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