Michael Batey always wanted to work outdoors, so gamekeeping seemed a good fit for him.

But it can be a dangerous job and it left him with a serious injury that kept him off work for months.

It’s not something he likes to dwell on now, as he still has flashbacks.

Yet that particular cloud had a very broad silver lining. The time off led him to rediscover his talent for art. “It’s now an addiction,” he says.

Michael’s home is tucked away at the end of a lane just outside Claygate, a few miles north of the Scottish border. It is decorated everywhere with his artworks – oil paintings, watercolours and charcoal drawings.

That’s just the room where we’re talking. The one he uses as a studio works is bedecked everywhere with portraits, landscapes and works in progress. Drawers are full of sketches. It would be impossible to tidy.

Michael draws inspiration for his paintings from the countryside of Cumbria and south-west Scotland. But most don’t represent specific places. They’re created from his imagination.

“People may feel they can recognise my paintings as somewhere they know,” he says. “But they are all from my head. They just evolve.”

A solo exhibition of his work, entitled Finding The Light, took place last weekend at Kirkandrews-on-Esk church. Around 30 of his paintings were on show, and on sale.

It mightn’t have happened if he hadn’t become a gamekeeper.

Michael was born in Welton, near Dalston, 56 years ago and left Caldew School at the age of 16.

His artistic talent had been noticed and art college had been suggested, but he explains: “It just wasn’t me. I was an outdoors sort of guy. I didn’t want to be trapped indoors, whether it was in an art school or any other school.”

So he worked as a gamekeeper on various different estates. He’s now based on the vast Buccleuch Estates.

His passion for the outdoors is clear. He starts in the early hours of the morning and finds: “You see fantastic things that a lot of people never see.

“I’ve seen otters playing in the River Esk, salmon jumping all around them, kingfishers on the riverbanks. Where we live the dawn chorus is deafening.

“If you get up at half four in the morning you see all this. Then the traffic starts and it all goes quiet.”

Gamekeepers often get a bad press. Some have been convicted of illegally killing protected birds of prey that feed on game bird eggs and chicks – and conservationists blame them for the near-disappearance of some species. But Michael insists that the vast majority are law-abiding.

“You’ll always get the idiots. In Victorian times killing birds of prey was part of the job, but not now.

“We can live together.”

A bigger threat to game species than birds of prey are intensive farming, the removal of hedgerows to create larger fields and “the large farm machinery that mashes everything down”, and he adds: “It’s not just game birds. It’s all the waders, like curlews and lapwings.”

The shooting where he works is very small scale. Pheasant and partridge can be shot there between October and February, but he says: “There are only about 12 days of shooting a year.”

Now gamekeeping is not Michael’s only job. One October afternoon he was felling a tree with a chainsaw.

The tree came down and then shot forward, breaking the bones in his right leg, He was trapped under it.

“I had to cut myself free with the chainsaw,” he recalls. “I had to crawl out to my motor and managed to get in gear, and got back to the village.”

From there an ambulance took him to the Cumberland Infirmary.

The injury was immensely painful. “I had nightmares. I still get flashbacks.”

Michael was told he’d be off work for three or four months. “I was getting bored stiff. So I got my old box out and started painting.”

It was clear that the talent he’d shown in his young days hadn’t gone. He also attended an art class in Gilnockie where another pupil was called Anne Rennie. They later married in the church where the weekend’s exhibition took place.

Art took off quickly for Michael. An exhibition at High Head Sculpture Valley in Ivegill was followed by others at the Devorgilla Gallery in Dumfries and at the Art Corner Gallery in Langholm. Then came his first Dumfries and Galloway “Spring Fling”, where artists across the region open their studios to the public. “I sold all my work. That was a big step.”

Exhibitions have followed as far away as Glasgow and London.

So on reflection he reckons that the tree-felling injury is one of the best things that could have happened.

“I had done bits and bobs of art over the years, but nothing serious. If I hadn’t broken my leg I don’t think I would have taken it up again.

“Maybe it was God saying: ‘You’re going to paint.’”

So was the excruciating pain worthwhile? “‘No pain, no gain’ is probably a good motto!”

Michael has painted portraits but now it’s usually landscapes and he has a preference for oil over watercolour. And though his landscapes are imaginary, they’re inspired by his work outdoors.

His favourite times of year are spring and autumn. “I like the emerging greens, and all the browns and coppers of the autumn.

“Being outdoors all the time, you’re aware of the power of the planet.”

The French Impressionists and Scottish Colourists – the likes of JD Fergusson, Edward Hornel and Samuel Peploe – have been among Michael’s influences. But many of his landscapes, especially those with wide, forbidding skies and few signs of human intrusion, bear the thumbprints of JMW Turner,

“Turner was a great influence on me,” Michael admits. “I think he influenced everybody, to be fair.

“In his lifetime the Victorians liked paintings of dogs and cats and deer, and chocolate box landscapes with thatched cottages. Turner was interested in bad weather. A blue sky was boring.”

A painting can take months to compete and he finds: “It’s hard to part with them. But you’ve got to make a living!”

His two jobs seem to fit in well together. He’ll spend some time in his studio every day,, however short.

“Being self-employed I can just down tools and go into that world of painting.”