Trust your eye and behold the wonder of Perthshire

Trust your eye and behold the wonder of Perthshire

by Charles Harris
article from Wednesday 6, September, 2017


Thank you again for your patience with these pieces, and for the kind lady who was inquiring about the charm and obvious pleasure there is for me with a beautiful working location, and could she read more. So I thought I can offer the following, as I have been fortunate for some time in this homely regard. Yet appreciation must both include and extend beyond the familiar.

It is not simply the location that influences us with its beauty, or allows us to paint it. Happily, it is to be found everywhere, quite often in a small scale, which helps us to full appreciation and love of that lost visual language. We can often find a joy in the delicate softness of a small intimacy, which is just as valid as the grandiose and large. Ask any gardener, naturalist, bird–watcher, fisherman or rambler, when perhaps walking, talking, sailing, boating, anywhere, in any location, when the first requirement is to ‘Trust Your Eye’ to enjoy this natural beauty, which still surrounds us all. And fortunately or unfortunately for painters, despite any delightful qualities or scale of any view, paintings do not paint themselves, the view is only as good as you can make it.

Thus I live in North Central Scotland, where the hills are described as having forest plantations and empty acres of moorland, but more about that another time. For me personally, I have enjoyed the challenge of living up a hill and working in the wild, both nearby and afar and the weather has always played its part regardless. So the ringing calls of two Cuckoo’s first announcing the new season was as exciting as ever, with that warm prospect of painting a Summer and safe travel. On this occasion, these two birds called at intervals throughout the day. Taking turns, one called from the yellow gorse bushes away to the left behind the cottage and the other from way up right in the distant pines.

The cottage itself, a home for many years, sits high in one and three-quarter acres of grass, facing south. At the front, it is bordered by a long section of dry stone wall that ends suddenly, and behind this, a sheep fence creates a corridor for the front driveway. And from this flat of land, a view stretches away downwards to eventually rise again a considerable distance away. While solidly, in front of this view and in the middle, as seen from the house windows, my favourite tree stands tall and large before the stone wall. I have painted this tree in every season, yet it still remains interesting, being always last to arrive in leaf and the very first to lose those leaves. Beyond the driveway, fresh green pastures all usually alive and full of sheep, drop away steeply to a little B Road, three-quarters of a mile away, at the very bottom of the hill and out of sight.

At the back and seen from the kitchen window, the peaks of Craig Lee hold the horizon to the North. Although its front faces are steep, its large shoulders slope gently from left to right, high above the surrounding grouse moors and they constantly change colour from blue to purple, always appearing glorious in the light. While just yards from the back door, an escarpment drops away suddenly to the rear, directly below another sheep fence that perches on the edge. Below and straight ahead, the escarpment stretches out to rise again steeply, all the way up to the distant summit. While quietly in this expanse, amid tall pines and rocks, Craig Lee Burn begins in secret, gurgling and flowing from tiny watercourses and hidden waterfalls, then showing like a small silver thread, it twists its narrow way through a dense passage of forest and greenery, to appear like a white line across a giant snooker table, having its cushions or banks, to the left and right. Craig Lee Burn sparkles and shakes a course right through the middle of the escarpment, before finally turning and passing below to the right, where it then swings back, reappearing again as it races towards a banked corner, favoured by Crows for their annual gathering, before it falls out of view, over large dark rocks, to create the mysterious Wishing Pool. While further on, also out of sight, it passes under a little road bridge and enters a small bluebell wood, to eventually join gently and quietly with a river below.

At the house and In the garden, large pheasants, despite their beauty can also be a nuisance, especially the big males who oft stand in the hanging baskets and root out the plants. They used to regularly climb onto the bird tables, always damaging the pointed bird table roofs, until I took the tables down. Woodcock also abound and live all year under my boats. They are funny to watch as they waddle like penguins, often in a snaking pattern as they go. And a big male stands every day on his fence post near the road, arrogantly clacking out instructions and orders to his harem of females.

Unfortunately, most of these tend to get shot in the Winter, on the shoots which annually occur behind, although he seems to survive. I do assume it is the same creature, for he is a very old looking bird, with a distinct dark ruff collar and large wary unblinking eyes. Around the cottage, there are also other annual visitors. Under the wooden decorative front door porch, are Swallow’s nests full of young built one on top of the other, but just out of reach. While around the left house corner, on the end, above the boats, and under the slates of the roof, as there is no gutter here, are more nests. They have always squawked and complained at me whenever I opened a door, or go around this front corner and the air is full of their flying presence. They are so fast, yet able to turn instantly without apparently dropping speed in any direction. Acrobatically they are quite extraordinary. We have regularly sat drinking tea outside all amazed by their constant movement, marveling at their speed and an instant ability to slow, or glide, or soar, without effort or concern, as they follow the abundant insect life, while apparently reveling in the small thermal winds that arise from the escarpment behind.

On the right side of the house, again under the slates is a Starling’s nest. Like the Swallows these are regular long term holiday makers, who make more racket than all the others together and frequently find their way into the house; while finally, I must mention the Wagtails, who have nested here from the beginning and remain all year long. Usually recognising me, they do not fly away in panic and have made their nests in my boats, in the big sit-on lawn mower, and in the old Land Rover. They are companionable birds and in the depths of Winter they always seemed to enjoy my presence. One bird in particular constantly approaches the back door when it is open, perhaps inspecting the kitchen. I often find them bobbing up and down on the window sills and have frequently found them a delight to watch and appreciate, especially when the skies are black, visibility is poor, the weather appalling, and of course not strictly for the birds.

On my way back up the little road to the cottage one day, a pair of buzzards flew out of my tree. They both flapped and glided off in different directions, whilst at that moment, the sun stabbed through wet misty cloud, to light the road, the garden, and the peak behind. I wondered how many people can see the Lord's hand in Nature and wrote the above. While several days later, out running on the road below, I was thinking about Autumn appearing and wrote those rhyming thoughts below. By contrast, this road runs under a long canopy of trees for some distance and in changing weather conditions, visibility is often very limited here, with the view naturally very small and charming.

A Special Wonder in the Wild.

Autumn leaves in natural display,

begin the season’s cycle in glorious array,

dotted yellow, orange, red, or brown and green,

soon cool Winter’s bareness will be seen.


Meantime’s, from high branches and bushes below,

falling colours are on constant show,

dropping on pavements, roads, fields and banks,

Nature’s work deserves these thoughts and thanks.

Copyright: Charles Harris - 2017.

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