Tuesday, 28 July 2015


After returning from a few years working in Hong Kong, my daughter Joanna decided to buy her first home and after a lot of searching we found a little Edwardian end terrace house in Farnborough.  It still had some period features like this roll topped bath and an old fashioned chain flush loo.  She worked hard to decorate and tidy up and I'll never forget the state of the kitchen when we started to clean under the cupboards!

This is a bit romanticised as there were really high hedges in front but that vine over the door was a passion flower which was laden with blooms in summer.  Joanna worked hard in her garden and had a lovely display at the back with pots full of pansies and geraniums.

I made some red roman blinds for her lounge windows and her sister Justine made the white curtains and supplied her old sofas. A dining table and chairs came form other members of the family and we all helped out with crockery and cooking utensils etc.
Gradually Joanna built herself a lovely home which she lived in and loved for several years.  Bob and I stayed there for 3 months between selling our house and moving to France in 2002. 

Here's a sketch of the pots I gave Joanna when they were in my last English garden.  I couldn't bring them all here so they were given a lovely new home at Jo's.
Next time I'll take you for a visit to Trebeurden one of our favourite holiday sailing destinations.

Sunday, 26 July 2015


I've decided it's time to scan all my sketchbooks and started with no1, a small spiral bound Bristol card pad, which I bought in a wonderful old fashioned stationery shop, one of my customers when I was a sales agent.  I had got to the town early for an appointment and thought I could pass the time drawing this old pine tree in the car park as I ate my sandwich lunch.

At the same time I bought a book by Claudia Nice called Watercolour techniques with pen and ink, in which the author demonstrates textures and ways of depicting different surfaces.  I used a fine black micron pen and later bought a Rapidograph, a refillable draughting pen but I didn't look after it properly and it broke after a couple of years.  I found a neat plastic folder to keep my pen, pad, a few watercolour pencils and a waterbrush all together in the car so I could sketch at any moment.

As a sales agent I covered the south east of England so I went to many interesting places to sell my wares, mainly decorative stationery, cards and record books as well as jewellery, toiletries and picture frames.  This is a windmill in the pretty Kent town of Cranbrook where I had several customers and I used to spend at least a morning there popping back to the car to collect my various bags of samples for different gift shop owners to see.

I always carried my sketchbook with me at the weekends as well to use when we relaxed on our boat which was moored on a buoy in Portsmouth harbour.  Porchester castle was not far from our boat and this is the view looking north as I sat on the deck on a summer's afternoon.

The south downs were lovely in the afternoon sun as I drove home after a busy day and I couldn't resist stopping to draw the rolling hills and clouds.

Looking the other way to the east on the boat we could see Portsmouth naval port with aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious moored alongside.

One of our suppliers was St Justin, a Celtic jewellery manufacturer, based at Penzance in Cornwall.  We were invited to visit the factory for a sales conference and had the great fortune to be put up in a hotel at Marazion, directly opposite Mont St Michel.  What a great opportunity to draw this fantastic edifice from the comfort of our room.

I even had time one day, sitting in a traffic jam to sketch these daisies I could see at the road side.
I hope you've enjoyed this first look at my early sketches and there are lots more to come.
There are a few older sketchbooks too but they are rather scruffy, drawn in pencil that has smudged over the years.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

PLOUMANAC'H, France's favourite village

If you've read my profile at the side of my blog you'll know that I live in a beautiful part of northern Brittany in France so when a recent poll elected a part of our commune, Ploumanach, the favourite village of the French I was not surprised that it should get the recognition it deserves.

We've lived here now for over 12 years and visited for at least 10 years before that so I know it pretty well.  My sketchbooks date back to 2003 and I've found many sketches and a few watercolours to share with you.

The village is in the heart of the 'Cote de Granite rose,' a wonderful coastline of weathered pink granite rocks weathered by the elements into strange shapes and all the buildings use the same stone so the whole place has a lovely rosy glow. 
It was featured on national TV and the mayor laid on a typical evening for the presentation with fresh local seafood and our prize winning 'Bagad' group playing Breton music.

The inner harbour has a couple of tide mills that were used centuries ago to work the wheels to grind grain, but now are used for small art exhibitions. There are moorings for shallow draught boats in the inner harbour, accessible only at high water as there is a sill to keep the water in at low tide.
The first time we tried to come in with our boat we were turned away as we had too deep a draught to be able to stay afloat. When we walked back here from Perros the next day we were amazed at the difference between high and low water, there was no water in this channel and the traditional boats moored there had legs to keep them upright in the mud!

