Monday 24 March 2014

Sketching & Song in Rosslyn Chapel (again again), Heriot-Watt Chamber Choir, 22nd March 2014

Excelsior Per Cantum, Rosslyn Chapel, 22nd March 2014. pen in sketchbook

Last Saturday Excelsior Per Cantumthe Chamber Choir of Heriot-Watt University, including my lady Jennifer, were performing in Rosslyn Chapel near Edinburgh. For the third year in a row I was able to sit in on the rehearsal and make a sketch. (see the 2012 blog post here and the 2013 here).

Afterwards, but before the concert started, I found myself alone, for several minutes the only person in that famous and historic building. Just me and silence, hundreds of candles and thousands of carvings. 'Though perhaps the Rosslyn would be better considered as just one great carving.

The concert was raising funds for the Roslin and Bilston First Responders' plan to have a public access defibrillator in the village of Roslin. It was a sell-out, and deserved to be.

Before the rehearsal we'd spend a couple of hours walking through trees above river in Roslin Glen. A beautiful place. We watched a grey wagtail (they're the yellow ones) bob on stones and sticks by the water, heard a dipper chrrip chrrip chrrip... as it flew upstream, heard a great spotted woodpecker cry it's call from the treetops. But best of all - chiffchaff!! Our first of the year! Fresh in from Africa. Singing, seen, photographed. The glen was full of them, their chiffchaffing accompanying us for the whole of our walk. I was pretty excited. Then today, working on computer in my Linlithgow studio, several have been singing outside.


spot the chiffchaff, fresh in from Africa

spot the cave

spot Jennifer

Getting there:
Roslin Glen and Rosslyn Chapel are easy to get to from Edinburgh. There's a car park at the chapel but buses from Edinburgh are good too. Details here -

The Original Rosslyn Hotel, two minutes from the chapel, has a lovely relaxed lounge bar to, um, lounge in, while you wait for your bus.

Monday 17 March 2014

2014 - March BTO waterbird count, Linlithgow - Philpstoun

My monthly BTO WeBS count along the Union Canal, Linlithgow to Philpstoun.
Monday 17th March
my walk to Burntisland station, 7.05am
Up at 6.30am
left house at 7
train from Burntisland 7.22
arrived Linlithgow 8.01
brief stop at dad's to breakfast and drop my rucksack
The count:
Start time 8.20am
turnaround time 10am

End time 10.40am
Weather - Windy! Strongly blowing from west to east (the prevailing direction). Some glimpses of sun but mostly dark and threatening rain. Rain didn't arrive until I was nearly home.

The flood field - still quite extensively flooded. Lapwings are back and displaying for spring. They nest here each year. Before we knew anything about them the first time Jennifer and I saw and heard the courtship flight of a lapwing was here. The squeaking and tumbling of the bird in the sky before us made us think it was injured.

huge paddle wings


Waterbirds seen on/around canal:
Mallard 19
Moorhen 5

Flood field
Wigeon 31
Greylag goose 107
Pink-footed goose 110
Lapwing 12
Pied wagtail 1

All birds seen:

Blue Tit
Carrion Crow
Feral Pigeon
Great Tit
Greylag Goose
Herring Gull
House Sparrow
Long-tailed Tit
Pied Wagtail
Pink-footed Goose
Song Thrush
Tree Sparrow

35 species 

One of my favourite views on the walk. I've seen dippers and a kingfisher on that stream.

Friday 7 March 2014

Scotland by Rail - Dundee. A dragon, penguins, Lego

I was going up to Dundee for the opening of Gallery Q's Drawing and Painting exhibition. It's the first time I've shown in Dundee and I'm very pleased to be exhibiting in such a lovely gallery space (see my paintings here). It also has given me a push to look around the city a little. I decided to make this a Scotland by Rail day.

I knew I wouldn't have much time for sketching once there -only a couple of hours before the exhibition opened, and I wanted to walk around and explore- so on the journey up I set aside phone, book, RSPB magazine, and watched out the window drew.

spot Arthur's Seat & Salisbury Crags

My journey was Burntisland to Kirkcaldy; short change in Kirkcaldy; Kirkcaldy to Dundee. Leaving Burntisland at 9am, the sun was low and its light silvery, combining with plentiful clouds to make a morning of high bright-dark contrast.

