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.
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.
"So, is there anything to do round here, then?" I was asked by someone I met on the beach the other day. They had never been to the area before.
My answer at the time was a bit glib -
"Well, there are no shops or cinemas, if that's what you mean."
I meant clothes shops, department stores and multiplex cinemas, of course. There are grocery stores, a very good butcher and a rather well-stocked book shop. Since then I have been thinking.
It's all a matter of what you want to do. This is your kind of place if -
- a stroll on the beach, gathering cockle and limpet shells, empty sea urchins and the occasional starfish appeals to you
- you can stand and watch the waves crashing on the shore, without being impatient to move on
- you see the rapidly changing weather as a source of fascination and varying light conditions
- carrying a camera is a way of life
- carrying a sketch book and pencil and maybe a small box of watercolours is a way of life
- you like mucking about in boats and fishing, both fresh and salt water
- you enjoy any kind of walking - hill-walking, mountain climbing or a brisk march along a sandy beach
- you play golf
- you like horse riding
- you don't get phased by single track roads and know the appropriate polite gestures to use when driving on them.
I don't think I'm finished with this theme. To be continued.
One of the many things I love about the west coast is the light. More specifically, the way the light changes. One minute you can be walking along the beach with blue skies all around and the next, the sky is slate grey and so is the sea. And more often than not, there are wet spots on the stones and pebbles on the beach, or pock marks in the sand, if there is a significant amount of precipitation. There may be a gleaming patch of sunlight on the sea, in the distance. Not so much a patch, perhaps, as a sliver, a sliver of silver. And then there are the beams of light which come down through the clouds, a reminder that the sun is in fact still up there, waiting to put in another appearance. This rapidly changing light is great for photography, but much trickier for painting in situ (or plein air, as they say). It's a good incentive to work quickly so as to capture the moment. Soon it will be warm enough again to do some outdoor sketching and painting again - I'm looking forward to it.
I'm heading west this weekend, laden with some of my creations. Some original paintings (including those pictured above), mounted prints and a selection of greetings cards. The paintings are going to be brightening the walls of the lovely Steading Bistro in Gairloch (in behind the Gairloch Heritage Museum). The plain white walls will be a great backdrop for my boat paintings. There are a couple more which are now complete, but didn't quite make it to the framers in time - photos soon. I'm really enjoying painting boats, although getting all the curves and angles and proportions right can be quite a challenge!
I'm hoping there will some gaps in the rain over the weekend, to get out and about. Feeling in need of some brisk walks on the beach, to blow away my January cobwebs. If I'm lucky, there will be enough light for a few photos too.
I find it almost impossible to walk along a sandy beach without stopping and stooping to collect items which then get taken home in my pockets (or, if there are lots of items, in a handy poo-bag, which I always have about my person). Depending on which beach I am walking on, these items vary. My most recent foray was on Aberdeen beach. My companion was collecting sea glass, so I settled for something else instead. I focused on white or cream-coloured pebbles and small pieces of wood, smoothened by their journey across the sea and up the beach. As they are tumbled up the shore, these pieces of box, or boat, crate or fence, door or simply branch, are pounded by the waves, and by the sand and the pebbles within those waves. I love the feel of them. When they are dry (the ones in the photographs above are still damp), they will often be salt-bleached and white.
And then, when they are tumbled out on the table, on a big sheet of white paper, there seems to be a requirement to arrange them. By size, shape, colour? Any and all of these. Until a pleasing pattern is formed. Which is when I take a photograph.