Krickrickreck: Strange occurrences on the GR4

Walking the Catalan Pre-Coastal Range – 18/08/2016

Monestir de Montserrat a Sant Vinenç de Castellet

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Cable-car to Monestir de Montserrat, and the walk’s start

As soon as I got off the 1.5 hr loops I didn’t see any one. But I heard people: gentle talking on a parallel path above mine. But there was no path. I even heard voices and movement when the cliff to my right was sheer. This was before I got very tired, and up in the cool, high air of the mountain. But I’m convinced it wasn’t my imagination. Utterly. But that doesn’t mean I can explain it. I balanced a small quartz stone on a tiny cairn.

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The high path and parallel voices

 

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Add a stone to the cairn

 

Later, I came to a small monastery. A sign for the GR4 pointed me down an unused-looking path alongside the carpark track. It didn’t seem right, but the arrow looked pretty confident. I got to wooden hut, perhaps a hide. A sign in both Spanish and Catalan seemed to say: don’t proceed further without permission. But it was the only path I could see: steep steps off the steep cliff. I edged slowly forward to try to decipher the status of the steps: whether they were safe, and whether this was my path. I passed the hut and was startled to see a man sitting out and staring to the vast plain below. I was ruffled, but remembered enough to cobble ‘dónde está la gran recorrido quatro?’ He understood. I knew roughly that it went down the valley side, so was surprised when he told me to go back across the main road and rejoin the path I’d left. My puzzlement translated, and he seeked to clarify: Lo siento, GR 4?; si, quatro. Ah! Perdon. He checked his phone and I’d been too hasty with the right turn, and he wasn’t familiar with path. He apologised again and I left to take the proper path down the valley.

* * *

Back onto the path, and again no single other walker (though some mountain bikers and a couple of cars). I was no longer followed by occasional chatter or slipping rocks from a hidden path. Who made those noises before? And who was this man, only too pleased to help a hapless hiker? How, and why, was he there?

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KRiCKRiCKRECK – the walk’s timbre

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From the Height of Midsummer

A wildcamp

The trees all around are of narrow girth, like fenceposts; two hands fit around, but much taller: a beech canopy, half hiding the sky. I find an ancient beech, one of far greater circumference – so large I can lean my bike against the far side and it is hidden from the road. I sit for what feels like hours. I jumped over a fence to get here, aware that a wayward gamekeeper may not appreciate my prescence. The sun’s long set, but still I wait. I’ve not been aware of anyone passing behind, save for one car, and the eerie swoosh of two cyclists.

The middle of the night: I can hear church bells. Not the monotone note marking the passing of another hour; this is a peel. I am deep in a woods but can’t help but look around. I see nothing in the gloom, and certainly not the source of the chimes. But still they ring, on the very edge of my perception. Mischevious campanologists? Midsummer ritual? What else? I drift back to sleep.

I am sitting on a root bole, waiting to feel safe enough to bed down. I look up at the beech’s domed canopy. Dusk was long ago, but there is still some blue to the sky. The black branch-and-leaf silhouette gives the impression of immense constellations where the white-seeming sky breaks through the gaps. Still star-clusters occasionally drift when a light breeze passes.

I drink Glenlivet and think of little. At one point I try and read A Year in the Woods from the light of my phone, my lowest-powered source of luminescence.

Rolling and play-fighting, the three [badger cubs] head straight for me, flattening the young bracken. In a flash the leading cub takes a quick glance back to his pursuers, leaping to the very log I am sitting on, only inches away from me; he realizes something is different and stops in a sitting position like a well-trained dog. Cub number two glances back, chattering in glee at the game, still unaware the leader has stopped – and then crashes into his motionless playmate. Club one is almost driven into me with the impact; the third and smallest cub attempts to stop but it, too, slides into the others. By now the first two cubs are practically on my lap. As cub three collides he is so close I can hear the noise of his lungs empty out as I am hit in the face by bad badger breath.

After three short paragraphs I close the book, mindful that even this tiny light could attract attention.

