (crepes from Bretagne, tarte flambee from Alsace, cider from Normandy etc), and then around the corner there were more, but from different European countries (we had some nice sangria and tapas from Spain, while my son went back to enjoying his favourite Belgian waffles).
Disneyland Paris Ping Pong sm
The hotel was incredible. I enjoyed spending time in the pool, and they even gave my son a ball so he could have a kickaround on the grass (that made his trip). Above, I sketched my family playing ping-pong. Below, I tried one more fancy drink this time in the music-themed Cafe Fantasia. It was called the African Dream, made with rum, papaya, St Germain liqueur, lychee puree and bissap, I don’t know, I’ve heard of rum. It was tasty (and expensive), I got it because it looked like a vacation.

CBDBB8CF-313F-45ED-BCF0-8354E6A76505
Disneyland Paris Thunder Mountain sm
Above: Thunder Mountain Railroad, on an island in the middle of a lake. I drew this while tired legs were resting, colouring in later.
Eurostar Paris to London sm<
And finally, one more train journey, this time the Eurostar from Marne La Vallee to London, going back to the UK to see the family, go to a Spurs game at the new stadium, and hopefully unwind after a very busy trip.

to warwick and stratford

Warwick Castle
And now for the final part of our recent trip to Europe. I was determined that we’d visit a historic castle, something we don’t have many of here in California (sorry Mr Hearst, Mr Disney, but those ain’t castles). So we hit the motorway (thanks to my mum for driving us) up to Warwick, in central England. I had been there a few years ago, and knew it was a pretty great sight. Warwick Castle is a little theme-y (being owned by Merlin Entertainment now) but as it has a Horrible Histories maze and some fun jousting entertainment that doesn’t matter. Actually, we missed the jousting as it’s not every day (though I did see some four years ago, and it was fun). Warwick Castle is in a beautiful location on the banks of the Avon river, and a historically significant geopolitical spot, being in the middle of the country and therefore an important stronghold for the balance of power. The Earl of Warwick in the late middle ages was known as the ‘Kingmaker’, not without exaggeration. The site of Warwick Castle was founded as a ‘burh’ by the formidable Anglo-Saxon lady Æthelflæd, ruler of Mercia (also ‘Ethelfelda’). She fought against the invading Danes and the Welsh, she was also a daughter of Alfred the Great, and in fact there was a re-enactment of her funeral in June 2018 in nearby Gloucester. When William the Conqueror invaded in 1066, the Normans built a motte-and-bailey castle here on ‘Ethelfleda’s Mound’, and Warwick Castle was subsequently built up over the next few centuries by later lords and earls. The first Earl of Warwick was Henry de Beaumont, from 1088, and the 16th Earl, Richard Neville (who gained the title through marriage to Anne de Beauchamp) was the famed Warwick the Kingmaker, who rose to prominence during the Wars of the Roses before dying at the Battle of Barnet in 1471. There’s a lot more history too, but I was interested in the old armoury. The suit of armour below is actually a child’s armour, likely for ornamental purposes. I sketched the castle above while taking a break with my son, who didn’t want to walk around the dungeons.
Warwick Castle Armoury
We didn’t stay in Warwick, though I’d love to sketch that old city some day. Instead, we stayed the night in Stratford upon Avon at a place called Alveston Manor, a large country house converted into a hotel just a short walk from central Stratford. It was lovely, and I love drawing buildings like that. Stratford is Shakespeare’s town, and they do not ever let you forget it here. We did walk up to see Shakespeare’s birthplace, and walk along the Avon, and I had a huge knickerbocker glory (with extra chocolate) at a local pub. So good.
Stratford Upon Avon Alveston Manor
In the evening after watching France knock Belgium out of the World Cup, I walked down to the riverside as the last mid-summer light faded away, and sketched the bridge below. This was around 9:30pm at night. I decided to walk across the other bridge to get back to the hotel, whcih was a mistake. It was a logn bridge along a road with a fairly narrow path for pedestrians, and lots of cobwebs. During the day the cobwebs were quaint. In the evening they were covered with thousands of busy, chubby spiders, loving their little legs and spinning and completely freaking me out. They weren’t dangerous, unlike the ones in my Davis back yard right now, but so many of them moving all around me was pretty much the creepiest thing ever. I ran as quickly as I could, but it was a long bridge. Yeah, I’m not into spiders.
Stratford Upon Avon

disneyland

Disneyland Castle Dec2016

Before Christmas we took a family trip to Disneyland, down in southern California. I managed to get a couple of sketches in, namely the Fantasyland castle, and Flo’s V8 Cafe in Cars Land, over in the California Adventure park. Christmastime in Disneyland is fun. Hey what is your favourite Disney movie? I’m not including all the ones owned by Disney like Star Wars and Marvel movies, but the cartoons, and some of the live-action ones like Mary Poppins and stuff. I suppose Pixar counts as well. Mine is probably Jungle Book, or maybe Aladdin.

