Dunnottar Castle

I had written about Dunnottar Castle earlier in my blog when I planned to go and visit.  I did finally find the time today to take a run up the coast.  As I got closer and closer the skies opened and the rain began to fall.  Those clouds that look blue were actually black and the rain had made the trail to the castle – very steep in either direction – pretty much impossible unless you had really good hiking boots with grip.  The admission fee is 7 GBP and it appears the castle is open every day of the year from at least 10:00-16:00.  In the summer it is open longer.  I can only imagine the small car park filling up quite quickly.  The castle bulletin board actually suggests parking in Stonehaven and hiking up to the castle.  There is a caravan with tea and coffee and sweets before the path leading to the castle.


The views from the hills around are absolutely breathtaking.



I suggest that you take the A92 from Arbroath and drive through the scenic villages.  You could stop for lunch at Lunan and also take in the lovely beach area there on the same visit.  The fields between Montrose and Stonehaven are full of daffodils being grown for market and amazing sheep!

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Lunan Bay and Red Castle

I missed a trip the other week to Lunan Bay, one of Scotland’s longest and most beautiful beaches about ten minutes north of Arbroath on the road to Montrose.  Today, there was a break, and it seemed like a good time to go.  The sun was out, and it was 14 degrees C.  From Arbroath, Lunan Bay is about a 15-minute drive.  A word of warning if you go.  The iPhone directions actually tell you to turn right about half a mile early.  To get to the lovely dunes and the sea, you need to drive right into the heart of this small hamlet.  You will then see the signs for the beach and its parking.  The drive takes you through farming land and cow pastures with the beautiful red Highland Cattle with their sweeping horns. Lunan Bay is one of the few remaining areas in Scotland where salmon netting takes place.  They have apparently been catching salmon here since the 15th century.  Up until the 1960s, the salmon fisherman lived in bothies, little shacks near the beach, and would only go home to their families at the weekend.

As you near Lunan, look off to your right and before you get to the actual village,  you will see Red Castle.


Red Castle has a tragic history, and today it is mostly in ruins, ready to fall down.  It was built in the 12th century for King William of Scotland to defend against the Viking invaders who had been coming to the shores of Lunan Bay since the 10th century.  It is called the ‘Red Castle’ because it is built of red sandstone bricks.  The castle and the surrounding lands passed down to several individuals.  Ingram de Balliol married the wife of the late Walter de Berkely.  Together they rebuilt the castle, and the castle is said to have remained in their hands until their grandson, Ingram, died childless in 1305 and it was passed down to Henry de Fishburn.  It came into the hands of Robert the Bruce who gave it to the Earl of Ross in 1328.  It is awhile til the saga happens.  In 1579, Lady Elizabeth Beaton who owned the castle at the time fell in love with and married James, the son of Lord Gray.  Well, James fell in love with Lady Elizabeth’s daughter, and she throws him out.  James Gray joins with his brother Andrew of Dunninald, and for two years they try to take the castle.  They were ultimately successful by burning them out.  Since then they say the castle went into decline.  There are some images on the website Scottish Places that show the castle in the 1950s with its roof intact.  Today, as you can see it is almost entirely in ruins.  I did not know, but there is a footpath that will take you right up to the castle to see the keep.  I might try that tomorrow!

Lunan House has rooms to let.  It is close enough that you can walk down to the beach.   You might also be able to get a meal here.  On weekends before April 1, there is a cafe near to the beach parking, and I understand it is open daily once the visitors begin to come.


I had an exciting event happen on the drive back to Arbroath.  I wanted to take photographs of the Highland Cattle, so I was driving slowly along a lane that was about 1.5 cars wide (small cars!).  The car in front of me had a pheasant leap into its windscreen.  Well, this reminded me of our old friend, Alf Waddingham from Grantham.  He told us the rule:  If you kill the pheasant you cannot take it but the next person can.  We often thought he might have scared them out of the ditches into the lanes to get hit as he always came home with 4 or 5.  Well, today, I pulled an Alf.  I don’t think the chef was that thrilled when I brought the beauty into the kitchen, but I am hopeful someone working on the estate will like it and take it home.  The colours on this bird are just amazing, and it was quite sad, actually.  That said, I have every intention of plucking those tail feathers.


And tonight Lucy came to fetch me so I could see the ‘Worm Moon’.  It is apparently a Super Worm Moon that is occurring with the spring equinox.  It will not happen again until 2144.  This is the first time that a super worm moon has occurred since 1905.  The farmers used to say that the first full moon in March was when the soil had warmed up and the worms would wake up and come out of the ground.  Apparently, it will be brilliant at 2am!  Here it is starting to rise.





