Watercolour painting – The story so far

I thought it would be fun to ask my twitter followers for suggestions for my next post.  One of them (@MillRoadCambs – worth a follow if you are on twitter, also their blog is interesting too) suggested that I should post an update on my watercolour painting.

Looking back at my posts, the last time I wrote about my painting was October 2011, so it’s definitely time for an update.

I began taking watercolour classes in September 2011 and continue to attend classes on a Tuesday evening.  The class is taught by Sarah Spruce, who makes the classes a fun and interesting way to learn the medium.  Like me, most of the people who attend have also been going since the classes started.

It’s a lovely way to spend a Tuesday evening 🙂  Classes are held in Barrington Social Club, a Wednesday afternoon class is also held for those unable to attend on a Tuesday evening.

Sarah’s teaching style ensures that we are encouraged to learn and progress at our own pace.  Classes are structured to incorporate a short demonstration and class discussion, in the remaining time we spend time working on our  projects, with Sarah offering advice and guidance on a one to one basis throughout the evening.

I have learnt that I am not very patient when it comes to painting, so I have been trying to overcome that.  It doesn’t always work and sometimes I feel that a few of my paintings would have looked better left as drawings!

Below are most of my paintings so far.  The first one (below) was my first ever attempt, as you can see I have improved since then, which feels like a big achievement 🙂 A few paintings are pictures I have drawn from magazines and then painted my own version of, others are from photographs I have taken.  Some paintings are still a ‘work in progress’ (some have been in progress longer than others!).

The painting at the very top of this post is from a photograph of my village church, which I painted for my mum and gave her for Christmas last year.


I thought I would also add a short history behind watercolour painting to this post. I have ‘cheated’ a little with this.  I submitted an article about the classes, and the history of watercolour, to a local website but it didn’t get published…so I am pasting part of it in to this post 🙂

Here is what I wrote..

Watercolour is a very versatile medium which has existed since pre-historic times; the earliest use can be traced back to our ancestor’s caves.  Primitive versions of watercolour, a mixture of natural minerals such as ochre and charcoal, became an outlet to depict wild beasts they encountered daily.

Over time the medium began to evolve thanks to greater technical awareness, improvements in pigments and innovations in paper manufacturing from China.  Watercolour painting eventually became popular with 12 century western artists who were also swayed by Chinese decorative use of paint.

However, an important breakthrough in 1832 further improved the life of the watercolour artist.  William Winsor and Henry Newton, using their background in science, formulated an enhanced version of the paint.  Described as ‘moist’, this new version meant that artists could apply paint with a wet brush for the first time.

In 1841 the innovative pair, known in the trade as ‘colourmen’, discovered metal tubes developed by an American painter.  Winsor and Newton realised the tubes would be an ideal aid for storing their paint and quickly patented it, eventually adding screw caps.  Storing the paint in tubes ensured it could be kept in larger quantities whilst also keeping the depth and strength of the ‘wash’ intact.

Watercolour techniques and styles have continued to evolve, ensuring it remains a popular genre in the 21st century.

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My Favourite Place – Brighton Seafront

I recently spent a weekend in Brighton, on England’s south coast.  It is a favourite place of mine to go for a weekend away, I would throughly recommend it to anyone reading this.

Situated on the East Sussex coast, an hour by train from London, Brighton has the vibe of both bustling city and relaxing seaside town.  Many other words can be used to describe it, such as; atmospheric, cool, picturesque, bohemian, unique, accepting, diverse, exciting, stylish, interesting, fun, quirky and arty.  Where else, for instance, would you find a shop selling vegetarian shoes, an eccentric royal pavilion, an opera themed restaurant complete with a live opera singer and Volks, the oldest working electric railway track, which runs a short distance along the seafront.  There is so much I could write about Brighton itself, but for this post I am going to stick to my favourite part, which is the amazing seafront.


Before I write about the seafront I feel I need to do a mini review of the restaurant mentioned above. Little Bay is a brilliant place to eat out if you are looking for something a bit different with amazing food.  Looking out to sea, the plain red exterior shows no sign of what you will find inside.  The entire venue is decorated to make you feel you at an opera.  Downstairs there are large group tables, but if it’s a table for two you need there are tables upstairs which really make you feel you have your own box at an opera.  It’s such a fun place to be, you need to experience it!

