Painting Pembrokeshire

"Porthgain Harbour" watercolour by Helen Lush
"Porthgain Harbour" watercolour by Helen Lush | Source

Watercolours and writings from the coast of West Wales .

There is something special about the Pembrokeshire coastline. The little lanes with their tall hedges are studded with pink foxglove spears and frothing cow parsley. The dark, folded-rock cliffs with their wind-sculpted trees and coconut scented gorse rise above an azure sea populated by seals, porpoises and dolphins. Sea birds nest on the rocky outcrops amongst thrift and Sea Campion and gannets dive for fish, slicing into the waves. I have been visiting the area around Fishguard regularly for over twenty years and painting it's harbours, cliffs and flora back in my studio in Cardiff. Here I have put together some of these watercolours with my poems and other writings inspired by the area and happy times spent there.

"To Strumble Head" painting by Helen Lush
"To Strumble Head" painting by Helen Lush
"Seascape" painting by Helen Lush
"Seascape" painting by Helen Lush


Succulent paper puffed and pristine

Drawing a flood of aquamarine

Raising a sky to colour a dream

Loading a brush to spill the sea

Flooding a stain of ocean green

Seeping a litmus tidal stream

Block in black and purple rock

Scatter salt to form a crust

Crushed and folded tinted rust

Stutter a swathe of buttery gorse

Shimmer the froth of a wave’s sting

Scratch and slice a gull’s wing

©Helen Lush

"Seascape 2" watercolour by Helen Lush
"Seascape 2" watercolour by Helen Lush
"Late Afternoon, Pwllderi" watercolour by Helen Lush
"Late Afternoon, Pwllderi" watercolour by Helen Lush
"Hare and Seagulls" by Helen Lush
"Hare and Seagulls" by Helen Lush

Blackberries and Flotsam

Woken by the sun pouring in to the caravan and a seagull stomping across the roof. We decide to go and pick blackberries. Down the narrow winding lane to Cwm-yr-Eglwys, tall hedge banks dripping with black fruit, carmine fuchsias and orange montbretia. Thinking of blackberry crumble covered in thick cream we fill a bag each. With sticky red hands and black tongues we lump our harvest down to the jetty and drink cold sparkling cider, dipping our toes in the sea.

We spend the rest of the day fishing for mackerel off the rocks near Strumble Head. Nothing to do but cast out the line and feathers and watch gannets dropping like arrowheads into the sea. Water laps against rock and a curious seal watches us from a safe distance. Then quickly the line tenses with the weight of three fish and soon after another four are hauled out of the water glistening silver and sapphire.

Later we take mackerel, barbecue and a bottle of red wine to a small shingle beach nearby. The evening sunlight washes the bay in golden light. While the coals heat we tread the shifting pebbles searching through flotsam in the tangles of frayed rope and bleached driftwood tucked up high under the cliff wall, to wander back slowly and cook our lovely chewy fish and watch the sun set.

©Helen Lush 2003

"Porthclais Harbour" watercolour by Helen Lush
"Porthclais Harbour" watercolour by Helen Lush | Source

Rock Pool

Sandy feet scuffing over bone white rocks,

we scamper on crusted tattoos of ink blue mussels,

crossing pale undulations studded with cups of tiny golden snails,

to crouch and peer into the crystal world of a deep rock pool,

its inhabitants brightly amplified.

Ribbons of brown rubber kelp waft gently and

glob red anemones clamp the sides, waving fat sticky tentacles.

Fragile rose blush prawns twitch and flicker, while deep down in the pool,

a gangling rusty spider crab, alarmed by our looming shapes,

is piling weed on its shell.

©Helen Lush 2002

"Reflections", painting by Helen Lush
"Reflections", painting by Helen Lush
"Cwm yr Eglwys 2012", watercolour by Helen Lush
"Cwm yr Eglwys 2012", watercolour by Helen Lush | Source


It’s a beautiful day. We’re going to take the little boat, Sunshine, out. Down the narrow lane, dripping with blackberries, to the boat park, impatient to pull off the boat’s heavy canvas cover, chuck in the life jackets, fishing box and picnic. Pull her out on her trolley over the lane and down the slipway onto the gravel beach. Tide’s out . Over the sand and snakes of kelp and wrack until the sea picks her up and takes its hold. Shoes off and trousers rolled up to push her out and we scramble in and get the outboard down. We’re off, bumping fast over the waves out of Cwm yr Eglwys bay. Eyes half-closed against the sharp salt spray we see the black sickles of porpoises in the distance. Chugging along closer to the rocks, a seal pops its shiny dark head out of the water, big mirror eyes watching us. Cut the engine and drop the anchor over the side. Wish I could capture the shifting colours of the water – the azure, jade and sapphire lozenge shapes. Tackle box opened spilling its tangle of lines, reels and colourful feathers, spotted and spangled plastic fish and rubber eels with silly faces (these fish will eat anything!). After untangling it all we have hand lines ready with feathers spaced along the last few feet and are ready to start dunking for mackerel.

"Cwm yr Eglwys 2011" watercolour by Helen Lush
"Cwm yr Eglwys 2011" watercolour by Helen Lush

Sometimes you can see gannets diving to feed on shoals of little fish and you know there’s a good chance there’ll be bigger fish there feeding on the little ones. It’s no fun being at the bottom of the food chain. The boat is gently heaving with the swell. It’s so peaceful. Nothing but the distant gulls and water lapping against the boat. The rocky cliff is quite close. Dark rock layers, crushed and folded up into humps, tinted rust and crusted purple. We dunked and dunked and caught lots of mackerel and a little red gurnard. Told to listen to the gurnard I held it to my ear. It sang its croaky song and made its escape, slipping through my fingers and plopping back into the water. Some way off a big pale sunfish flopped around near the surface of the sea, mobbed by seagulls. By lunchtime we have a dozen or so beautiful mackerel in the box, shining silver and cobalt. Anchor up and back along the coast to our bay. Later on in the afternoon we drive along the coast to “Aber” and get a barbecue going on the beach and cook some mackerel and drink some red wine and watch the sand martins ducking into their sandy cliff dens and listen to the rattle of the sea through the pebbles.

©Helen Lush 2002

"Porthgain panorama" watercolour by Helen Lush
"Porthgain panorama" watercolour by Helen Lush
"Porthgain 2012" watercolour by Helen Lush
"Porthgain 2012" watercolour by Helen Lush


Pembrokeshire is an unspoilt delight - the quiet coastal towns of Fishguard, Solva, Porthgain, Newport and St. David's, amongst others, are all worth a visit. Walk the Pembrokeshire Coast Path in the National park, take a boat trip to an island bird sanctuary, visit artists' studios dotted around the area or a wildlife centre...or just take a picnic to the beach, relax and enjoy the surroundings - and be inspired!

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