Guest col­umn: Robert Fuller

A wildlife artist stalks his ma­te­rial.

Country Walking Magazine (UK) - - Contents - Robert Fuller

He walked “to­wards me, snort­ing. I laid flat on the ground un­til he lost in­ter­est.”

ILOVE WALK­ING, BUT usu­ally when I pull on my walk­ing boots, it’s to go and watch an an­i­mal I in­tend to paint. I rarely fol­low a des­ig­nated path, be­cause an­i­mals don’t tend to do that. In­stead I track paw prints, or squeeze along a nar­row trail through the un­der­growth made by deer, bad­ger or fox. It’s one of the joys of Scot­land that you can almost uni­ver­sally tread where you will, and for a painter of wildlife – an­i­mals that are fleet-footed, un­con­fined and canny – that is a gen­uine bless­ing.

Re­cently I was in­vited by some­one who liked my paint­ings to see the red stag rut on an es­tate owned by the fam­ily of the late James Bond au­thor, Ian Flem­ing. The es­tate lies among the moun­tains of Glen Coe; it’s an ex­cep­tional place to see the rut. This re­mark­able spec­ta­cle, when males fight for dom­i­nance over hinds, takes place ev­ery au­tumn. It’s thrilling to watch and I didn’t hes­i­tate to ac­cept.

It wasn’t un­til I reached Glen Etive, the very valley that fea­tured as Bond’s child­hood home in Sky­fall, that the enor­mity of the chal­lenge hit home. The deer were lo­cated high in the sur­round­ing Mun­ros. To see them I’d be climb­ing for most of the day – while car­ry­ing 15kg of cam­era gear on my back.

I woke at dawn, dressed my­self in cam­ou­flage colours, and heaved my ruck­sack onto my shoul­ders. As soon as I set off, the roar of bel­low­ing stags echoed around the valley. I scanned the moun­tain­side with my binoc­u­lars and spot­ted three stags high above the tree line. I planned to ap­proach them down­wind, with the light be­hind me.

My path took me over cleared fell for­est. Stum­bling over deep, spiky brash piles, I fell sev­eral times. Af­ter cross­ing a stream and fol­low­ing deer tracks through a hole in a fence, I found my­self in dense bracken, tow­er­ing six feet high. I parted the fronds care­fully, and im­me­di­ately glimpsed a stag, its rich rus­set fur glow­ing brightly against the dull bracken. Red stags are ranked ac­cord­ing to the num­ber of points to their antlers. This one was an im­pres­sive ten-pointer.

I slid down a gully made by a moun­tain stream, then dropped to my hands and knees. The stag was just 50 yards away. He walked to­wards me, his head held high, scent­ing the air. I pressed the shut­ter on my cam­era, the stag’s head per­fectly framed in my viewfinder. I stayed there, pho­tograph­ing him, un­til sun­set.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing I spot­ted a stag at the bot­tom of the valley, so this time I headed down­hill, wad­ing across a deep, fast-flow­ing river. There in long grass by the river bank was the very same ten-pointer. I dropped to my belly, crawl­ing over the grav­elly river to­wards it. But my cam­era got caught in some gorse and the an­i­mal raised his head at the sound. He walked to­wards me, snort­ing. I laid flat on the ground un­til he lost in­ter­est, then I slowly crept for­ward again, us­ing a small gully as cover. Again he spot­ted me, but this time he looked straight at me with a look that said, ‘Oh it’s you again!’

It took me two hours to slowly edge within 25 yards of him. There fol­lowed the most in­cred­i­ble day as I shad­owed him as if I were part of his herd. When he walked, I walked. When he lay down for a rest, I did the same. At one point he wal­lowed knee-deep in a peaty pool and be­gan to tus­sle the bank with his antlers. He tossed his head up and sage grass, moss, mud and water went fly­ing up into the air. Water streamed down his mane. At last this was the pose I was af­ter.

Back in my stu­dio in York­shire I se­lected a palette of rus­sets, burnt um­bers and si­enna as I con­tem­plated how I would paint the por­trait of the beast I had stalked. I chose to fix his gaze out of the frame, look­ing be­yond me to the moun­tain hori­zon, to re­flect the way this hand­some fel­low had ac­cepted me into that wild Scot­tish land­scape.

Robert Fuller is an ac­claimed wildlife artist. His paint­ing of the Glen Etive stag will head­line an ex­hi­bi­tion at his gallery in Thix­en­dale, North York­shire, from Novem­ber 4th to 26th. Read his blog at www. robert­­ary

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.