The food itself is very affordable, desserts for instance are just over £2.00! (the desserts at my local pub are about £6.00!!).  I ordered garlic mushrooms for starter, duck with spiced red cabbage then the cheese board for dessert.  The duck was really tasty and the spiced red cabbage was GORGEOUS, but incredibly spicy, so be warned!  I could have eaten more of it! And yes, as advertised, an opera singer was in attendance from 8.30 pm.  Eating amazing food, whilst entertained by a wandering opera singer, made for a great evening out!

Back to the seafront, which is where I tend to spend most of my time when I visit Brighton.  I’m instantly drawn to it but also find it hard to leave!

Up until 1750 Brighton was seen as dilapidated, depressed and not worth rebuilding.  In 1750 a physician in Lewes (a short train ride from Brighton) wrote a paper suggesting that bathing in sea water could cure most ‘human ills’, whiten teeth, clear the head and was good for the bowels!  The papers became highly influential and Brighton’s townsfolk saw an opportunity to make money from the sea.  Brighton, especially its seafront, became very popular.  Bathing machines, or huts on wheels pulled by horses, became a regular site and many in number. You can read more about this in a lovely little book called ‘The Neat and Nippy Guide to Brighton’s History’

These days Brighton seafront is a mixture of art, sporty pursuits, souvenir shops and many bars.  Although there is a very busy main road running alongside the seafront the atmosphere is still one of a relaxed, fun nature.  I love to sit down by the beach, take in the atmosphere, great views and people watch.

Brighton is also known as the ‘gay capital of England’ which makes the mix of people so varied.  It has a feeling of people just being able to be themselves whatever their style, sexuality, age or interests. I think its diversity is the thing I love the most about Brighton.

The iconic piers are a talking point. The West Pier is now just a shell of what it used to be.  In 2002 part of it collapsed in a storm, in 2003 more of it was destroyed in an arson attack.  There is no funding available to restore it but the remaining shell is an iconic sight, it is made even more iconic at dusk when starlings can be seen circling around it.  They are an awesome sight and one of the things I most remember about my first ever visit.  If you’d like to see the starlings there are a few videos on youtube, I have added one to the bottom of this post. Brighton Pier is now the main pier and exactly what you’d expect a pier to be like, it’s fun and brash and makes a lovely walk.  The two piers are opposites in every way but the two of them together are an impressive sight.

A new seafront feature is a big wheel, which is worth travelling on for the amazing views. You also get a history of Brighton as you go round, told by the comedian Steve Coogan! It is very interesting but the ride includes several rotations, which means you get to hear the same history a few times!

There is so much more I could write but I feel this post is probably long enough as it is!  So, I will leave you with the video of the starlings.  Enjoy!

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Etiquette and Manners – an afternoon with William Hanson

As mentioned in my previous post, the second half of my day last Saturday was spent learning about etiquette and manners, with nineteen other tea party guests.   The event was run by The Secluded Tea Party with guest speaker William Hanson, who is an experienced speaker on all things etiquette.

We all gathered in the fabulous library of The Hotel Du Vin, whilst the tea party room next door received its finishing touches and official photographs were taken.  Meeting in the library was a great way to start as guests were able to spend some time chatting with people they had only just met, or catching up with friends.

Once the room was ready we were taken through to a beautifully set out table.  The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly and all were eager to learn the rights and wrongs of drinking tea, eating and behaving in the correct manner.

Stunning sandwiches and cakes were places in front us to enjoy and practice our good manners on.  A selection of tea pots with three different tea flavours to choose from were also placed on the table.  Each table place included a card with an etiquette tip attached to it, which was a nice addition.


William is an amusing and knowledgable speaker and ensured the whole table were involved, using practical tips, questions and discussions before each course.  The afternoon was a fun way to learn about manners, etiquette and traditions, aswell as enjoying the food and tea on offer.

One of the ‘rules’ we practised was the traditional way to behave around the table, which is the men pour the tea, offer food and guide the conversation with the lady on his right.  This was quite tricky in practice as out of the twenty guests only one was a man, so some of us had to pretend to be a man for the afternoon, which caused some initial amusement and confusion!

Afternoon tea conversation should be light, steering clear of controversial subjects.  The correct way for a lady to leave a table should she need to visit the lady’s room was also discussed.  A lady should not disclose where she is going, if returning she should leave her napkin on her chair.  The gentlemen of the table should stand until she has left the room.

Here is a selection of other interesting things we discovered.

Tea – milk or water first?

When making a cup of tea, do you put the water in first or the milk and is there a right or wrong way to do it?

