Of wolves and ravens and stories.

It began when we dropped the dogs off in the kennels, said goodbye to Marion and were delayed by puppies at the Sheepdog farm in St Davids. I had no idea where I was going the next day, or what I would be doing. It was a birthday treat ( my birthday being last September, 50 years old). Marion’s farm is on the other side of Penberri. Ravens fly over my house towards hers, and hers is full of dogs.

puppies at Pembrokeshire sheepdogsSo, we drove to Bishop’s Castle, to Middle Woodbatch Farm, and stayed overnight in a beautiful b&b and I tried not to worry about what it might be that I would be doing the next day, but I hoped in my heart that it would be wolves, please let it be, something to do with wolves.

The next morning was filled with sunshine. Amazing farm on the side of a hill. Before breakfast, a walk up the hill to fields where hare were. The hares were hiding, but the view was beautiful and the moon shone between two trees in a clear morning sky.

Middlewoodbatch farm on a hill in Shropshirebridle paththe moon between two trees in a morning skyAfter breakfast we drove, not far, and reaching our destination went down a steep narrow lane to a beautiful house in a wooded valley. Out trotted a huge deer hound. Still Robin wouldn’t tell me what was happening. I met Tony then he went off to answer the phone and I saw a hawk, and then, looking down the garden I spotted two gray wolves. Pure beauty. A whole day in the company of wolves.

hearing a wolf howl closerobinthe size of a wolf and the closenessbeautyprowlprowlwolfWolf pairI still can’t find the words to express what it feels like to howl to a wolf and have her answer, to hear a wolf howl so close that you feel the sound inside you, to watch a wolf prowl, to look into the amber eyes, to push hands deep into the mane of a wolf.

At Wolf Watch UK there are five wolves. They have room to roam and are kept relatively private with limited access from the public. As such their captive lives are as good as they can be. They have space and shelter and room to roam. Tony and Eva are both extraordinary people and as well as meeting the wolves it was a privilege to meet them too. I hope to go back some time soon, and just sit and draw and watch and learn and listen. Maybe when the moon is full. Meanwhile the website for Wolf Watch UK has many photos and film footage of the wolves so I will be able to take long distance looks at them.

The next day things were also exciting as I headed to London for a party at the Tower of London to celebrate the glorious success of Harper Collins and The Game of Thrones. Never one to miss an opportunity I had already written to Chris Skaife, Her Majesty’s Keeper of Ravens, to enquire as to the possibility of getting close access to the ravens . So, Thursday afternoon was spent watching, photographing, listening to and finding out about these glorious birds and in particular Merlin ( misnamed female of a raven full of mischief) and getting into places that we don’t usually get to, like the crypt beneath the church where many are buried and their names cut in elegant calligraphy on slate.

Chris Skaife and Merlin the Magical, Tower of London.Up close with a beautiful ravenCalling. Like the wolf call, wonderful to hear close up.Raven in The Tower of LondonShe is just so beautiful.Chris in full gear talking with George RR Martin about ravens and other things.Chris went off to get changed for the evening tour and left me, thankfully with a big black umbrella, and I sat and watched as Merlin played hide and seek, conversed with crows, found a small stone and lay on her side, clutching it like a teddy bear. And I sketched until my hands were cold, with a bamboo pen and ink and thought, with half a mind of Anne Boleyn, and Catherine of Aragon, of Thomas More and Mary Queen of Scots, of feet that have walked on the pathways, of eyes that have looked on the green outside the Queen’s House. The other half was lost with the shape of a raven and the movement of ink. And I thought of the wild ravens who flew over my house every day in Pembrokeshire. Wild raven, city raven.

So, on Thursday afternoon I sat where traitors have been beheaded, burned and drew a dark brid with a bright eye, until the party from Harper Collins came along and then I joined them to view the jewels of state.

fast ink sketches of ravensfast ink sketches of ravensink ravenThe crown jewels were astonishing, more interesting than I had expected them to be, with robes of state and salt holders and I thought about all of the artists and jewellers and embroiders, the musicians who had played the trumpets whose names were all engraved in each shining silver instrument. Astonishing.

George was very interested in the idea of the king’s champion laying down a challenge at banquettes. As the only man in armour at a feast he would usually remain unchallenged, but when George asked if this was still general practise at court I don’t think he was asking out of a desire to challenge!

I learned that a king’s crown has four pieces that connect to the centre, an emperor’s has eight. A staff with  a dove with its wings closed depicts that the bearer has no authority in their own right, but open wings mean that they do. The gold and silver plate was something to behold. Astonishing sculptures where lizards crawled with cats and nymphs.

I was wearing dragon earrings that day, shiny, Gothic, and one picked just that moment that we were passing through the rooms with all the crown jewels of state on show to leap from my ear to the floor! There I was with more material wealth than I would ever again be close to and my pewter dragon decided that this was indeed where he belonged, not on my ear at all and so that was where he was going to stay. Fortunately with the help of a yeoman, or rather yeowoman, I soon got said dragon back under control and in my ear.

Meanwhile in the White Tower it was time to celebrate the rise to power of fantasy fiction. With 4 titles in the top 15 best selling books and over 9 million copies sold around the world last year I would crown Jane Johnson as the real kingmaker, as years ago she read the first chapters of A Game of Thrones, about the finding of a dire-wolf cub clan, of incest and attempted child murder and knew somehow that she had to acquire George RR Martin for the Voyager list. A trilogy. At least that is what they thought then. Now George RR has killed off more absolutely amazing characters than most authors can manage to create.

The HBO series is a rare thing too. I watched the first series and need to get it on DVD, and series 2 looks as if it will be better still. Never ever as good as reading the book, but this is as close as it gets to perfection. Maybe one day they will tackle the Farseer and Liveship Books of Robin Hobb.

