A Christmas journey

A Christmas journey

by Charles Harris
article from Saturday 24, December, 2016

IT WAS my birthday and it felt doubly special, despite the early Scottish weather, on the journey down to Durham and my friends Tom, Carolyn and Deborah, for Christmas this year.

It was dark as I left the house up below Craig lee, in freezing fog and ice. The visibility driving to Perth was very limited to just beyond the head-light beams. Despite stopping to help an unfortunate couple who had slid into a ditch with their car, my friend John drove me into the city and I arrived at the station in time for the train. When I then shared a seat and the journey down from Perth to Edinburgh with an elderly female teacher, whose conversation made that dark dreary voyage pass quietly and peacefully.

At Waverley Station, daylight arrived just before the Virgin Express to London and with heavy luggage and presents to place in the guards van, I then sat at the end of an extremely long train, in an almost empty carriage and waited. Finally, with occasional rocking and jolting, the train flew off, gathering speed as it went towards a new destination. 

Leaving the station, many buildings, roads and purple roof tops rapidly appeared, reflecting the new light, and as the speed increased, new scenes with fields, hedges, trees, or wooden posts all passed me quickly along the track, as we just left the urban environment and flew into the countryside. No failed modern art here I noted; or failed monuments to modernism; or any evidence of those fanatic point scoring dilettantes, cheating our traditional culture with hypocrisy and contempt. Instead I watched in happily fascination, the opening Scottish landscape rapidly racing past me.

Nearby as we moved, old track-side puddles appeared reflecting a bright blue, while beyond  long serge fields of old cut corn, had black ploughed lines running through. These were usually surrounded by low maroon leafless hedges, with fine narrow pointing branches; or those resting pale fields occasionally held fast flowing burns at their edges, also reflecting that grey-blue light above. And gradually these sights and sensations seem to all increase into a flow of fields, trees, hedges, sheep, cows, mud, telephone cables, flocks of starlings, a golf course, a caravan site, sea cliffs, red rocks, and bright starchy white waves at the shoreline, as the day quickly brightened.

Following the coast South, the track runs along the cliff tops, on route to the Borders and out to sea I now watched crispy winter sunlight playing on the surface of the sea in bright patches of luminous vivid green. While inside, a fabulous illumination then filled the carriage, bouncing in the windows, reflecting on the long window frames and glimmering on the red velvet seating. Everything was now lit by a splendid late sun, rising high above a line of low lilac clouds, each lost it seemed on the horizon.

I awoke from my reverie, as out to sea, wheeling sea gulls made white flecks against those clouds, while inside within this sparkling light, my fingers created blue shadow finger puppets across the page as I wrote this. It was just stunning to sit amid this dazzling bright light, all seeming stone white in hue or tint, which rose in splendour touching everything in glory. Yet sadly it did not last. Somewhere before Berwick, we rushed through a narrow glen, amid a forest of fir trees, all blue spiky tops, supported by aging pale trunks, and in under a low thick layer of spreading darkening grey cloud.

I had sat today watching the scenes of a thousand paintings all ending at the edge of the canvas as they passed the frames of the train windows. And sometimes I had quickly considered if it was a scene I would chose to paint. Travelling alone is a heightened singular experience. Commuters do it all the time and my thoughts flowed back to the six years I spent traveling into The Royal Academy in London from Surrey each week. So how should I now describe this wonderful experience of light today. And is a long journey somewhat remarkable because of the distance you travel, or just the number of experiences it takes to get you there safely? Whatever the thought, I shall close here and send these Happy Greetings for a Merry Christmas from England and a Bonnie New Year ahead today for you.

With all good wishes,


And see you very soon in the new year


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