Traditionally it used to depend on whether you were a servant or not.  It is thought that servants would always put the milk in first as their mugs would usually be made of clay.  If they were to put the boiling water in first the clay would have exploded, so milk went in first.  However, those upstairs would enjoy their tea in porcelain cups which wouldn’t be affected by the hot water, they would put the boiling water in first.

Did you know there is also a correct way to stir tea?  It should be stirred backwards and forwards.  William described it a 6, 12, 6, 12 motion.


Scones should not be cut in half, the right way to half a scone is to find the natural centre and break down the centre.  When I tried this with my scone it immediately crumbled in to a heap on my plate!

Obviously scones can’t be mentioned without the jam or cream first debate! Of course, there is no right way, it depends on the person.  When you do add a condiment to a scone you should keep it placed on the plate rather than hold it in the air. The scone debate got the table discussing their preferences, whilst the bakers in the room also shared their tips on how to make the perfect scone.

Interestingly we discovered, whilst enjoying our scones, that bread should also never be cut.  Also, if you are spreading anything on your bread or toast it is proper to pull it to pieces and add your chosen spread to each piece!

Revolving doors

The conversation didn’t just stick to food and drink, one unrelated tradition involved revolving door manners.  Apparently revolving door etiquette dictates that when a woman also needs to use the door the man should be first to go round, letting the woman alight first.  The man should then carry on round again until it’s his turn to alight!

William was a great speaker and the afternoon was a fun, insightful way to spend a couple of hours.  I loved discovering the many manners and traditions related to food and drink, and other forms of etiquette.

Two more events have been lined up, one in Cambridge (again at the Hotel Du Vin) and one in Knightsbridge.  If you are interested, please keep an eye on the brilliant Secluded Tea Party blog or its website above.  I would highly recommend it, especially if you are looking for something a little bit different.

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Scarecrows, but not as you know them! – Haslingfield Scarecrow Festival

Last Saturday was an interesting mixture of the odd and the ‘proper’  In the morning I went to a scarecrow festival, in the afternoon I went to a tea party devoted to etiquette and manners.  It definitely made a fascinating and enjoyable day out!  This post is about the scarecrows, my next post is about how I learnt the ‘rights and wrongs’ of drinking and eating 🙂


Haslingfield is one of my neighbouring villages and lies 5 miles south-west of Cambridge, I travel through it every day on my bus journey to and from work.  Every two years that journey is made much more interesting as, one  week in September, odd things begin appearing around the village!

These peculiar objects are part of Haslingfield’s Scarecrow Festival weekend, which has been running every two years since 2000.  Originally the scarecrows were part of their millennium celebrations, the scarecrows were such a popular idea it has been a part of the village calendar ever since.

Originally the event included around fifty scarecrow entries, recent festivals have seen the number increasing to two hundred!  The festival is fun and aims to involve the whole community, whilst also rasing money for restoration of the village church and a number of other charities.


As you can see, the scarecrows are not scarecrows as you would imagine them to be, but fun and creative masterpieces.  Although admittedly some of them could also be described as a bit creepy!  The squirrel at the top of this post was amazing and definitely my favourite, but there were many others which came close.  I have included a few of my pics in this post, I took too many to include them all!

It was a perfect sunny day for a walk around the whole of the village.  Many of the scarecrows are found down the side roads, which those travelling through don’t get to see from the main road.  It was the first time I had been to the festival so it was lovely to walk around the whole village, with scarecrows as an added bonus.

This years festival also included a dog show, an art exhibition, a fete and a barbecue amongst other things.  It is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area in September 2014!  A Google search shows many other places that hold similar events.

Also, if you would like to make one yourself check out http://www.makescarecrows.com/ or http://www.channel4.com/4homes/how-to/crafts/how-to-make-a-scarecrow


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St Mary’s Church and a Canadian Canoe

As regular readers know I occasionally like to spend a day in my local city (Cambridge) pretending to be a tourist.  I did just that recently with a friend of mine.  It involved walking up and down 123 steps, picnicking in the company of some cows and canoeing down the Cam!

St Mary’s Church

Our first stop was the eight hundred year old St Mary’s Church, situated in Cambridge’s market place.  Although a parish church, it is also known as the University Church.  It became the church of choice for university ceremonies and official meetings in the 13th century, although it was also used as the first home of the University when scholars from Oxford arrived in the 12th century.  If you would like to find out more about the University of Cambridge’s history you can do so here.