George Martin in The White TowerNine Million books! Round of applause.Suits of armour in the White TowerI wandered around the room, looking at the people, the armour, and found what had to be a copy of one of the earliest fantasy fiction books. It rivalled George’s books in size. But no, I was assured that it was a book of lists of the where-abouts of the arms and armoury of England and dated from the 1600’s.

Early Fantasy Fiction novel in The White Tower, Tower of London.I wasn’t convinced and still think that there are dragons within its pages.

So, two exciting days, with wolves and ravens and a party bag with my own Robin Hobb stickers in! Back home we went to pick up the dogs from Pembrokeshire Sheepdogs. Talking to Marion about where we had been she asked if we had seen Bran there? Bran was a raven they found on the farm. He couldn’t fly, so couldn’t stay living wild, at least not for long with foxes around, so she and her husband took him to the Tower where he lived for a while before being sent off to breed. I had been talking to Chris about him the day before. Amazing. Full circle.

Now, I have new pens. Time to doodle with glass and ink.

Glass pens

About Jackie

I am an artist and writer. I live in a small house by the sea in Wales where I write, paint, walk and watch and dream of bears and whales. I love to read, have a wish for wings and prefer the company of animals to that of humans, though at times I can be quite friendly. I am learning how to work with wood engraving tools and hoping to show that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
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28 Responses to Of wolves and ravens and stories.

  1. Sue Hyams says:

    Oh my goodness oh my goodness oh my goodness. What a treat! An experience you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Just wonderful!

  2. This sends shivers down my spine Jackie… what a perfect birthday treat, amazing experiences!
    The wolves look so beautiful…. the Ravens, stunning.
    And Both Jane Johnson & Mr Martin deserve a good party…I am still making my way through the books. Brilliant stuff! (Though not as good as our Mrs Hobb of course!) 🙂

  3. James Mayhew says:

    Gorgeous pictures. Love the close ups of the wolves. Such amazing misundeerstood animals. But that close up of the raven is priceless! We are off to the Tower on monday as Gabriel wants to see the Armoury. I will give your regards to the ravens! Glad you had a great time… x

  4. Katherine Knupp says:

    Oh, my. You have lived out my fantasy. The photos of the wolves and ravens brought tears to my eyes. May I copy the close up of Merlin and the close up of the Wise Wolf to use as wallpaper on my computer? I do not have a website or blog, so I would not be re-posting them, but I would so love the pleasure of looking into their eyes. Please email me, yea or nay. Thank you.

  5. dinahmow says:

    Utterly enchanting. All of it. Thank you, Jackie.

  6. andrea says:

    Di sent me here knowing I’d love every single part of this post — and wishing I’d had the same experience for my 50th birthday! I may just have to read it again.

  7. WOL says:

    Oh, wow! Oh, wow! Oh, wow! Wolves and ravens and jewels and thrones — and glass pens! What a portmanteau holiday!

  8. Jackie, an amazing post all way around, from the goose-bump inducing photos of wolves and incredible ravens to the armor and GRRM. Thanks for sharing this glimpse into your very interesting life! What a fab birthday gift to spend time with wolves.

  9. Mo Crow says:

    Oh goodness Jackie! thank you for taking the time to write such a treasureful post, wolves!!! jewels!!!! your sketches & photographs of Merlin are beautiful, love her darksome plumage & have fun with the glass pens.

  10. This has got to be the best blog I’ve ever read…about the best experience I could imagine for birthday celebrations. Thanks so much for the way you wove the story and the photos together. I enjoyed it a lot, as I’m sure you did!

  11. Margarette Wagner says:

    thank you for the beautiful photos and description of your day with the wolves. I can only imagine it was a religious experience. some decades back I visited the tower and was astounded at the things I saw. I hadn’t heard of the ravens before hand. Ignorant American that I was. Your photos certainly did them justice. thank you again for sharing ! M

  12. chloe heuch says:

    Amazing pics of wolves and ravens, they are works of art before you even begin your magic. The ravens are so clear and the colours in her feathers just beautiful. I love your on the spot sketches too, very inspiring as usual! Thank you for sharing.

  13. Carrie says:

    Wow! How fantastic! I’ve had both Wolves and Ravens running constantly through my thoughts just lately and then along comes your post…
    The photo of you with the wolf at full howl is just amazing, I can’t imagine how that would have felt, filling all the senses with wolf wildness…
    And that beautiful Raven, sleek black midnight mistress…
    Sounds like an amazing couple of days indeed!
    I am just reaching the end of Robin Hobb’s Tawny Man, my first introduction to these novels and I am loving it… I will have a fair few to collect I think!

  14. Thank you. I am lost for words at the wonder of it all.

  15. Julie Clay says:

    All amazing, the wolves make my spine tingle, a bit scary that, the raven is just spectacular, and beautiful. Sounds like a wonderful time was had! My friend lived down near Aldershot, and was once out walking her dog, when they came across wolves being walked??

  16. laurie says:

    I too am at a loss for words but I will say thankyou for sharing this.

  17. Lisa Igo says:

    Wow Jackie your post has inspired me to take up a pencil and draw. For a while the ravens have been hovering and now a spark of creativity has appeared. My maiden surname coat of arms includes 3 black wolves, my mother’s Irish maiden name is Fox and my married surname’s coat of arms includes a Golden Oak tree and a silvery greyhound. I think it time to create a family tree picture. Please would I be able to use your photos of wolves to help me draw the three for the picture?

    • Jackie says:

      Yes of course you can, and would love to see what you do. Have a look at the two on my facebook page at the moment too. Maddy when she was young, looking like a wolfie Rosie with her tongue hanging out!

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  24. Helene says:

    Happy birthday!

    Those sketched ravens are gorgeous and so full of energy! I love them.

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