Catherine Coulson

Artwork & Inspirations.


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Bluebells at Carstramon Wood

bluebell panorama

How to describe the colour of bluebells? Covering the woodland floor they form an elusive hue, complex and impossible to replicate on film; emitting a cool ultramarine glow under shade, yet at the same time a warm pink-lilac haze in the shafts of light falling between the trees. The bells themselves range from electric blue to vivid periwinkle with thin stripes of cobalt running along soft bleached-mauve petals; in the dappled sunlight they create a spectacular display, each making its contribution to the pointillistic vision of blueness. They light the woodland floor with intense vibrancy, yet somehow this makes a gentle atmosphere, soothing, romantic, nostalgic.

bluebelltrees

The pigment that makes this complex colour is called Malonylawobanin, or O-(6-O-(transp-coumaroyl)-β-D-glucosyl)-5-O-(6-O-malonyl-β-D-glucosyl)delphinidin! Along with at somewhere between 15-25 biologically active compounds, this seems to offer them protection against insect and animal damage, UV radiation and temperature fluctuations. Each year they time their flowering to peak just before other woodland plants and tree leaves block the light and this specialist adaptation to their ecological niche ensures that they can grow with little competition in the difficult conditions under dense shade of beech and oak trees, using stored nutrients from their bulbs.

Carstramon Wood (also Castramont Wood) is an ancient oak woodland surrounding Castramont House, now gifted to the Scottish Wildlife Trust. The approach from Anwoth takes you on a raised parallel road giving a magnificent view down across the river valley where it meets the forest. The newly leafing trees gather like clouds up the hillside, and (this year in mid-May) a delightful transformation occurs – contained behind the stone wall and settled as if first snow, lies a glimpsed shade of blue resting between the bases of the lower trees.

When they first started to flower the bluebells were a deeper colour, reminiscent of lapis lazuli; their upper buds still closed and pointing upwards, others angling outwards and some beginning to bend down and open slightly. The stems at the top were a dark, inky indigo becoming green towards the ground. Some of the buds were pale green and the flower stalks attaching them to the stem an intense ultramarine blue. The shiny, glinting leaves were more visible, covering the forest floor in a haphazard crisscross. Magnificent beeches were the first trees in leaf, vibrant splashes of fresh green; new growth so light it appeared as though suspended. Every now and then appeared a white bell glinting brightly in the sunlight, a rare mutation of the native flower, rather than a Spanish invader. The bracken was sending up new shoots, its fronds not yet unfurled, but clasped loosely on curved stems emerging like snakes from the undergrowth. The wood felt very calm and quiet, save for birdsong high up in the canopy, and the echoing call of a cuckoo across the meadow.

A few days on, and the woods feel very different, warm and heavily perfumed; a tawny owl glides lazily across my path down towards the river. Many more trees have started to turn green, honeysuckle has started its curl around trunks and the heat of the last few days has brought the flowers out fully; each stem with every bell released from bud. Little tracks cross deeply through the flowers, enabling you to be completely surrounded by hazy clouds of bluebells, continuing into the trees in every direction, beyond into the distance ascending further up the slopes.bluebell softThe bells are an intricate mix of colours now, the intensity of first bloom has softened into a warmer bleached-mauve with sky blue stripes. The stems are green to the top, the colour is in motion; once dark-tipped stalks have lost their pigment. The tiny bracts beneath the flowers are a warmer violet and the visible pollen is cream or white. The bells are narrow with curly tips, cascading down the stem in a gentle arc. In Carstramon the old trees are encrusted with moss and lichens, giving a warm soft covering to parts of the trunk where tiny pink-striped wood sorrel have seeded. Where the bark shows it sparkles in the light beams, this silver-grey compliments the lilac bells in a heart-aching way.

The wood is full of lines and pathways; animal tracks making thin green lines of exposed leaves and trodden bells; the slight reveal of orange earth on a wider human path; the shadows cast from trees making lines of deeper colours. Old fallen trees make mossy tramlines through the blue and branches emerge like ancient sculptures from the ground surrounded in a pool of violet.

