The previous link in Loose Ends was my favourite painting, ‘Paps of Jura’ by William McTaggart, which hangs in Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. Many, many connections can be derived from that beautiful painting and I considered a great many of them, including the very long howk to Kintyre where this particular artwork came into being. Time and logistics made that one impractical. I actually had a suggestion which worked incredibly well so I made it happen. Kelvingrove has some very fine paintings, including a fair few by the Glasgow Boys, a group of Scottish artists who worked in the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th. Several places in Scotland featured as settings in the Glasgow Boys’ work, including Moniaive in Dumfries and Galloway, Brig o’Turk in the Trossachs and Cockburnspath in Berwickshire, the last of which became an artists’ colony.
I got up fairly early one Sunday morning, an act made worse by the clocks going forward that day too. It was sunny and pleasantly spring-like as I took the train across the country, changing in Edinburgh for the journey down to Dunbar. I grew up there so know exactly how to kill about 45 minutes before the bus, by walking down to the East Links to sit and look out at the waves for a few minutes. On a Sunday, there were just two buses to my eventual destination so I had to be sure to catch it.
Today Cockburnspath is probably best known as the eastern terminus of the Southern Upland Way, the long-distance path which stretches 214 miles to Portpatrick in Galloway. It is about eight miles south of Dunbar and the bus ride took me via Innerwick and down the A1 into the village. I went down to the beach via Dunglass Collegiate Church, a pleasant ruin that once served as the burial chapel for the Home family. Rather surreally there was smooth jazz emanating from the tent next door. From there I escaped the jazz and crossed the A1 towards Bilsdean, stopping by the waterfall that still fell but as a trickle. I walked down onto the beach, a rather pebbly beach with the tide quite far out. There was some nice spring sunshine and it was nice sitting even in the shade, my hoodie open and my jacket cast aside as I sat, scribbled and thought. I wasn’t alone as there were a few folk about walking their dogs.
I hadn’t thought to bring a picture of ‘Hard At It’ by James Guthrie, my favourite Glasgow Boys painting painted possibly on that very beach. That pretty much sums up my haphazard approach to blogging and after 600 posts it certainly isnae changing now. The view will have changed only a bit, only to the left where the hulking grey lump of Torness Power Station dominates. To the right, though, was St. Abbs Head, Pease Bay and Siccar Point a bit closer. As I sat, waves roared and crashed – the best sound on earth, closely followed by birdsong, some chirps and a bit of singing. I thought about next connections and about the history of the coastline, including smuggling, which happened a lot in hidden corners in that particular part of the world. Before I left, I kneeled down on the sand and drew ‘600’ with my finger, getting a photo before I smashed it out with my foot. Celebrate, commemorate and onto the next.
To the connections and I did the next one a couple of hours after this. If I hadn’t, Cumbrae would have been a decent contender, since parts of it are also in sight of a nuclear power station. The National Gallery of Scotland had a painting of nearby Fast Castle, last time I looked, and I’m due a trip there too. I also thought about Cove Harbour, which is also nearby, and East Linton owing to the connection with Arthur Melville, one of the Glasgow Boys.
Each connection in Loose Ends is special. Even if it’s a visit to a graveyard on the way somewhere else, or a bridge, or a castle, there has to be a significance to the place, a bit of thought or impulse to make it work. This series was named after a line in ‘Scotland’, a poem by Hugh MacDiarmid, and I can certainly say that I have, as MacDiarmid wrote, ‘a great love’ of Scotland, ‘deeply to read / The configuration of a land’. Whether I read it right is quite another matter entirely. After 600 posts, hopefully I’ve improved in that regard. Thankfully there are many more adventures to be had, gathering up all those loose ends.
Thanks for reading. The next Loose Ends adventure follows next week.