Posts Tagged ‘Dorset’

Walking the South West Coast Path

A Companion Guide

by Simon Butler & Philip Carter  (Pixz, £9.99)

Walking the SWCP book cover

A COMMON refrain that runs through my head when I’m out walking and I notice an interesting building or geographical feature is ‘I wish I knew something about that’.

I vow to look it up when I get home – and invariably forget.

For walkers on the South West Coast Path, myself included, there is now no excuse to remain in ignorance, thanks to a book that reveals secrets and fascinating facts about so much that can been seen along the 630-mile route, between Minehead, on the Somerset coast, and South Haven Point, on the southern edge of Poole Harbour.

Who knew, for example, that Durlston Castle, the curious sort of wedding cake atop the cliffs near Swanage and a pathside landmark that would certainly pique a walker’s interest, was originally built as a restaurant in 1890?

Thanks to this endlessly fascinating book, I can show off my wisdom to allcomers, wherever I might encounter them as I walk the path. I can tell them that Tintagel was the home of F.T. Glasscock, a man who made his fortune from custard, and that a hotel at Mount Batten, where the path heads east of Plymouth, used to be a guano processing plant.

Less arcane are the facts about the many churches and features of industrial archaeology that are encountered on the route. History and legend, folklore and irrefutable fact all have their place, too (even if the many exclamation marks do not).

The Companion Guide is based on Exploring the South West Coast Path, written by Philip Carter, a founder member of the original South West Way Association in 1973. Sadly, Philip died in 2011, after 40 years of passing on his enthusiasm for the path and helping to secure its use for generations of fortunate walkers.

In this volume, which reproduces the original foreword that Philip wrote for his book, Simon Butler has sourced illustrations that enable the walker to compare views of landscapes, towns and villages as they are now with how they looked in bygone days.

Aerial photographs are especially compelling and many show the path itself winding sinuously around headlands and coves as it takes its walkers along some of the most beautiful coastal countryside in Britain.

Whether your journey along the SWCP is the whole thing or just a few miles, this book will enrich the experience no end. Its format does not lend itself to being popped into a daypack or rucksack: it is too chunky for that. Better, perhaps, to read it before you pull on your boots and commit what you can to memory.

However you choose to use it, it will most certainly reward you.


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A detail from the magnificent mosaic was discovered in a field in the village and dates from the 4th century AD.

A detail from the magnificent mosaic was discovered in a field in the village and dates from the 4th century AD.

YESTERDAY was my birthday, an occasion for me to trot out that old cliché “I’m too old for birthdays” – and at the same time get as excited as the child in me as I opened each card and thoughtful present.

A cheque from my mother offered up the annual opportunity for a little self-indulgence. This year I decided it should be a year’s membership of The Art Fund, a cause close to my heart and a passport to exhibitions that will excite and enthral me, as long as I can get to them from all the way down here in Dorset. Most are, of course, in London, but an occasional awayday is not impossible.

I applied online for my membership and ticked the box to receive email news bulletins. How exciting, and what a lovely present I’d chosen for myself.

An hour or two later I headed for Hinton St Mary, about nine miles away, to meet my sister for an evening talk and demonstration on The Horse Boy method of helping children with autism. The ticket for the event was one of the cache of birthday gifts chosen for me by my sister, since both of us are suckers for anything to do with horses. It was, of course, as wonderful and inspiring as we knew it would be.

Our surroundings were sublime. Dorset’s glorious landscape provided the backdrop as we sat on straw bales in the evening sunlight to watch the method explained by its founder, Rupert Isaacson, and demonstrated by the world-class event rider William Fox-Pitt. Later, we moved into the ancient Tithe Barn for a talk and questions, rounding off an exceptional evening.

Today, I received my first email newsletter from The Art Fund. Well, they didn’t hang around, I thought. Twenty-four hours a member and I’m already made to feel one of the gang.

The first item I chose to click on was headed ‘Incredible places to see mosaics’. I don’t know why I chose that over all the other enticing items, but for some reason I did.

