I am sure I say this every year, and every year it catches me unawares, the smell of autumn. So, it is faint I admit but it is the first day I have noticed the slight change of scent in the fields, the invisible line between seasons is being crossed. This slight sump of land where the burn runs through is a favourite walk. The farmer has planted the margins with wild plants, a muddle of thistle and bramble, meadowsweet, campion, dockan and pineapple weed. A yellowhammer’s insistent call reminds me of the description in the Observers book of birds 1972 which says that the yellowhammer’s call is – ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese.’ I like that and say it repeatedly back to the bird on the telegraph wire but it seems unimpressed. Chiff chaff, wren and a couple of goldfinches. I turn north up the track, past an old ash, and a spindly, tall beech tree with a hole right through its centre, offering a view of clear blue sky, a portal. Up at the entrance to the estate two large doocots stand either side of the main gates. I meet a couple of walkers who say they are impressed by my doocots. Caught off balance by the stupid humour lurking in the comment but also by the idea that I might own said doocots I inform them they are not mine but agree on their magnificence. We chat about kingfishers and badgers and carry on our way. Past the tattie farm I spot a small bird’s nest lying on the track. Such a wonderful object, constructed of sheep’s wool, horse hair, moss and baler twine. I carry it home carefully. It has been a lovely morning in a place I know but never know, and simply by being out in the landscape it brings all manner of unexpected experiences.
A long summer sun shimmers across a field of oats. Thistledown floats past large white butterflies, and up above a pair of juvenile buzzards ride the columns of rising air, circling, lifting on thermal winds. Looking over the bridge the sun smoulders holes in the burn, the leaves of the trees reflecting like a filigree of moth eaten cloth. My skin tingles with nettle stings, a reminder later on that I was here. Gorse seeds pop in the heat and all is nodding, all tremulously shaking in the afternoon breeze.
Friend and writer Rebecca Sharp’s poem ‘Thaney’ has been selected for the Stanza’s poetry map of Scotland. Click on the link to read it. It came about from a painting I made about the scottish story of Thenaw, a princess, pregnant out of wedlock who was thrown from Traprain Law, but survived to give birth to a son who would become St Mungo.
It is a beautiful poem and I am so chuffed it made the collection.
Ravens, waterfalls, Schiehallion, rock, beetles, lochs, slow worm, bracken, hare bells, Buachaille Etive Mor, and cherry bakewell tarts.
Bay of the stranger, bay of the churches, bay of the promise, its gaelic meaning disputed. In this small place a chambered cairn, a standing stone and a township cleared in 1828 to make way for a sheep farm. Willow and alder flank the edges of the burn. Sheep folds, kail yards. The walls of houses, their corners rounded, give way to thresholds marking the comings and goings of families. Not gone away.