Midland Valley

Richard Bell's Nature Diary, Scotland, Saturday & Sunday, 21-22 August 2010

Midland Valley

Midland ValleyAS THE COACH leaves the old A1 at Tranent and goes down the slip-road onto the modern dual-carriageway, we see Edinburgh in the distance across the fields, between Arthur's Seat in the north and the Pentland Hills to the south.

We cross the little North Esk, framed by trees - a little vignette of what could easily pass for a highland river - and I can't help thinking that in West Yorkshire a small river like this would be enclosed in flood barriers and festooned with a strandline of litter. But I'm being a bit unfair to West Yorkshire and I put this feeling down to it having been too long since we were last in Scotland. I feel the pull of wild open spaces.

We're staying with my sister and from the guest bedroom you look out across the Firth of Forth towards the Cleish and Lomond Hills beyond. Seeing those hills beyond the Firth makes me want to visit the Highlands again. Last time we were here you could see the flashing light of the lighthouse on Inchkeith island, but now silver birches in a neighbour's garden have grown, all but blotting out the little island.

coach and clouds

EdinburghCity Link

We take the City Link coach from Edinburgh to Glasgow through Scotland's Midland Valley. There are echoes of West Yorkshire here as we cross the coalfields but the spoil heaps that dominate the landscape are red rather than grey; for a century until the 1960s, oil-shales were mined here. The grey burnt shale which is left when the oil has been extracted rapidly turns red as it oxidises.

I add watercolour to my sketches on the return journey.

The Cleland Testimonial

Central StationGlasgow

We're here for a family wedding just 8 minutes train ride across the Clyde from Central Station (left) in western Glasgow. We stay overnight in the city and have the Sunday morning to explore. We head for the Gallery of Modern Art in the imposing mansion house built for William Cunninghame, a Glasgow tobacco magnate, in 1778. Walking around the galleries is an Alice in Wonderland experience. On the top floor we dip down past a flashing neon sign into a short dark corridor, passing an exhibit that evokes the French Revolution by including three baskets each containing a dramatically lit plaster head, and then come out at an elliptical classical rooflight with a view down through the lightwell to the first floor.

The artists' work is beautifully lit and displayed and the content is thought-provoking but I'm afraid photography and video - even of this impressive quality - don't engage me like drawing and painting. You're not directly connected to the eye and hand of the artist. These works seem intended to make serious points about sociology, personal identity and ethnography; they're not there to engage people like me who tend to get absorbed in drawing or painting.

We then head for The Place to Eat at John Lewis's in the Buchanan shopping centre where, over a cup of coffee and a pancake, I draw The Cleland Testimonial, built in memory of Dr James Cleland (1770-1840), Superintendent of Public Works for the city.

Chimney, Corbridge Corbridge

window, CorbridgeAfter all the worry about Barbara's mum over the past month, it's been good to have a long weekend away. We enjoyed the leisurely journey here, calling at Corbridge, Northumberland, the perfect halfway stop for us. I drew these views of Forum Books and Crafts from Martha's Tearooms on the journey north on Friday (left) and on the return journey on the Monday (right).