This is what I read, with the hairs gradually standing up on my neck:

British Museum, London

Free to all

The British Museum is a trove of rare and beautiful mosaics, including examples from across England, Italy and North Africa. Perhaps the most famous is one discovered in Hinton St Mary, Dorset, in 1963, depicting a clean-shaven man – possibly the earliest known image of Christ. The picture is accompanied by the Greek letters chi [X] and rho [P] – the first two letters of Christ’s name – and when placed together as a monogram they form the symbol for Christianity at this time. If it is Christ, then this is the only such portrait on a mosaic floor from anywhere in the Roman Empire.

As I researched and read about it, I realised it was familiar to me and I had even listened to the BBC Radio Four broadcast of A History of the World in 100 Objects when the mosaic chosen by the British Museum’s director Neil MacGregor.


This link reveals much more about this mosaic and even includes a comment by a man who remembers his father unearthing it Hinton St Mary in 1963.

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THE perfect start to 2013 for me was a seven-mile run in the most delightful conditions. It was one of those all-too rare dry, sparkling, winter mornings with a little chill in the air but not uncomfortably cold.

My run started at Sturminster Newton and took me along the superb North Dorset Trailway – the former railway line restored for public use by volunteers – heading east to Stourpaine. The sun was in my eyes all the way, but I didn’t care. It was such a joy to see it after so many weeks of rain, the results of which can be seen in some of the photos that I took on my iPhone when I could be bothered to stop.

The gate at the start with the Trailway beyond, looking so enticing.

The gate at the start with the Trailway beyond, looking so enticing.

The western edge of ancient Hambledon Hill comes into view.

The western edge of ancient Hambledon Hill comes into view.

It’s unusual to see such flat terrain in this part of the world.

It’s unusual to see such flat terrain in this part of the world.

The puddles weren’t bad here but they became muddy shoe-soakers further along.

The puddles weren’t bad here but they became muddy shoe-soakers further along.

The dormice are lucky to live in Dorset, but to have a whole People’s Trust protecting them as well surely means they are doubly blessed.

The dormice are lucky to live in Dorset, but to have a whole People’s Trust protecting them as well surely means they are doubly blessed.

Flooded meadows with the majestic Hambledon Hill beyond.

Flooded meadows with the majestic Hambledon Hill beyond.

My run took me along the old platform of Shillingstone Station, which is being superbly restored by volunteers.

My run took me along the old platform of Shillingstone Station, which is being superbly restored by volunteers.

Who’d be an allotment holder when the plot floods?

Who’d be an allotment holder when the plot floods?

This shower of old man’s beard against the blue sky was so lovely it stopped me in my tracks.

This shower of old man’s beard against the blue sky was so lovely it stopped me in my tracks.

A bare-branched avenue makes a majestic final stretch near Stourpaine.

A bare-branched avenue makes a majestic final stretch near Stourpaine.

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SAY the words ‘war poet’ and the names of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke and their First World War contemporaries come instantly to mind.

But what of the Second World War? Who were the writers who gave us a poetic legacy from that tumultuous period of our history, but who, curiously, seem to have been consigned to the shadows?

Keith Douglas and Alun Lewis, who were both killed in 1944, are probably the best-known, but there is a third, John Jarmain, who has remained largely unsung but who could well be worthy of a place in the top rank.

He too was killed in 1944, aged 33, in Normandy, after a long campaign in North Africa – he fought at El Alamein – and further action in the invasion of Sicily.

Jarmain, who taught Italian and Maths at Millfield School, wrote more than 150 letters home to his wife in Dorset, many of them containing his poems written by the light of the moon.

Not long after his death, a slim volume of his poems, which, with their gentle, understated nature, are in many ways untypical of war poetry, was published. Also published posthumously was his only novel, Priddy Barrows, about a boys’ school in the Mendips. Both books were widely acclaimed and Jarmain’s talents lauded. Vita Sackville-West wrote, in 1946: “Among the poets lost to us by the war, John Jarmain must take a considerable place. A real loss.”

He was also referred to as “One of the truly great but neglected poets of the Second World War” in the anthology, Oasis into Italy (pub. Salamander Oasis Trust, 1983).

That first collection of Jarmain’s poems, the one that was published in 1945, has now been republished in a beautiful hardback edition, complete with critical essays, historical notes and Imperial War Museum photographs, setting his words and work in admirably detailed context.

