West Is Best (part 2)

Rebecca Spooner, Arts Development Manager reports on her ten-day research residency at Cove Park, on the Rosneath Peninsula, Argyll & Bute, Scottish west coast.

The residency was supported by the Arts Council of Wales.

PART 2 (of 2)

Friday 13th November 2015

Garelochhead to Arbroath

I wake to the first snow on the mountains this morning. The sun illuminates the varying colours and tones of the mountainside as purple-black clouds gather behind the summit. A pale rainbow cascades to the surface of the loch. The threatening clouds advance. Everything vanishes in mist.

I take an early train heading to the east coast to visit Hospitalfield, Arbroath, a former hospital, which was remodeled in 1843 by artist Patrick Allan and his wife Elizabeth Fraser to create an early Arts & Crafts building. The Allan-Frasers’ left their estates and collections in trust to support artists and arts education. In the 1900s Hospitalfield opened as a residential art school and became a place of study for Scotland’s modernist painters including James Cowie, Robert Colquhoun, Robert MacBryde and Joan Eardley.

Hospitalfield now curates a contemporary programme of events and artist residencies supporting practitioners to develop new work. The site includes a dark room and etching workshop and purpose built studios. The building feels very alive, the resident artists are coming and going, working in the Victorian library and drawing room as well as the studios.  The gallery’s current exhibition Continuum is a selection of twentieth century and contemporary work from artists who have lived and studied at Hospitalfield.

I meet some of the resident artists in their studios, who all express an appreciation of the time and space available to them to reflect on their practice and in some cases to improvise and rely on their own resources beyond their usual surroundings. The current self-funded residency programme is ‘interdisciplinary’ so practitioners with various backgrounds and interests are working at Hospitalfield together. Although the residencies are self-funded they’re selected so it feels like a real opportunity for the artists to be here. There is a communal feeling to the place with meals eaten together in the dining room.

There seems to be a healthy connection to local art students and colleges and links to Dundee’s lively arts scene, a thirty minute drive away (apparently a ‘hidden gem’ that will have to be included in a future jaunt to Scotland).

Arbroath to Edinburgh

I make the hour’s journey to Edinburgh and attend the preview of Another Minimalism: Art After California Light and Space at the Fruitmarket Gallery. It is a cold, wet night. Everyone is drinking the free gin on offer and we gather together, instinctively attracted to the luminescent pastel and candy colours of the light installations.

I meet senior curators, Lucy Askew and Julie-Ann Delaney from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. The chat ranges in topics from northern soul all-nighters to the pros and cons of co-habitation, as well as some art stuff.

Julie-Ann coincidently introduces me to artist Bobby Niven, co-instigator of The Bothy Project, a brilliant initiative which I’ve been researching over the last month.

TBP is a network of small-scale, off-grid artist residency spaces in distinct locations around Scotland, including the Cairngorms National Park and the Isle of Eigg. The bothies are purpose built structures made in collaboration with artists, designers and architects to create a network of unique dwellings. TBP uses sustainable materials and building techniques to create designs that are purpose built for their locations. TBP was initiated by Bobby and architect Iain MacLeod, introducing the first residency bothy in 2011 with support from the Royal Scottish Academy. TBP now offers residencies through a supported and a self-funded programme.

I was unable to get to Sweeney’s Bothy on the Isle of Eigg because of the rough weather but Julie-Ann and Bobby suggest I visit the Pig Rock Bothy, situated in the grounds of Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh. The gallery is supporting the project as a way of extending their activity beyond the formal exhibition spaces to develop more experimental and participatory work with artists and students.

After a sociable evening I cue up in the rain for a taxi to my hotel and make a call home.


Saturday 14th November

Edinburgh to Garelochhead

I wake to the news of the Paris terrorist attacks and swop breakfast for fresh air. I become contentedly lost among the lanes and crescents of the west end.

Visit the Pig Rock Bothy and the Modern Scottish Women exhibition at National Gallery.

Cannons blasting from Edinburgh’s castle walls.

