I visited the RSPB nature reserve at Troup Head the other day. I had not planned to visit, but was in Portsoy and spied the cliffs to the east, from my vantage point above the harbour. I recalled a friend telling me it was the place to go to see the gannets. I saw many gannets on the Bass Rock while in North Berwick a couple of months ago, and more recently a few solitary ones, diving for fish off the coast at Gairloch in Wester Ross.
Following my trusty Google maps, I drove along the tiny road to the headland, hesitating slightly when it came to driving through a farmyard (by that time there were reassuring RSPB signs) and finally reached the tiny car park. Avoiding puddles, I had a look at the map indicating the path(s) to the cliffs. I regretted not putting my walking shoes or boots in the car. Luckily I was wearing reasonably sensible footwear, but would advise on non-slip soles at a minimum.
After a false start (my memory of the map was not great), I followed the straight path through a goldening field of barley towards the headland. It is a while since I walked that distance in a straight line. Two parallel tracks through the crop. I met one couple and a woman; they traversed to the other furrow. Coming to the edge of the field, the path turned to the left, leading upwards across grassland. Ahead lay a gorse covered mound, through which another path (the red one) travelled. I chose the blue (shorter) path, mindful of my less than ideal footwear.
Through the barley field, the sound had been the swishing of heads and beards. As I approached the crest of the slope, the sounds of bird cries began to reach me in the wind. On the ground, on the trodden grass, were occasional wisps of downy white. Some small, some larger. As I started going downhill, the frequency of downy wisps became greater. There were occasional small white feathers. And the unmistakeable smell of fish. The bird calls became louder. Through the kissing gate, I passed a couple of photographers with tripods and huge lenses, eyeing my small bridge camera with what seemed like amusement. Turning left, past the sign which indicated the way back to the car park (should my nerve fail me) or onward to the viewpoint.
I walked along the path. Slowly, not wanting to miss anything. A few birds could be seen on the grassy cliff tops. Further on, I could see down to the turquoise depths below; the waves crashing on the rocks. Birds perched on the cliffs; on turf beds with their babies. I did not see the young ones at the time; my eyes were glued to the swooping and soaring display taking place in the sky right in front of me. I have always thought that gannets were graceful birds. My mind has been changed. Laughter spilled out of me - their movements were comical, ungainly, yet amazing. A gannet would storm up from the left of me (with the wind) - up - up - up and then turn to fly back, swooping down with great speed. Or come in to land on the cliff, big black webbed feet akimbo and wobbling like a novice on a high wire. I watched and watched; tried to take some photographs which captured their fantastic flying feats. And then I watched some more. It really was an thrilling and enchanting experience. Magical.
A friend asked me the other day what I'd been up to recently. I answered very unsatisfactorily, I suspect. "Oh, this and that," I said. I managed to gather my thoughts sufficiently to mention a couple of reasonably concrete things - a new outlet for my work, plans for the open studios event later in the year. I feel as if I have been pretty busy recently, but it's all fairly disparate, with not a lot of tangible results for my efforts. Perhaps it is time to take stock, see where I am with various projects, and start prioritising what to do next. North East Open Studios seems a long way off (it's not really, it's in 4 months' time!).
This is the problem I find with working creatively, on my own. The lack of a sounding board, someone to say "that's not one of your best ideas, what about that other one you mentioned the other day?" - the less brutal version of "that idea is rubbish.... next!" I find I am often full of ideas, but whether it is worth pursuing them can be a difficult decision. Recently, I have done a bit more drawing, as well as some sketching out and about (sitting on the harbour at Portsoy was so lovely, especially in the sunshine). It made me recall how much I enjoy this; absorption is total, concentration absolute, focus intense. Time just disappears. I had hoped to do a pile of sketches, and managed three or four. I tried doing a few in the city centre the other day, but found that I needed to find a quiet spot, somewhere I could sit, as I felt too conspicuous otherwise. The practicalities of balancing sketchbook, water pot and tiny box of watercolours also have to be taken into account. Of course I took photographs as well, many of Portsoy harbour. I very much admire the work of John Glynn, who I believe is now based in Moray. When I got back to my shed/studio I had a go at doing a simplified drawing of Findochty harbour, inspired by his style. It was an interesting exercise, which made me focus even more clearly on the shapes I was seeing, and avoid making "sketchy" marks. Plans are afoot to do some drawings like this, using some of the reference photos I've taken recently of northeast harbours. There we go, a plan has been crystallised before my very eyes! Thank you for listening/reading :)
Two whole weeks away on the west coast. Wonderful. The weather was "mixed" - the polite Scottish way of saying that there was no blazing sunshine or sunbathing on the beautiful beaches. No, it was more a case of rushing out for a walk between the showers, watching the sky for a darkening, making the most of the patches of blue. The wind kept the midges away; no-one got sunburnt, we had a lovely time. This time the time away included an adventure involving crossing the Minch (it would be fun to play the tune on the ferry) to the island of Lewis to visit my daughter, who is there for the summer.
