It's nearly Easter. Things have been very busy recently. I'm heading off to the west coast for a break. Just a very short post to say I'll be back in a bit. Some photos from a recent visit to Castle Fraser.
I will be taking a painting to the Torridon Community Centre for their upcoming "Wild about Colour" exhibition, and stocking up my cards there and at the GALE centre in Gairloch. Hoping for some relaxing walks on the beaches, some battery recharging and no doubt some new image gathering (either photos or sketches, or both). Maybe some to time to review and reflect on what comes next, creatively speaking. Hope you have a lovely Easter, when it comes!
I was on the west coast over New Year. The weather was mainly wet, wild and windy. And pretty cold. We strode out on the beaches and through the woods during the dry spells of daylight. We visited the garden at Inverewe, marvelling at the rhododendrons in bloom, both there and in the lovely arboretum at Flowerdale. The fire was lit, as were candles on the table with nearly every meal. I didn't do any drawing or painting, but I did take photographs when we were out and about. And I knitted a hat. In a day. Sometimes it's good to move away from one creative stream and into another. I needed a break, and I had one. I am still not feeling very creative, but there are ideas bubbling away gently, which I hope will surface sometime soon. I keep thinking of that beautiful beach on Harris last summer and how I would like to capture it in a painting, or a series of paintings. I just need to make it happen. Find a canvas, or a board, and look out the paints, assemble some brushes or palette knives, or both, and get on with it. That is my tiny and only, resolution for the New Year.
Delighted to say that this painting, "Letterbox at Mellon Udrigle" is off to a new home after the local art exhibition which I took part in last weekend. Apparently the buyer (I did not meet her) had been to Mellon Udrigle, so there was a link. It's one of my favourite beaches on the west coast - take a turn off the main road at Laide, north of Gairloch, Poolewe and Aultbea, but south of Gruinard, and out along a single track road past a string of houses, over the little bridge across the burn and then up over the hill and back down to the coast again. Watch out for seals along the coastline. And seabirds - gannets diving perhaps. It was on Mellon Udrigle beach a while ago, on an overcast day, that I glimpsed a movement to my left, as I stood taking photographs of the sea. At first I thought it was a dog, but then I noticed the way the animal moved. A sort of lolloping, ungainly gait. It was an otter, headed from the dunes down to the water. They are built for swimming, of course, not running. I was not quick enough with my camera, choosing to enjoy the moment, instead.
Mellon Udrigle beach, photos taken early April, 2016.
Two whole weeks away on the west coast. Wonderful. The weather was "mixed" - the polite Scottish way of saying that there was no blazing sunshine or sunbathing on the beautiful beaches. No, it was more a case of rushing out for a walk between the showers, watching the sky for a darkening, making the most of the patches of blue. The wind kept the midges away; no-one got sunburnt, we had a lovely time. This time the time away included an adventure involving crossing the Minch (it would be fun to play the tune on the ferry) to the island of Lewis to visit my daughter, who is there for the summer.
We were treated to a family fishing trip and caught lots of lively, silvery blue/green mackerel and even some haddock. It took me back to fishing with a handline in Lochcarron as a child - the thrill of feeling that bite on your line, the guessing (to start with) what would be on it, and learning the feel of the way the fish moved. Maybe it was no coincidence that I went on to spend many years doing mackerel research work. This time we used sea rods - good sturdy, simple contraptions. No casting involved, which makes very good sense in a small boat with four rods deployed. Unlock the reel, finger over the line, let it out till it hits the bottom, reel it in a bit, then jiggle up and down (gently), and wait. Of course the folk who took us out knew exactly where to go, which helped!
Lewis. What a place - vast expanses of sky and moor and beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see. Oodles of abandoned houses and sheds, many with half their roofs torn off. Rusting corrugated iron galore. Since I was with family, there was less time to take photographs; some day soon I hope to go back. We made a visit to Luskentyre beach on Harris (I still haven't worked out exactly how the division between Harris and Lewis works, but we did pass signs indicating the end of one and the start of the other). The sun came out and the sea was that magical turquoise that comes from sea over sand. A fortuitously washed up log on the beach made a perfect place to perch and sketch. The family were thoughtful enough to leave me to it. I only moved when I realised the tide was about to reach my feet. Bliss. One day I will capture that colour. One day.