Hospitalfield, Day 9 The Colours in the walls, on the trees, and in our heads

Painters must just go mad once they begin to look at the colour in their kit and then, every time they turn they must see shades in the most unexpected places.  For the past couple of days besides being so influenced by the house and the sea, the natural environment that surrounds this great house is full of incredible surprises.  Like looking at a grey and black wall and suddenly noticing a tiny square of yellow.


Or the moss (or is it lichens?) growing on the cast iron stairs at the back of the building?


Or the range of earth colours in the bricks?  Why am I so surprised by this?  Because in Canada everything is monotone when you look at the bricks from a distance.  Here, it is very much different.  And it makes you stop and notice.


And sometimes the face of a brick just falls off…


And then there are the mushrooms…


All of these have permeated my work, and it has been grand to create layers and layers of slip trying to capture what only Mother Nature does best.


So all of the images above, really have put into motion a real change in my work!  It is like crossing over to a totally new experience.


And speaking about colour, I promised to write to you about the impact of bitumen.  Bitumen is nothing more than asphalt, a black viscous mixture of hydrocarbons obtained naturally or as a residue from petroleum distillation. It is used for road surfacing and roofing.  Some of us call it tar.  In the 19th century, artists were trying to get the blackest black they could get, so they added bitumen to their paint.  At the time it certainly gave them what they worked so hard to achieve, but today, the bitumen is darkening the pictures to the point that most of the figures have been obliterated.  This can really be seen in the work below by Robert Scott Lauder titled, The Trial of Effie Deans.  Lauder lived from 1803-1869 and was a member of the Scottish Royal Academy.  He was a personal friend of Patrick Allan-Fraser, the owner of this house.  Effie Deans is one of the characters in Walter Scott’s novel, The Heart of Midlothian. There is a story that all historical painters in Scotland took their subjects from Walter Scott’s novels where those in England use Shakespeare.  I cannot vouch for the truth of this, but this house is undoubtedly filled with themes from Scott’s books.  Sometimes the name is Jeanie.  She was the first female protagonist of Scott’s to come from the very lower classes.  The book is set about the Old Tolbooth Prison, and the events of the Porteus Riots form the underlying backdrop.


There are apparently figures that have entirely disappeared from the middle and the far right.

We have the co-curator from the Dundee Art Gallery coming to visit us this evening.  Peter is planning to check out our studios and have a chat.

I want to congratulate Allan Whyte from Glasgow who shares my studio.  Allan just received word that his application for a residency in Berlin was successful.  He will be spending three months in one of the great creative venues, ZK/U.  Everyone is delighted.

Hospitalfield, Day 8

Inside my kiln at home is approximately three dozen perfectly formed, balanced, light in weight porcelain bottles with chattering.  There are boxes of less than optimum bottles broken up.  I couldn’t decide whether to really go for the colour which at the moment seems to be a range of greens and blues or blue-greens using stains.  For the past six months or so I have personally been put off by glaze.  Nothing seemed to capture what was in my head and that is where Hospitalfield comes in.  When I applied to be a Resident Interdisciplinary artist here, I had no idea if I would be accepted.  The ration of applicants to those accepted I have found is very low.  One in twenty individuals.  I am in great company.  My studio mates are amazing.  Lucy Barlow is shortlisted for the First Plinth public art award for Olympic Park in London.  I am really sending off the best wishes for her.  She has to finish her final presentation to the jury in a few days, so she is working on her project here and tackling that as well.  You can check out her art at lucybarlow.art      Lucy is re-entering the art world after raising her boys, and she is doing some fantastic work.  Allan Whyte also shares my studio.  He’s all over social media.  One of the things that Allan and I have learned together is that the sound recording from the iPhone is just pretty darn good.  He is working on finishing up a commission for Glasgow and is recording sounds and working with some interesting recycled materials.  Check him out, too…and of course there are five other amazing people who I will write about later including Kiki who happens to be a fantastic cook as well.

But the point I am getting at is this.  By choosing a residency that had nothing to do with ceramics I have grown immensely in these eight days.  It isn’t just stepping back in time, sitting here in this fantastic historical room with the paint and wallpaper peeling away in places that have inspired me but it is the sea.  I have never lived by the sea.  The east coast of Scotland is flat.  In fact, it is a bit of a cosmic joke because it reminds me of Manitoba!  Flat.  I did say flat, right?  Just in case you don’t believe me, those really high hills that are the only thing Scottish Tourism sends out – well, they are on the west coast of Scotland.  The work that I am producing is my first reaction to this house and to the sea and the light.  The featured bottle still has a lip that is smoothed out, and the joins of where the moulds met have been smoothed but that is now all gone.


