Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Scotland By Rail - reopened renovated Aberdeen Art Gallery

A day out by rail to Aberdeen, delivering paintings to Gallery Heinzel's 30th Anniversary exhibition before visiting recently reopened Aberdeen Art Gallery. When I was up in Aberdeen more frequently I used to visit gallery often. In 2015 it closed for refurbishment and remained closed until reopening a few months ago in Autumn 2019. I remember my final pre-closure visit, looking at my favourite paintings and trying to store them up in my memory, feeling rather sad that I wouldn’t see them again for years. And worried about what I whether I’d like the makeover.

I needn’t have worried.

Outside, the gallery looks as it always did, until you look up and see the extra floor. Two storeys have become three. Inside the old large central area remains but is lighter brighter and with its added top layer.

We started in the cafe – really good lunches, baking, coffee. Really nice staff.

Then the gallery – spacious, fresh, light and bright (I’ve already said that). Lots of room for children to move in and lots to interest them. Sketchbooks and pencils laid out beside many of the gallery benches – do a sketch then leave it for the next person. A number of interactive screen areas are dotted around, something which personal preference normally makes me blank from my vision. I tried them today though and they were pretty good.

The shop doesn’t feel too big and is very nicely stocked. The gallery attendants were extremely friendly throughout. There are lockers for your rucksack and a space to leave buggies.

All the galleries are laid out in really interesting ways. The artworks are diverse and top quality, as I already knew. I don’t really know how to write reviews without overusing ‘great’ and ‘brilliant’ and ‘nice’ so I'll direct you to Susan Mansfield's 5 star review in The Scotsman.

It’s just a great gallery. Do get the train up for a visit.

Here are some photos: 

look at that wonderful John Piper - Dunnottar Castle

When you need a bit of fresh air you can go out onto the two roof terraces for pigeon-perch views.

Dismayed to see mass tree felling in Union Terrace Gardens though. Why do we think it’s okay to keep destroying and destroying mature trees whenever we want to ‘develop’ a space? Read about the long saga of Union Terrace Gardens makeover here. (including pics of how many mature trees there were). 46 trees felled apparently - P&J article and another here.

Anyway, when you need a bit of fresh air and nature and close-up pigeon views, exit the gallery and turn left to walk down Schoolhill for about a minute until you get to St Nicholas Cemetery on your right. The pigeons were seriously tame so if you aren’t too keen you might want to stay standing up and not eat anything. Sitting snacking on a bench Oren and I enjoyed watching one hop onto my boot and wobble its way up to my knee.

Snack over, quick trip to excellent Oxfam bookshop on Back Wynd, then back to the gallery:

Eric Ravilious

Ravilious, Coastal Defences, watercolour

I love the Graham Sutherland on the far right

Paul Nash, John Piper...

Sylvia Wishart

Frances Walker

little oil masterpiece by JD Fergusson


etching equipment


How to get there:

Trains to Aberdeen from the south (Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee) mean a beautiful coastal approach (watch out for whales and dolphins) and from the west mean winding through rolling farmland between gentle hills from Inverness. Great journeys.

Timetables & Buy Tickets here.

Many thanks to ScotRail for their support of my Scotland By Rail work.

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Scotland By Rail - Dundee - McManus Gallery & Museum - paintings from the Arctic and Antarctic

You haven't much time left to do it but if you're fascinated by the Arctic or the Antarctic or by really top landscape painting I recommend you get yourself up/down/across to Dundee to the McManus Art Gallery and Museum where the exhibition Among The Polar Ice ends on 8th March. It's a five-star-reviewed by Duncan Macmillan in The Scotsman and I'm with him all the way.

The featured artists are Frances Walker and James Morrison, two brilliant painters who very much inspire me and my work. I've seen Frances Walker's Antarctic Suite of six large oil paintings and associated prints before, in 2010 when they were exhibited at Aberdeen Art Gallery in Place Observed in Solitude. She's so good.

James Morrison's work I know from years of solo shows at The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh, most recently From Angus to the Antarctic, last month. His paintings are also in oil but used in a totally different way to Frances Walker - thinly thinly, almost as watercolour. I haven't seen anyone else paint like him.

The McManus is a great place.

Oh, and there's a cafe.

And a humpback whale skeleton.

Do go.

McManus Art Gallery & Museum

James Morrison

Frances Walker

Frances Walker

Frances Walker

James Morrison 

Frances Walker, triptych

Frances Walker, oils, sketchbook journals, original prints

Just look at those cliffs.
William G. Burn Murdoch - Dundee Antarctic Whaling Expedition (1892-93)

The polar regions are important, and we're losing them.