Bluebells seem to grow particularly well on slopes and the contours of the hills concentrate the blue along the tops. The covering also highlights hills and woodland banks, i came upon this volcanic-looking mound where the bells had accumulated around the sides and seemed to move towards me in a flow of frothy lava.

bluebell mount

Up on a moss filled stump a few plants have seeded; it is a nice contrast to see the plants as specimens above the mass spread below. The colours and textures in a bluebell wood are simultaneously restful and vibrant, with an alluring combination of deep shadow and bright highlights. The vivid emerald leaves, emerging in vertical spikes from the woodland floor, angular yet softened by a haze of petals; the warm green of moss and lichens breaking up solid lines of fallen branches; the silver-orange of wood and twigs against sunlit arching stems; the deeply shaded side of trees softened here and there by the creep of ivy; the upright lines of hundred of trunks distracted by the soft first green of opening foliage glittering in luminous horizontal flickers; the pastel blue sky glowing through the shapes made between branches as they decrease in width and height, fading into the distance.

bluebell specimen in moss

Ferns emerge through the leaf straps against the hazy horizon, growing up to the light in crown formations, their ammonitic spirals still held taught. Glimpses of other hilltops appear through windows in the trees, some green and others golden with gorse.

The dense press of flowers continues upwards through layers of forest, undaunted by the sheer ascent, channeling streaks of light between trunks as they plummet towards the path below. The intensity of colour seemed most concentrated here, broken only by the first tips of feathery bracken and the thin path below.

bluebell steep hill

Still the bluebells go on, up and up and eventually open out across a higher enclosed clearing.The purple flowers covered the floor in every direction downwards towards me, seeming to flow like a glacier from a slope high up between a stand of trees, leaving a rubble of old bracken in its path.

We tend to think of bluebells as a swathe of colour, but more often the dominant colour is green, the leaves and stems underneath the flower. In these Scottish woods there is an addition of soft apricot brown from last year’s bracken and longer grasses which have died back – these seem to be Galloway colours of Spring, blues of the sea and reflections over shallow water with the pale oranges of sand and sunlight breaking it up.

Finally I emerge into the warm sunlight near the summit of the Doon of Castramont, the smell of hot wood merging with the intensifying bluebells. The colours seem different here, warmer, and sun-bleached. Into another wooded height, almost at the peak, the woodland floor is sunlit and dry, lightly dappled with newly emerging leaves of the thin canopy.

Birds flit around the treetops, sillouhetted against the bright sky; at this time of year Carstramon welcomes back migrant birds; pied flycatchers, redstarts, wood warblers and willow warblers return to breed. The heat of the sun is intense, and it is a welcome relief to descend back into the woodland, and the cool swathes of bells.

The English bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta is a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The UK contains about half of the world’s remaining flowers which can be found in hedge lines, hillsides and coastal areas, as well as concentrations in woods. Invasion from introduced non-native varieties such as Spanish bluebells has potentially been catastrophic for the native flowers, as they have hybridised from nearby gardens, and purely native bluebell woodlands are becoming rare. This, along with habitat loss and over-collecting of bulbs have left the bluebell vulnerable, consequently landowners are prohibited from removing common bluebells on their land for sale and it is a criminal offence to remove the bulbs of wild common bluebells. This legislation was strengthened in 1998 under Schedule 8 of the Act making any trade in wild common bluebell bulbs or seeds an offence, punishable by fines of up to £5000 per bulb. Some licences have now been granted to collect seed from native plants for propagation to provide nurseries with bulbs for gardeners who wish to remove introduced varieties and replant. English bluebells are an indicator species for ancient woodland, where they have remained undisturbed for hundreds of years, spreading slowly in their preferred environment, often in slightly acidic soil in oak, beech and broadleaved forests.

bluebell arc

www.wildflowerfinder.org.uk Very good info on bluebells and wildflowers (bandwidth limit means site is sometimes unavailable)

Carstramon Reserve info Wildlife Trust

Plantlife Bluebells for Britain report

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh research

BBC article on hybridisation

Bluebell Survey 2016

Carstramon leaflet PDF

Carstramon Wood is a nature reserve managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, near the beautiful town of Gatehouse of Fleet in Dumfries and Galloway.

