A Triptych of Blackadders


A study of poppies. Water colour painting, white background. Print-on-card. This is a gift shop in Berwick upon Tweed, and I’m drawn to an Elizabeth Blackadder greetings card. I came in for a birthday card for my Dad, but this caught my eye. Emma couldn’t come down for the few days away – severe gum pain means taking it easy – so this card will need to suffice; a surrogate for the trip away. And by her favourite artist.

I like her work too. Her earlier work is most readily classed as either ‘landscape’ or layered still-lifes (does a line really lie between the two, though?).  But later, her attention turned to more minimalist work, with little background distraction. This is almost like looking at flowers pressed and dried in the back of a heavy book; the thin water-colour of these poppies giving a light, airy feel. It seemed like a fitting card for someone feeling under the weather.


Rob and Jo finally arrive to pick me up. Car trouble, apparently. The cottage is a few miles away from Berwick upon Tweed, on the Blackadder estate, and just within the Scottish border. A Georgian building, three floors with one room on each. The accompanying literature describes this originally as a ‘picnicking pavillion’ for Blackadder House (now no longer standing), and later, as a servants’ quarter. The cottage, in its transformation to holiday accommodation, is no longer a key abode in a working estate for a landed gentry. Now, rather it stands for itself; nestling among the sycamore trees and hemmed in on two sides as two watercourses converge; a small garden with hanging bird (and, apparently, rat) feeder; large gunnera on the banks of the water opposite; then a field-with-cows; further a tree-lined hedge; sky. Not a vast view, but one filled with sounds: bird song, bubbling water – and falling rain.


And so to the third panel of this triptych. The heavy, murky, swirling water to the front of the cottage is the Blackadder Water. It is this watercourse that gave the estate – and original occupying family – its name, and subsequently that of the cottage. But during my stay, the river is not as it would usually be. Now the flow is fast, heavy, and swirling. Brown murkiness, only momentarily diluted by the clearer Kelloe Burn as it enters from beside the cottage. Forlorn trees peek from the surface of the river, their green leaves still attached despite the previously-engulfing flows.

The sound of the river and the sound of the falling rain seem to predominate. But of course, it does stop raining. Once it did, blue tits, woodpeckers and the aforementioned huge rat came out to feed from the bird feeder, all playing a performance of respect and fear, one group after another.

This was certainly a trip that was defined by water. From Elizabeth’s poppy study, via the rain-swollen river, to the cottage built to enjoy the water that gave it its name. The water of the river so ferocious, yet the image of the card so fragile. It is through these extremes that water can seem to pervade through everything. But it was also the various Blackadders that swam through the story of this trip. The fact that I’m not aware of Elizabeth Blackadder having any connections with Berwickshire (she’s originally from Falkirk) makes it all the better.