Thursday, 26 June 2014

Art in a Barn

Saturday's during the summer are basically mine to do with as I will as Steve is out playing cricket.  All day.  From midday to 9pm sometimes.  Very, very occasionally I get roped into making the tea's (the number of times I have to do them has dropped significantly over the years - making a bad tea is a sure-fire way to ensure you never get asked again!) but otherwise I am free as a bird.
On this particular Saturday this bird had to drive out to Lenham, a market village between Ashford and Maidstone to collect a scrap book from one of the Canterbury Players members.  This scrap book had old programmes, photo's and other paraphernalia in it dating back to the 80's, and I was in the process of fleshing out our archives on the new website at the time so it was a valuable resource and I had permission to borrow it.  I checked that Tony would be in, jumped in the car, popped the top down and stuck some feel good CD's on, then made the 30 minute drive to Lenham.  I forgot the Sat Nav and proceed to spend another 30 minutes in Lenham trying to work out where on earth Tony's house actually was (and getting distracted by the Italian food market that was going on).
Mission accomplished, Tony informed me that there was an art exhibition going on in Tithe Barn and I should check it out as I was in the area.  It was still early, I had nothing else to do and the prospect of spending a couple of hours wandering around the exhibition appealed to me greatly.  
Tithe Barn is a huge, medieval barn that is used for all sorts of functions, including weddings.  It is estimated that it was built in the C14th and is formed of two large barns and a number of outbuildings.  The first barn held the craft fair, beautiful hand made goods that were sadly a little out of my price bracket, although I did find some stunning bracelets that I just know my mum would love.  Whilst I was in the barn I got talking to one of the ladies who told me a bit about it's history, the refurbishment work that the most recent owner has committed to it, and how grateful she was that it hadn't become yet another barn conversion.  The interior is certainly impressive, with the stable stalls and cobbled floor and the cross-hatch beams supporting the structure.  The interior was cool with a faint horsey smell left from generations of farm animals.
The main event was in the barn next door though.  This was the home of the Pilgrims Way Art Exhibition, a show by the Pilgrims Way Art Group who are a mix of both professional and amateur artists originally formed in 1996 and who have exhibited every year at Tithe Barn for the last 14 years.  They are quite an exclusive group, with membership by invitation only, and because of this caveat you can be sure that the artwork you will see will be of a high quality.  Not all of it will be to your taste; that is inevitable when so many different styles are displayed, but there were a number of pieces that I spent quite a lot of time perusing, and some that, given the required funds, I would have been more than happy to have purchased there and then! (click on the piece description to go to the artists portfolio).
Janet Jackson: Tall Slab Pieces.  Pilgrims Way Artists Exhibition Summer 2014 Award for Best Ceramic

Janet Jackson's piece above is a form of Raku, a traditional Japanese process which involves the rapid firing and subsequent rapid cooling of the pots.  The pots are first fired to 1,000°C biscuit and then glazed.  When dry the glazed pots are put in a warm kiln and heated slowly to eliminate any remaining moisture.  After this, firing can be carried out more rapidly until the glaze has melted, at around 900°C-1000°C.  The pots are then removed from the kiln whilst glowing and then placed in sawdust or water, depending on the result desired.
Justin Calver: Blue Striped Tuna.  Pilgrims Way Artists Exhibition Summer 2014 Award for Best Acrylic
Thomas Boyd: Circus.  Pilgrims Way Artists Exhibition Summer 2014 Award for Best Original Work
The artists work in and with a number of different mediums, from oil to batik, ceramic to stone and everything in between.  Throughout the exhibition there are pieces which have been awarded prizes for 'Best in Show' in their category.
Nigel Davison: Autumn Felling.  Pilgrims Way Artists Exhibition Summer 2014 Award for Best In Show
There were a huge number of pieces on display at the exhibition, and a large number of families enjoying the show, occasionally breaking to munch on some homemade cake and tea out in the sun drenched grounds whilst children chased each other around the pond and admired the old tractors and cars in the stable block.  Don't they look like they are just waiting for someone to come and take them out!
The artwork wasn't just constrained the barn either.  Outside there were a number of pieces sat on pedestals or casually woven into the fabric of the countryside around the barn.
Back inside the barn there were far too many beautiful pieces to be able to show you all of them, so I have instead selected a couple of my favourites.
Barry Elphick: Intrigue
Justin Calver
Jane Gibson
This piece by Jo Savage entitled Progeny was of particular interest to myself and a lot of other people.  From a distance, it appears to be a simple tree landscape, similar to that you frequently see in Fantasy artwork, but closer up you can see faces and shapes in the bark.  Different people see different things, for me it was the Green Man, Atlas holding up the sky and Yggdrasil all together. 
Jo Savage: Progeny
Jo Savage: Progeny
This piece by Nick Amey was, for me, my favourite in the entire show.  In the flesh it was incredibly realistic; you were hard pressed to believe that it wasn't a photograph and it had an almost 3D quality about it - the tree stood out from the rest of the painting as if it has been lifted from the country lane that morning.  It was just beautiful.
Nick Amey
The Pilgrims Way exhibition was a unexpected bonus of my visit to Lenham.  Lenham itself is a pretty little village that I haven't really explored but it looked like there may be a few good restaurants in the village centre, and the Italian food market was certainly worth a visit!  Tithe Barn itself is a gorgeous location for an art exhibition, with the Church framing the skyline and the open fields at the back, it's a piece of art on it's own.

