Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Wintery Woods and a Haunted Castle
This weekend the local landscape painters were let loose again, and I along with them. But the day was not meant for plein air painting; rain came, went, and came again, so they set up in the ballroom of Delgatie Castle and painted out through the windows.
I sat in a bay window that no one had taken and looked down on the grounds where little, short-legged Shetland ponies jumped at each other and ate wet grass. Behind me easels were set up, sketches done, backgrounds blocked in. A castle, woods, and a pond stared in on me through the window. A few lines in my notebook tried to get down the shifting ponies before they passed out of sight behind the bushes.
I seem to lack the sageness of the other painters who can just set up anyplace and paint at the drop of a hat. As much as I love these painting days out, at heart I am only a hermit painter, I suppose, better at working when I've shut myself away from everything else. Looking outside, the glow of the heater did not warm me, the velvety cushions did not comfort me, I wanted to be off down the curve of the lane or winding my way up the great spiral staircase at the centre of the castle. So, it was not long before I was out with the snorting ponies.
A moment before this picture was taken they were all lined up in the opening of the gate, looking out at me, in the most photogenic way, but in the time it took to get my camera out of my bag they'd gotten bored with me and moved on. I'm not sure if it's possible to tell from the photo, but they are not quite like regular ponies. They are extremely hairy and are only about waist-high.
First I wandered around near the castle, finding the well, a big stone cheese press, a dovecote (or dookit, as people around here say)...
... and this remorseful looking, lichen-spotted lion, way up high. Doesn't he look as if he just might turn to you and say something when no one else is around? He looks like he needs a friend, I think.
The castle is said to be haunted by two ghosts: a red-haired woman called Rohaise who only appears to men, and a monk who was buried in a wall of the castle. I didn't run into either of the ghosts as I made my way up and around the staircase that all of the rooms open on to, peering into the dark, but I did find beautifully painted medieval ceilings.
With all my exploring I only managed to get a drawing of a tree, which was kind enough to stay still for me as I sat in the window studying it. The watercolours were added in later, at home by lamplight, since the sun was not as willing a model as that sweet tree.
I'm not quite sure how I feel about this little painting. I think perhaps I should have left it as a drawing; the moss and blanket of spent leaves I saw made me want colour, but painting conditions were not ideal.
When bellies started rumbling we all came winding down the staircase to lunch in the castle's kitchen, around a big wooden table while the woman who acts as a volunteer caretaker of the castle (seven days a week, 50 weeks a year!) took our orders and cooked (and, as I was leaving, she served me in the shop). After a nice big slice of carrot cake for dessert it only seemed right to go off for a little stroll.
Behind the castle, through the garden, down and into the mossy woods.
Though it doesn't show, it was a little too rainy to take many pictures there... but it was completely gorgeous at every step.
The woods ran down to a little pond with a few small white rowboats sitting ready by the shore. When I was young my grandfather used to read to me at night from a book of Norwegian tales about trolls illustrated by Theodor Kittelsen. It had a story about a troll that could take on the appearance of a white horse or a white rowboat sitting at the water's edge. Nothing would happen to you if you just passed by, but if you should get on the horse or in the boat, you would be dragged under the water to your death. So I passed on by.
Back up the lane, past the ponies...
...into the castle, and in the ballroom again, it seemed that all of the good light had gone. Things were packed up, others' finished canvases made ready for a journey home. The night fell on me and my pencils.
It fell on the mountains we passed by blindly in the car on the way back home, where a warm fire had been lit to welcome me back.