We had rain and blowing rain and snow when these were made and these huge clouds trying to push the sky backwards.  Today the sky was white, and the sea was blue.  It is ever-present.  When the chill is down to your bones even though you can see the daffodils blooming in the garden, it is because of the sea.  When the slip in your mould doesn’t dry like it does in Manitoba in the winter, it is the sea.  Damp.  Moss.  Cold.  And yet, I would not give up these eight days for anything.  I highly recommend anyone considering a residency to step outside their comfort zone and challenge what they have been doing.  For me, anyway, it has allowed me a time to be free, to be playful, to react to something and someplace.  Magical.


The sea is just beyond the kitchen garden beyond the walls of the house.

For years it was the life of this village.  And today, if you meander around the harbour, you can find ‘Smokie’ stalls.  If in Manitoba you are expecting smoked sausage, you might be right, but here in Arbroath it is smoked fish.  There are five or six places.

Just a funny historical fact.  The people in Dundee used to have a tradition.  They would not eat herring, but on New Years, they would wrap red herring in little paper clothes and hang them outside to bring good luck.  It is called ‘Dressed Herring’, and it didn’t matter if the fish was smoked, salted, or dried.  You could also purchase them ready clothed at some of the market stalls in town.  They even made acceptable gifts I am told!

And with that little tidbit, I will close this blog today.  I am looking forward to the weather being balmy on Wednesday, and I am going to sneak out of the studio and take you on a trip to two of Scotland’s beautiful castles.  Keep your fingers crossed for the excellent weather arriving!

Scotland, Day 7 The McManus. Dundee’s Art Gallery & Museum

Our second stop, highly recommended by my old friend, Hazel, was the McManus Museum yesterday.  For those thinking about going, entrance is free.  This is a great place to take a family, lots of things for children to do and photography is allowed in all of the galleries unless it is a special exhibition.  For those who cannot climb stairs, there is a lift and a cafe with a gift shop.  The McManus is right in the centre of Dundee.  A lovely place to visit with lots of shops about.

The building was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott, and it has been the heart of the city’s culture since it opened in 1869.  Scott was a leading architect of the Gothic Revival style.  He was born in 1811 in Buckinghamshire.  At the age of sixteen, in 1827, he moved to London where he trained as an architect under James Edmeston.  Scott became enamoured with medieval Gothic and began travelling across Europe to see the buildings firsthand in the 1840s.  Gothic Revival as it was in the 19th century drew its inspiration from the architecture of medieval Europe with its pointed arches, trefoils, and naturalistic foliage decoration.  Scott was knighted in 1872 for his contributions to British architecture.   The following year he became the President of the Royal Institute of British Architects.  Scott dies five years later; he is buried in Westminster Abbey.

The McManus Museum was initially known as the Albert Institute.  It was designed by Scott with building commencing in 1865.  The structure was finished three years later in 1868.  Initially, it had a library on the ground floor and a public hall on the second.  Additions were added by David Mackenzie II (1832-1875) in 1872-74, and William Alexander (1841-1904) in 1887.


The first floor has several galleries including Dundee and the World, The Victorian Gallery, The Long Gallery, the 20th century Gallery, a revolving exhibition entitled ‘Here and Now’ and the Creative Learning Centre.

Dundee and the World showcase the international and maritime collections centred on world trade.  Dundee was known for its business in jute and its whale hunting.  Today along the coast of the North Sea corporations drill for ‘black gold’ or oil.  The tour guides tell you that long before people had any need for this oil, they used oil from plants.  Around 1700 someone discovered that oil from whales would soften jute and leather, could be burned as a fuel and could be made into soap.  The boats carried crews of between 40 and 70 men who chased the whales in the North Sea and harpooned them.  They would be tethered to the side of the ship where strips of blubber would be cut off and rendered to extract the oil.  That was stored in barrels and sent back to Dundee.  It is believed that the very first whaling ship to leave Dundee was in 1753.  The early whalers travelled as far as the North Atlantic and the Arctic.  Overhunting meant that by the 19th century almost all of the northern whales were dead.  But the demand for oil did not stop, and Dundee whalers would travel to the South Atlantic to hunt.  In 1872 Dundee was the most crucial whaling centre in Britain with catches of about 200 whales per year.  The community prospered.  Sails had to be made, ropes were needed, men to load and unload and to work on the ships.  In fact, ships had to be made.  Whaling stopped in 1912 as the number of whales had significantly declined and made it uneconomical.  Whale oil was also being replaced by new oils including paraffin that was extracted from shale.