I visited the church a few months ago, but didn’t walk up the 123 steps of its tower.  At the time I was put of this by seeing a reasonably fit man looking very unfit after having walked up and down the steps!  I thought, if it’s hard enough for him, there’s no point in me trying

However, my friend was not going to let me get away with not walking up it a second time so up we went. There is a very small fee for the trip up the tower, it is definitely worth taking the time to go up!  I was surprised how easy it was to climb the steep narrow steps and we reached the top in no time at all!  I wasn’t sure why I had put it off before!

Here are some pictures of the view from the top.


The view from the top really is lovely.  A word of warning though…walking up the steep narrow steps is much easier than walking down them.  By the time we got down our thighs had turned to jelly!

Canadian Canoeing

After resting our wobbly legs we walked along ‘the backs’ (the area which encompasses the river Cam and University colleges) towards one of the Punting stations in the Silver Street/Mill Pond area of Cambridge.  Before I go any further here is a guide to punting.  I also like this little guide too.  I discovered once that ‘Punting’ means different things in different places, I confused someone once!

So, after having a little picnic surrounded by cows (yes, cows! Cambridge is a city but there are some enclosed public green spaces where cows wander freely about!).  Here is a pic of me and some cows!

Once we had eaten we took to the water in a Canadian Canoe, which you can hire from one of the many boat hire companies in Cambridge, Scudamores.  Having never done anything like it before I was slightly nervous.  I have been on the Cam on a punt before (always chauffeured, never self punted…it would be a disaster, hehe) but have never paddled down it, especially as the thought of falling in it makes me feel a little ill!

However, it was surprisingly easy to do, there were two of us so we were based at opposite ends.  Using the paddle came very naturally to me.

It can be quite expensive though as they charge you a fixed amount for the first hour and then in increments (minutes not hours!) after that.  Also, you pay the hire charge at the end of your time, so if you aren’t careful you might pay more than you intended to. Something to bear in mind.

Parts of the river, which is the route to Granchester, are gorgeous and like being somewhere other than Cambridge.  Cambridge is like that, one moment you are in the busy city then you walk through college grounds, the backs, or go on the river and it’s has such a different atmosphere and feel.

Everything is so close together but completely different.

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Adventures in Northern Ireland, Part 4 – Glenarm/Dalriada Festival

(note..this post is quite long, so you may want to skip to the bits that interest you the most, although I hope you read it all of course!)

The village of Glenarm dates back to the Norman era and is the oldest village in the Glens.  A twenty-five minute drive from Larne and 40 minutes from Belfast, it is worth visiting just for the beautiful coastal scenery alone along the way! The picture above was taken in Glenarm Marina, it’s one of my favourite pics I took whilst on holiday, I love boats 🙂

My initial reason for deciding to visit Northern Ireland was because I wanted to attend the Dalriada Festival, where two of my favourite singers were headlining.  Once I’d got my ticket I decided it would be great to turn it in to a proper holiday, I’m glad I did 🙂 (see first three parts!)

Glenarm Castle (see above pic) has been the family home of the Earls of Antrim for 400 years.  The castle is occasionally open to visitors, whilst events are held in the grounds all through the year.  There is also a walled garden, Ireland’s oldest, which is open between May and September.

Originally the castle grounds were host to a two-day highland games event, it was then decided to transform it in to festival incorporating the games, along side fine food and music.  The result of the restructure was the Dalriada Festival, which now spans a two-week period, with the main event held over the last weekend.

The main festival days were 13th and 14th July.  I was lucky enough to experience nice weather during the first few days of my holiday and was pleased to see it carrying on for the day I was at the festival.

It was an interesting mix of  sport, food and music, some of the sights were quite unusual too!  The pic above is from the highland games caber tossing, which was definitely an interesting spectacle!  There were also helicopter rides near the castle which must have been a very impressive experience! Here is a programme of the rest of the events from the weekend.  The main headlining event with Sharon Corr and Ronan Keating was held in blue big top close to the entrance. More of that later in this post.

Before the concert I decided to explore Glenarm Marina/Harbour and village as it looked such a beautiful place, I wasn’t disappointed.  The restored limestone harbour is seen as the entrance to the village and has around forty berths for yachts and boats, which is ideal for anyone travelling to and from Scotland’s Western Iles by boat.  I would love to be able to do that 🙂

The short walk in to the village is lovely and very picturesque, read here about its history.  Below are some of my photos from around Glenarm, which includes Glenarm Friary.


Once I had finished exploring I went back to the festival for food and drink and got in the queue for the main event 🙂  I was seated in the middle by the main aisle which was a good viewing point. It was a fantastic atmosphere and the lovely Sharon Corr was great which helped to build up the anticipation and excitement in the crowd even more.

