Composer Matilda Brown on how walking has inspired her music

After a 500-mile hike through Scotland's wildest and most spectacular scenery, composer Matilda Brown talks to us about what inspires her music.

Hiker on the West Highland Way in Scotland

Composer Matilda Brown has just completed a walk of more than 500 miles through Scotland with her dog Jasper, writing and performing music inspired by the landscape as she journeyed north.

Advertisement

We caught up with her to find out what the adventure involved, what inspires Matilda’s music and what she plans to do next.

Ben Dronaig Lodge, Scotland
Matilda performing in Ben Dronaig Lodge, Scotland
Matilda Brown

Can you explain a bit about the challenge you have just completed?

The challenge I have recently completed was a solo long-distance walk of 528 miles through Scotland. I stayed in my tent and in bothies with my dog Jasper, carrying everything I needed. A big part of the challenge was to write music along the way and perform with musicians and young people in six unique venues throughout the walk. The music written and performed told the story of the walk.

Steall Falls and Glen Nevis, Highland, Scotland
Getty

Why did you choose to walk through Scotland?

Walking is part of my lifestyle. I live and work in Scotland. In 2014 I completed the Cape Wrath Trail solo. I loved it so much that I really wanted to walk parts of it again. I enjoy the freedom of camping in the wilderness, and staying in bothies. They are wee treasures. After that walk, I remember thinking “Could I walk further, or double the length?” and “Could I write music on the way too?”

What was your route and how did you come up with it?

I walked from Annan to Beattock and on to the Southern Upland Way. From Leadhills, my route joined the Kirkonnel Heritage Trail through Muirkirk and Glasgow and on to the West Highland Way up to Fort William. The final stage of the walk was on the Cape Wrath trail, ending in Durness.

I wanted to walk parts of the Cape Wrath trail again, and I also like avoiding set paths, so after pondering over maps many times, I began to match up all my favourite areas of Scotland to make one route.

The West Highland Way, Scotland
Matilda and Jasper enjoy a break in the sun on the West Highland Way
Matilda Brown

Music played a big role in your journey. What kind of music do you compose?

That has always been a difficult question to answer, but I should have an answer by now! My influences are Pink Floyd, Ennio Morricone, seventies film music and all sorts from Frank Zappa to Joni Mitchell to Fourtet. The best person to describe my music so far is a guy called Tom, who I met on my walk and who works on the Attadale Estate. He says it is “Moody Landscape Music.”

Listen to Matilda’s music

The Matilda Brown Ensemble combines a diverse and electrifying group of musicians from a wide variety of music genres spanning classical, jazz, and folk. The line-up varies depending on the music and project. Each musician brings a unique style and sound to The Matilda Brown Ensemble resulting in an exciting, innovative and unique sound world.

 

Sheet music

Does the Scottish landscape, or landscape in general, inspire your music? If so, how? And did this journey inspire you to write anything?

Yes, often. I write quite intense music once I get back from a walking trip, especially if the weather has been bad. (I did write a piece about chopping wood once, which was fun.) While I was on this walk, I wrote a lot of sketches, but I was too tired and busy walking to write full pieces of music.

The sketches were authentic because they captured what I was feeling in the moment, something which I could not have done on reflection, being safe and warm at home.

Corryhully bothy, Scotland
A music break at Corryhully bothy
Matilda Brown

Where did you perform, which Scottish musicians did you play with and what was your best musical experience?

I enjoyed the music we played at Corryhully bothy best. One successful improvisation was about Bob the bothy mouse, who appeared throughout one of the pieces! I felt happy and overwhelmed that so many people came to see us play in a bothy and were keen to hear about how my walk was going. I was also half way on my challenge and felt energised performing that day.

I played music at:

  • Drumlanrig Castle Estate woods with Kelloholm and Wallace Hall primary schools, ranger Richard Clarke and ProSound music installation.
  • Leadhills School with Leadhills Primary School and musicians Graeme Stephen (guitar), Davide Rinaldi (drums), Julie Aitken (flute) and William Stafford from SCO (clarinet), supported by SSE.
  • The Tramway, Hidden Gardens, Glasgow with violinists Emily Carr and Elspeth Berry.
  • Corryhully Bothy, Glenfinnan with support from Enterprise Music Scotland and the Loch Shiel Festival, with musicians Ruth Rowlands (cello) and William Stafford (clarinet).
  • Ben Dronaig Bothy Lodge supported by Attadale Estate with musician Fraser Fifield (saxophone).
  • Smoo Cave Hotel, Durness with musicians Katherine Wren (viola) and Julie Aitken (flute).
  • Three Performances recorded by Pro Sound, Glasgow.
  • The music was also supported by the Hinrichsen Foundation and The Stove Network.
Glasgow musicians
Emily and Elspeth at a gig in Glasgow
Matilda Brown

What made you decide to share the adventure with your dog Jasper? And did Jasper enjoy it?

After the Cape Wrath walk, I needed to get a dog to share my walks with! I got Jasper from Dogs Trust. We went on many adventures together. I waited until he was ready for a long walk. He loved it! It gave him chance to show what he was capable of. He found the best routes over miles of bog and always found the best way across rivers. He stayed close by me and took naps whenever he could!

Looking towards Torridon, Scotland
Jasper looking towards Torridon
Matilda Brown

What was your favourite view?

There were so many beautiful views on this walk; from the rolling hills on the Annandale Way to the Black Mount to Loch Maree. But the one I remember well was walking over the hill from Bearnais bothy and coming down the over side, looking across to Achnashellach and the south Torridon hills. Jasper sat there and watched that view too. It was stunning.

Where was the most amazing place you stayed?

I loved staying in my tent, and the most memorable tent spot was actually on the Southern Upland Way above Daer Reservoir. My favourite place I stayed on the walk, was Glendhu bothy. The sunset over the sea loch was incredible that night, and there were bats flying about, deer roaring and I had a lovely fire in the bothy all to myself. Jasper stretched out and slept in front of it all night.

Shenevall bothy, Scotland
A rest on the hill before Shenevall bothy
Matilda Brown

What challenges did you face on the trail?

I had aching feet a lot, mainly because I was carrying tons of weight. I also had a little blood blister on my toe that developed!! I didn’t have many emotional challenges but I missed a warm room and a bath sometimes, especially after a hard day’s walking and navigating. I found it challenging to keep to a couple of scheduled performances and it was hard to put my musician “hat” on after walking alone. Sometimes I just wanted to sleep but Jasper kept me going.

Advertisement

What do you have planned next?

Before Jasper gets too old, I’d like to perhaps walk the length of Britain, following my own route. I would bring in the musical element again and organise performances along the way. I found it is best to have local people and organisations overseeing each performance and helping to bring in audiences. I am currently developing the music I wrote from this challenge and I plan to make an album and book of my journey.