Flowering information 2016

Visits 2016 May 6th (flowers just opening, plenty of buds, deep colours), 11th May (fully out, colour changing, perfect display, strongly scented), 18th May (some bells on stems over and vegetation growing up through flowers)

 

 


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Wildlife in the walls

I have been creating a small flower bed next to the bothy the last couple of weeks, taking advantage of the warm weather. It has been dug out between a set of low terraced platforms, raised by dry sone walls near to where the water wheel was situated.  I thought it would be nice to introduce a few small plants into the cracks and holes between the boulders of the stone wall, and as i went to plant one, came upon two small lizards sunbathing in the gap.

They were unbothered by my inspection and continued to lie there, blinking at me a few times before stretching out and closing their eyes.

They were only small with very few markings; probably last year’s young. Common Lizards (Lacerta vivipara) take about 2 years to mature, and fend for themselves from birth. They can live alone or as a small group, so i guess these two had decided to stick together. At first glance they looked an unusual bright brown colour, and on closer inspection their scales glittered with iridescent shades of pale pink, peach and orange.

After a while one of them moved along to the next gap in the stone, and there they stayed until the sun moved round when they both retreated into the wall. Needless to say; nothing got planted there, and on checking the following days they were back in position enjoying the sunshine.

I love the thought that there are these little lizards living in the wall, they are another special addition to the garden, protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, and classified as a Priority Species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.


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Heirloom Daffodils

Over the last few weeks the garden has begun to change; as temperatures have risen, the snowdrops have finished, and the daffodils are making their display. There are a few different types around the garden that I was told were old varieties, so i did some research to see what i could discover. They certainly have a lot more leaf and fewer flowers than the swathes of yellow seen in modern plantings, and open in stages rather than all at once which seems more natural in a woodland setting. The daffodils in the orchard are well established, i think they may be Narcissus incomparabilis – the single form of an old variety pre 1600 known as ‘butter and eggs’. They are very attractive and delicate despite their full size, with smaller cups rather than long trumpets. They have perfectly formed pale primrose-yellow petals and the cups differ in colour, some all yellow, and the majority becoming orange towards the tips in varying degrees.

IMG_4549It is interesting to see how the names of varieties have evolved over time; before the introduction of binomial taxonomy in Carl Linnaeus’s (1700–78) Species Plantarum, plant names were given descriptive titles based on observation. Parkinson labelled what I’m sure is the same daffodil as Narcissus Incomparabilis; Narcissus latifolius omnium maximus, amplo calice flauo, fiue Nompareille – this long title translating from Latin to something like broad-leaved, greatest/biggest of all daffodils, with a tapering chalice shaped flute/cup of no equal/ no comparison (nonpareil)… and so becomes known as the great None such Daffodill or Incomparable Daffodill, Narcissus Incomparabilis or Peerless Daffodil.

Further down from the woods towards the house, there are some much larger flowers with trumpets containing whirls of frilly petals, which i believe are the true form of ‘Van Sion’ or Telamonius Plenus – a variety that a plantsman named Vincent Sion finally managed to get to flower in England in 1620. Before he died, he gave the bulbs to the botanist, herbalist and apothecary to James 1st, Parkinson who wrote of it in his published Paradisi in sole paradisus terrestris (1629)- If you are interested in the book, you can view it in the Biodiversity Heritage Library – I have extracted the pages mentioning my two varieties here .

The clumps in the woodland have clear trumpets with the double flower contained inside, but it was only when i saw more of these amongst some flamboyant green streaked blooms at the front of the house that i recognised the variety which proffers these unconfined double bursts when not situated in ideal conditions. It is interesting to have the two variations to compare, and the history behind them is interesting and complex and particularly bizarre in regard to naming this variety –  which has many synonyms such as ‘Master Wilmer’s Great Double Daffodil’ and was wrongly attributed with ‘Van’ for the V. Sion rather than ‘Vincent’.

