Under the Arches

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Traffic paused on Langport’s Bow Street for an unusual spectacle on Sunday 22nd March, as a Parrett Flatner made its way up the road for probably the first time since the high street flooded at the start of last century. This time the boat wasn’t floating. Instead it was carried in procession from the historic port at Bow Wharf, to the arches beneath Langport Town Hall, where it will be on temporary display.

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The procession went by land because access to the river isn’t possible, as the only slipway, by Black Bridge, is currently not in a useable condition. With the help of the Environment Agency, however, residents hope eventually to see the slipway back in operation, and access to the river made available again for all to enjoy. The boat will be formally launched as part of the Langport Festival in June, when summer water levels provide easier access to the river. Seila Fernandez Arconada and Jethro Brice – the artists leading the project – arranged the celebration to thank some of those who have been involved in the project so far, without whom the project could never have happened.

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A mystery visitor

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After the lights were out and the workshop shut up for the night, an unexpected visitor came to check us out:

He’s interested in the leftover chicken curry, but wary of the circle of light from a torch fixed above the infra-red camera.

Turning point

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Today’s session was a really productive one – probably the first time we’ve done more, not less, than we’d hoped. You can’t really see it in the pictures, but the base now has an elegant sweeping bevel to its sides. Once this was done, we could turn the boat, and begin transferring fine measurements and angles to shape the knees, locker fronts, and other components.

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We left the boat frame set out ready for assembly, looking somewhat like a primitive space craft, or the fossil of an ancestral fish. At the far left you can see one of the knees in already in position – we couldn’t resist fixing one in place to see what it was going to be like.

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It was a long day at the workshop today, so we were doubly pleased to arrive ‘home’ to the house where we’re staying, and find a surprise gift left hanging from the door handle. We hope it was intended for us… Thank you to the mystery chef!

A Four-Seasons Day

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The weather today has provided a perfect backdrop to the drama of starting on the boat. As the bus wound its way down over the Mendips, the Levels were awash with golden light, but by the time we were in Wells it was hailing.

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The stormy skies and half-light of the day made our new workshop seem a bright haven (though not quite cosy enough to risk taking off our coats, hats and gloves)

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We spent an exciting afternoon wrestling with timber and getting everything together for the boat, ready for marking out tomorrow. Then, to round off the day, we had a great session with our friends at the Langport Huish Youth Club.

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The adventure of making the boat has just begun.

Some:when gathering and exciting news!

On Saturday we enjoyed another great visit to Somerset, this time to run a workshop more directed to adults in Langport. We wanted to generate a conversation around the project from a different angle, revisiting the history of the Somerset Levels and Moors and looking at poetry, a historical text about Somerset and an image of Bow Street (the main street in Langport) which we found in a visit at the Somerset Heritage Office, to provide inspiration for the discussion.

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texts

The session was really interesting and we talked about all kinds of things: windmills, rivers, water, nature, hydro power, recovery, cycles, boats, history, canals, floods, willow, traditions and many more.

If you couldn’t attend the session and would like to have a look to the resources please do, here isthe link: Some_when_gathering. Feel free to share your thoughts with us!

 

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While we set up the workshop in the Town Hall we looked out on the Christmas market, that we had the chance to visit for a bit afterwards – what an excellent day for it!

We also popped down to visit the river Parrett, in an extraordinary light and  very low water level. This enabled us to see the vegetation at the bottom of the Parrett, which normally gets hidden by light reflections in the surface of the river.

 

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(photos taken from Cocklemoor, Langport)

To finish the post, we would like to share our excitement that we’ve found a fantastic space to build the Flatner!  The build will be taking place in the middle of January!!

So if you are as excited as we are, and you would like to know more about it do get in touch – we might even be able to arrange a visit to the site.

 

Sail making with young people in Langport…

Last week we were back in Langport for another great session with Langport and Huish Youth Club. We heard some interesting stories of young people’s experiences with the floods, some of them happy memories and some difficult.

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It was good to see the different ways people had found to move around and connect with their families or explore the landscape – from visiting grandparents by tractor, to horse riding in knee-high waters.

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The workshop brought up a lot of ideas. One participant’s immediate reactions was to make an image of deforestation – “because that affects the flooding”.

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Ideas became more complex as the session infolded – we’re looking forward to coming back again for more stories and beautiful images!