‘Flowers in the Minefields’ (Flagon Press, £14.99), has been edited and researched by James Crowden, the Somerset-based writer and poet. Appropriately, he launched it on Remembrance Sunday, 11th November, at Sladers Yard in Bridport as part of the town’s annual literary festival, where his guest, Ptolemy Dean, the architect, son of Jarmain’s friend and battery commander Joe Dean, will read an essay written by his father in celebration of the poet’s life and work.

A second launch was held on 24th November at The Dorset Bookshop, East Street, Blandford.

James Crowden is currently engaged in writing Jarmain’s biography, which he aims to publish next year.

Crucial to both projects relating to John Jarmain has been the input from Jarmain’s daughter Janet Coward, who lives in Queens Road, Blandford. The elder daughter from the poet’s second marriage, to Beryl Butler, of Broadstone, near Poole, Janet was born in 1942, just before the Battle of Alamein, and can only recollect her father through the written memories of his contemporaries, the body of work he left behind him, and, remarkably, a cache of love letters he wrote to Beryl. These Janet discovered after her mother had been killed in a road accident near Swanage in 1990, but it was to be 10 years before she summoned the emotional courage to read them.

Subsequently, a chance meeting with James Crowden gave her the opportunity to mention the existence of the letters, and now they have helped bring Jarmain to literary notice again.

Beryl Jarmain, with whom the poet had fallen in love after his first marriage foundered, was seven months’ pregnant with twins when her husband was killed. The little boy was to die later, aged 10, while the girl twin, Diana, became a Buddhist nun and lives in a community on the Holy Isle, off the west coast of Scotland.

Jarmain had two other children, Mark and Joanna, from his first marriage, to a talented artist, Eve Houghton. Only Joanna survives and she lives on Vancouver Island where she is a published writer of prose and poetry. Her book of poems, A Summer Father, is a poignant portrait of her absent father and her own childhood, marred by her war. She was six years old when her father was killed.

A facility with words may have been passed down from their father, Janet Coward says, but she claims it didn’t settle on her. She is now retired after a career in teaching Latin and English at Millfield, where she was employed by the same head, Jack Meyer, who had taken on her father, and at schools in Sherborne and Swanage.

Janet Coward acknowledges her father’s poetic brilliance and is pleased by this fresh awakening of interest in his work, sparked by the imminent book-launch and by the interest in the Battle of Alamein in this 70th anniversary year.

She says: “He was very talented, gifted even, and was always an emotional poet.”

His great love of the natural world, of bird life in particular, is evident in many of his poems. “I know he and my mother used to love bird-watching and they would spend whatever time they could out walking together,” Janet says.

She adds: “I now find that the poems have greater meaning for me because I am looking for the man behind the poet – and I find glimpses of him. Those that in some small way relate to my mother and their relationship are particularly poignant.”

Here she refers specifically to the final two lines of a poem written on board SS Duchess of Richmond, the troopship that in 1942 carried John Jarmain, his battery and 5,000 troops of the Highland Division from Liverpool via Cape Town to Port Tewfik in Egypt.


I lie and look at the stars that rock and sway

In a swinging arc beyond the pointer mast

And stiff black spars; I hear from far away

The quiver of the engines’ humming song.

And nearer the wave of the white wash hissing past.

Warm as your breath, and fresh, and blowing strong,

The smooth wind fans my eyelids and my hair

And faintly flaps the blankets of my bed.

How still it is! O, my heart has need of you here,

And the hollow of your arm to lay my head.

James Crowden hopes that ‘Flowers in the Minefields’ will go some way towards belatedly shedding light on the talents of Second World War poets.

Comparing them with the First World War poets, he says: “They fought a very different but just as bitter war, and many of the poets in the WesternDesert were killed.

“We can still learn so much from those that were embroiled in such major conflicts of conscience, bravery and hardship. Jarmain’s poems were shaped by solitude and the desert. As one of his lines says: ‘And the desert will live within us when war is ended’.”

Tim Kendall, Professor of English at ExeterUniversity, says that John Jarmain’s “small number of significant poems belong among the finest of the war”. He considers this one, written at Mareth, Tunisia, in March 1943 and containing the line from which the newly published book takes its title, to be his masterpiece:


There are flowers now, they say, at Alamein;

Yes, flowers in the minefields now.