In his book; Daffodils, Narcissus and how to grow them as hardy plants and for cut flowers with a guide to the best varieties by A. M. Kirby (1907), Kirby describes the difference in characteristics between the flowers depending on their environment producing either the ‘unburst double trumpet type‘ or the ‘rose double – trumpet burst, its petals curving backwards and intermingling with the perianth segments‘. He describes how the unburst trumpets were once preferentially cultivated by nurseries to maintain their true form, but had since been diluted through profiteering growers not discarding the ‘rogues‘.

What is interesting to me is that i have the two distinct varieties in the garden; whether this is a constant thing remains to be discovered, but assuming that is the case, i had wondered whether as my research suggested it was because the moist, shaded woodland was a perfect environment for the true form to thrive, rather than the south-facing open water-meadow where they have burst. However, this author suggests it is more a case of bulb evolution and deterioration – ‘They will never admit anything wrong in their strains.. and yet I know of double trumpet daffodils in old gardens that have annually produced flowers with unburst trumpets for many years, regardless of the too sudden change from winter into summer’. 

A few days ago i saw my neighbour and mentioned the daffodils to him, he told me that they had always been in the woodland, but that the ones at the front had been planted in the last 20 years when the land was cleared. I asked whether the bulbs were split and moved from the woods, but he thought they were new bulbs. If that is so, then the argument for bulb strain being the contributing factor is strong in this case. Perhaps they were planted to match the ones at the back, but have since become ‘rogue’!

Either way for a plant that has never especially interested me, i find this all fascinating, and i will take Kirby’s advice…

‘If you get a good strain of golden-yellow Double Van Sion that produces flowers with unburst trumpets — treasure and keep it, for such are getting scarce’

 

other reference sources:

heirloomdaffodils.comwww.hortuscamden.comwww.oldhousegardens.com

 

 


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Signs of Spring

The larches are in flower, something i have never seen before; bright pink cones emerging upright from soft green pine needle tufts. These are the female flowers, sometimes known as larch-roses and they will develop into pine cones. The male flowers carrying the pollen are found on the same branch. The fresh new growth looks lovely after the winter; european larch (larix decidua) turns gold-amber in the autumn before loosing its needles. Its light shade provides habitat for red squirrels and birds such as sparrowhawks and goshawks; crossbills, siskins and tree creepers; as well as many moth species.

On the doorstep i almost trod on what i think is probably a palmate newt (Triturus Lissotriton helveticus) a tiny little thing, which let me pick it up and relocate it to a safer place near the stream where it was better camouflaged against the stones. It was a dull, dusty brown colour with a thin ridge along its spine and tail and an almost translucent orange-red glow to the inside of its limbs. Its underside was creamy and there were vague dappled markings to the sides of its tail.

Palmate newts are common throughout Western Europe, where habitat remains that suit them, however they are becoming extremely rare to endangered in a number of countries. Despite their common status, they are still considered vulnerable throughout their range and are protected by law everywhere that they are found. They breed in ponds during spring, when they come out of hibernation from old walls, so i guess this one had just emerged. They like tussocky grassland and areas of water that have vegetation above and below water level, so i suspect the shallow grassy stream is a perfect environment for them.

The warmth has brought a few toads out, they are slowly crawling around in the sunshine. They have lovely golden eyes with horizontal pupils, with lumpy glands behind them. The common toad (Bufo bufo) is native to the UK and is becoming increasingly less common as habitats are lost, and migration routes are disrupted. They favour large ponds with deep water for breeding, which they will return to each year. Woodland, scrub and coarse grassland are the ideal environment where they hunt for slugs, spiders and insects nocturnally. There is a project called Toads on Roads that patrols crossings on migration routes.

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Down at the wildlife pond in front of the house, the edge-water is full of frogspawn, pooling gelatinously around the grasses. It will be interesting to see how much of this survives the resident heron, and what will emerge.