What can we do?


Reduce flights.
Reduce car use.
Walk, cycle, train.
Eat less meat and dairy.
Switch to 100% renewable energy suppliers.
Lobby councils and government and business.
Join environmental groups.
Go birdwatching :)

my exhibition notes in sketchbook.
a great way to remember what you've seen, what you thought, what you might wish to reference in the future.

River Tay
Tay Bridge


Previous Dundee blog posts

2020 - Gallery Q, DCA, V&A, cormorant trying to swallow a flatfish -

2017 - Balgay Hill & Cemetery and lots of Martin Hill (and a very interesting local comment at the end by Jim Crumley) -


How to get there:

Trains to Dundee leave:
- Edinburgh and Aberdeen frequently, journey time a bit over an hour.
- Glasgow frequently, journey time a bit under an hour and a half
- Perth every hour, journey time about half an hour

Timetables & Buy Tickets here.

Many thanks to ScotRail for their support of my Scotland By Rail work.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Scotland By Rail - Perth - riverside walk, sculpture trail, printmaking exhibition, mist and beavers

My first Perth blog post was in 2012 when I walked the river path north to a little almost-island and saw an osprey dive and catch a large fish - here.

My second was in 2016. Mostly about the train journey from Fife (it’s a lovely route) plus a couple of pics of the station (station mentioned below) - here.

This new post is Feb 2020:

I like Perth very much though I confess I mainly know the station (big, grand, now quiet but with strong echoes of the Golden days of rail), the walk to the river, the walk up the river, a few shopping streets – in particular looking for bakeries and cafes – and Frames Gallery where I’ve sometimes exhibited.

This latest trip was for the opening of a Frames exhibition of work by the members of Fife Dunfermline Printmakers Workshop

We went early to have a couple of hours to explore. The plan was a short bit by the river en route to Perth Museum & Art Gallery

By Rhonda Bayley (2004).

Reaching the river and this Rhonda Bayley sculpture which I so love (what on earth is it all about? See *secret* answer at end of blog) we spotted a group of people walking what looked like a traffic free path through the trees on the opposite bank. I looked at the map and discovered Bellwood Riverside Park. How had I not noticed it before? Perhaps I’ve only ever been when the trees are in leaf and obscure the far bank. We decided no to the art gallery and yes to exploring a new patch. Discovering a new nature space is always a great day.

Bellwood Riverside Park combines with Norie Miller Park and Rodney Gardens to form a really nicely managed stretch of green running between three bridges on the east bank of the Tay. There’s a footbridge (step access only) over the railway bridge and accessible pavement over the two road bridges Queen’s Bridge and Perth Bridge.

It was a beautifully misty late afternoon.

The parks are very nicely laid out and managed with shrubs, trees, bulbs, winding paths, a pond, a Heather Collection and areas of natural unmanaged land. There’s also a sculpture trail with as many sculptures as there are letters of the alphabet. Keep your eyes open for the fox.

And on waterside trees for signs of beavers. They are there. Few things are as exciting as beavers being back in our landscape for the first time since we hunted them to extinction in the 16thCentury. If you’re interested in learning more, much more, about the life and habits and environment-enhancing ways of the beaver I can recommend few books as highly as Jim Crumley’s Nature’s Architect (other than perhaps his The Last Wolf). If friends or colleagues think beavers chopping down trees is bad for nature or increases flooding, buy Nature's Architect for them too.

corkscrew hazel

looking to Moncrieffe Island from Bellwood Riverside Park

Explore the full River Tay Public Art Trail (both sides of river) on this excellent website - here.

At the far south of the parks, where railway bridge crosses and you look across to Moncrieffe Island, there’s a smaller, earth (/mud) path continuing by the river bank. From the west bank - Shore Road, a ten minute walk from the station - it’s possible to get onto the island with its allotments and golf course. Access is on foot only. Up steps onto the railway bridge, down steps onto the island.

Courier article & pics -
Allotment video. What a haven -

More exploring needed.


How to get there

Plan your journey at

Many thanks to ScotRail for supporting my Scotland by Rail work.

*Secret *Answer: Soutar's Menagerie by Rhonda Bayley (2004).
"William Soutar is Perth’s best-known poet... His more
light-hearted side is shown in this amusing piece, representing
 quirky animal forms featured in his poem ‘Bairn Rhymes’."