So those that come to view that vacant scene,

Where death remains and agony has been

Will find the lilies grow –

Flowers, and nothing that we know.


So they rang the bells for us and Alamein,

Bells which we could not hear:

And to those that heard the bells what could it mean,

That name of loss and pride, El Alamein?

– Not the murk and harm of war,

But their hope, their own warm prayer.


It will become a staid historic name,

That crazy sea of sand!

Like Troy or Agincourt its single fame

Will be the garland for our brow, our claim,

On us a fleck of glory to the end:

And there our dead will keep their holy ground.


But this is not the place that we recall,

The crowded desert crossed with foaming tracks,

The one blotched building, lacking half a wall,

The grey-faced men, sand powdered over all;

The tanks, the guns, the trucks,

The black, dark-smoking wrecks.


So be it: none but us has known that land:

El Alamein will still be only ours

And those ten days of chaos in the sand.

Others will come who cannot understand,

Will halt beside the rusty minefield wires

And find there – flowers.

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I am fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the world where there are limitless opportunities for walking in the countryside and for running, too. This great variety of terrain, from woodland paths to watermeadows to trailways (former railway routes), is all within a few minutes of home, and further afield there are ancient hill forts to puff my way up, countless acres of downland and, of course, the glorious Jurassic coast.

Here are some of the photos I have taken of uplifting sights while out walking. I see lovely things, too, when I’m running, but I don’t like stopping so a lot of good things go unrecorded.

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(A condensed version of this feature was published in May 2012)

THE first swallow of the season swoops and skims over the glassy surface of the River Frome at Pallington Lakes, dipping its beak to refuel after the long flight up through Europe.

It is sighted and noted by Simon Gudgeon, who takes a proprietorial interest in all new arrivals on his 26 acres at Tincleton, six miles west of Dorchester. For the record, that swallow arrived on the 2nd April, sand martins on the 1st, and the first of the family, the house martins, on the 26th March. Nothing is missed, everything is appreciated and accorded due honour.

Here, deep in the Dorset countryside, with lakes, ponds and the river threading through the land, Simon and his wife Monique are happy hosts to 93 different types of bird – so far. More will surely come as the lakes, formerly a coarse fishery, continue their rehabilitation and complete their return to natural splendour.

The swooping barn owl, the statuesque bittern, the curve of a wing, the angle of a beak – all of this is not just food for the soul. In Simon’s case, the wildlife around him feeds his inspiration, too, for he is one of Britain’s foremost contemporary sculptors and his main subjects are birds.

He made his name as a wildlife sculptor, but in recent years he has moved away from smaller-scale animals to create monumental bird-forms to stand majestically in such spaces as Hyde Park and the sculpture trail at the National Museum of Wildlife Art of America, Wyoming. The birds, some figurative, some more abstract, some that reference myths and legends, others that combine with exotic flora, are displayed on home turf, too, where they draw visitors from every corner to the Gudgeons’ countryside park, Sculpture by the Lakes.

Simon is the only living sculptor to have had two works commissioned for display in Hyde Park. He sells throughout the world and he is represented by the Halcyon Gallery in London. In short, he has arrived. It may be a crowded scene, but he is at the very forefront of the stage.

It is all the more surprising, therefore, to discover that he has been making a living as a sculptor for only a relatively brief period. Thirteen years ago, at the age of 40, he picked up a piece of clay and turned his back on the ‘trial’ occupations he’d been engaged in, starting with law and continuing through commercial photography, landscape gardening and house-sitting.

After meeting Monique, also a successful career-changer – from London-based PR executive to fully trained plantswoman – he decided to pursue what he really wanted to do, which was to make things with clay.

He has never had a lesson. He is not from an artistic family. He just knew that when he had that lump of clay in his hands it felt good and he had the urge to turn it into something beautiful.

The astonishing result, with many of his pieces, large and small, now in the homes, gardens and grounds of private collectors, and with national and international acclaim regularly coming his way, may bring him satisfaction and reward but he is always striving for something more, different and, in his eyes, even better.