It’s light; early evening. I sit on the wall with the fence and ancient beech behind; the road, then denser woodland in front. Frantic shrieks of an owl and two explanations come to mind: 1- the owl is being attacked and is struggling and fighting against its agressor, or 2- this owl can’t sing; still hasn’t found that B it’s looking for. The crying gets more orderly, and fades to nothing.

I have laid my bivi and sleeping bags out in front of me. I get in as quietly as I can (that is to say, rather noisily). I lie still, make no sound. I hear a noise, a twig break, and my eyes dart to the left. Nothing. Slower rummaging ahead. Still nothing. I look left again. I see the four legs of a young deer: poised, unmoving. Five minutes later and still no movement. It is four closely-clustered fence posts, all leaning slightly.

I look forward. The sky has darkened, but can still be seen beyond the canopy. Now no longer constellations; it appears like a magic eye image. At first it seems as a vast blackboard with snow painted atop. But then my gestalt reflexes shift: the outline of an anthropomorphised deer stood on its hind legs. Some features of its head, a black void, then its snout: extending and contracting, whether from wind or my mind I cannot tell. But that, that’s definitely a deer, and it’s studying me.

I am in my bivi bag, trying not to move. It is almost completely dark. Somewhere very close a fox barks over and over. I figure it has realised something is not right in the woods. Has it sensed me? By sight? Smell? Sound? Does it bark to me, at me, or against me? I am physically uncomfortable, fixed in this position, and decide to move properly into my bivi bag (currently below my shoulders). The barking becomes less frequent, slips away. Silence.

I have been sleeping. I wake, and it is beginning to get light. I squint to my left, to the deer legs. In the clearing I see a girl of 8 or ten years, staring at me. She has long golden hair, and sits astride a white pony. Behind stands a white horse, that seems to be led by the young girl. They all stare motionless, without expression. I close my eyes and turn on my side, and fall back asleep. I feel myself become pinned to the spot. Someone, something is holding me there. It feels like a soft nuzzle, but not moving. I lay still, not scared, but wary. I hear nothing. No movement, no breeze, no breath. The snout still holds me. With a start I sit up. I see nothing in the dawn’s half-life. I ask myself what just happened but do not question things too much. I have outstayed my welcome; these woods no longer wanting me here. I pack my gear and ride away before the stirrings of the human day.

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An Equilibrium Not of This World – an impression

Projected diptych video, Edinburgh College of Art, Lauriston Place, for Edinburgh Art Festival 2013, by Katri Walker

I lived in Edinburgh for several years. That festival city, where there always seems to be some celebration of one form of entertainment or another at any one time. But last year I left, pulled to Aberdeen by a curiosity to live somewhere new, and to help my partner explore a new career opportunity. I miss those festivals, but I also miss those hills. I’ve talked about the Pentland Hills before. These hills lie to the southwest of Edinburgh, and are mostly protected as a Regional Park, and rest within the counties of Edinburgh, West Lothian, Midlothian and South Lanarkshire. The spectre of the Pentland hills loom large over the city of Edinburgh. There are a great deal of points within the city where the Pentlands can be glimpsed: a stilled, wild, rural and, perhaps most importantly, remote area. To the city of Edinburgh, these hills are always present, but always at a remove, not quite reachable for most; at least, not without some effort.

I used to often make my way to the hills. While the reality of the hills in their intimacy may not quite invoke the wild, stilled and remoteness that their distant viewing suggests (one hill pass is aptly named Windy Door Nick), the relative openness,

Still from An Equilibrium Not of This World, courtesy of Katri Walker.

Still from An Equilibrium Not of This World, courtesy of Katri Walker.

and quietness1 is apparent. In Katri Walker’s piece, she explores and gently reveals the way in which a retreat to the hills can manifest itself in the acting of hill running. As the promotional material puts it, it is about: “the dialogue between body and landscape, interior and exterior, man and machine”. The installation shows two projection screens alongside one another. On the right, a path through hills is tracked; a close up of shrubby branches twitching in the wind; a vista of mountains, with clouds floating through the blue sky above. On the left, the right screen’s loose correlates in the form of various analytic sequences and videos that tends towards the scientific investigation of running: stop animation of a runner (presumably on a treadmill in a lab) and a black and white scan of a beating heart; neurons sparking; a plot of inhale/exhale against a graph-paper background.

