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Coastal Defences

"A Defended Coast, Keiss", watercolour, 25 x 36 cm

This scene interested me because of the time-scale represented by the different buildings. The distant castle was built around the beginning of the Seventeenth Century, whereas the foreground structure is a pillbox gun emplacement from World War II. In fact there is even more history covered: although they don't appear in the view, two brochs*, take us back to before 100 AD.

In the past such a remote coastline has always brought danger from seaborne raids, but in 1940 a larger scale invasion was feared. When Nazi Germany occupied Norway, it gave them a base for an attack on the north of Scotland. Consequently, a system of defences was put in place all round the coast of Caithness, with minefields and anti-tank obstacles on the sandy beaches, and gun positions covering all the approaches. There was no invasion, and I don't think it would have got very far if it had taken place: the roads to the south are either along a narrow cliff-top, or across boggy country unsuitable for armoured vehicles. It would only have been a diversion from the main invasion in the English Channel.

Thankfully we live in more peaceful times now, and we no longer feel threatened by our European neighbours.


  1. You can almost feel the boggy ground and, knowing the history, makes both the place and the painting come alive - at least it did for me. The muted colours in the painting give it a feeling of 'being on the edge of something' (which I suppose is true), and there is a very strong sensation of that 'something' (which is outside the painting): a 'something' that is there but cannot be seen. Beautiful painting, Keith.

    1. Thanks Diane, that's very perceptive. I often get that feeling when I walk along the coast, and in fact it's why I called this blog 'Painting on the Edge.

  2. Good Morning Keith!... Your carefully conceived composition capitalizes... as it almost always does... weaving both the natural elements in the landscape before you and the presence and historical usage of that man has imposed on the landscape by over eons.

    Lovely bright colour add to this magical double narrative! Bravo!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

    1. Good evening Bruce. There are few places in these parts that don't have some underlying human narrative, but investigating that history adds greatly to the painting experience, I find, as I'm sure you do.

      Thanks for visiting.
      All the best,

  3. Wonderful painting Keith. I so enjoyed the 'history lesson' that went with it. Hearing things like 17th century and A.D. are so foreign to me. I once lived in a home built in 1925 and we thought that was old..
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hello BJ. The sense of history does give everything an extra dimension. It's a pity that so much of your early history was unrecorded. I was reading recently about the possibility that Scandinavian explorers, and even Irish as well, may have visited the Eastern Seaboard long before Columbus.

  4. As always I'm captivated by the subtle tones of your palette and the natural drama of your sky. Though your mid-ground and foreground points of interest are structures of defence from attack, your very distant buildings and soaring birds demonstrate settlement and peacefulness. This is one of those paintings I could look into for a very long time. Excellent work Keith. ;-)

    1. Thanks John, nicely summed up. Yes the feeling is all of peacefulness now.


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