“I’ve got to keep moving forward and be challenged and inspired and excited,” Simon says. “I can’t stay ‘safe’. I believe that as an artist you have to paint or make things you are passionate about, and if you are not passionate then it’s futile.”

His aim is to create something skilful, beautiful and profound. “If you can achieve two out of those three, that’s good. All three is perfect,” he says.

The evidence of that pursuit of perfection is all around at Sculpture by the Lakes, its waterside setting surely unique among the country’s many sculpture parks and gardens. Simon’s sculpture, majestic within such a landscape, where Monique’s block planting is so thoughtful and so effective, moves the viewing of art into a totally different dimension, an experience that enthrals and excites. Sometimes a piece is glimpsed from a distance, perhaps through trees or tall grasses, the aspect changing until it is finally revealed, more beautiful even in its proximity and, sometimes, doubled in magnificence by its reflection in a lake.

Now that Pallington Lakes is no longer a fishery, visitors are able to spend as long as they wish, strolling and relaxing and picnicking. There are boats for crossing to an island where Eve and the Fallen Apples lie in wait, and many lakeside seats at different levels to allow appreciation of the sculpture from alternative angles – one seat, strikingly, made in wood by local furniture maker Simon Thomas Pirie, and another a two-man copper swing by Hampshire metal artist Steve Myburgh. It all adds up to what Simon wants it to be: “A place of reflection and quiet contemplation.” That is why no more than 30 pre-booked visitors are allowed at any time, and why children under 12 are not allowed. “An exhibition should be an experience, not a ‘viewing’,” Simon adds.

With head gardener Marcus Smith and the grounds maintenance team of Lin Hambidge, her partner Ian McLuckie and his son, apprentice Sam McLuckie, Simon and Monique have planted 2,000 trees and shrubs, among them a wood of 460 silver birches and large numbers of oaks and willow as well as a dozen rare black poplar. “This is a lovely spot,” Simon agrees, “but you are always driven. There are always changes to be made, a whole range of things to work on. You don’t get time to relax. It’s like art. Art is a creative imperative. You can’t not do it. The more ideas you have the more driven you become.”

The drive is propelling Simon down undiscovered roads, into painting – “big, juicy oils, playing with colour” – and abstract kinetic sculpture, which he plans to exhibit next year.

The restless creativity explodes in dramatic vignettes wherever you look. There’s a beautiful, productive vegetable garden in parterre style close to the house, a hen enclosure with a des-res henhouse, a hard-landscaped sitting area where two old dogs lie commemorated, a long, winding woven willow arch, hand-made by Monique, and the ‘wise walk’, an arcade with quotations and uplifting or amusing aphorisms carved into the paving. In fact, les mots justes abound, surprising with their appearance in a stone wall or in metalwork springing up from the edge of a lake. Shakespeare is of course represented, but the selection is extremely catholic and includes Kipling and Edgar Allen Poe.

All of this, even the newly dug ponds, has been created in just four years since Simon and Monique first set eyes on Pallington.

They’d been looking to move from their rented two-bedroom cottage south of Salisbury and close to the New Forest because Simon couldn’t cope any longer with working in an old Nissen hut. “I couldn’t make anything over seven feet in height,” he says. “It was restricting both physically and creatively.”

Online searching of properties for sale, focusing on houses with barns in Devon, suddenly threw a curve ball – PallingtonLakes in Dorset. As Simon wryly recalls, it failed to fulfil any of their requirements. “Scarily, it was also twice our budget, so as first-time buyers it was an altogether hopeless proposition.”

However, he and Monique were intrigued enough to view it – and the rest is history. Freed from the confines of the Nissen hut into two huge, high, studios, Simon’s sculpture has grown exponentially. He’s thinking big, making big and has big plans to match.

A first musical event at Sculpture by the Lakes last year has encouraged him to grow that side of the business, so that this summer there will be three, all on a large scale. Stretch marquees will accommodate the crowds but the hope is that balmy evenings will mean everyone can wander the candlelit paths and picnic by the lakes.

PallingtonLakes may have been Simon and Monique’s first house purchase, but it is also their last. They don’t plan to move on anywhere else. “We’ve chosen where we’re going to be buried – our Île des Morts,” says Simon, gesturing out across the 26 acres, where the flashes of kingfishers suddenly illuminate the lake’s edge.

