stories and illustration

The Flowers of Liddesdale


flowers1These are a fraction of the flowers seen in over a few days staying in an old house in hill-farming country. In the arable countryside where I now live, I have not seen a fraction of this diversity. In a space of about a mile I found, without looking hard, close on a hundred species of flowers, just along the roadside. There are also merlin, deer, barn owls, hawkmoths, linnets, blue butterflies…. Up the hillsides among the stones are small flowers I have not seen elsewhere. The fields have been left to rushes once more, and many of the sheep are unfenced. The place is quite empty of people, though there are enough in the area around to keep many businesses open in the nearby village of Newcastleton. I used to live here, and was working to try and survive, illustrating books mainly, and I never appreciated the diversity of the land (I used to copy pictures of flowers out of books!) – though the barn owls were a constant spirit of the place, and to go out at night and hear the foxes barking and see the autumn moon rising enormous over the hillside is something I remember clearly. My son, when I tried to tell him the names of some flowers, said: “Don’t give me bloody nature study.” I realised that at primary school they were getting information out of books, whereas he was roaming free (accompanied by the cat) and seeing badgers, foxes, deer, the birds, close up. Going back, many years later, I see the place more clearly. I want more of the world to be more like this.

February 12, 2019 Posted by | Art, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Primroses in the Path above River Tweed


April 30, 2017 Posted by | Art, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Shadows of Plants


May 26, 2016 Posted by | Art, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Dappled Light


May 26, 2016 Posted by | Art, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

Wild Garlic, Celandine and Feather

wild garlic, celandine, feather

Wild garlic is pestilential in the garden, but the swathes of it beside the river allure me.  Just as visually it takes to rain, so it takes to shadows and sunlight. I think those are the leaves of dreaded ground elder peeking through. This patch was just beyond the bridge that goes under the road that leads to Edinburgh.  On the inner walls of the bridge is scrawled some nasty grafitti, which I did not take a photograph of.  It suddenly appeared, in large pink letters, last summer; gradually it is fading into the background, becoming something that is just there, rather than an eyesore, which it was when written first in that gaudy scrawl. Coldstream  like everywhere else it has its little pockets of sin…

April 17, 2016 Posted by | Art, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Flowers by the Path

flowers by the pathIn Liddesdale, hill farming country right on the edge of the Middle Marches, where the sheep roam the hillside without barriers, and the fields are full of rushes, the profusion of flowers and the variety of flowers is markedly greater than in arable farming country, however conscious the crop farmers are of conservation and the limited use of pesticides. Last year in Liddesdale along just one mile long stretch of roadside I counted about a hundred varieties of flowers. This patch of flowers was beside a small off-road path which led down to the track of the old railway, now long disappeared.  One walks down to Kershopefoot, above the River Liddel, with trees on each side, and beside the track hundreds of orchids growing.

August 16, 2015 Posted by | Art, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Peonies for My Birthday 2

Peonies 2

June 19, 2015 Posted by | Art, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , | 2 Comments

Peonies for My Birthday 1

Peonies for my Birthday 1

June 19, 2015 Posted by | Art, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , | 8 Comments

Flowers by River Tweed


Now that, on May 1st –  (when as children, if we said “rabbits” before talking to anyone, a present was allegedly in the offing) – drizzle, mist, obscured horizons and general chill dankness has descended on the Scottish Borders, here is  a memory of walking by the River Tweed just a couple of days ago under the warm sun of late April.

May 1, 2014 Posted by | Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

River, Crows, Flowers, Herons


Crow Over Cornfield

Whenever I get near the crows, they hop away just too far, or fly away just too quickly – I wanted to get an Adieu Vincent image, but instead managed to capture this serene-looking crow flying  on its lonesome high above the barley. The swallows zip about, coming out in photographs like flyspecks.

I am walking late in the afternoon, feeling a need for some fresh air.  I climb up the muddy path to the Lees, and there is the rustic signpost in the distance.


Close-up it looks more sinister:


I take some pictures of the hills beyond the barley, beyond the curve of the river, as when I do the illustrations for The Midnight Hare I want to use authentic scenes, even if I move things around, as there is a difference in atmosphere when real places are used.  I use a kind of generic shorthand for horizons, and I think it is about time to get rid of this generic shorthand way of dong things.

I like the way the coloured fields fold into each other, and the way every angle changes the light:




This contraption has been sitting at the edge of the barley for some time. The crows perch on it.  What is it for?


Down by the river, my thoughts change, and I think about other work. Last year I painted a canvas, now sold, based on the flowers that grew on a bank on the other side of the Lees.  Seeing the flowers along the river bank, an idea comes to me to paint a similar canvas, but with for background the deepest colour of the river at the top, fading down to an earthier but still darker colour at the bottom, with some of the pale grasses thrown over this canvas, and the names of the flowers painted on top of this: marsh woundwort, rosebay willow herb, st John’s wort, balsam, ragwort, sorrel, peppermint … won’t think or talk about ths any more, as if I work something out completely beforehand I lose interest in the process and don’t get round to carrying it out….

The High Bank, August Acrylic SOLD




It is at this pont that I see a heron (that grey blob behind the grasses):


As I creep nearer, I see that there are two herons, standing on stones in the river shallows:


Now I am fairly close, but my camera doesn’t have much of a zoom, and also there are all these grass stems in the way.  I am nearly on top of the herons,  going creepy-creepy softly-softly, and am just gtting ready to rise slowly above the grasses and at last get a shot of some herons close up, when a woman and her dog go by on the path above the riverbank, and with a clatter of wings, the herons fly off across the river, and of course when I try to photograph them all I get is empty water.  A tad peeved, I walk on, and just as I get to the spot where the two herons were standing, a third heron flies up from its shelter in the lee of the bank. Off guard, I just shrug and move on.  Foiled again.

By mistake, I take a photograph that is of somethig unrcognisable, but is like some delicate voile in natural dyes, or an abstract watercolour:


Time to go home. Grass is growing thick and flaxen, it bends in the wind, I wonder how to paint this abundance:



The fields at ths time of year remind me of opening lines of “The Lady of Shalott”:

                                                 On either side the river lie

                                                 Long fields of barley and of rye

                                                 That clothe the wold and meet the sky

                                                  And thro’ the field the road runs by

                                                  To many-tower’d Camelot….

Nice one, Tennyson.

August 5, 2013 Posted by | Illustration, Photography, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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