Disneyland Cars Land Dec 2016

These were the first sketches in my new Stillman and Birn (Beta) softbound landscape sketchbook. That’s a mouthful, so we’ll just call it the Sm&B(B)SbLsSb for short.

under dreaming spires

Disneyland Castle
The weekend of Thanksgiving was not spent gorging on leftover Turkey. Black Friday was not spent queuing up outside Best Buy at 4am to get $5 off an iphone or some other nonsense. No, the Scully Family went to the Happiest Place on Earth: Disneyland, California. We love Disneyland. Evidently a lot of other people do too because it was pretty busy, but fortunately my wife is an expert at strategizing Disneyland so we made full use of fast-passes, early entry, single-riders, and generally had a great time. Of course with the usual constant movement about, I only made time for a couple of sketches, and you can’t really sketch in line (no, you can’t, you really can’t. Those lines are long but they move). Above, Sleeping Beauty’s castle, all redecorated for Christmas. The Holiday Season at Disneyland is pretty mind-blowingly spectacular, the amount of decoration is incredible. In Cars Land for example the number of different types of cars-themed Christmas trees were staggering. I definitely recommend a visit. The Castle however is the centrepiece and was really pretty, especially at night. When the fireworks lit up the sky above, snow machines blew snowflakes over everyone. I drew it in the daytime as you can see. It was a warm day, t-shirt weather. My wife and son had gone back to the hotel for a nap (though actually they went and sat by the pool – late November folks, late November!) giving me some solo exploring time. I met them later to watch the parade, and we sat by the Disneyland Main St Station, where I did a quick sketch of Disneyland City Hall while waiting for the parade. No sketch of the parade though, you can’t really sketch parades, no you can’t, not really. Well, I can’t. Well I could, but I don’t want to.
Disneyland City Hall

I do love Disneyland, and would love to draw the whole thing. But you know how it is, you pay a lot of money to get in, you don’t want to sit in one place for two hours drawing a panorama when there’s so much to do! Like meeting Captain America. We did that. that was cool.

castling in holland park

castle holland park

Ok, more London sketches posted way after the fact. So if you were reading carefully you will have seen that on a Monday I sketched the Dublin Castle pub in London, and then the very next day I sketched a pub in the actual Dublin (not far from the castle, funnily enough). Well the story doesn’t end there. On the Friday, I sketched another pub in London, this one called…the Castle. Ok that’s enough doo-noo-noo-noo spookiness. This is the Castle in Holland Park. I came down to Holland Park to meet my friend Simon, who lives nearby in Shepherds Bush, and after dinner we came to this pub he told me about a while ago. I’d liked to have sketched the outside but it was too dark on this occasion, so we went in and we both sketched and chatted. I forgot to bring my chessboard; we usually like a game of chess when we meet, Magneto and Charles Xavier style (I’m Magneto of course). Hey look, the pub is on Twitter, according to the sign on the wall.

the kingmaker’s castle

Warwick Castle sm
I went somewhere I have never been this summer. I’ve never been to warwick. Never been to the Cotswolds. Stratford-upon-Avon, none of them, and I never even thought abut it until a couple of days before going there when my Mum said, I’ve got an idea, how about going to Warwick? Warwick, I thought, that’s in like the Midlands somewhere I think, oh yeah Warwick the Kingmaker, he had a castle I think. My years of studying maps of the UK and reading British history was not wasted then. I quickly saw that it was a bloody great idea, and it really was. I never see much of England, ever, usually if I go somewhere when I’m back in London I go abroad to the foreign lands where they speak foreign. I forget how lovely Britain and its countryside beyond the M25 can be. We used to go all over when I was a kid, Mum or Dad would drive us to lots of places around the country, Cornwall or Norfolk or Lancashire, and to be honest when I became an adult my interest in visiting different parts of Britain kind of fell away in a kind of “well they’re not going anywhere” kind of way. Warwick hadn’t even occurred to me, but let me tell you I’m glad it occurred to my Mum because it was great. Warwick Castle was one of the best castles I’ve ever been to – still pretty complete, full of rolling ramparts and sweeping towers, but also highly touristy with lots of swordplay medieval action going on – yeah, I LOVE that stuff! I sketched the towers above while we watched a falconry display.

IMG_1255And I did some archery. There I am look (a French shirt with an English longbow) getting my best Hawkeye on, bro. I was pretty good too, hit the yellow target many times, and didn’t hit a single caravan unlike the last time twenty odd years ago. Doesn’t half work your arm muscles though, but then so does standing around with a sketchbook. This was one of several little activities set up for kids and bigger kids, another was teaching young kids how to best use a sword. My Mum said, oh you’d get so bored standing doing that all day wouldn’t you. I’m like, eh, dressing up like a knight, playing with swords all day and teaching kids how to knock the stuffing out of dummies? That sounds like great fun!

