RSA Residencies for Scotland 2019 – Bruce Shaw

The proposal for this RSA residency at Bothy Project was to begin developing ideas for a personal body of work relating to Nan Shepherd’s book ‘The Living Mountain’.  The location of the bothy in the Cairngorms with its sense of isolation within the landscape gave a unique sense of place ‘genius loci’ that I felt would be vital for capturing the essential nature of both the meditation of the book and surrounding landscape it takes us into.

What did I learn from the bothy?  Does time seem to slow down?  Well yes, it seems to dictate its own sense of time at which both you and it need to function to work well.  Slows it all down cuts away all the clutter of modern life (how many appliances do we need to plug in to re-charge every morning and day to keep up with the pace of life in current times!) and focuses on the bare essentials.  Did I chop enough kindling to light the stove?  Have I cleaned out the old ash from yesterday?  Do I need to go and get more water?  What sequence this morning, i.e. clean out/ light stove, breakfast, prep for the day ahead etc.  By the way it’s a nice day outside listen to the birds singing, grand variety out there, must learn the calls.  Nan Shepherd on pg82 of the book refers to these simple acts and whether we are giving it conscious thought or not, we are in a sense touching life and something within us knows it.  The bothy by function does this, gives a good sense of wellbeing for the day.

Having an objective (place, site, reason) for a residency is a good thing and probably what got you there in the first place.  I kind of did and on the second day set out on an arduous twenty odd mile round trek to revisit a ridge and low grade rock climb that we did twenty two years ago, which I thought would be the focus for work done here and my relationship with the mountain.  On reflection and in hindsight though I personally think that it is often better simply to let yourself settle into the residency, arrive with an open mind and see what surprising directions it will take you in.  Don’t be afraid to let it lead in a sense, i.e. you might find all you need and more within a short radius of the place than having to hike twenty odd miles to just about find it!

I found myself far more captivated on this occasion not so much by the mountain but by the ancient Caledonian Pine Forest its flora and fauna that exist in the foothills of the range and spent the rest of the week wandering with drawing tools, sketchbook, piece n jam and flask where ever the trail took me.

Scots Pine Forest – A paradox?  Each pine seems to have its own space (approx about 5-10 feet radius from the next one) and in this type of new forest growth the pines tend to grow tall and straight unlike the ancient gnarled survivors which seem to twist and turn to suit surroundings and have no boundary or direction in their domain.  Thus even when staring into the most dense forest, on an overcast day there is a certain amount of light that shimmers through the canopy above.  This gave the strange impression that although I could in fact only see so far into the growth I had a sensation of seeing deep into and right through the forest to the other side!  This was heightened to new ethereal levels when early morning or late evening sun broke through, sending shards of warm light onto the red bark of the tall narrow trunks and illuminating the mosaic of greens of the shrubs, plants, mosses and heathers that carpet the forest floor.


Thoughts of time, money, worry, stress,

Not here,

A calm focus on the place,

See it, feel it, hear it, breath it,

Exist for the now,

Then listen very closely,

And soon you will hear it sing,

It does that to you, you know,

Under the spell,

The magic works,

Let it in, let it sing,

Let it in, Listen.


At the bend in the river,

When the gloaming comes on,

The surface glimmers fluid crystals over shallows,

Deep dark peaty umber and whirling eddies,

Fill the channels, where the Salmon lie.