The return journey west to Cove Park is fraught. Three of the most dreaded words in the English language have to be ‘Replacement Bus Service’. My connecting train is late. A kind driver takes pity on me and holds the bus. I do the ‘run of shame’ up the street and scramble aboard; either that or a three-hour wait in Dumbarton. I reflect on the practical difficulties of living/working rurally and again put myself in the place of any future artist-in-residence with PEAK.


Monday 16th November

My colleague, artist Morag Colquhoun visits CP while she is staying in Glasgow for the Engage conference. It’s such a pleasure to share notes (over a bottle of red wine) with a friend and peer about the residency experience. Morag has recently been involved in a residency in the Elan Valley, Powys, facilitated by a partnership between Arts Council of Wales and Dŵr Cyrmu Welsh Water. Working in a rural and/or isolated location can at times feel slightly threatening, physically draining and lonesome. Basic comforts need to be met but not necessarily the expected conveniences of modern life (wi-fi, tv, mobile) as these can be as much of a distraction as cold and damp. The requirements of a visiting artist working in a rural place may differ from an urban setting but that balance between a desire for connection with the need for solitude to make new work remains the same wherever an artist is located.


Tuesday 16th November 

Garelochhead to Abergavenny

The chap that’s been watching me out the corner of his eye since Garelochhead helps me with my suitcase at Glasgow Queen St and confidently escorts me to my connecting train at Central, dragging the weighty load of laundry and muddy boots behind him. George is a writer, previously for a left-wing political website, now children’s books. Most often he describes himself as unemployed, ‘you get asked fewer questions that way’.

Travelling again through the Scottish borders. Lake District covered in thick mist. A heron. A rabbit. Flooded fields beyond Carlisle.

I won’t miss the dark or the wind or the rain but I’ll miss waking up to that view across Loch Long and (unexpectedly) I will miss the deep silence.


Rebecca Spooner
November 2015




West Is Best (part 1)

Rebecca Spooner, Arts Development Manager reports on her ten-day research residency at Cove Park, on the Rosneath Peninsula, Argyll & Bute, Scottish west coast.

The residency was supported by the Arts Council of Wales.

PART 1 (of 2)

Thursday  5th November 2015

Abergavenny to London

The ticket inspector said there was a bull on the railway line, the biggest he’d ever seen (naturally). It took four network rail engineers and a farmer with a stick to shift the beast for the train to pass, resulting in a half hour delay to all services on the Hereford line.

Stop over in London. Artist Film conference at Whitechapel Gallery.


Saturday 7th November

Euston to Glasgow

6am train. Very dark. Rain streaming across the windows. Milton Keynes, Stafford, Warrington, Wigan, Preston, Lancaster, Penrith, Carlisle. Glasgow still another hour away from the border.

I haven’t been to Glasgow for over ten years. There’s an energy and confidence to the city. So different from London, which never satisfies – a promise that doesn’t deliver. I wait for my connecting train. Smart, stylish people, skilled in dressing appropriately for the weather. Tartan scarves, corduroy, tweed caps, tailored wool coats.

Glasgow to Garelochhead

Sheep, cattle, wading birds. Dark green fir trees. Tower blocks. Tenements of brown stone. Ferns. Water everywhere.

My taxi driver, on the 10 minute journey from Garelochhead to Cove Park is a Bristolian who’s lived on the peninsula for 30 years. This is where the Trident submarines are stationed. If I keep a look out I may see one in the loch, a hump backed whale shape flanked by military RIBs. There is a peace camp on the peninsula, people from all over the world join it to protest against Trident. My driver doesn’t think much of the camp, the protesters cause a lot of problems for the residents, his children missed exams because of a road block and once, a fire engine was unable to get through to a house fire. The protesters maintain their position but weren’t so gracious when the residents held a protest against the protesters.

Sound Artist, Cathy Lane welcomes me to Cove Park, she’s heading home tomorrow after a period working in the Highlands and a few days at Cove. I’ll be on my own until Monday when the staff arrive.

I unlock the door to my ‘cube’, an adapted metal shipping container, which blends perfectly into the site.

Heavy rain clouds at night rolling in from the west, dim light reflected in the pond and the loch.


Sunday 8th November

Sleep for 12 hours, 8pm – 8am. Get electric heaters on. Cup of tea in bed looking out across Loch Long. Grey still mist on the tops of the mountains. Occasional headlamp in the village across the water; a red break light.