There are lots of little fishing boats tied to the wall here that float when the tide comes in as well as several traditional boats that take part in the annual regatta.

This is a very early drawing from my first sketchbook, I think I've improved a bit since then!
Every year we look forward to the 'Vieux Greements' festival of the sea with it's traditional boats on display, decked in flags and the opportunity to spend an evening with our friends eating mussels and mackerel and listening to local 'chants de marins' and celtic bands.

I was inspired by the bright colours of the tenders parked by the harbour wall for this sketch.

Around the coast the rock formations are breathtaking, something we tend to forget till we take new friends to see the sights and see their reactions to the wonderful sights.
I've sketched this one lots of times and here's the watercolour I did about 12 years ago before we moved here.
I hope you've enjoyed my vision of our now famous village, I think I'll have to scan some more of those early sketches to share with you, what do you think?

Friday, 10 July 2015


Although we were disappointed to have left St Jean de Luz earlier than we had hoped, we were delighted to find ourselves at Chateau Maubats at just the right time to be able to go to the evening farmer's féte, celebrating all the local produce of the region, animal as well as vegetable.
This is a group of  dancers from the marais (marsh) area near the coast and someone explained to me that the shepherds use stilts to walk with their sheep, to save getting their feet wet and also to be able to see them all from a distance.  The girls were beautifully dressed in their colourful costumes and danced in a circle surrounded by the men and boys, also dancing on their stilts.

Monsegur, where the féte took place is a small bastide town in the middle of beautiful rolling countryside.  A bastide is a town with a central square surrounded with arcades giving shelter from the hot sun as well as rain.  The market building is usually in the middle instead of the church as in predominantly Catholic towns.
The fete took place in the car park just outside the town and was filled with stalls of cattle, sheep and poultry.  There was a parade of these magnificent 'chevaux de trait' working horses, mostly well behaved except the bottom left one, the Breton horse, who got rather frisky when he saw the crowds admiring him.

There were several different types of cattle but I was really taken with these 'Blondes d'Aquitaine.  The way they were standing looked as if they were having a quiet gossip in the middle of all the activity!

The sheep were a breed especially grown for their meat and this group were waiting patiently to take part in the sheep shearing display.  They looked quite different after their hot coats were taken off!

The main part of the féte was the opportunity to taste all the different foods produced by the farmers showing their animals.  There were 20 different stalls selling everything from chicken, steak, lamb, bread, cheese and duck breast which we had for our dinner.  These snails which had been raised a few kilometres down the road were cooked in 2 different sauces, parsley and garlic and tomato and herbs, so we had some of each and I can honestly say they were the tastiest, tenderest snails I've ever eaten. 
We washed it all down with a delicious bottle of Robert's Bordeaux superior red wine as of course Guylaine was manning their stall being one of the local wine producers.
We had a very pleasant evening, chatting to the locals next to us as we ate on the long tables and were sad to leave as it started to get dark and it was time to go home to our camper car with our new friends, Georges and Janine who were also staying on the vineyard.  The next morning we awoke to more rain so we decided to set off for the last leg of our journey home.

Sunday, 5 July 2015


We left a damp St Jean de Luz on Friday morning and headed north to Chateau Maubats vineyard in the Bordeaux wine region, in the middle of beautiful rolling countryside, covered in vines.  We met Robert and Guylaine Armellin at our local Easter wine fair at Perros about 10 years ago and have been buying their delicious wine ever since. 

They have a couple of friendly German Shepherd dogs, this is Hyana who joined the family 5years ago to replace Douchka who had been poisoned by a snake bite.

The bastide village of Monsegur is only 7 kilometres away and we spent a lovely evening there at the Nocturnal fair of livestock and local foods which I'll tell you about in the next blog.  We cycled there on Saturday morning and found the place almost empty and the restaurants closed, probably still sleeping after a busy Friday night!

At the vineyard we parked our camper car on the grassy area at the front of the house and this is the lovely view looking out over the fields and vines.  The weather was very hot while we were there and we had to sit under our parasol to keep cool.

