This is my first trip out to the estate (H.T.E.) this year and it was a glorious afternoon. I usually go out in the morning’s, when I visit, but after chatting with my boss, Phil, he agreed I could swap over to the afternoon to try and take advantage of the better weather that was forecast. I have an ongoing “project” to make a sketch/photo archive of the Estate before it gets developed for the zoo’s new venture – The National Wildlife Conservation Park
And as part of my “in-house” training I have a free sketch morning every two weeks – work allowing. Of course that does mean that there are weeks when I cannot get out for my “free” sketch mornings, so I really appreciate it when I can.
The day was a mix of bright sunshine, cloud cover and some rain, but as the afternoon approached thankfully most of the rain had moved on. Still it was cold and a wee bit blustery, especially on in the wooded escarpment. At times the wind picked up and howled through the bare tree branches, sending icy chills through me even though I had dressed accordingly with thermals, thick warm coat, scarf and wellies. It was quite squidgey in places underfoot, too and a few times I nearly came a cropper on the steep muddy tracks through the trees.
But what a fab day it was… the light was gorgeous and the Spring flowers were showing.
The snowdrops were as good as finished apart from a few patches here and there, the daffodils were starting to look good, primroses were starting to flower and I even saw one or two bluebell heads just breaking into colour. I started the afternoon sitting to one side the driveway that leads up to the manor house. I had been told there was a good show of daffodils here, so I got out my new comfier foldaway chair and sat to sketch them. A fine investment of £5 in the January sales! Much better than the tripod stool I have used for the last 20 or so years!
After about an hour I had finished my sketch - using an ink drawing pen followed by watercolour paint. I had gotten quite cold, sitting still for that time, so I marched on across the fields towards the wooded escarpment, which warmed me up nicely. Just as well, because it was a bit chillier in under the trees, out of direct sunlight!
Wildlife-wise during the afternoon I saw a rabbit and roe deer about 20 times (although I am sure a number of these were the same animals) especially towards the end of the afternoon in the wood. The bucks are in velvet and several of both sexes looked quite scruffy coat-wise on their backs- I guess they are moulting out their thicker winter coats now. Late afternoon I saw the resident male fox with his strong orange coloured coat. He trotted along the wood path towards me, stopped, watched me for about 30 seconds before turning and making his escape quickly.
Buzzards hung in the wind hanging almost stationary in the air above the treetops, catching the strong updrafts that must sweep up the Bristol Channel, across the flat land before hitting and rising up and through the trees over the escarpment. There were clear views across to the Estuary and I could see both Severn Crossing bridges clearly. Jays, crows, blackbirds and numerous other birds called, some warning about my approach to all who wanted to listen as I walked or sat in the woods.
I sat in one of the large “bowls” on the lower side of the wood. I had spotted my first deer of the day, a pair of roe walking by higher on the slope. They did not seem aware of me and ambled by slowly without even glancing in my direction. I set myself up in my chair against the trunk of a large tree to get a little protection from the icy wind blowing through. I kept my eyes open for more deer as I sketched, but didn’t see any until an hour or so later as I walked on through the woods, taking the long route on the way back to my car.
Sitting in the bowl I had a panoramic view of the wood.. it is still open and airy whilst there are no leaves on the trees… but it won’t be long before it will feel dark and enclosed by the summer’s canopy.
I sketched a fallen moss covered branch and got even colder than earlier. As the afternoon wore on, I phoned in with the garden department, that are permanently on site, to let them know I would be staying after their clocking off time; it was arranged that I would drop the keys into one of the one-site cottages as I left so that they would know I was safe and off site.
I wanted to see the sun go down and experience the wood at this time. As I walked on I had no need to hurry - unlike when I am there in the mornings, when I have to get back to the zoo to work. It was wonderful to have that time and to be able to stop and watch the deer. For most of the time the strong gusting wind was in my favour, being downwind my sounds and smell did not reach the deer as they walked through the lower part of the wood. However, as the wood is so open at the moment, it was easy for them to see me so I was careful to use large trees to hide behind, if I spotted them first.
The lowering orangey light, shining through the trees in a few places, looked stunning. By the time I got back up to the walled garden, where I had parked my car earlier, it was sundown. I got a few photo’s of trees silhouetted against the sunset. Perfect end to a wonderful afternoon.