the seeing eye, by john lister-kaye

The Seeing Eye

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This is the story of a naturalist's struggle to establish a nature study centre in the Highlands of Scotland in 1970. It is a documentary punctuated with intimate observations of the wildlife which surrounded every day events, all set in striking mountain scenery of forests, lochs and glens around his home.

Excerpts from the Book

P143 - 145

A little way off stood another house, a holiday cottage lost in the jungle of its overgrown garden.

When I first saw it, it was alive with redwings and fieldfares, a dozen in every bush bickering and arguing over the booty of rose-hips and holly berries and the seed heads of currant bushes which dominated the whole jungle. The house stood silent and empty and posed no threat to the great valley: as far as I was concerned it was not there.  There was a sound of water away to the east, and only because I had crossed its little bridge on my way in did I know the exact whereabouts of the torrent which had served the Tweedmouth saw-mill. 

To the south the land rose dramatically in terraces to the moorland one and a half thousand feet above the house.  The first five hundred feet had been heavily planted with conifer by the Tweedmouth silviculturalist, and the trees, largely Scots pine and larch with some fine stands of Noble fir, were now in maturity, stretching into the sky and hiding the moorland mass behind. There were deer in these woods, and I could see from the slot-marks in the broad grass parkland in front of the house that they regularly came there to graze.  On a windy day the trees swayed back and forth like yachts at anchor and their supple crowns made a rhythmic swishing like a lullaby.

This, then, was to be my home.  The base I had sought and dreamed about, where I would live and move and have my being modelled by the forces of nature about me. 


Courses came and went.  Some full, some slack, but there was always something new to see, something extra to record and enter in our precious log.  The duck pond now was so crowded with boisterous mallard that we had to encourage them to go wild and shoo them away.  Feeding in the morning brought a rush of wings from out in the river-fields as thirty ducks, all haggling loudly in the morning sky, wheeled in around us with a roar of vibrant pinions and planing feet on the water. 

One afternoon that summer our friend and annual visitor, Paul Johnson, came to see us at the Kennels.  We recounted our year to him and outlined the pressures we suffered at the Kennels.

“There’s a big house standing empty down near my cottage,’ he announced quite casually.

“Whereabouts?” We asked in unison.

“Only a few miles down the valley.  It’s in a beautiful position.”

For a moment, I relived the old dream of a large country-house in its own grounds: a vision of space and rooms especially designed for library, lecture room, laboratory and workshop, dining-room and sitting-room, in which we could house our groups in comfort and build up an atmosphere unhindered by our own living space and the restrictions of a young family.


As I write, more than a year later, after a long and desperate campaign to persuade the owners to sell it before neglect took too great a toll, we have won through.  The place is ours. Aigas it is called, and its pink sandstone silhouette gives little indication of the urgent work to be done.


"...this book will make you want to go there and look around you with fresh, searching eyes."
Times Literary Supplement

"Utterly charming …. A captivating insight into one man’s private world of wildlife."
The Observer

“…a delightful book, full of surprises and of its own brand of wisdom.”
Press & Journal

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