When I began the residency last year, I spent a lot of the first couple of months getting to know the county and its varied environments. Many people helped me with suggestions and meetings for walks in quite magnificent landscapes and gentle wandering through the villages. I don’t blog much about that, I’m not a walking artist although walking with people and the conversations that unfold always have a direct impact on the projects I choose. Especially the personal work that I myself will develop along-side the projects I am running with various marginalised groups or individuals. Finding the pet cemetery was such a pivotal moment in my own work within my larger residency aims. It introduced me indirectly to the areas geology and directed me with focus to the shoreline.

I contacted some pals from Nature Scot where I had previously learned a lot on a Year of Natural Scotland residency dealing with the environment. I wanted to find out more about the shingle beaches and especially the storm beach I discover on one of my rambles through the woodlands on the Binn hill. This particular beach is fascinating, separated from the sea by forest, completely landlocked on all sides and bisected by a disused firing range it is indeed an otherworldly place. It has the feel of a prehistoric beach, or a set for a dr who episode from the 1970’s – full of mystery and unlike anything I have ever seen before.

I was put back in touch with Ness or Dr Vanessa Brazier Kirkbride to give her full title. Ness is a geomorphologist and works for NatureScot (the operating name for Scottish Natural Heritage) who’s interests lie in Geoconservation, Geodiversity , montane arctic and alpine environments, and active geomorphological habitats of which the Cairngorms is one. The beaches I’m interested in here are the residues of time, tide, weather and erosion on a timeline we cannot truly appreciate. The flint, quartz and granite below our feet was washed down the spey and many other tributaries onto the beaches of moray.

Ness told me “ The Moray coastal environment is a great mix of geo histories, the new(ish) coastal lands built by the sea, and how the rivers (esp Spey and Findhorn) bring new sediment to replenish the coast (those shingle ridges are storm ridges built by the waves, they spill over into the slacks, and create various habitats – as do the mobile dune belts). If you survived Arwyn you’ll probably see some new sediments been flung over onto the vegetation (go pick up stones and see what vegetation is alive underneath. 

There’s good coastal change resources on where you can use interactive maps to see where the coast has been building up, and were its been eroding. Imagine a tug of war, there’s a balance between sediments being taken and replaced. But sometimes people upset that balance – the history of people living on this coast will reveal many stories I’m sure about that delicate balance. 

The glacial and post glacial history of the Moray coast is also a story of incursions and fluctuations of foreign sediment bearing ice sheet streams invading the Moray coast from the north and west, bringing in round stones of sparkling pink and grey augen gneiss – or littering the cost with curious curved moraines that become spits at Ardessier and Channonry point.”

Science meeting art is an area i have explored many times in the past and it is always good to strike the balance between imagination and scientific fact. I often feel our research approaches are very similar when it comes to fieldwork. It’s only in our outcomes and the way we present them that we differ. I think science stops when it has proof and although it can predict it tends not to speculate. Artists on the other hand are often willing to go beyond that boundary lifting the veil and entering into the world of intuition and imagination. A great partnership if you ask me.

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