Other signs of spring appear each day, daisies and buttercup-like lesser celandines; primroses and the green leaves of honeysuckle, first to appear in the hedgerow. The clematis montana across the front of the house has thousands of buds, and tiny scilla shine blue from the border. The biggest change to the landscape is the gorse which is fully in flower and brightening the hills with golden highlights. There is a berberis tree at the top of the lane that is a brilliant rusty orange, and mahonia in the stone wall glinting yellowly. Birds are beginning to look for nesting sites in the hedges and walls, which the sparrow hawk has been taking a keen interest in, and the forest behind the house is beginning to show a hint of fresh green, where the larches are filling in with fresh needles.


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Gull Loch & Sea Views

The word ‘strand’ means small stream, in the Dictionary of the Scots Language I like the description ‘A strand is a wee burn, or a streimlet fra rain’ (1838 A. Crawfurd).

Strandside sits next to a stream that runs through the garden, travelling downhill in a series of small waterfalls and sinks, and issuing back above ground further downstream. Apparently there used to be a water wheel next to the bothy where it runs fastest and on some of the old maps there looks to be a channel linking it to the well. The strand is fed from a loch which sits at the top of the hill in the forest behind the house.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect… on the OS map it is called Strandside Dam, and i had visions of an ominous deep blue pool lurking above. I set off up the track which runs through the woodland beside the garden. A fairly steep and short ascent through fir trees brought me up to a more open, grassier area, and in turn lead to the loch. I must admit i was surprised by what i saw, it was really nothing like the daunting prospect of my imagination, rather a gentle, serene pool, softened by reed mace and grasses, very similar in aesthetic to the Suffolk reedbeds in winter. A pale edged wetland creeping its way across the expanse of water. The banks were edged with deciduous trees, young saplings at the front, meeting the water with an impressionistic softness.

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Gull loch

A track headed west along the forest summit – here the trees were mossy and tangled and thickets of saplings sprung from the earth. As the canopy opened up to reveal the startling winter-blue sky above, trees became mixed with coniferous plantings – a lovely mix of deep structured evergreens and the feathery copper blush of young deciduous trees. The brackened ground spread out glowing deep orange in the sunlight and was laced with animal tracks to choose from.

Occasionally these passages opened up into clearings with bowl shaped depressions. At the top of one of these I could glimpse the sea through the tree line, a great distance below.

I followed a track down the side of the hill, southwards past more plantations and slightly more open terrain. The sun illuminated the trees in gold and amber light, quite spectacular. A path led off in what i felt was the wrong direction but i thought it would afford a view to get my bearings. It followed a line of trees, and then suddenly the screen ended, and a magnificent view revealed itself. I could hardly believe that the collection of islands and headland dazzling in the suns rays were not a foreign land. It was hard to look at the bright reflections on the sea, sparkling off the low tide mud flats. The heat of the sun was intense and warming after the cover of forest.

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looking across Rough Firth from hills above Rockcliffe

I could recognise the view from Rockliffe Bay and was surprised how far round i seemed to be, the circumference of the summit of a hill had made a far quicker journey than the base. I knew i needed to head downward and west and the route became quite steep in places. I continued on a while in in what i thought was the right direction. At one point in the distance i glimpsed a house which seemed to sit alone in an endless landscape of wild heath, sweeping down to hilly pasture fields, and in the distance the familiar sea view with the lake district mountains beyond. I felt slightly panicked that i couldn’t see more houses, but it gave me a point to aim for and i thought it would be a way of getting to a road. As soon as i continued, the scrub and trees made it impossible to keep my bearings, with so many animal tracks heading in different directions. A glimpse of the sea, and a glimpse of a house again kept me moving forward, and then a dry stone wall gave me a line to follow.