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Monday, 23 June 2014

The Oldest Pub In Kent

By the Westbere Lakes on the side of the A28 there is a little sign.  A simple sign near a small turning that you can easily miss.  It points down a country lane and quietly announces '14th Century Inn".
You turn down this tiny little country lane, leaving the hustle and bustle of the main road behind you, and enter Westbere village.  A picture perfect, chocolate box village huddled near the lakes filled with beautiful country cottages and white picket fences covered in creeping wild rose and honeysuckle.  In the heart of the village lies the Old Yew Tree Inn.
Built in 1348 (it's 666 years old, making it about 20 years older than The Parrot and officially the oldest pub in Kent), this charming, sprawling pub has serviced the needs of the upper echelons of English society during its lifetime.  Queen Anne, the Archbishop of Canterbury and even Dick Turpin (more notorious than gentry it has to be said of the latter) are all reputed to have stayed here over the ages.  On this particular Friday afternoon the visitors were not quite so illustrious.  Steve, my parents and I came for some lunch following an appointment in town on a much welcomed day off work for us.
Inside the bar we stood and chatted with Wayne, the chef and a friend of Steve's from darts whilst waiting for our draft ales and Bloody Mary's to be poured.   I like my Bloody Mary's really spicy and with a decent salt kick so was pleased to be left with the bottles to adjust the seasoning to my taste.
The interior of the Yew Tree is exactly what you would expect from an ancient pub; thick whitewashed walls keeping out the heat of the day, crooked, pockmarked beams and a large inglenook fireplace that turns the interior of the pub into a cosy sanctuary against the chill of the winter and a barrier against the ghosts who are reputed to haunt the building.  If you are visiting Kent from abroad, looking for a 'traditional English pub', you can't get much more traditional than this place! 
Today was anything but a cold winter's day, and with the blazing sunshine calling to us from the gardens, we gathered up our drinks and found a picnic bench to relax on whilst we decided what to order for lunch.  It was a Friday lunchtime, and the place was pretty quiet as most people were obviously at work, but there were a few other couples and families scattered around, taking advantage of the glorious weather we have been experiencing in the Costa Del Kent recently.
My father spent a goodly amount of time admiring the workmanship and detailing in the period features, such as the carvings on the arched doorway leading from the gardens to the bar.  This is one of the charming features of the pub; wherever you look there is something to admire and catch your eye. 
The menu was extremely attractive, with a variety of fresh produce from local sources.  The 5 starters and 5 mains changes on a daily basis; years ago the rumour of the Yew Tree sandwiches was what had originally bought Steve and I to the pub for lunch, and the sandwiches were fabulous then.  The Inn has changed hands a couple of times since then and the food is even better now under the new ownership.  At the sight of pigeon breast salad on the menu, 3 of the 4 members of our party were sold instantly (with the addition of a healthy portion of chips).  Steve went for the sausage sandwich, in memory of the ones we had enjoyed all those years ago.  It was supposed to be a light lunch as Steve and I were going out for an all-you-can-eat-Chinese that night with friends, but portion sizes were extremely generous and we probably ate more than we should have done.
The pub is incredibly peaceful and we were perfectly happy to spend a good couple of hours sitting, drinking and chatting as thousands of people have done before us over countless lifetimes.  It is a little daunting to sit and think about the stories that the walls could tell about the people who have passed through the stable doors, their hopes and dreams, the intrigues and scandals.  How many of their dreams went up in ashes like the wood in the inglenook fireplace and how many came to fruition?
The Yew Tree Inn is a little off the beaten track, but such a beautiful old place that it would be a travesty not to visit it at least once.  While you are there, why don't you ask if Wayne is in today and tell him I sent you? 
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