The installation took place in the Edinburgh College of Art, in a darkened studio. I sat on floor, staring at the screens, trying to take in the pair of images; wondering what the intention of the work is, and what it stirs within me. The sonic accompaniment too was significant (and wonderful). It featured music by Judith Weir, which flowed between deep, plaintive bowed strings, to a light, fluttering thrill on violin. In addition, there was the sounds of breathing, and of heart beating, weaving in and out of the music. The slow deep music, racing breath, and on the right hand screen, a view of the hill path, being tracked uphill: the sonic expression of the gruel of a climb. But as the descent begins, so the music changes: this is when it gets lighter, and sprightly, as the run goes down hill; buoyed by gravity: a dance with the landscape.

After my third or fourth viewing, the music cuts out. “It does this occasionally, and always at this point!” says the host at the door, by way of explanation. I assume this is a coincidence, though part of me wonders if this is a treat afforded to those who sit through more than a couple of viewings: a chance to have external noise fall away; a chance for my thoughts to come through more strongly. Up until this point, I have been viewing the film from a distance, as an object. Sure, I was trying to imagine my time in the Pentland Hills, and the physical exertion that entails, but all I was doing was calling upon my memories. But when the audio stopped, I suddenly become hyper-aware of myself. I was tired from travelling, and I realised I was shaking to the rhythm of my heart beat. The visual was still present, and my gentle rocking seemed to be a personal expression of the run. It was as though I had transcended that void between viewer and art; as though I had become part of the piece. Not as though I was running, more like my body shaking as the memory of rural exertion was bubbling up through my being (or at least, my-being-there).

Gravitated plants - taken by the author.

Gravitated plants – taken by the author.

Perhaps that’s what it’s really like? When we’re totally consumed by that moment, that experience, that immersion. After leaving the exhibition, I wandered down the corridor, lost in thought. Facing one wall, was a glass-topped display case. The glass top was angled towards the wall: this cabinet had been rotated through 180 degrees, to minimise its prescence; to show that it was not for viewing: that it was mere clutter; had not been removed in time for Edinburgh Art Festival. The case was almost empty. A white card held taxonomic tags, but most of the specimens that corresponded were not to be found. All that was left were a couple of dried branches, looking like heather or some other woody, scraggy shrub. This case wasn’t meant for viewing, but following my intense focus on Katri Walker’s installation, I was drawn in. That naming and taming of nature, subverted by carelessness; gravity pulling the plant away from its ‘label’: an unintended act against subjugation.

Later, I thought back to the Pentland Hills, to my time in Edinburgh, to the festivals. I was struck by how familiar that place was, despite all that had changed since leaving 11 months earlier. That city and its hills had fed into me, become entwined in my being. I had dragged my physical body away to Aberdeen, but I was threaded into this place, and it into me. As Andrew Grieg says:

There are some hills and people
we cannot return to,
because nothing would be the same,
because we never left them.
2



Notes

1 Quietness is deliberate, though not perfect. The hills are rarely completely quiet; conversley it’s not impossible to find peace within the city limits. It’s the contrast I’m trying to emphasise here.

2 Excerpt from Knoydart Revisited, in Greig, A, 2011, Getting Higher, Edinburgh: Polygon, p201

Of the white faeries – a summer Solstice wildcamp

The shortest night; the longest day.

Since moving to Scotland several years ago, and moved by the markedly longer summer days than the southern-central England of my growing up, I have desired to camp out on that oddly beguiling day. A previous attempt at a solstice summer wildcamp ended in a hasty retreat to the car: both partner and I red-raw from midge bites; the springy ground, lochside view and under-the-trees cover proving no match.