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view across rolling heathland towards the Solway Firth

Another steep descent and some clambering over fallen trees brought me towards another wall. I waded my way through a very waterlogged, boggy gateway and into a large pasture field. Gorse shone yellow in the sunlight and swathes of bracken cut across the grass. A stony outcrop covered in old hawthorn bushes hid the ruins of some kind of stone building. From behind a gorse line, a beautiful view emerged with another dry stone wall, surrounded by massive old trees, their spectacular winter skeletons shining in the light.

IMG_3909Soft orange from fir trees reflected the rusty bracken, and long shadows pointed down the slope to the wall. As i came round the corner, i realised that the wall was the boundary to the orchard, and that the house i had seen from the top of the hill was the back view of my house! I had been expecting the circular walk to end in a different place, and was slightly disoriented! Most of the bracken was too thick to cross, but I eventually found my way back to the bigger grassy path that i had expected to be on, and through the gate the other side of the house from which i had set off.

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across the west field towards the orchard (behind the stone wall)


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Wildlife at the Window

I’ve begun to get a few shots of the resident wildlife (albeit marred by window reflections) to share. I can’t believe how confident these creatures are, they don’t seem to mind seeing or hearing me through the window. There are usually robins around, on the wall or hedge, and one in particular that stands in the porch by the front door and calls until i put food out for it. Wrens and dunnocks spend their time in the tangled clematis which drapes over the porch and great tits are regular visitors, very smart with perfect plumage. Tiny blue tits and exquisite coal tits are constantly flitting to the feeder and chaffinches briefly fly out of the hedges to pick food from the wall.

There has been one occurrence so far of a beautiful warm feathered nuthatch on the peanuts, and remarkably a tree-creeper on a feeder further away (have only seen these on tree trunks before). A flock of long-tailed tits gather sporadically, always very animated and talkative. They are unusual, sweet-looking things close up, buff, black and white with subtle chest markings which look as though they have been blended with a paint brush. Their long tail feathers and badger striped heads make them instantly recognisable, and close up you can notice their upper eyelids glow orange or red which apparently varies depending on their mood. They are particularly susceptible to looking bedraggled in the rain and can look quite scruffy and fluffy!

Roe deer travel through the land regularly, often at dawn – this morning they had somehow got into the front garden – and i managed to get a photo of them as they jumped the fence and ran off across the fields, their white rumps glowing in the sunrise.

There are fantastic red squirrels that are great characters – I’m not sure how many yet but at least three different visitors – one is the typical shining chestnut colour, one rust tinted with a greyer back, and one with dark brown ear tufts. They are inquisitive and will lean off the feeder while they chew, looking in through the window. They run along the dry stone walls around the garden, and leap across the huge gaps with ease.

The most magnificent pheasant i have ever seen walked past a few days ago, deep green and blue, with shining vibrant feathers. Apparently he bangs on the door of the neighbour to be fed!

A crow lives in the nearest tree at the front of the house, it has the only timid personality out of all the birds and can’t quite bring itself to fly down for food. I have seen two magpies, briefly, and more regularly a spectacular jay, who has discovered the nuts on the wall, and flies in from the nearby copse to carry off ten or so at a time.

A buzzard sits on a wire down the lane each day near the marsh pond and three regularly circle around the woodland and back garden. I saw five very tiny buff coloured birds in the trees behind the house, flitting about, it was only when i saw the flashes of yellow and orange on their heads that i realised they were goldcrests – quite lovely.

A sparrowhawk has been regularly flying through a small gap by the side of the house by the bird feeder, and across the lawn, today it landed on the wall looking straight at me, less than ten foot away, it had fantastic linear markings on its chest, and bright yellow eyes. I didn’t dare move to get the camera!

I continue to spot new creatures, this morning i saw three bullfinches highlighted in the sunlight, in a collection of small trees behind the bothy. Two males, one with stronger coral colouring, and a female with lovely dusty buff feathers and a jet black cap. They were picking off the buds from the tips of the branches, and flying down to the stream.

On a final note, the solitary crow gained the confidence to fly down to the nuts today, eating them whole until a little robin landed and frightened it away!

 

 

 

 


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Notes from Strandside

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.

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The Beginning

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. IMG_3860

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…

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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.

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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.

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