We watched some pretty intense jousting down in the meadow by the river, before settling down to watch a display of medieval weaponry and warcraft. Yeah, I love it, all those swords and axes. Well actually I decided to have a little wander up some steps to the higher towers first, and sketched very quickly the scene below as the crowds (you can’t see them) gathered for the fighting demonstration. I didn’t add much detail to this one but here it is anyway.

Warwick Castle above sm
Now a bit of history. Warwick Castle is about a thousand years old, with William the Conqueror building a motte and bailey fort shortly after the Norman invasion upon an existing Anglo-Saxon burh. That’s an old fortified settlement the English used to create to protect against Danish invaders. London was a burh once too, in the days of Alfred the Great, Lundenburh. The burh of Warwick was located near the old Roman road, the Fosse Way, which was really handy, making this a vital position. William gave Warwick to one of his Norman henchmen, Henry de Beaumont, who became Warwick’s first Earl. In 1260 the castle had a major upgrade when they decided stone walls might be better than the old wooden ones. Simon de Montfort came and conquered it in 1264, but the castle soon passed into the Beauchamp family, and eventually passed to the Nevilles. The most famous of the Neville family was probably Richard, known as the “Kingmaker”, which sounds like a really cool IMG_1307name for an old pistol, but was actually a fairly bogstandard indie band from the early 1990s. No, he was important during the Wars of the Roses, but died in the Battle of Barnet (again, probably a reference to early 1990s indie bands’ haircuts). His daughter Anne married Richard III, who actually took possession of the castle and made a number of significant improvements, yet ironically did not think to build the car park less than twenty minutes walk from the castle. Funny how karma works, eh Richard. There’s Richard the Third on the right. I didn’t sketch him, but I did do his famous “Now…” speech from the Shakespeare play, “Now something something something”Other stuff happened down the centuries, withstood a siege in the Civil War, Capability Brown came and did some landscape gardening, Canaletto came and did a painting, and then finally I came along and did a little bit of archery, that pretty much brings us up to date. More history lessons next time!
Warwick weaponry sm
We went into the armoury to wait for a tour. What actually happened next was that the sky decided to turn into an unbelievable storm, nringing a downpour so heavy that almost everybody in the castle grounds tried to squeeze into the same room as me. No tour, then. Convenient timing. It gave me an opportunity to do a little more sketching, so I sketched the antique firearms above, including the long-barreled 18th century Blunderbuss. “You homo sapiens and yer guns.” The rain did not let up, so I sketched the armour of a jousting knight on horseback. This only took me fifteen minutes. I sketched really quickly, while my Mum went looking around the Royal Weekend Party rooms.
Warwick Knight sm

The rain stopped in time for the long walk back to the car park, and time for some much-longed-for fish and chips on the way to the hotel, in the nearby village of Barford. Yeah, Warwick is really nice. Good suggestion, Mum!

all hallows by the tower

all-hallows-by-the-tower
London’s skyline changes every time I come back. The City now has at least two skyscrapers that were not there last year, dwarfing other prominent 21st century additions like the Gherkin. It is an ever-changing city and it always has been. Above is one building that, while subject to many modifications and rebuildings over the centuries, has pretty much the entire span of London history within its foundations. All-Hallows-By-The-Tower, a small and often overlooked church which sits right next to the Tower of London (which is rather handy given its name), is said to be the oldest church in London, founded in 675, though its main building and spire date from the 1650s (though greatly rebuilt after it was damaged in the Blitz). After drawing it, with one of London’s newest towers being constructed in the background, I popped inside for a look around, to learn a bit more about its history. There is an actual Saxon-era arch still standing, and if you go below to the crypt museum you can see some original Roman tiled paving – this church was built on the site of an building from the days of Londinium. On my tours years ago I used to tell Americans the two things I knew about the place: William Penn was baptised here, Pennsylvania fans, and John Quincy Adams was married here, you know, President number 6 (I never needed to go into too much historical detail as the open-top bus would be swinging past it too quickly, this being the home stretch). It was nice to finally come and spend some time looking at it and learning about it.
Tower of London

I also sketched a bit of the Tower of London itself. You want some history, here’s some history. This is the White Tower, the oldest part of the Tower, built by William the Conqueror. I don’t need to tell you the history of the Tower. Once on my old tour though I was telling people about the Tower, when one guy with a nasal midwest accent piped in, “hey, that’s not a tower.” Er, yes, it’s the Tower of London. “But it’s not a tower!” he insisted. Perhaps when I told him about the Tower he had been expecting Barad-dur or something, but I pointed out that yes, it is a tower,  though your personal definition of the word tower may be based on a modern idea rather narrower than the name of a building that has been around for 900 years. However to appease him I announced to the tour bus that had now arrived at the stop for the “Normano-Plantagenet-Tudor compound of castle, palace, tower, prison, moat and ramparts of London”. Nobody got off, so I assured them, “Here we are at the Tower of London! Have fun, and remember the Crown Jewels aren’t all crowns and they aren’t all jewels!”