But that was a few years ago, in the west of Scotland, where midge numbers are high. This year, I will try again. This year will be different. I set out alone (this was, after all, my dream, not ours), on my heavily laden mountain bike. I know my destination, having camped there in the mild spring. I check the midge forecast, which gives a confidence-inspiring 1-out-of-5 for the nearest spot. This time I chose a bivouac bag over a tent: it’s light; but really, I want that sheer weather-on-your-face exhilaration.

Although I had slept at my chosen spot before, I did not know it well. When I first stayed there, I tried to make a mark on the map for future reference. Having nothing to write with, I attempted to score the map with a key. But I cannot see where this mark was left. I recognise some junctions in the woods, but that monotonous green of industrial silviculture confounded me. A deeply-tanned, topless and well-built man with snarling dogs, running past me with no more than a sinister glint to his expression only heightens my nervousness of finding a spot to sleep.

Some landmarks really stand out in this woods. The five-ways junction. The line of pylons. The communication masts on the far-off hill. But alas not my sleeping spot. I cannot stay on a path, such is my worry of conflict with those less understanding, but I cannot find a suitable clearing hidden behind tree cover. But like so much in life, with a fortuitous turn of the map, a rarefied glint of light, I see that light scratching on the paper: my bed for the night.

My camp is on a clearing on a slope. This forest is full of such clearings – I managed to find this one, despite its entrance being well hidden from the double-track. It’s an interesting space. That pervasive (literal) forest green of earlier gives way to myriad colour. Just a single tree shows the near-luminous verdant of fresh shoots, the deeper shade of established needles, the chestnut-brown of the ruptured pine cones, the rich brown of the trunk. And there’s more besides. But to that later.

I’m not ready to bed down. It’s still daylight, so I read my copy of the rather apt A Year in the Woods by Colin Elford. As his account goes, so I see the signs of which he speaks. Mostly, these take the form of the passing of deer: hoof marks in the soil, rutting marks on trees. He also mentions the clouds of midges that appear in the Dorset New Forest every year: I am only too aware of their presence around me.

At first the midges don’t bother me. Every half hour or so, they start to swarm, my carbon dioxide the beacon that shines out to them, so I walk within my clearing, and read some more. But after a while, the tiny bugs get wise to my movement. Now I am slowly becoming choked in a cloud. I am walking every ten minutes, 5 minutes, 30 seconds… I have a wooly hat for the cold, but that makes more sense as a midge net, along with my buff from just below my eyes, cycling glasses and long-sleeved base layer. It’s hot, but I feel I have no choice. I also put on my bright yellow cycling coat on: apparently midges don’t appreciate the colour. It seems to serve no purpose but to make me warmer.

This clearing is maybe not as clear as one might imagine. There are still trees that grow here: but short and young. Long grass abounds, but it hides old, near-white dead branches. There’s cotton grass, tiny yellow flowers, bog-loving plants. The more I walk up to avoid the midges, the more I see. Like the delicate young pine tree growing from the middle of a large, rotten stump. The seemingly dead moth that hasn’t moved, despite disturbing its settling place every time I pass on my loop.

Across the valley, towards the cluster of tall communications’ masts, I can see some heavy grey cloud lowering. It looks so cool and refreshing. I wonder: will a blast of cool air deter the midges? Will it soon be raining? The masts vanish, and a cold air comes over my spot. The wind picks up too, another good sign. The sun is still in the sky, but it is reduced to an inky dish of pale light. But despite the promise, the cold air soon parts, and the wind drops. The cloud across the valley still swirls around the masts, but no longer extends to my spot.

I call my partner, someone of wiser stuff, and enquire about the weather. Will it rain at all tonight? If so, when? Does the internet know what plants deter midges? She suggests I should consider coming home. But I’m committed now. If I was to leave, I would be fighting through darkness on unfamiliar tracks. I could end up cycling for hours without knowing where I am. I have to stay.

I feel as though I have been on my feet for hours now. My legs feel heavy. I’m stumbling over the hidden dead branches, and I begin to imagine myself tripping and breaking my leg. The light is falling, but still the air remains warm and still. When I stop for just a few seconds, the midges swarm so heavily that their buzz is audible, like a bee swarm, but of a far bigger choir and yet with smaller voices: a mass harmony.

