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Ice House

"Ice House at Wester Haven" - watercolour - 13 x 18 cm

Before the invention of refrigeration, using ice for food-preservation meant that it had to be stored in some way. Ice houses are a common feature of the harbours around the coast of Caithness. They are vaulted stone buildings, set partly into banks or hillsides, and with turf roofs for insulation. In the winter ice was collected from lochs and rivers and put into the buildings through a hole a the top. Then in the summer it was taken out through a door at the front and used to pack around crates of fish for transportation. My painting is of a good example at the harbour of Wester Haven, below the Castle of Mey.

I painted this on Bockingford Eggshell tinted paper. It has a subtle green tint and gives a cool undertone to the watercolour. I don't use tinted papers very often, but they can be useful sometimes. This particular paper is produced in Cream, Grey, Eggshell, Blue and Oatmeal.


  1. Keith, thanks for the history lesson. That's one thing I love about blogging. We learn how people all over the world live, work and play, now and years ago.
    As to your painting what else can I say that I haven't said before. They are always the best. Your use of the tinted paper shows how versatile you can be.. Always like how you place those darks in just the right places.
    I'm still struggling after 20+ years of w/c but always enjoy the journey. BJ

    1. Hi BJ, I completely agree with you about the benefits of blogging.

      One of the things I like about working from light to dark, in watercolour, is the way those dark touches pull everything together at the end.

  2. Good morning Keith!... Another wonderfully informative "snippit" of highland history... crisply couched in your very masterful watercolouring method! I so enjoy both the bridged visual and commentary. Another gem Keith!
    We too... have a plethora such ice houses which were usually subterranean and laced with saw dust to insulate the ice blocks that were harvested from the river in winter and late spring. I think I will do a theme based on this facet of early life.... but that wilkl be a story and project for another time!

    Thanks for sharing Keith! Really enjoyed the post!

    Good Painting!
    Warmest regards,

    1. Hi Bruce, I'm glad you enjoyed the post and maybe got some inspiration from it. It has made me think about some themed work as well, but in my case I think it might be about the old fishing harbours we have here.

      All the best,

  3. Looks good Keith, I've always wanted to use that paper.

  4. Thanks Ray, it was quite interesting to use for a change. I wasn't sure about the green colour, but it's surprising how subtle the effect is in the finished watercolour.

  5. Keith your story reminds me of my childhood days spent roaming around the fields and woods near the small village of Gumley where I lived. One day I came across the remains of what was once a crude ice house in the woods near to where Gumley Hall once stood. It always puzzled me how these things worked and why the ice didn't melt in the summer. You've given me answers to at least some of my question here.

    1. That's interesting Frank. I suppose a lot of big houses must have had some means of storing ice for the summer.

  6. That was very interesting, Keith. I had no idea that ice houses even existed, though I have seen many outdoor cellars in Sweden with a similar appearance. The painting is lovely: it has that end-of-the-day feel about it, which I suppose is true in more ways than one.

    1. I like that "end-of-the-day" feeling that these old buildings have, Diane. It seems likely that those outdoor cellars in Sweden were ice houses as well. I imagine there would have been a similar need to store ice, and the design of the buildings might well have influenced the ones we have here.


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