Any reservations I may have had quickly fade and I start to enjoy the cube. My eye continually returns to the views beyond. There is a merging of inside and outside.

I try to relax into the silence. I’m reading Raymond Williams’ The Country and The City and reading becomes more intense, as if Williams is there with me, a trusted voice, ‘the signalman’.

The calm weather of the morning shifts dramatically and I’m confronted by energetic sound and movement all afternoon. Heavy rain clouds sweep through. Wind in the bare trees, waves on the loch, the sound of water dripping all around and the background roar of the streams tumbling downhill, new rivulets of mountain water birthed over the grasses, the wind knocking wood against metal and metal against metal, a horse neighing long and loud and a donkey braying in response.

The cube becomes a personal study space. I use this solitude for research, writing funding applications, reading guidelines, writing project proposals, rough drafts, timelines.

The days are short. Dark creeps in by 4pm and Sunday has dissolved.


Monday 9th November

After a rough night of heavy rain and gales I wander over to the main ‘Oak Pod’ and office to meet Assistant Director, Catrin Kemp for coffee.

The staff team is busily fundraising to secure Cove Park’s new building development on the hill above us. A scaffolding structure grows steadily each day and the new site is due to be completed in Spring 2016. Catrin shows me the architectural plans, which include a large communal space with wood burning stove, floor to ceiling windows, substantial kitchen and dinning areas, studios, office and residency accommodation. The new site will provide a flexible space, particularly for theatre and production companies. The team is developing a new public-facing programme of regular events and is consulting with local people about replanting woodland in the grounds. This week the staff are making a research visit to a community poly-tunnel scheme at Kilfinan Community Forest.

The main CP site is 13 years old and was built in phases as funding allowed. The Oak Pod featured in the BBC Castaway 2000 series and was relocated from the Scottish island of Taransay. It takes considerable finance and staff time to keep on top of maintaining the site, in places the cubes are showing their age, they’re basic but warm and comfortable. This seems appropriate, CP is a place of work and it’s situated in a practical landscape of mainly agricultural and military uses.

From May-Sept CP hosts a well-established programme of funded residencies for practitioners of any discipline. The organisation receives 700 applications from across the world. The summer months provide long days, more predictable weather and ferry services. The residencies bring together practitioners with diverse backgrounds, interests and nationalities. Catrin feels people come to CP for the tranquility (there is only intermittent mobile reception) and the concentrated focus and reflection that this offers. Catrin makes an important point that nothing is imposed on practitioners at CP. The organisation has no curatorial ideology and individuals direct the content of their residencies. In autumn and winter CP opens out the programme to allow self-funded residencies.

I’m interested to know if there are any artists in the area? Ross Sinclair, Christine Borland, Ross Burell (who teach at Glasgow School of Art) and photographer Ruth Clark live nearby. One thing I hadn’t anticipated is my personal need for contact with other practitioners. I’m on my own the majority of the time and while this is extremely productive, I realise that I may need the company of my peers more than I first thought.


11th November

Patches of blue sky when I wake this morning. After three days sheltering indoors I take my chance for a walk to Kilcreggan on the south of the peninsula. A three hour walk in all. I step out on to the Barbour Road.

Mud and water, metal and rotten wood, broken fences, dumped transit van, fungus. There’s no point photographing this stuff, it needs to be drawn by hand to pull the energy through – raw, muscular, physical, sensual. Something that pixels don’t understand.

I consider the differences of PEAK’s location in a national park, in which the landscape is heavily managed, protected and promoted. The land here is less regulated, the farms and houses are sensible and economical. Derelict buildings, tin shacks, workshops, make shift garages, containers. At times I’m reminded of the windswept commons on the heads of the South Wales Valleys.

Two military planes fly low overhead. Bungalows, lodges, neat wood stores in gardens, septic tanks.

The sheet rain arrives earlier than forecast as I hit the tarmac on my return journey.

More project and funding research this afternoon.

Gnat. Leech. Wren. Singing in the gorse bush beyond the round window.


To be continued…

Rebecca Spooner
November 2015