I have walked up and down so many times. My time stretched up and down the clearing in my walking’s wake. I think I have seen everything there is to see. The lifeless moth; the tiny tree from the massive stump; the branches like bones; the green-burgandy-pale yellow patina of grasses and other plants. But I see something new.

It’s dark, but I see glowing-white creatures, maybe four, maybe eight, maybe more. They are flying around each other, floating and swirling, in a sort of three-dimensional figures of eight (or should that be figures of infinity?). They seem to carry their own light; have the luminosity of the moon. But there is no moon, and there is no sun to reflect on these creatures. What could they be? I stop to look; to ponder. I’m tired. I can’t hold a thought too long. I can’t help but think this must be an apparition, or forgotten beings.

Can they be faeries? I banish more rational explanations. What else would be fluttering around this clump of grass, on this most special of nights? A frolic of solstice faeries. I secretly hope they are tiny guardian angels; that they will chase away the midges so I can sleep. But they don’t; they just keep on dancing: dosey doeing, waltzing to imperfect time.

I walk on, as the midges’ presence becomes obvious again; forget about anything but the biting insects. But now I have seen these faeries, I keep seeing them, lost in their summer revelry, indifferent to my existence. My thoughts drift between anxious din and enchantment. I never consciously seek out the faeries; but my subcounscious always leads me to them, and each time I pause, lost momentarily to their movements.

Eventually I decide to bed down; to stop pacing, start resting. I try. But I have to fight the flies away, the swarm, the buzz, the bites. This is not relaxing. I argue my way into my sleeping bag, and then the bivvy bag. The midges are everywhere: throughout my sleeping bag, all over my face, under my clothes. I pull the sleeping bag over my head to seal me from outside: the midges too much. The bivvy opening is so tight I can hardly breathe. I lay still and cannot help but pant: all I can do to get enough oxygen. But No! I can’t open my bivvy bag, not even a bit. I hear my sleeping bag rip as I pull tighter. I rearrange myself, manage to get an opening but without an influx of midges. I can breath again! My panting slows; heart rate lowers. I relax easily, mostly from exhaustion. But I shift again and the midges find a way in. I’m pulling the bivvy bag tight again, my breath condensing onto the inside of the waterproof bag.

I’m dipping in and out of sleep. Drift off from exhaustion; reawaken through itchy anxiety. Finally the rain comes, that rain my partner promised me. I feel so relieved. There’s no wind; the water falling steadily. I lie with my bivvy bag open, let the water cool my face and its itches. The midge numbers don’t drop much, but it’s wonderful, the cooling, the relaxing, the slow drubbing of rain, so sweet, so relaxing. I smile, drift off, and dream of snow-white faeries…

Train Of Caledon

It is late summer, 2012. Or what passed for summer. I planned a day in Fort William, that Highland town named after William of Orange, and later Prince William, Duke of Cumberland. It is also the Outdoor Capital of the UK, and I intend to sample the mountain bike trails of the nearby Nevis Range resort. That means an early morning train, utilising the London to Fort William sleeper service, departing from Edinburgh before 5am.

And what a journey.

Catching that early morning sun. The post-industrial grime of Glasgow suburbs. The struts of rotten boat hulls arching upwards like inverted whale ribs, but black from rust; rising out of the blacker-still mud of unused docks. Passenger ferries in vast sea lochs. Rising hills, clothed in short grasses. Abandoned railway tracks, running parallel to my own, but not perfectly; the kinks and curves making me feel drowsy.

The train feels fast from Edinburgh to Glasgow, but out of Glasgow, things slow down. It’s mostly single-gauge. No need for more; the sparse highlands. The tracks here feel rickety; the train giddying from side to side.

I am looking out to the west, down a steep wooded embankment. The slope is dark, and dense. No sun on this slope, at least not ’til later. I like this view. It’s closed in since the grass-covered hills and the vast lochs earlier in the journey.