In its heyday, whale bones were used for lamp oil, cutlery handles, and lubricants while the baleen was used to stiffen corsets, for parasol ribs.  The spermaceti from the head of the sperm whale provided the wax used in candles, cosmetics and medicines.  The blubber or whale oil was processed for softening the jute in Dundee.

Other traditional Dundee industries included wool.  The fibres were sent to the Netherlands to be dyed.  Leather processing including processing the hides from Scottish cattle to make belts, shoes, gloves, hats, saddles, and harness.  Shipbuilding was, of course, a big industry.



One startling exhibition was of two ‘Branks’.  Branks were used from the 1600s onwards.  They were also known as ‘Scould’s Bridles’ and were iron contraptions put on the heads of women accused of slander or sweating to prevent them from speaking.  They were then led through the town!  They were said to have originated in Germany and the Netherlands.


There is a lovely model of the city.  Notice the church and all of the cramped quarters.  When the jute mills were working you could not see the city from across the Tay, all of the fibres mixing about.  And then there was also the pollution from the coal fires.


The children seemed to love the area that might be classified natural history as much as I did.  There were hawks, Golden Eagles, rabbits of all sorts.

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The Victoria Gallery was staggering.  It is precisely what you imagine the annual exhibition at the Royal Academy would look like with pictures stacked one on top of the other.  It was a bit overwhelming.


Restaurant recommendation for the day:  The Bellrock in Arbroath.  The fish (cod and haddock) are fresh every day, and if you think you have had great fish and chips, you need to try this place.  It will cost you a tenner (twice as expensive as in Canada but twice as good). And because of the amount you get could be easily shared!  On Sunday there is a buffet but the best fish is ordered off the menu.




Scotland, Day 6 Juteopolis

While the plan had been to go castle hopping today, the weather took a wee bit of a turn, and it was raining snow.  Cold to the bone-chilling cold.  Lucy, Kiki, and I went museum hopping in Dundee instead.  Three museums:  The Verdant Jute Museum, the MacManus Museum, and the new V & A Design Museum.

The jute industry was the heart of the city of Dundee.  In the late 19th century, over 54,000 people were employed in the industry.  The featured image shows a map of the trade in jute.  Dundee was known as Juteopolis.  In 1901 it was at the very height of its power and was a bustling international city with people from Russia, India, the United States, Germany, and Poland.  Merchants travelled back and forth between Dundee and the Indian subcontinent.

The raw material was imported from Calcutta and processed in Dundee.  It was the women and young children that were used in the mills, and it was the women in charge of the pay packets.  In the 1860s, the jute barons of Dundee had set up jute mills on the Indian subcontinent because labour was so cheap.  By 1901, the processing of jute was in decline in Dundee and in 1947 at India’s independence, no more jute was shipped to Scotland.  A few years later, in 1912, the whaling industry died.  So many whales had been killed that the industry was no longer profitable.  I was surprised to learn that it was whale oil that made the jute fibres so soft, like cashmere.  In 1914, the Scots raised their own local battalion, the 4th Black Watch and went off to fight for British imperialism.  It was the first time that many of the men in Dundee had work.

In 1863 the average life expectancy of someone living in the country around Glamis was 60 years.  It was 33 years in Dundee.  The infant mortality rates in Dundee had one in every three children dying before their first birthday.  Infant suffocation was five times greater in Dundee than in Glasgow in the 1880s.  The people in Dundee were either impoverished workers or jute barons with a middle class that was pushing for religious and drink reforms.  The Temperance Union was growing.  But the reality of life was so bleak that most turned to drink.  Babies and young children were given ‘bread meat’ which was bread soaked in a cup of water with a wee bit of milk added and a little sugar.  As a consequence, people were malnourished and did not grow.  Notice the size of the children playing with the hydrant.  The doll with its porcelain face was imported and would have been owned by the children of the wealthy jute barons of the city.

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The museum is staffed by volunteers who give the most amazing tours.  They talk about the life of the workers in the mill and the clerks in the office.  The clerks had full-time work and were paid regularly although they did not make much more than those on the floor.  The mill workers were paid by the piece of work they completed that day.  Others gave tours on the different kinds of jute, the history of the mills in Dundee, and the social impact of working at the mill and the class differences in the city.  The entrance fee is 11 GBP and includes a visit to the Discovery.  If you ask they will give you a card that is good for visits to the museum for an entire year.  The cafe was very reasonable, much more so than any of the other we visited and the sandwiches and soup were quite good.  I highly recommend a trip to this museum, children included, if you come to Dundee. Below are some pictures of the various areas of the museum.