I spent last week on my beloved west coast. Last year, I did not take enough holiday; this year I am determined to do better. We were lucky with the weather, as often happens at this time of year. It is too cold for the midges and it was dry, bright and sunny with the occasional April shower. Cold, too - there were wild hail-storms in the night at the end of the week and a few in the daytime too.
Time was spent outside, as far as possible. Walking the beaches, scouring the high tide line for driftwood and shells; looking out to sea at the distant Cuillins of Skye and then back at the near things - the textures of the ancient rocks and lichens, seaweed patterns, fishing nets lying on the harbour. I absorbed the images like a sponge; my camera is a very useful tool. My well was refilled.
All the time I was there, my focus kept shifting. From a big seascape, with a tiny boat on the horizon, to the shapes of the cracks in the tops of the huge wooden posts which hold up the harbour. From gulls wheeling above us in the bitter breeze, to the shadow shapes formed by a rope lying across a beached dinghy.
It's all there.
Happy New Year. I hope that 2016 brings you peace, health and happiness. I was fortunate to spend both Christmas and New Year on the west coast of Scotland with my nearest and dearest this festive season. The weather was mixed, as is to be expected at this time of year. The days seem to take turns; a day of solid rain and howling winds would be followed by mild, balmy air breezing in from the south. We know from long years of experience to head out as soon as it is fair. Fair mainly means not raining. So, we had some good walks on the glorious beaches; Big Sand, Gairloch Beach and Red Point on Boxing Day. The latter was a very windy day and we were sand-blasted as soon as we reached the beach. I love to stand and watch the waves crashing on the shore. The way they roll and break, the foamy whiteness moving along the crest as they approach. It was too cold to stand for long, however. Only long enough to take a few photographs.
We retreated to the south end of the bay and found shelter below the turf line where the sheep had formed hollows to lie in. We perched on the rounded sandstone rocks and drank tea, ate goose sandwiches (we had the good fortune to eat goose on Christmas day) and slabs of Christmas cake with marzipan and sweet, sweet icing. It was a good day. I hope to have more like it in the coming year.
It was time for a break. A week off on the west coast. We looked at the weather forecast, but didn't pay much attention to it. We had decided to go, whatever the weather. The trick is just to get out in it. If it's fine in the morning, don't delay a walk on the beach until the afternoon. It could well be raining by then. It could be raining in an hour, or in half an hour. That's the beauty of the west coast, in many ways. The constantly changing light, the endless shades of the sea and sky and how they sometimes seem to merge into one. Skye disappears behind thick banks of raincloud, only to reappear with bright shafts of sunlight illuminating its eastern slopes and shores.
One day we had a wonderful trip to Applecross. The day started grey and damp, but we headed there, undaunted, stopping at Torridon on the way. The General Stores there have lovely home baking and good coffee, so a stop there was a must. The Gallery is worth a visit too - it's in the community centre there and has a wide range of work by local artists (including yours truly). I dropped off some cards there too. Delighted to have another outlet.
Applecross was looking picture-postcard perfect. Blue sky, blue sea and throngs of holidaymakers enjoying what the Inn had to offer. We availed ourselves of the food and drink and very good it was too. The return journey was made via the Bealach na Ba (pass of the cattle), which I was more familiar with approaching from the other direction. We spent many family holidays in Lochcarron, including New Year and Easter. If the weather was cold enough, we would make the trip to the top of the Bealach and skate on one of the little lochans there. After my father had tested the ice, of course. A hard frost for 3 nights or so was all that was required - and no snow to spoil the ice, of course!
The view down to Kishorn from the Bealach brought back memories too. There was no sandy beach in Lochcarron, so in the summer if the weather was fine and warm, we would drive over the hill to swim at the sandy beach at Kishorn. One memorable summer, the mackerel came in to the shore, after sprats, which they drove boiling to the surface. I have vague recollections of my brother and father running along the shore with buckets, scooping fish out of the water. Or maybe that was the story that was told. Somewhere, there is a set of family diaries which were kept during those holidays. This year, history moved on and it was my son who brought back a great catch of mackerel from a successful fishing trip.