Tag Archives: borders art

Borders Country Day 9

'Hawk. River Tweed'. Acrylic on 5x5" wood

‘Hawk. River Tweed’. Acrylic on 5×5″ wood

'Glentress'. Acrylic on 5x5" wood

‘A Rainy Day in Glentress’. Acrylic on 5×5″ wood

Today’s paintings – a hawk swooping down to the River Tweed, and mist through the trees in the Forest of Glentress.

I’m nearly at the end of George Fraser’s ‘The Steel Bonnets’ – a book about the history of the Borders Reivers. It’s been harrowing reading.

The first chapters cover the lifestyle of the Borders Reivers and the final chapters deal with the wars during Henry the VIII’s time when devasating wars wrecked the lives of people in the Borders and beyond.

Engraving, showing Borders Reivers raid on Gilnockie Tower

Engraving, showing Borders Reivers raid on Gilnockie Tower

Accounts of the Reiver families have been difficult reading in themselves, never mind the later descriptions of  war. The Reiver’s life was one of constant feuding, raiding and violent conflict, across both sides of the Border. This was partly due to previous wars which wrecked the landscape and therefore the livelihood of Borders familes, but also it simply became a way of life, and despite authorities on both sides of the border appointing Wardens to try to calm the conflicts, the chaotic lifestyle became entrenched. (The Wardens themselves often became Reivers!)

It was lucrative too, and for those who’d perfected their Reiver skills it led to the accumulation of vast wealth; some of the titled landowners, whose estates line the Borders today, are their descendants.

The status of each Borders family or clan was diverse though, and within for example the Kerr family there would be everything from titled land owners in huge castles with an army of thousands, to people living in broken down hovels.

For the battle hardened Borders Reivers, violence and war were normal, they were described as ‘scared of nothing’ and their outstanding skills in warfare were utilised by Kings on both sides. Also the feuds between Borders families were manipulated to form allegiances. Scottish fought on the English side, sometimes changing tactics mid-battle if that seemed a better plan.

P1230602While reading ‘Steel Bonnets’ it was thinking about ordinary Borders people that I found harowing. Fraser describes a widower with her children burned in their peel tower, the starvation of countless thousands of poor people because of the wrecked landscape. They’d plough fields during the night to avoid attack, but after ten years of war it must have been a bitter, miserable struggle. Also he describes, very briefly, the group of monks who held out bravely in Kelso Abbey during attack by Henry VIII’s army, but didn’t survive.

When I visited Kelso last weekend the ground was festooned with forget-me-nots, which seemed to me as symbolic as poppies; in rememberance of the ordinary people who never sought war and conflict.

'Forget-me-nots. Kelso'. Acrylic on 5x5" wood

‘Forget-me-nots. Kelso’. Acrylic on 5×5″ wood

Woven throughout the stories and Borders ballads though, references to hills, rivers and ‘forestes greene’ bring to my mind the image of a rich, medieval tapestry, and suggests the presence of faith and love of familiar landscape amidst war and fear. One Borders ballad titled Erlington made me smile, amidst all the grimness! The last line of this ballad inspires the title of my upcoming exhibition The green woods free

Borders Country Day 4

'Moffat Hills', Acrylic on 10x10" wood panel

‘Moffat Hills’, Acrylic on 10×10″ wood panel



Today’s painting – the Moffat hills just past the small town of Moffat, in the valley of Annandale near Dumfriesshire. (This is a larger painting at 10×10 inches)




Here’s the first sketch developed later in the studio…









The character of Borders hills is not disimilar to the Yorkshire Dales in some areas, but on a smaller scale. I love the rolling shapes, dappled light and subtle gradations of colour of these hills and as I become more familiar with painting the Borders I’d like the brushwork to become looser – more expressive of the landscape’s rythms.

Grey Mare's Tail

Grey Mare’s Tail

This is near the source of the River Tweed. As you drive up into the hills the landscape becomes wilder, more stark, leaving behind the lush, tree-filled river valleys. This is also where you’ll find the Grey Mare’s Tail and the Devil’s Beeftub – thus named because it was where the Borders Reivers would hide their stolen cattle after one of their moonlit raids!

Devil's Beeftub (image from www.walkhighlands.co.uk

Devil’s Beeftub (image from http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk

I’ve mentioned a little of the Reivers history in a previous post – particularly how grim it was. This was all captured in the Borders Ballads of the time.




39662d0054ea2f3fc6e72daf869ed936At the moment I’m exploring a wealth of poetry and song inspired by the Borders, from past to present, and I hope to make these part of the theme of exhibitions later in the year.

I’ll leave you with a contemporary poem which I discovered a few days ago (on the excellent Scottish Poetry Library website), by Valerie Gillies. It’s beautifully evocative, both of the Borders landscape and its history. She mentions many places, among them Talla; a natural loch developed now into a resevoir, also along this stretch of countryside..

Stream Rhythm by Valerie Gillies..

The Powskein, the knife-slash,
then Cor Water, the long marsh,
Badlieu, all mossy-grey,
a wet spot through the day,
Smid Hope, the blacksmith’s yards,
Glencraigie, rock-hard,
Fingland, with white gravel,
shining on bright pebbles,
and Hawkshaw, if it could talk,
the haunt of the hunting hawk.
Fruid water, the running one,
swift flow in shallow current,
Glenbreck, in speckled folds,
Glenwhappen, the whaup calls.
Menzion, at the standing stones,
Talla, the waterfall foams
Gameshope, a winter month,
back of the wind, a shivery one,
Glencotho where the cuckoo’s heard,
Glenrusco whose skin is fair,
bark from wood, the stripping-bare,
Kirk Burn of the grouse hen,
the hare’s stone at Hearthstane,
Glenheurie has the yew wood.
The wolfhunt land is a Polmood
where Kings came to hold assize,
every kind of fruit tree thrives.
Kingledores, the champion’s gateway,
Holms’ meadows, islands of greenery.
Hopecarton, old fort in the midden,
Drumelzier, Medlar’s dun is hidden.
The Scrape burn, the gash in the hill,
a rough scart, see it you will,
the little Louran, a chatterbox burn,
the loud voice, the shouting one.
Manor’s stony settlements rise,
Posso the pleasance, earthly paradise,
Hundleshope and Waddenhope,
a man’s name in hollow court.

Time passing, blooms in places,
people there tell differences
on the ground by a tributary,
name a feature, give stability.
It’s for a man who’s not yet born,
it’s a place for a future dawn.