• Find out more about Simon Gudgeon’s work and the musical events at http://www.sculpturebythelakes.co.uk and http://www.simongudgeon.com

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There were so many well-wishers and friends at the opening of The Valentine Gallery on 19th May 2012 that it was impossible to get through the crowds and take a better photo. This one shows Annabelle and her partner, Vlad.

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(Published December 2011)

BLANDFORD artist Annabelle Valentine swapped her oil-paints and brushes for tools of a different trade to transform a town centre shop into her own studio and art gallery.

Working alone, and often in difficult and dangerous conditions, Annabelle spent eight weeks carrying out a major facelift on the listed Georgian building at 45 Salisbury Street.

The Valentine Gallery will open next spring, but meanwhile Annabelle is painting in the light-flooded studio where the large ‘shop-front’ windows give passers-by a wonderful view of her working on her portrait commissions.

“It’s turned out to be a remarkably sociable way of life and so different from being shut away in the room I used at home, where I was completely on my own. Here, people wave as they walk by or call in for a chat or to ask about my work and commission me to paint for them. They find it fascinating to watch me work, and I’m lucky that I don’t find it all distracting. I can work while I talk. It’s a lovely way to make friends with strangers.”

Over the weeks, some of them would have grown used to the unlikely sight of a young woman high up on scaffolding, brandishing various tools, brushes and buckets of lime mortar. However, Annabelle says there were sometimes raised eyebrows when she emerged at the foot of the ladder. “I think people expected some burly builder to be doing the work,” she says.

Annabelle, who is also engaged in restoring her Georgian home in nearby Orchard Street, bought the former shop and cellar, with the freehold to the whole building, and knew that if she wanted the work of transforming the premises done within her budget and exactly as she wanted it, she would need to do it herself. “I’m a perfectionist,” she says. “I don’t cut corners, and I haven’t just slapped paint on. I’ve prepared every surface meticulously, learning how to do certain things where necessary as I’ve gone along.”

The toughest day was spent signwriting, hanging over next door’s roof in a howling gale.

After that experience, Annabelle admits “it’s easier to paint a portrait than a vertical line while hanging upside down.

“All the letters were sloping and I had to spend ages straightening them up. I also had to make two stencils as the first one turned to papier mâché in a torrential shower just before I had time to trace it out.”

She also suffered with lime burn thanks to a hole in her glove, and a lot of aching muscles.

The words ‘In loving memory of Daphne and John Valentine’ appear over the door. “Thoughts of my dear parents have helped me get through each day,” Annabelle says. “The purchase of this building was partly funded by an inheritance from them, so I really wanted it to be a project that they would be excited by. They were always so supportive of my art. To have dedicated this to them is a great motivator for me.”

Her mother, a writer and watercolourist, was a descendant of the eminent Victorian portrait and landscape painter John Linnell, and she taught Annabelle to draw at a young age. Like Linnell, Annabelle has made her name in portraiture and now a passion for the countryside – in her case, the glories of Dorset, which she loves – is encouraging her to extend her repertoire. The trees at Badbury Rings, in particular, have caught her fancy and she is making a season-by-season study of them.

“I started off in South Devon as a painter of trees,” she says. “I opened a tiny gallery in Chudleigh which I funded by working as a distributor of vegetable boxes for Riverford Organics.”

Her art training was at colleges in Portsmouth and Exeter and she loves the fact she continues to learn and developing her skills, not least those which are enabling her to turn the shabby old shop floor into a thing of beauty. For this she will be laying an area of new floor, using floorboards reclaimed from the former Blandford parish rooms.

The Valentine Gallery will officially open in 2012 in time for Dorset Art Weeks (26th May–10th June) with a new exhibition once the interior is completed.

The gallery will mostly display Annabelle’s own work, but she says she plans to be quite ambitious and tempt in some of her favourite and well-known artists from time to time.

Annabelle, who has allowed herself only two days off since July, says: “Although it has been well worth the effort, I am very glad that the bulk of the work is finished and I can now concentrate on all my art commissions which are on order for Christmas.”

See Annabelle’s paintings online at http://www.thevalentinegallery.co.uk


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