The Artist

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

One of those tiny, golden threads that in an unexplainable way thread their way through our lives is Penny. Penny Rumble and her love for sea swimming and art became part of our Hillside adventure right from the start.

A bright, sunlit autumn morning back in September 2014, the atmosphere of nervous anticipation was tangible. It was two days after our interview with the Duchy of Cornwall land steward and we were awaiting THE phonecall. We had travelled down through Cornwall to a small hotel for a pre-arranged weekend break. Through the busy streets of Penzance, over the little harbour bridge, past the quay where the Scillonian docks. No sign of that infamous white ship, already sailing to Scilly with her cargo of eager passengers. Onwards through the working port of Newlyn, a hive of activity, fishermen, artists and shopkeepers busy at work. Finally we reached the pretty little village of Mousehole with it’s famous harbour. With our complementary coffee, we sat in the beautiful hotel gardens, looking out towards St Clement Isle basking in the deep, blue sea.

Just below us on a grassy terrace, a slight woman dressed in a paint splattered blue tunic, had a large easel and canvas before her. The canvas was empty, white, awaiting it’s masterpiece. A small group of chattering people were sitting, expectantly waiting for that same masterpiece to appear. The artist, a thin, quick moving woman with shoulder length dark hair and darting eyes, began to paint. Her passion is the sea. To capture it’s movement, the feel of it, the energy. Not from a birds eye view as the gulls might see it, but from a swimmers eye. Bobbing from within the sea to within the surface of her painting. She moved determinedly, smudging paint with a pallet knife. Her energy and movement transferred into the waves, the rise and fall of the sea swells on the canvas.

My mind was only partially engaged with the artist, thinking more of what the phone call would reveal. Our lives were standing at a fork in the road and the next few moments would determine which path we were able to take.

Almost two years later a lady I vaguely recognised came to stay with us at the farm….it was Penny! I watched her setting off and returning from her swims with a mild curiosity and slight envy. Since then we have become great friends, she returns regularly and we swim together and she paints the sea surrounding Bryher. When I look into her paintings I can imagine being in the sea. She also sent me the gift of Lynne Ropers book, Wild Woman Swimming, which has been the catalyst for my writing. I often wander at how these tiny threads in people’s lives intertwine to create a bigger picture.

The air hangs heavy, mild and damp. An ominous calm envelopes the island, the calm before the storm. The hazy sun, shrouded in thick, opaque cloud sits to the west as the day eases it’s way towards evening. The golden banks of sand that at low tide stood proud, are now light flashes of turquoise amongst a darkening sea. The salty air, pungent and unmistakable, evokes memories of childhood trips from the peaty air of Dartmoor to the seaside, where Dad would breathe in great lungfulls of the briny atmosphere.

In the distance the sea thunders, way out in the Atlantic, bringing the threat of wild winds and big seas. Gulls paddle and feed as the bladder wrack begins to float, once more consumed by the water. There isn’t silence. The sea gently laps, the gulls call, the Atlantic roars, the breeze stirs in my ear and yet there is a peace. A silence all of my own.

Today’s swim is short and sweet. Incoming tide, glassy still surface hides a strong current beneath. The depth is only about four foot and I watch the seaweed quickly rolling like tumbleweed along the sandy seabed. I have to swim with commitment to make it around the little island at quay, against the pull of tide. I then turn and whizz along with the seaweed as if in some strange race…..great fun!

One of Penny’s paintings

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