Tag Archives: Aberlady

Aberlady mysteries …

Aberlady (in progress) 2020 Rose Strang

Above, one of today’s painting experiments.

I’m playing around with ideas for this year’s project, which will be three paintings, a video, also music by Adam Brewster, inspired by the 7th century Celtic pilgrim’s route from Iona to Lindisfarne via Aberlady. Aberlady was on the route between the islands of Iona and Lindisfarne, on the east coast of Scotland between Edinburgh and Berwick.

Although I’ve been visiting this area all my life, I never realised Aberlady’s importance until I discovered info on the Aberlady Conservation Society’s website. Clues are found in place names and from the 7th century Celtic cross discovered at Aberlady which was very similar to those found in Lindisfarne, which also related to crosses in Iona.

Image from website – eastlothianheritage.co.uk

Iona and Lindisfarne are famous for their ancient abbeys of course, but Aberlady’s only apparent claim to fame was its railway station, which shut down in the 1970s. Since then it’s mostly known to people as the village you drive through on your way to Aberlady nature trail, or the road to North Berwick and Berwick-upon-Tweed. I remember as kids we sometimes stopped there on our way back from North Berwick to buy fish and chips, it just seemed a sleepy sort of place, not significant at all.

I always find this sort of thing quite moving – the changing significance of places through time (just think of the discovery of Richard III’s remains, discovered some years ago, under a carpark!)

Near Aberlady you’ll find places named after St Bathan, such as Abbey St Bathans. Nowadays there’s a Kirk there, the abbey no longer remains, just the name.

It’s now believed that this name refers to Baithéne mac Brénaind, the second abbot of Iona after St Columba’s death. Bathan (a contemporary and disciple of Columba’s) would have continued Columba’s legacy – to spread Christianity through Britain, which was exactly why Lindisfarne monastery was created.

The ‘Bathan’ or Baithéne – related place names between Aberlady and Lindisfarne (and the 7th cent’ Celtic cross at Aberlady) therefore mark the fact that this was an important pilgrim’s route from the 7th century.

Image from website – eastlothianheritage.co.uk

At Abbey St Bathans you can see the remains of a 12th century Cistercian Priory, nothing relating to Bathan. In the 1960’s though, excavations revealed an ancient midden, with pottery remains and dedications to St Bathan. Even more significant – the remains of an iron-age broch were found, also a knife dating back to the iron age.

 

Brochs were very important buildings of the iron age, marking the sites of places that were significant then, if not now. Orkney, for example, has the remains of ancient brochs.  Just think of the significance of the Ness of Brodgar and its stone circle in Orkney – far older than Stonehenge and far more significant in its time, though why it was so significant is still a mystery.

This is maybe part of what I want to express with my paintings of Aberlady, Iona and Lindisfarne – peering back through the mists of time, feeling the human significance of a place without fully knowing its story – enjoying the mystery and trying to make sense of it through a combination of fact and creative instinct. The creative part allows me to retain respect, and I suppose wonder, for the sacredness of these places; so their significance and inspiration is not reduced to mere fact.

For those interested in the creative process (see images below) – I painted the dunes and coast of Aberlady a few days ago, then today covered this in a  film of gesso (semi-transparent white paint usually used to prime the surface of canvas etc before painting) then wiped that back to reveal the landscape through mist. I then re-gessoed the painting and wiped out an area to reveal a sort of window to the landscape. I re-gessoed the painting, popped it in the oven to dry, then I drew the line of Scotland’s east coast and the pilgrim’s route from Aberlady to Lindisfarne.

I played around with carbon paper and a rotary thing to create the dotted line that suggests a route or footpath, then I scrubbed off the surface layer of gesso with steel wool which destroyed the painting underneath, but I quite liked the effect. I also love the look of black carbon paper with mysterious markings that are difficult to see.

All of this will (eventually) result in a series of three interesting paintings on a much larger scale at some point later this year!

(Thanks to the Aberlady Conservation Society and East Lothian Heritage for Aberlady pilgrim’s route info. Find out more here: http://eastlothianheritage.co.uk/aberladyconservationsociety/linking-iona-and-lindisfarne/ )

 

 

 

 

Aberlady

‘Aberlady 1’. Mixed media on 5×6″ wood. Rose Strang 2020

‘Aberlady 2’. Mixed media on 5×6″ wood. Rose Strang 2020

Above, today’s quick paintings of Aberlady.

I’m experimenting with atmospheric depictions of Aberlady’s coastline for this year’s project which follows the 7th century pilgrim’s journey from Iona to Lindisfarne via Aberlady.

In March I’ll be traveling to Lindisfarne, then Iona in May. The plan is a series of three large paintings which capture the timeless atmosphere of these places. Also a video which I’m in the process of editing, with music composed by Adam Brewster.

There’s loads to be inspired by, but at this stage I’m not sure how I’ll choose to paint these places. The paintings above capture something of the dreamlike nature of Aberlady with its subdued east coast light and long stretches of marram grass covered dunes.

Aberlady coast. Film still, Rose Strang

This part of the coast is a nature reserve and it’s a 30 minute walk to the beach across grassy plains with a multitude of wild birds and occasional deer. Few people take the walk, so even in summer it feels as though you’re on an island. Folks who know how cold the east coast sea can be will hopefully be impressed when I say that Adam and I swam there last summer! However, that’s only because there’s a long stretch of shallow sea bed so it actually feels relatively warm since the sun heats up the water as it passes over long stretches of sun-warmed sand.

I’ve always felt there was a special atmosphere there and recently this was enhanced with the discovery of the remains of an ancient 12th century Carmelite Monastery, hidden away near an ancient yew forest near Luffness Castle.

One corner of the monastery remains intact and as you walk around it there’s a slight shock when you discover the weather-worn sculpture of an ancient knight under a crumbling stone archway (film still below). No-one knows who he might have been. A local V.I.P. perhaps, or an early pilgrim? The sculpture will feature in my video. More on that in coming months …

Aberlady knight. Film still, Rose Strang

 

 

 

 

Three paintings

Photo: Aberlady. Rose Strang 2020

This year I’ll be working on an arts and music project with Adam Brewster in response to three places: the isle of Iona, Aberlady and the isle of Lindisfarne. Other collaborators will also probably be involved as the project develops, such as Donald Ferguson and Atzi Muramatsu.

I’ve worked with Adam, Atzi and Donald on previous projects, all viewable on the ‘Collaborations’ tab in the menu above,so I’m very excited about this one!

The theme is loosely based around the fact that in the 7th century, the route from Iona to Lindisfarne via Aberlady was a pilgrim route. Our project will involve themes I’ve been exploring for many years – landscape, spirituality and history and not least the element of mystery since not much is known of those times!

Pilgrim map from website: eastlothianheritage.co.uk

Pilgrim map from website: eastlothianheritage.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adam will be creating music for the project and I’ll also edit a video showing footage of the places interspersed with Adam’s music and the three paintings.

Other than that, I plan to paint a bit less frenetically this year and solely on request, for example if a gallery would like to put on a solo or small group show, or private commissions, which will give me time to develop paintings more slowly and to explore themes in more depth.

I’ll post updates as I go, in the meantime, here are some photos of our recent trip to Aberlady and paintings from Iona and Lindisfarne from previous years …

Aberlady. Rose Strang 2020

Aberlady. Rose Strang 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lindisfarne, 2014

Iona, 2018