Scotland: My Heart is in the Highlands

[by Chris Haldane in Sydney]

A recent trip to ‘the land of my fathers’ with two great sketching friends delivered one delightful experience after another! We began our circuit of Scotland in Edinburgh, a sketcher’s delight with all its history and distinctive architecture, especially Edinburgh Castle. Whoever looked at that huge volcanic rock that it sits on, and thought what a great place it would be to build a fortress, was obviously not one of the poor labourers! Standing high above the city, it demands attention from every direction. I was sketching under my umbrella that day, with the rain reflected in the dribbles and runs!

Heading north from Edinburgh on a rainy morning (surprise, surprise!) we crossed the Firth of Forth Bridge …

to nearby coastal villages like Dysart, beautiful even in the pouring rain with its walled harbour and fishing boats trapped on the mud at low tide.

From there we headed north through the Cairngorms and Braemar on the day the Queen was to arrive for the Highland Games, so yes, men in kilts, and yes, I have to include one castle in a description of Scotland, don’t I?!

And then to the wets coast, on a day that was the highlight of our trip. The road to Torridon wound dramatically down to the village, through a blend of autumn colours and purple heather. The midges were biting in full force so my record of it was direct to paint, done super quickly, and in between much slapping of arms and legs! 

We then girded our loins and tackled the drive up the single track Bealach na Ba – not for the faint-hearted! With its very tight hairpin bends, it’s been called ‘the UK’s toughest climb’, but the view from the top was worth all the adrenaline pumping. On that magical sunny day the blues and greens were at their best, and it was exciting to see in the distance the Isle of Skye: our destination for the next few days (top picture). As one of my companions said, “It’s so beautiful, you could cry!”

Skye has a magic of its own. All around is evidence of the disruption of the landscape by major geological events like glaciation and landslides. I’ll just mention one favourite spot: Fairy Glen, an other-worldly landscape of grass-covered conical hills, that looks like it’s come right out of The Lord of the Rings. We climbed up to the highest point, a giant rock called Castle Ewen, no doubt because it looks like a ruin. At its base, despite a sign by the locals asking tourists not to stack stones (“the fairies don’t like it”), tourists (or Faeries, if you prefer to believe that!) have created stone rings, which certainly add to the magical atmosphere of the glen. The only thing that spoils it is the horde of tourists and minibuses creating parking problems!

Looking back now, it was the colours of Scotland that touched me so, especially the heather-covered hillsides, and the autumn palette. As one of their songs says, “The colours of Skye leave you young inside”!

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