To all my friends in Lincolnshire, i want you to know that you have meant a lot to me. In many ways, a great deal. Thank you…
My search for a home has taken me through various parts of the UK, some with beautiful countryside, others wild and remote. I have been looking to move to a place that can connect me to the land, that has echoes of a more simple, unmodernised world and still remembers the history that created it. I want to experience living in an area where nature is still more prevalent than people, to be absorbed by and dwell on (and in) an environment that has a balance that inspires artistic expression. Here, by the south-west coast of Scotland, i believe i have found such a place, a house surrounded by a unique ecosystem, within land that is managed to promote wildlife. It sits within an area of scenic beauty, the coastal village is managed by the National Trust, and the RSPB have a number of reserves along the shore and islands nearby.
I arrived late on Wednesday night, drove up the bumpy track to the cottage, and stood in the darkness listening to the rushing sound of water sinking underground where the mill wheel once stood. The stream was running fast after recent weeks of rain, and sounded magnified in the silence.
I held in my hand the key to this rather magical house, something from a storybook, hidden away in a secret landscape. After an exhausting day and the long drive, I unlocked the door, and went inside to make a cup of tea and sort out somewhere to sleep before the removals arrived the following day. I managed to get some rest, but woke in the night. The curtains were glowing with the light of the moon outside, and curious, i went up to look out of the back window. There was a spectacular scene – a sky full of stars above the silhouette of darkened trees that rise up and curve around the house in a natural amphitheater – a clear, dark sky studded with pulsating light, and beyond that, another layer of smaller stars.
Early in the morning i got up and went to the window, full of excitement to see outside.
The half-light revealed a frost that had crystallised the dry-stone walls and grass, a sparkling white crust against the blue tinted winter sky.
The view to the west is of magnificent old trees standing in rolling heathland with grassy pathways through areas of gorse, already yellow amongst the rusty remains of bracken. Stands of self-seeded young hawthorns and other varieties give a soft natural atmosphere and the horizon is edged with a mixed and coniferous forest backdrop.
The front of the house is south-facing, the view follows the stream as it re-emerges from underground, through the garden, and sweeps down the valley over low land heath dotted with heritage breed sheep, fallow marshland with a nature pond, and down to the sea. On clear days you can see across the Solway to the Lake District, the highest peaks dusted with snow. As the sun rose the frosted land was illuminated warmly with yellow-pink light, and mist rose up from the grass as the heat glowed onto the fields. A perfect day…
The first week and a half has comprised a number of hurdles, (not helped by a lack of phone and internet service because of a faulty sim card) and contacting relevant companies. I have just about got through the to-do list, and unpacked almost all of the boxes. The weather has been fantastic, i have been out in the garden and walked up to the loch to explore. Some of the neighbours have dropped by to say hello, everyone is very friendly and passionate about the land and wildlife.
Exploring the Garden
The kitchen window has a bird feeder on it, which attracts all sorts of small birds, particularly popular with tiny coal tits and delightfully, red squirrels that stretch up on their hind legs to look in at me. None of the wildlife here seems remotely bothered by my proximity in a way that I haven’t experienced before. Deer walk past the window, a sparrow hawk regularly flies through the garden, and a beautiful jay flies down from the woods to take peanuts. The birds here look so healthy and vibrant, a few days ago a pheasant walked past with the most magnificent colouring i have ever seen.
To the back of the house is the bothy, a stone outbuilding once used by shepherds, now to be my art studio. Above this, a hilly rise past woodland which at the moment is highlighted with snowdrops – in the morning light the sky glows a deep blue between the trunks. Further up is a huge fir tree which hides the well that used to serve the village, now covered in ferns and moss.
As you emerge from the canopy, the the garden opens out into a secret forgotten orchard, a wild nature reserve surrounded by stone walls with woodland to one side and views across heathland to the other. Amongst the long grass grow huge trees with colossal moss-encrusted bases which look as though they were at one time coppiced, and old gnarled fruit trees. Old variety galloway narcissus are almost ready to flower here, and later on, i believe there will be orchids. A resident robin sings and accompanies me each time i come here, and buzzards often circle overhead around the woods. The orchard trees are covered in wonderful clumps of lichen which decorate their bare structures, it will be interesting to see what they look like and produce in the months ahead.
For those interested in what i am getting up to here, I intend to write Notes from Strandside as a kind of regular diary to see how the landscape and wildlife changes through the seasons, alongside my other art and nature blog posts.