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A welly of water will do

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We were sitting in the library when the phone rang, books stacked about our feet and on the little side table. We had divided the morning between phone calls and local history books, on the trail of the elusive Parrett Flatner. So far we had three interesting photographs, and one promising conversation. Now on the phone was Ron Coombes of Bineham City Farm, kindly inviting us out for a look at his hand-built punt, recreated from the original specifications of Colonel Hawker

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Cycling as fast as we could in the baking sun, we made it out to the farm just in time to catch Ron on his lunch break. He took us out to the barn to admire the boat, a long, low craft built constructed from light timber and marine ply, painted a wintry pale grey. Holding his hand to the side of his Wellington boot to show just how little water was needed to float the boat, he described the extent of the Winter floods and the trips he’d taken wild-fowling with his dogs when the Levels were submerged.

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Standing by the boat with the sun at our backs and the cool musty smell of the barn before, our quest at last began to take on material qualities – the feel of the marine plywood, the weathered texture of the flaking paint, smells of straw and wood, oil, rust and dung. The swallows among the rafters and the wet nose of the dog gently sniffing about our ankles. This wasn’t exactly the boat we were after, but its flat bottom and homegrown feel gave us a taste of what we were after. Ron said the boat has carried them for miles across the floodplain, needing very little to keep afloat. Running aground on the mud, it takes only a quick shove to get going again. It seems an ideal boat for access and mobility in an unstable and unpredictable water-scape.

At the back of the house, another boat lay upturned on the narrow lawn, a battered fibreglass dinghy propped beside the rusting garden gate. Ron marked out the line for us, where the water had reached halfway up the  drive. The house, the yard and the cattle sheds were safe on high ground, but a boat was still a handy thing to have about.

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Cycling back, we stopped besides golden fields of sunbaked corn beneath an innocent blue sky. The smell of warm earth, tarmac and milky thistles revealed nothing to our of the wet, waterbound Winter months.

Encounters in Langport – how spontaneity generates collaboration

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We’ve opted for an open and spontaneous approach with this project – floating an idea and seeing where it takes us, following the threads that arise from collective responses. The research trip was directed by the people we met, pointing the way to new encounters with particular places or people. Their interest in the project has in turn shaped our own, bringing different approaches and expertise to flesh out our original ideas.

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We met some great people, whose enthusiasm and knowledge have helped us explore or resolve some of the big questions that face us. We were able to look at construction of the actual boat, floating different suggestions and even testing out some possible materials in an impromptu living-room experiment. We explored the historical and social background, talking to people about their experiences, consulting local books and historians. We began to immerse ourselves in the space, exploring Langport and its surroundings, sought out community groups in order to know how they would like to engage with the project , and even took a canoe out onto the River Parrett, to explore what will be the final event of this project, the Flatner‘s journey downstream from Langport to Bridgewater.

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The journey Some:when has started is vibrant and beautiful. Thank you so much to everyone who has made it a success so far – thanks to Carol, Steph, Josh, Lorraine, Ron, Cara, Hannah, Claire, Alan, Angus, Janet, Caroline, and everybody else who made us feel welcome and inspired.  More updates to follow soon!

The cycle in

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This was our first research trip for Some:when – a chance to meet people, learn about the place, connect with the water, track down information about the elusive Flatner, and start piecing together plans for making the boat.

To get to Langport we decided to take the train to Bridgwater and follow the waterways inland, cycling cross-country to get a feel for the watery landscape of the Somerset Moors and Levels.

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As far as we could, we followed the River Parrett – tracing in reverse the planned journey of the Flatner. Close as we were to the water, we barely saw it – instead we found ourselves cut off from the river by the high embankments, hemmed in between pumping stations and dusty hedges.

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The brief spectacular views of the river showed us a rapidly changing scene, from the mud slicks and buried bicycles of Bridgwater to bucolic, leafy bends, canal boats and herons. Further upstream, we came suddenly on the signs of dredging – long armed diggers perched above smooth-sided, geometrical slopes of clean-scraped mud. A small sign beside a row of riverside houses read ‘Dredge the Rivers’ in vivid red paint. Signs were everywhere: warning signs, planning notifications, road closures, and – scrawled across the road in white spray paint – ‘Flooded To Here’.

The view from Burrow Mump had transformed. We had each been here before, earlier in the year, to see the broad silvery reaches of the Winter floods. I recalled the flocks of wildfowl strung out along field edges, wheeling lapwings, and swans bright against the dark strings of willow. Now two buzzards circled, lazily calling, above hay meadows and lush green fields. We refilled our water bottles at the King Alfred Inn and set off towards our first rendez-vous at the SAW offices in Langport. The road dipped between lush meadows then wound its way into a cluster of steep hills. Gradually we climbed above the floodplain and made our way into Langport.

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