Here is Tais, the older of Robert's dogs who remembered us from our previous visits when she slept under the car, keeping watch for intruders.  Now she is an old lady and sleeps most of the time, maybe still mourning the loss of her daughter Douchka. 

Another new addition to the family is Maloya, a tiny kitten who fitted into the palm of my hand, but didn't sit still for long before she was off to play with Hyana.
Here they are playing catch, Hayana has adopted Maloya as her own and is very gentle playing hide and seek around the furniture.

In their back garden is a wonderful cherry tree and we were delighted to be invited to gather as many as we wanted to take home. They were absolutely delicious, I've never eaten such fresh fruit!

Another tree was a hazelnut with it's nuts only just beginning to form so I plucked a twig to draw in the coloured sketchbook.
Next time I'll share my sketches from the livestock fair so à bientot and have a happy Sunday!

Friday, 3 July 2015


We left Spain on a rainy Saturday after an aborted effort to stop at Bilbao to visit the Guggenheim museum and stopped at St Jean de Luz just inside the French frontier.  We've been here several times before but this time we stayed in a different campsite a bit further from the town.  The plots were shaded by beautiful mulberry trees, laden with fruit, so we made sure not to park directly beneath the branches!  Every day I collected a bowl full of these delicious fruit which were easily reached from the ground.

On Sunday morning we cycled into town and found the whole place buzzing with life for 'la fète de Dieu'  The service in the cathedral was broadcast into the streets filling the air with beautiful singing and there were groups of dancers on every corner performing their traditional dances.  We gradually made our way to the central square where all the groups were congregating to perform on the stages that had been set up.

We sat with a cool beer in a shady bar and watched all the activity and when one of the dancers saw my sketches she insisted on taking a photo on her phone!  I made several videos and took lots of photos with the intention of doing more sketches later.

Here are a few scribbles from some of the photos but there are lots more to have a go at later. 
I'd like to link to one of the videos but blogger doesn't seem to want to let me!
So here is one of stills instead!

The architecture in the Basque region of France is very distinctive with shallow sloping roofs with a wide overhang for shade and the buildings have colourful wood decoration on the facades.  This is one of the café bars in the square drawn from another one opposite. 
St Jean de Luz is famous for being the town where France and Spain signed a peace treaty as well as the wedding of the Spanish Infanta to Louis XIV in 1660.
We stayed here for 6 days until the weather turned damp again and it was time to be on our way northwards.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015


Our next port of call was back on the north coast near  Ribadeo, a town on a river which we passed by road but didn't actually visit as we had so much fun by the sea about 15 kilometres away.  This is the view from just across the road from the campsite we stayed in and we could hear the breakers through the night when the wind picked up. 
 I really enjoyed sitting here drawing with my crayons, the sun on my back and listening to the sea.

The road followed the coast and it was amazing to be cycling along with the sea at our sides, the sun shining and very little traffic to contend with.  There was a part of the coast called the praia cathedrais, or cathedral beach where the sea had carved out arches which could only be seen at low water.
We stopped there one morning and found it very crowded with coach parties and school children all enjoying the sights.  It was impossible to sit and sketch as I had hoped so I took lots of photos and drew these 2 sketches later in the tranquillity back at camp.

When we arrived at this camp there was plenty of space and I selected one near the boundary which had a nice view across to the hills.  I drew this while Bob snoozed after our first lunch here in the camp café.  By teatime the place was filling up and my view was a couple of  Dutch caravans instead!

We cycled along the coast every day we stayed here and found a tiny fishing village called Rinlo about 12 kilometres away.  I sketched the restaurant by the bridge as we sipped our beers in the bar opposite. 
A few days later we returned to have lunch there and what a feast, imagine perfectly cooked slices of ultra fresh octopus followed by the house speciality 'Arros Caldosa de Marisco'  a kind of seafood soup full of prawns, lobster, shellfish and rice washed down with chilled Albarino wine from Galicia.
We were in foodie heaven and then a lovely slow cycle back to camp really made our day!

The paths along the road and sea in this area were covered in a wonderful array of wild flowers, different to the ones I saw at Ribadesella so I gathered another bouquet to draw.
I managed to identify all except the one on the right that also comes in red and looks a bit like clover from a distance but on close inspection the leaves are different and the flowers are a bit like vetch.  Any ideas?
Next time we're on our way back to France, à bientot!