An introduction to Ancient Flete

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From : Shelley Castle, landscape artist

An introduction to Ancient Flete

Shelley Castle, Landscape Artist

I came down to Devon three years ago to start a Masters degree in Arts and Ecology at Dartington College of Art. Having come from Hackney in London’s East End, the change of environment made a huge impact on me as an artist and our lives as a family. After completing the MA, we moved our children to a new school at Ermington, where each morning I wondered about the amazing woodland which I could see from their playground.

The Flete Estate

One day someone told me it was on the Flete Estate.

I had been looking for an area to make work around landscape, so I rang the estate and ended up speaking directly with the owner, Anthony Mildmay-White. After sending him some photographs and a brief outline of my work, we met, and he agreed that I could have access to the estate on a regular basis. I could also use the old Victorian Game Larder as my studio. In return, I would write a monthly journal for the Flete website as well as making a photographic archive of the area.

Time-lapse film

Then last summer, the South Devon AONB commissioned me to create a short time-lapse film at three sites on the estate. I chose to focus the filming on the newly created salt marsh, some ancient woodland and a large area of reeds. These areas are all on the edge of the Erme estuary, and are under the stewardship of a working dairy farm at Orcheton. The farming family kindly agrees to allow me access for the duration on the filming, which meant me stumbling around in their fields with a camera before dawn and after dusk for several days during the summer.

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Artist's archive

I also talked to a variety of local people, including farmers, a botanist and wildflower specialist, a local amateur historian, the children at Holbeton primary school and the Gamekeeper of the Flete estate. And for me one of the most enjoyable aspects of this project has been the warmth and interest I was met with and the generosity of everyone involved.

The resulting archive of voices and imagery comes in a variety of forms. The name Flete almost certainly derives from the old English word for estuary – Fleot. I also recorded some local children speaking in this old language. They say almost recognisable local place names like Mootbur which is Saxon for Modbury.

This is an edited version of Shelley Castle’s speech to introduce the film of her work at the AONB Golden Showcase event, 18th March 2011.


Hear a podcast of Shelley talking about her art practice on this site: Ten Estuary Tales No.10

Find out more about Flete House on their own website: Flete House

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