The Horse Whisperer: Victoria Smith

It was a magical evening when I met Victoria, there was a huge storm (in June) with roads quickly flooding, a leaden sky and the trees were a dark forbidding green. We were both ridiculously late and a bit jittery due to the lightening bouncing around but considering all this, meeting Victoria was a very moving experience.

She is mostly legs and is ridiculously good looking, even though she does not see this! There is this huge presence she has around her that makes everyone listen and most importantly the animals can feel this. Victoria showed me the process of joining up which is how she manages to get the horse to respond to her. It was beautiful to watch and with the rain thundering down on the roof of the barn, it made it all the more atmospheric. It is clear that this is not a ‘job’ you learn, you have to be a natural. Victoria has no fear with horses and I was in awe of the way she understood their needs. I will be completing two images of her for Hill Top and Acorn Bank and I can not wait! She is a very warm person and an incredible subject to draw.

Sarah Lunn: The Vicar who breeds Grey Faced Dartmoors, Somali Cats, Geese, Ducks and hens!

Sarah has a menagerie of animals and this appeals, as one of my goals is to also have an eclectic mix at some point! She is a fascinating women, works all the time, running many parishes in the Eden Valley and also looking after these creatures. She tells me that they make her feel peaceful, as well as helping her integrate into the community. Because she can talk about sheep to farmers, they trust her and she is obviously knowledgeable about the different breeds and how to care for animals.

She mentions almost apologetically, that it is all a bit eccentric and I tell her every lady I have met has said the same. None of my participants seem eccentric, odd or mad, they just appear very focused on the particular animals they have chosen to champion and that is probably why they are so successful. The ladies have all been rather humble, not wanting to appear as if they are ‘showing off’ about what they do, they are all wanting to promote the wellbeing of their animals. This could be a whole new blog post!

Back to Sarah, I follow her around the house where she is rearing chicks from eggs she has had in incubators and there are Somali kittens squeaking around. We go outside to a large field area where she keeps many birds (geese, ducks and hens) amongst the most cuddly sheep in the world – Grey Faced Dartmoors. They adore Sarah and run up to her, like dogs more than sheep! Sarah is a fascinating women and I am very much looking forward to drawing her and the team.

Claire Cornish: Wild Hay Meadows

Claire works for Cumbria Wildlife Trust, specialising in restoring wild hay meadows. She helps to create diverse natural meadows in order to help pollenate plants, encourage insects, birds and mammals and encourage traditional farming methods.

Claire trained as an artist then a gardener down south before coming up north to work with CWT. I met her on a hot sunny day at my parents house. We met there as my dad encourages wildflowers and different grasses to grow in the garden so it felt lovely using where I grew up as a backdrop for the photos and conversation.

She explained to me the importance of cutting grasses later which help invertebrates and birds and the cultural significance of hay meadows to village life. Claire works with traditional hill farmers, small holders and the public to encourage these essential but disappearing areas that are so important to the environment.

If we did not have amazing people like Claire, then our countryside would suffer dramatically. There are are many dangers to bees and other insects who are needed for pollination and a healthier planet. The seriousness of these creatures disappearing has been proven over and over again by scientists, yet they face enormous danger from loss of habitat, pollution and pesticides.


The Wool Clip: Wonderful Women Working with Wool

Wool Clip get things done and that is what I admire most about them. They have set up a gorgeous shop in Caldbeck which is open 7 days a week and the members take it in turns to be there. Items for sale are wool based, exceptionally good quality and unique. They also help run Woolfest which is on in June.

4 of the members came to Acorn Bank to meet and discuss their collective with the lure of cake and tea. Emma Redfern makes beautiful bags from tweed, Debbie Lucas is a felt maker and has created one of the most awesome felt sheep heads I have ever seen, Jean Wildish makes lots of wonderful quirky one offs and Alice Underwood who I have interviewed before, makes many lovely items and kits for knitting.

Sitting around chatting to these ladies talk shop about their group gave me insight into how it all runs, they support each other and have such a passion for their craft. I am looking forward to drawing a group portrait and hope to get the warmth and chatter in the drawing.

Tracy Hayes: Playing Outdoors

I met Tracy who is a volunteer at Acorn Bank, during Newt Day, which is held annually in the garden. She struck me as being warm, passionate and knowledgable about wildlife and the outdoors.

Tracy is a PhD student at The University of Cumbria studying outdoor learning. She has won awards including the Reflective Essay Postgraduate Prize for 2015 by The Higher Education Research Group (HERG) in association with the RGS-IBG annual international conference and the Vice Chancellor’s Excellence Award for Early Career Researcher at her university, She has a wonderful straight forward approach to research and her subject.

During our meeting, we spoke about how Beatrix Potter did not hide the realities of nature from children, conveying quite straightforwardly, the perils animals endure. The dumbing down of books such as Watership Down has been discussed in the media quite recently. We were both of the opinion that children become quite detached from nature with this approach.

Tracy also spoke about another key issue in the media recently which is the rewilding debate, a hot subject here in Cumbria. There are groups who are keen to bring back an environment, which was here thousands of years ago. Quite understandably, most farmers are very anti rewilding because it would damage the structure of the commons and be dangerous for their sheep/ lambs due to the introduction of wolves. Tracy adores wolves but her view on it is that the Lake District is so small, it would not be possible, due to the clear lack of space. I think she echoes many peoples views here, but there is an awful lot of respect for farmers here and many farmers are trying hard to bring back organic practices and are passionate about helping the environment.

It was wonderful to meet Tracy, she must inspire many to enjoy the outdoors, I certainly found her enthusiasm infectious.



Julie Bailey: Nuts about Red Squirrels

As soon as I was in contact with Julie, I knew she would be a joy to work with on this project, I just didn’t expect her to be as great! My day with The Red Squirrel Lady was fun, as well as being very informative and fascinating.

It wasn’t hard to spot her beautiful railway cottage. It sits next to the Settle to Carlisle railway line, amongst some pretty trees. It looked like it was straight out of a children’s book. I was greeted by an array of ornamental red squirrels, some in the garden and others peering out at me through the window. Julie’s house is filled with red squirrel everything. There are a few fish however and a rather lovable Staffordshire Bull Terrier called Pearla, oh and a few humans but even the wood burner has a red squirrel on it. I was surprised that their house hadn’t had a red tail put on it, but there is time.

We talked at length about red squirrels, she herself humanely ‘culls’ grey squirrels. Some of you may not like this, but when you see the photos of the horrific disease that the greys spread to the reds, you will see why. The devastating disease, Squirrel Pox Virus Disease (which the greys carry with no ill effects to themselves) causes a slow painful death over approximately 15 days for our red squirrels. I hadn’t realised this, I thought greys just bullied the reds out, but it is far worse. The greys were brought in just a few hundred years ago and are responsible for the demise of the native red population. Julie and an amy of rangers, volunteers, landowners and general public are dedicated to saving the red species and the way they do it is fascinating and very organised. Sightings of greys and reds are reported, the greys are hunted down which will hopefully stop the disease spreading and all sightings/culls are vigorously recorded on standardised spread sheets. Interestingly Julie and her family eat the grey squirrel meat, their tails are used for fishing fly’s and their pelts are piling up to be made into wearable items. The disease is in no way harmful to humans. At least the culling of the greys is not wasted.

Julie is an epic very organised Volunteer, working all hours co-ordinating all things squirrelly. She is very personable and warm, making her approachable to everyone. I am very much looking forward to drawing her portrait.

If you would like to find out more please follow these links
Please report any sightings of grey squirrels or sickly red squirrels.