Peatbog on watercolour paper 78 x 56 cm.
Sitting on the beach at the edge of the loch, a convoy of great grey battleship clouds steam in from Glencoe. And yet, right here the sun is shining and if I close my eyes and listen to the gentle waves it could, almost, at a pinch be summer in Scotland, even at the back end of January. The lone rowan, the sentinel guarding my walks over the moor sighs in the wind. I set off to see how far I might get and how quickly my optimism is dented. I stumble, fall, wrench myself free from the quagmire, which seems determined to keep me. This is also a visit to make some work. I am dragging a large piece of watercolour paper behind me, in and out of the lochans and pools and peat banks. It stains, leaving traces of plant life and is soaked through. I must look curious to anyone who might tbe watching, but then, I haven’t seen a living thing since I arrived. I consider the paper and its marks , thinking ahead to what I will do to it back in the studio. Carefully rolling it up I put it in my rucksack and start to make my way back. At one point I sink, getting stuck and realise I shouldn’t be quite so cavalier. I have no knowledge of any use here. And then there’s the story I read about a woman trying to cross the moor in winter…… I spot some faint deer tracks, they know how to traverse the waterland. With their guidance I temporarily find firmer ground, until their track disappears and I’m baffled again as to how to proceed. When I can look up the light here is beautiful today. The sky pulses bright, then shadowed as different parts of the landscape are spotlit, like a lighting rig set for a stage. I am interrupted by my phone. Both my children have messaged me, one from Dundee the other from China with questions about van hire and the desire for scones. These things are important. I make it back to the beach, ford the burn and just as think I will see no wildlife at all today I spot a small flitting bird in a stand of spruce on the track back to the station. I wait and it appears on a branch right in front of me, a goldcrest. My heart races . How stunning to see the smallest of British birds in the enormity of this landscape. A wonderful day.
Oil on found wood – 14.5 x 9.5.
An investigation into the found nature of things, about landscape and nature, the familiar, the nostalgic, and what it might suggest about identity.
More conversation to follow…..
Watercolour on found wood – 33 x 14 cm.
Charcoal and watercolour on paper – 37.5 x 22.5 cm.
From Rannoch moor the water that collects will flow all the way to either the North sea in the east or to the Atlantic in the west.
This story is told by A D Cunningham in his book ‘Tales of Rannoch’.
The Watershed Battle.
When the world was young and Rannoch Moor was covered with trees there lived two giants, Anier and Anear. While was one was rapacious the other was destructive and they were very jealous of one another. They both wanted the waters of the Moor.
Giants are usually quarrelsome and small minded and these were no exceptions; they bickered and argued all day long about who should have the waters. Eventually they came to blows and their screams and curses could be heard from far and wide. They tore up the trees and snapped off the trunks to use as clubs and missiles.
For thirty days and thirty nights the battle raged. Although both were wounded and sorely bruised they fought on stubbornly until the Moor was a wilderness, not a tree was left standing. Finally, exhausted, and neither having gained anything, they agreed on a truce. They decided to divide the waters. Anier was to take the rivers to the Atlantic by the way of the Etive, the Kinglass and the Orchy, while Anear was to take the easterly flow by Loch Laidon, the river Gaur, Loch Rannoch, the tummel and the Tay to the North sea.
Oil on panel -122 x 94 cm.
Oil on panel -122 x 94 cm.
Newly washed sheets on a line, the sky at Rannoch today, all billowing, blustering, fresh. Snow stripes the top of the mountains. The nether land, both earth and water, dialogical, sucks and pulls at wellies. It takes concentration, and effort to walk here. It is simply impossible to walk in a straight line, mapping becomes an intuitive observation based on colour, height, mass and perceived dryness of mosses, sedges, heather, blaeberry. Where the peat lies exposed I push in my fingers and am surprised by the softness and buttery nature, like slightly drying oil paint. Centuries old tree stumps lie exposed to the elements and I find a contorted branch in the shape of a serpent complete with a staring eye. Grey, black and white feathers from a bird I don’t know the name of, wee granite pebbles and a piece of wood which will become a surface for a painting when it dries. A silk scarf of rain slips over the landscape. Back at the car I look at my hands. Peat underneath my fingernails, black crescent moons. I see where I need to go next.
Wishing everyone a very very happy new year !
Oil on wood – 41 x 26 cm.
Merry Christmas and a very happy new year to everyone. Thank you for all your support this year.
2020 – Rannoch .
Mointeach Raineach is gaelic for Rannoch Moor.
The train’s headlights pierce this nearly shortest day of the year, sounding its horn as it corners the bend into Rannoch station. The sound echoes off the hill in agreement. Snow on the ground, footprints of wellies, dogs, deer, mice, a lopsided snowman with twiggy arms. A forleg of a deer on the track. The ice creaks, snaps in the loch with the slightest of breezes. I sit on the moor, next to a lone rowan tree for company. Wind sings on the high plateau to the east. I sit and wait and look and listen. All the while the sky is darkening. A heron flies overhead, the first living thing I have seen on the moor, its cry fills the silence as it slowly skirts the shoreline of the loch. The sound of ice breaking increases as the wind picks up. I make a quick drawing and have a cup of coffee from a flask that I remembered to make before leaving this morning in the dark. Snow might be coming and my thoughts turn to the long drive home. Time to leave. I pick up a small pebble from the loch, a speckled birds egg of a stone, a thing stolen from this heart land of ghosts and beauty, to remind me as I write this.
Oil on wood – 20 x 15 cm
I’m reading Rob Cowen’s book ‘Common Ground’- a portrait of a Yorkshire edge-land, a piece of forgotten landscape that he returns to again and again to try and understand its layers. He writes……’We project all we are and all we know onto landscape. And, if we’re open to it, the landscape projects back into us. Time spent in one place deepens this interaction, creating a melding and meshing that can feel a bit like love. In the drowsy light of the coming evening I not only see where I have walked before, but who I was when I walked there. What I was feeling; what I was thinking. And isn’t this how we navigate this sphere ? Creating fusions of humans and place, attaching meaning and emotions, drawing cognitive maps that make sense of the realm beyond our comprehension. Our connection to the world is always two things at once : instinctive and augmented.’