Saturday 20 December 2014

Scotland by Rail - Ardrossan and Arran

Brodick Bay

A railway and ferry day, accompanying mum part of the way to her volunteering week on Holy Isle, a mile off the eastern side of Arran. (Read about our 2011 sketching trip to Holy Isle on pages 99 - 100 of my Landscapes &Birds of Scotland book.)

The journey: 
- train

Mum joined me on the train at Falkirk High; from there to Glasgow Queen Street; walk to Glasgow Central; train (plus thermos coffee and mother-made apple cake) to Ardrossan. In Ardossan take your pick from 'South Beach', 'Town' or 'Harbour' stations.


We chose Town to let us see a little of the, ah, town. But not too much, because of strong wind and rain. In good weather choose South Beach station. In dire weather choose Harbour.

We walked to a very ruined castle on grassland that rises from the middle of the town. Everything was grey with mist and well-off-the-vertical rain. Pretty bleak. I like bleak. (In fact I'm lucky in enjoying almost everything except hot.) I thought of childhood holiday days in Peterhead, walking into town along the lido with mum and roan and assorted cousins.


spot mum

Ardrossan Castle, welcome

but this lovely lion makes up for it

In a spare half hour at the ferry terminal we sketched in warm safety looking out at choppy waters and two crows that searching for scraps on the tarmac. I managed an outline of the pier beacon before our ferry arrived and obscured the view.

beacon without ferry

beacon with ferry. nose rising

The journey: 
- ferry

I really love islands and really love ferries. To go to an island, even just for these three hours, is extremely exciting. As we climbed the tread-gripped ramp of MV Caledonian Isles a smile gripped my face and inside I tingled. Maybe there's a pill I can get for it.

Ardrossan to Brodick on Arran takes only one hour. Other than using corridors to cross from one side to the other - the strength of wind over the prow made it almost impossible to walk that way - we stayed on deck the whole time. There were all the expected birds: the six-foot wingspan of gliding and diving white adult gannets and their still-brown youngsters; rafts of guillemots floating on the waves with a few razorbills dotted among them; black guillemots, quite confusingly coloured at this time of year, more white than black; shearwaters skimming tight above the waves; cormorants passing; great black-backed and lesser black-backed gulls, more great than lesser. Great are much bigger, their backs a much blacker back. 

We both sketched a little, at risk to our sketchbooks and finger circulation.

Holy Isle! What a place.

as I said

Holy Isle lighthouse

Holy Isle lighthouse

On Arran

Arran, welcome.

On Arran I walked the shore and estuary of Brodick then a mile out into countryside. Exiting Brodick chaffinches, all males, were in the shrubs. 
(A birdy aside - One had a terrible clubbed foot, a huge crusty growth covered the whole of its right foot and had begun reaching up the leg above. Lots more information on and If you ever see diseased birds in your garden the BTO would love to know the details, especially to see any photos. Details here. Chances of disease in the garden can be greatly reduced by regularly cleaning and repositioning feeders and water supplies. Factsheet here. Thanks for reading)

As I walked past the museum a red squirrel bounded over the luckily empty road. I'd no time to visit but it looked good, whitewashed old stone buildings, agricultural tools from days past.

I reached the Brodick Castle and Merkland woodland at the very very foot of what eventually becomes Goatfell, Arran's highest peak, 874m. I ate my packed lunch looking the length of narrow Glen Rosa valley, above a group of mallards on the tight meanders of the Glenrosa Water. Mosses and lichens glowed green after rain.

I managed a watercolour - ten minutes or less - before it was time to hurry back to the ferry.

from Brodick Bay, looking inland

lunch spot

I did only have 10 minutes

ferry approaching, black-headed gull, grey heron

£11.35 return. Bargain


 How to get there

ScotRail timetables here - Ayrshire, Inverclyde & Stranraer

Combine your rail and ferry fares with a ScotRail Rail & Sail ticket

Thanks to ScotRail for ongoing and invaluable support of my Scotland by Rail project.

Ardrossan harbour, Arran in the distance

Thursday 27 November 2014

Edinburgh Art Fair 2014 - Children's Art with Art in Healthcare

I'm delighted to have been involved over the past few years with Edinburgh-based charity Art in Healthcare. As part of their excellent Outreach Programme I run workshops in various places including the Edinburgh Sick Kids Hospital and St Crispin's School for children with autism and severe learning difficulties. I'm on the Art in Healthcare Collection Committee, discussing decisions regarding their extensive collection of top-end Scottish art. A lot of the works you might see in hospitals and healthcare settings through the Lothians (and beyond) come from the here. More info -

2014 was my second year running children's workshops for Art in Healthcare at the Edinburgh Art Fair. This link shows the results of my 2013 visit. As last year we had an exhausting but inspiring - and extremely full - three days.

I was working alongside Hal, of the Edinburgh Art Shop, both of us with the invaluable assistance of many enthusiastic Art in Healthcare volunteers, and of course Amelia, victoria and Trevor from Art in Healthcare. All our materials were generously sponsored by GreatArt and by the Edinburgh Art Shop.

Here are a few of the artists and lots of their fantastic results:

feathery lion



oil pastel fox

happy elephant


fox family


by children who knew much more of marine life than I do. seals, porpoise, and more

seals (leopard?) & hammerhead shark

woodpecker family, female, male, juvenile