Then I see what I take to be a hut. A long building with gently-arched roof, like a stretched potting shed. But something is not quite right. Yes! It’s covered in a sheet. And why is it on such a steep slope? Is it really perched against the trees; its only support? And then finally – I can see the heavy steel wheels below the sheet. This is not stalkers’ shelter, this is a train carriage.

Train of Caledon. Pencil and watercolour on paper. © Lines of Landscape 2013

Train of Caledon. Pencil and watercolour on paper. © Lines of Landscape 2013

What happened here? A derailment, for sure. But why? Perhaps the giddying tracks have played a part, maybe it was some japery of bored teenagers, or maybe a detail was missed during the carriage’s safety check. But it’s not really the means by which it got there that intrigues me. It’s that it is there, no longer on the stretched, linear home that is the track; instead now nestled amongst the thicket of trees, cloaked in the deep forest’s clinging darkness. And that sheet. We cover our dead with cloth to hide them away, fearing the grim spectacle of the corpse’ face. And so too the carriage, a sight too unnerving, too properly uncanny for most people to see.

This scene comes close to the end of the journey. Perhaps this is one the last vestiges of that once great Forest of Caledonia. Maybe the forest has decided: enough! and attempted to capture some of that disruptive noise for itself, to silence it amongst its wood and leaves. Perhaps the giddying track is the result of tree roots literally undermining the tracks themselves: the derailed train a long-awaited fruit of its labour.

After a day of riding in the mud in the shadow of Ben Nevis, during a day too windy for bikes to be taken on the chairlift, I set back home on the evening sleeper train. By the time the train begins to depart, darkness has already begun to fall. I sit in one of the old reclining seats of my carriage, and strain to see out of the west-facing window, hoping to catch another glimpse of that spectre of efficient transport and progress. But the twilight, combined with the dense foliage, mean I don’t get a chance to see the forest’s bounty a second time. Now, that unified structure that was a derailed train carriage, and the assemblage-woods of old Scotland, blurred to one seemingly boundless morass of dark shadows.

Following that journey, I never looked into how a train came to be found propped up on a steep wooded slope, or whether efforts have been made to remove it, or if anyone was injured during its accident. And despite making that journey for a day full of adrenaline and easy thrills, it was that fleeting moment spotting a shroud-covered carriage that stayed with me.

Postscript. I would like to thank Diana J Hale and David Southwell for their inspiration and encouragement that saw me write this piece. See in particular their posts here, here and here.

Pentlands’ water

The Pentland Hills are many things. Destination for walking and other leisure time pursuits. ‘Working’ [sic] landscape for sheep and cattle rearing. Playground for gun-happy soldiers. It is also the key water supply for Edinburgh and urban centres to its east; like the Welsh hills to Birmingham, or the Lake District to areas to its south. That the Pentland reservoirs form such a significant part of its landscape is not up for dispute. But when it comes to Pentland water, what is there? What about other water, beyond the lochs? What of the reservoirs themselves?

Scarred Tree. A spider’s web protects the tiny water pool within. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Tree Ruin. An altogether more filthy tree-pool. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Where water industry becomes cultural heritage. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Water Over Water. Water supply versus river flow. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

One-Time Waterfall. Overflow from Glencorse Reservoir. Water supply engineering projects for Edinburgh mean this waterfall is no longer needed, as the water level in the reservoirs drops. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Abandoned Waterfall Pool. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Waterfall Reflection. Perhaps the waterfall will be served once engineering works are completed? Should it be? Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Waterfall Detail. Dried pleats of algae, or guano? Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Outflowing Stream. So recently abandoned plants are yet to recolonise. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Damn View. Glencorse Reservoir. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Reservoir Overflow with Submerged Wall. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Loganlea Reservoir Damn. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Not Just Water Supply. Fishing on Loganlea. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Sediment Revealed by Dropped Water Level. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Dual Reserve. Nature + water reservoir. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

Boggy Thicket. Taken by the author. © Lines of Landscape

A Triptych of Blackadders

Cards

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.

Cottage

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.

Water

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.