When at the station, always make sure you...


Passing through Kinghorn you see a tower with a slender cross on top, in the distance is North Berwick Law, if the weather is clear.

on-train sketches

A crow perched on a chimney pot.
Ivy-covered trees.
A distant castle, Union Jack flying.
Curlews in a field.

During my 10 minute change at Kirkcaldy I made quick drawings of a herring gull that padded on grass and rooftop. The wind was cold on my hands. Two Swans flew past, high and huge.

on-train (and platform) sketches

Then woodpigeons in a hedgerow, like baubles on a tree. A similar sight has attracted me in the past to make this painting, now at the World Land Trust Gallery in Suffolk.

festooned with woodpigeons, acrylic, 17.5x16.5cm, World Land Trust Gallery


Now Dundee, where at present you walk up steps from the station and emerge into a building site. It'll be good in a few years when current £1bn waterfront developments are complete -including a branch of the Victoria & Albert Museum- but for now it's rather uninspiring.

Ignoring that, directly across the road from the station is HMS Discovery. Once she sailed the Antarctic, surrounded by icebergs, captained by Scott. Now she sits in dry dock, ringed by security fencing, guarded by cameras, yet she still looks magnificent. A walkway leads from Discovery Point west along the concrete banks of the Tay. There were gulls and pigeons in the air plus house sparrows, robin and blackbird in shrubs alongside the walkway. And a few penguins.

penguins, mosaic, HMS Discovery

spot the ScotRail train

On to the shopping streets of the city - remember to look around and you'll see quite beautiful old buildings. The Steeple Church is one to stop at (more penguins, waddling along its boundary wall) but the architecture of the McManus Museum & Gallery is the best of all. Though Queen Victoria didn't look too pleased. Perhaps it was a bad apple.

Queen Victoria, not pleased with that apple.

On the High Street an even-larger-than-life-size Desperate Dan strides along in bronze, Minnie the Minx behind him, aiming her catapult. Further around the same street is a dragon. Turning left past the dragon onto Commercial Street you find The Burgh Coffee House. If you like Lego this is the one for you, make sure you walk up the stairs to the upper floor. Just beyond Lego and coffee is Games Workshop, and just beyond Games Workshop is the McManus. Dragon - Lego - Games Workshop. My childhood dream street!

I know their clothes are desirable, but a dragon??

Then it was time for Gallery Q, on the Nethergate, only a five-minute walk from the main shopping area. A great exhibition of paintings and drawings by eight artists, a big variety of subject and style. See the whole show here. Nice chats with other artists and collectors, and catching up with my good friend Martin (Hill) who is exhibiting alongside me (see his pig). Martin and I both grew up in Linlithgow, spending our Academy sixth year in the art department whilst others became proficient at common room cards.

du Feu corner

spot the pig (Martin's)

Whitesands, short-eared owl, acrylic, 56x76cm. £1,250.00 (lovely frame by Bon Papillon)

Dunnottar Castle, watercolour, 25x35.5cm. £650

Back to the station, passing DCA (Dundee Contemporary Arts) with its international exhibitions, excellent design & craft shop, plus cafe, bar, cinema. There's obviously a lot more to see in the city: the hillfort of Dundee Law; Balgay Hill and Park and Cemetery, including Mills Observatory; and a bit further out Camperdown Country Park including country house and wildlife park. I will visit again and walk more extensively.

Leaving Dundee, look for the feet of the old Tay Bridge, collapsed 1879. 75 lives, a train & 6 carriages lost.

How to get there:

Trains to Dundee leave Edinburgh and Aberdeen every half hour (journey time approx 1 hour 10 mins),
Glasgow every hour (journey time approx 1 hour 20 mins),
Perth every hour (journey time approx 25 mins)

Timetable - Glasgow/Edinburgh/Perth/Aberdeen - Dundee