Ronan Keating was amazing as usual, his gigs are always fun to be at and the atmosphere was electric. I have no photos or videos as both my phone camera and my other camera are hopeless for taking pictures/videos at concerts.  There are of course plenty of brilliant ones on twitter and youtube, the video below is my favourite. It’s 17 minutes long and captures the atmosphere, fun and brilliance of the gig well.

Of course some people had a different experience of the evening and may not have enjoyed it as much but I think you get that at most gigs, especially when most want to stand and some prefer to sit. Also, the event was ‘first come first served’ so some people who got their tickets early, when they first went on sale, still ended up further back than they would have liked.

I have seen the positive/negative comments made on the Dalriada Festival Facebook page and thought I’d leave my comments here on my blog.  My experience of it was that it was a brilliant night and would like to travel back in time and go again 🙂  It was obvious that Ronan Keating enjoyed it too and was feeding off the amazing atmosphere.

He sang all the crowd pleasers (the crowd were very pleased!) and a couple of songs from his soon to be released album ‘Fires’  I was hoping he would sing his new single, the title track from ‘Fires’  He didn’t but it is now being played on radio so it has been heard at last 🙂

Also just want to say that the festival staff were lovely 🙂

I would also like to mention the taxi firm that I used to take me there and back.  As I was on my own I wanted assurances that no-one would claim my taxi.  I saw Van Morrison at Audley End, afterwards people were jumping in taxis whether they had ordered it or not, it was a nightmare! The firm could not have been more helpful, they made sure I could wait in a safe place after the gig and the taxi drivers were lovely.  On the way there the driver pointed out landmarks to me, on the way back the other driver gave me a CD by his friend he had been playing and I had enjoyed.  If you need a taxi in the Larne area, ask for LA Taxi’s.

If you got this far, then thank you for reading…I told you it might be long 🙂

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Adventures in Northern Ireland, Part 3 – Larne


The second half of my holiday was spent in the beautiful coastal town of Larne, known as the ‘Gateway to the Glens’.  The pic above is one of my favourite pics I took there, I plan on trying to paint it!

Larne, which is an hour by train from Belfast, is a port/harbour town with regular passenger ferry services to Troon and Cairnryan.  It is also home to freight and haulage businesses.

I enjoyed a three night stay in the Curran Court Hotel in Larne Harbour, which is situated around ten minutes walk from the railway/ferry terminal.  The hotel is lovely with very friendly/helpful staff and very tasty food!  I mainly ordered starters from the menu each time I ate there, they turned out to be almost as large as a main course. I wasn’t entirely sure if this was because I had only ordered a starter or they really are that size!  It is situated in a business park, which also includes a cinema, a huge Asda and several places to eat.

My room was a very comfortable en suite (amazing power shower!) with a sea view which made me very happy indeed 🙂 Below is a pic I took from my window.  As you can see the weather was great, so much nicer than I had left at home in England.  I was very lucky with the weather as it was really nice for my whole trip, which is surprising for Irish weather!

View from my hotel window

On my first evening I had a little wander around the town itself and then down to the seafront.  There is a harbour heritage trail you can follow, which I didn’t do but I did see some of the landmarks on the trail whilst I was wandering around.  The heritage trail leaflet advises it is best to start at Larne Museum and end at its tourist information centre.  Some of my pics are below, they include some of the heritage trail landmarks.

The museum is open Monday –  Saturday, unfortunately I didn’t get chance to visit as I was busy somewhere else on the Saturday (more on that later) and went back to Belfast on the Monday.

The first picture below is Chaine Tower, which was built in 1888 to commemorate MP and progressive entrepreneur James Chaine. Larne was able to become a successful port thanks to his vision and financial resources.  This picture was taken a bit too far away, I should have taken one closer up.

One of the mot fascinating landmarks on the trail is the remains of what is known as Olderfleet Castle, although it is thought they are actually the remains of Curran Castle.  Only part of one side of the castle exists, and a which seems to be attached to the council houses next to it.  It is very odd, yet fascinating at the same time!


The coastal road behind my hotel (the view from my hotel room) thankfully comes with a path to walk along, so on my last evening in Larne I took a stroll along it in the warm sunshine, it was a beautiful evening and I could have stayed in one spot staring out over the water all night! I took far too many photos, some of which are below!


On the Saturday I visited Glenarm and the Dalriada Festival…this is my next post!

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