The jute dress is what the women working in the mills would wear pre-wedding.  I can’t possibly imagine how scratchy it must have been.


This is what the men would put on their backs so that they could carry the big bales of jute.  If you look closely at the bottom of the image, you will see a man with one of these on his back.


The mills of Dundee provided sails for the ships, tents for the army, flour sacks, covers for the wagons heading West in the United States, sacks and bags for all manner of things, including linoleum.


This is an image of where the clerks would work.  They were required to work standing up all day.  Notice the female secretary on the left is seated at her desk!



One of the newer looms that allowed for weaving to take place.



Our guide did not tell us the name of this piece of equipment for the looms. Initially, the women were in charge of two looms.  They were paid for piece work which meant if they had to go to the toilet they had to stop their looms.  The looms were also connected to clocks to check for efficiency.  This device allowed the looms to continue working when the operator had to leave for a few minutes.  When the owners discovered this, they put the women in charge of SIX looms!  Dundee eventually comes one of the most organised labour cities in England.  In fact, Winston Churchill was elected as a Member of Parliament for the Labour Party and turned Tory.  He was subsequently voted out and had to run elsewhere.IMG_2667

Tomorrow I will take you on a tour of the MacManus Museum.

Tip for those travelling to Scotland.  May and June are the best times to come.  It is too cold in March and is nice and warm by May.  After the end of June, the bugs are so bad that they can almost drive one mad.  Thanks, Lizzie for that insight.  Also, if you go out into the country, away from the tourist spots, your trip will be much more economical.

Day 6, Hospitalfield

It is 7 minutes until midnight, almost day 6 at Hospitalfield.  But tomorrow I am going to take a break.  The clay moulds take a long time to dry here.  In fact, I can pour one and go castle-hopping and come back and take it out of the mould without worrying a bit.

So there are said to be 19 amazing ‘romantic’ castles in Scotland.  Most do not open their doors until April 1, secure in that date that spring should have fully arrived and their gardens will have that ‘wow factor’ for all the visitors.  So tomorrow I am going to go and see two of those having ticked off Edinburgh Castle last week.

Dunnotar Castle is north of Arbroath, right along the coast.  It is about a 35-40 minute drive.  Today, the castle is run by Clan Keith. It is a ruined medieval fortress but its fame is the fact that it is positioned on a rocky outcrop hanging over the North Sea.

For Scotland, it was a very important site because it is where the Scottish crown jewels were hidden when Oliver Cromwell and his invading army from the south came in the 17th century.  They held Cromwell off for eight months saving Scotland’s heritage.  Visitors to the castle (when it was intact) include the Who’s Who of Scottish history:  William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, the Marquis of Montrose and the future King Charles II.  Sir William Wallace is known as being one of the great heroes who united all of the clans in Scotland to fight against Edward I’s army.  The most significant event was a battle at a bridge near Stirling in September 1297.  It is said that the stone bridge was only wide enough for two horses side by side and that it would take the English army hours and hours to cross.  On 11 September the Scots forced the English to have to cross that bridge.  William Wallace and his men waited until half of the army had passed over the bridge before charging it.  The others went along the banks of the river preventing the English from escaping their deadly fate.  5000 Welsh Guards died with 100 fatalities for Wallace and his men.  Known as the Battle of Stirling Bridge it is viewed as part of the first war of Scottish independence.  Mary Queen of Scotts is probably the best known of all the Scottish heroes and martyrs.  She was imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth 1 when she sought help during the battle of the Reformation (Catholic vs. Protestants) for nineteen years.  In the intrigues of the day, Mary was discovered to be plotting against Elizabeth and she was executed at the guillotine at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587.  Mary’s son would become James I of England and VI of Scotland after Elizabeth I’s death in 1603.



The second castle is Glamis Castle.  It has been occupied since 1372. Most people consider it to be the most romantic castle in Scotland.


Information from Scottish Home & Garden says:  “Glamis was the family home of the Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, and has been in the Lyon family since the 14th century, when Sir John Lyon, Thane of Glamis, received the land as a gift from King Robert II.”

It is said to be the setting for Shakespeare’s MacBeth and it was the birthplace of the late Princess Margaret.

The entrance fees for all of the castles are about $15 CDN, children are most often free.  This gets you into the houses and the gardens.  Each and everyone has a shop where you can buy products related to that specific castle as well as having a meal.  You can even stay in cottages on the Balmoral estate of the Queen.

Photo Credit:  Scottish Heritage and Scottish Home and Garden.