An Aberdeenshire retreat

The journey north

Imagine a dark December afternoon, cold enough to keep your hat on in the car.

Driving north, snow shines on the fields and hills beside the road. You’re glad to have your thermals and a bottle of whisky packed in the back, tucked alongside your sketchbooks and drawing kit.

The sun has long since disappeared when you turn into the long approach to the castle and stars are beginning to emerge from behind icy clouds. The impressive silhouette of Drum Castle comes into view as you move slowly through the arboretum giants. Small windows in one corner of the castle glow warmly – you’ve arrived.

Drum Castle in Aberdeenshire

A creative break

At this time of year I find the creative energy ebbs away a little and I need some reflective time away from the studio. This year I chose to properly get away from everyday tasks and distractions, by spending a week with no WiFi, occasional mobile signal and just Dr Moir and some amazing trees for company.

The Old Wood of Drum in winter

As might be expected for December in Aberdeenshire, there was weather! Some days were so frosty they positively sparkled, others it seemed the sun hardly rose at all. There was sheet ice, strong winds and flooding. It was -6 Centigrade at 10am. To balance this there was a cosy apartment in an actual castle, a log burner and a comfy sofa. I was glad I brought the whisky.

Artist Tansy Lee Moir in Drum Wood Aberdeenshire

Drawing the trees of Drum

I wanted to revisit some of the trees I’ve been drawing in The Old Wood of Drum since 2018, when I first began preparing for an exhibition in the Castle’s Jacobean gallery rooms with printmaker Margaret Pitt (who sadly died last year). Due to open April 2020, our show never made it to the castle, but Edinburgh Palette kindly hosted an online version that summer.

An ancient open grown oak in Drum Wood Aberdeenshire

How wonderful to be able to walk out of the door and be in the woodland within 10 minutes. It was a good test of my spatial memory – could I find them again? Could I remember how the paths threaded together? It’s amazing how different a woodland can look at different times of year but my feet seemed to remember the way.

Drawing oaks in Drum Wood

I was reunited with old friends and made new discoveries too. I did some sketching, the kind of drawing that’s just about getting to know a thing, to connect with it rather than make a picture of it. I’ll never get tired of that.

I’d love to come back and make longer drawings of course, I just might wait until the spring for that.

Sketch of an oak tree in Drum Wood by Tansy Lee Moir

I’ve come home refreshed and full of enthusiasm for next year’s projects, with a renewed love for this Aberdeenshire gem.

Drum Castle is cared for by National Trust for Scotland and I stayed in the Courtyard Cottage. The Old Wood is accessible all year round and many of the trees have been recorded on the Ancient Tree Inventory.