We were treated to a family fishing trip and caught lots of lively, silvery blue/green mackerel and even some haddock. It took me back to fishing with a handline in Lochcarron as a child - the thrill of feeling that bite on your line, the guessing (to start with) what would be on it, and learning the feel of the way the fish moved. Maybe it was no coincidence that I went on to spend many years doing mackerel research work. This time we used sea rods - good sturdy, simple contraptions. No casting involved, which makes very good sense in a small boat with four rods deployed. Unlock the reel, finger over the line, let it out till it hits the bottom, reel it in a bit, then jiggle up and down (gently), and wait. Of course the folk who took us out knew exactly where to go, which helped!
Lewis. What a place - vast expanses of sky and moor and beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see. Oodles of abandoned houses and sheds, many with half their roofs torn off. Rusting corrugated iron galore. Since I was with family, there was less time to take photographs; some day soon I hope to go back. We made a visit to Luskentyre beach on Harris (I still haven't worked out exactly how the division between Harris and Lewis works, but we did pass signs indicating the end of one and the start of the other). The sun came out and the sea was that magical turquoise that comes from sea over sand. A fortuitously washed up log on the beach made a perfect place to perch and sketch. The family were thoughtful enough to leave me to it. I only moved when I realised the tide was about to reach my feet. Bliss. One day I will capture that colour. One day.
Happy New Year. I hope that 2016 brings you peace, health and happiness. I was fortunate to spend both Christmas and New Year on the west coast of Scotland with my nearest and dearest this festive season. The weather was mixed, as is to be expected at this time of year. The days seem to take turns; a day of solid rain and howling winds would be followed by mild, balmy air breezing in from the south. We know from long years of experience to head out as soon as it is fair. Fair mainly means not raining. So, we had some good walks on the glorious beaches; Big Sand, Gairloch Beach and Red Point on Boxing Day. The latter was a very windy day and we were sand-blasted as soon as we reached the beach. I love to stand and watch the waves crashing on the shore. The way they roll and break, the foamy whiteness moving along the crest as they approach. It was too cold to stand for long, however. Only long enough to take a few photographs.
We retreated to the south end of the bay and found shelter below the turf line where the sheep had formed hollows to lie in. We perched on the rounded sandstone rocks and drank tea, ate goose sandwiches (we had the good fortune to eat goose on Christmas day) and slabs of Christmas cake with marzipan and sweet, sweet icing. It was a good day. I hope to have more like it in the coming year.
I found something new on the internet recently. At least I thought it was new. It was all clean and shiny. A new idea. A neat little slide show with words and pictures combined. It had an attractive name. It was simple to use. Or so they said. And it seemed to be. At least to start with. Until I tried changing font size. I worked it out, but it was a quick fix, a workaround, a temporary solution. Time was of the essence. I wanted something neat, even though it was just an experiment. So I managed to put this together, using images from my multitudinous folders of photographs, and some words I made up on the spot. It's a tad cheesy, I think. Maybe not. It has to do with stopping and looking and noticing the small things. Something I have not being doing enough, recently. And I am paying the price.
Later, when I came to downloading what I had made, I discovered it was not so all-new, all-shiny after all. It was a product which I have been using for years (certainly for the time I spent lecturing) and which is widely treated with disdain. Yep, you guessed it. Powerpoint. Only the lovely new version is called Haiku Deck. Sounds lovely doesn't it? The power of marketing is immense. And scary, too. I am not usually duped (no, of course I didn't actually pay for anything, I almost never do, if I can avoid it). Still, the wee slideshow was quite good fun to make - it will probably be the only one I ever do. There's a first and last time for everything.