travelwriting

A stopover in Shetland

So up until now I’ve not really stopped travelling. I left Norway the third week of May and then went straight to Shetland, then onto the mainland, then up to Ullapool, over to the Isle of Lewis where I travelled down through the Isle of Harris, Berneray, North Uist, South Uist back over to Mallaig where I then caught the ferry to Eigg to where I am right now. Talk about going the long way around. I’m going to spend quite a bit of time though on this post showing some of my photographs and travels around Shetland, a place that will forever inspire me, also because I took so many photos whilst there and had such a great adventure.

I spent only a few days in Shetland having explored the Islands quite thoroughly in the past few years and me being me I decided to fly back to the Scottish Mainland via Shetland from Bergen, a good way of connecting the landscapes together. My accommodation for my few days in Shetland was the beautiful homely and well situated Ortolan House B&B, a large Georgian townhouse dating from the 1780’s, well located in the central conservation ‘lanes’ area of Lerwick, less than a minute’s walk from the bustling main street which is home to all amenities. Ortolan has a wonderful well-established walled garden with stunning views overlooking Lerwick’s busy harbour and the tranquil island of Bressay. The property offers two exclusive bedrooms with an emphasis on having a relaxed and comfortable stay and I certainly did have that! Here’s a few images of the accommodation and the places I explored whilst on the Northern Isles.

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Sunday

My first full day began with a trip over to the neighbouring Island of Bressay. A quiet place but home to many wonderful clear coastal routes, I aimed for a few hours there to take in the sights and also view Lerwick from a different perspective. I spent my time wandering around the Island and taking sanctuary in the beaches that surround the west coast of the Island. I then spent the rest of the day wandering around the Mareel and Shetland museum, always a great place for finding new contemporary art that’s inspired from the unique Shetland landscape. It was then onto Burra for a coastal hike with a couple of local artist friends, impressive geology and wild seascapes leading us around the shore.

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Monday

I set off in the morning for an Island I’d never been to before. I’ve been to every single one of the Shetland Islands now apart from Foula and Fair Isle, that is a must for in the autumn of this year! And so Whalsay it was, without a clear plan I headed off for the ferry with just one aim, try and hike around most of the Island and see the unique natural wonders and coastal paths.

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Tuesday

On my last day of my short trip I hiked out to the Knab, one of my favourite coastal walks in Shetland and ideally located so close to Lerwick, such incredible views over to Bressay and down to the south of the mainland. It was then onto a boat trip around Bressay with Shetland Sea Bird Tours, the same lovely couple who ran the accommodation I was staying in. Turns out both Rebecca and Phil not only run their homely Ortolan B&B they also are very knowledgeable and expert guides on bird and sea life. Not only do they stock an enviable natural history library for their guests but with their combined knowledge and expertise they are perfectly placed to advise and even facilitate your time in the field. The trip to Shetland was perfect in gaining some inspiration from a landscape that so richly appeals to me, and leave with a new appreciation for the varied geology there.

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Again another wonderful trip, I’ve realised that my blog is turning a bit into a travel, photography and art blog which I don’t mind one bit. I’ve gone from one project in one country to the next consistently this year and I find it good for myself and reflection through my art to document and write what I’ve been up to in the place. It’s also really fulfilling for me to share it with you all so again thanks for reading this. My next blog is going to be about my further onward travel around the wonderful Scottish Islands where I’ve been recently, it’s good to be back in my home country, a place that inspires me to the highest level and always will do.

My North Coast 500 adventure!

Last month me and my lovely friend Sam set off on the renowned North Coast 500 Route which covers the whole North East Coast from Inverness, right along the Northern mainland of Scotland and back down the West Coast to join back up in Inverness. I’ve explored an extensive amount of these areas of Scotland before but never had the opportunity of being able to cover the whole route at once.

We gave ourselves 10 days so we could really explore as much of the areas as possible and so it didn’t mean we had to rush around and miss some hidden gems! The experience was made even better because my friend Sam has recently just purchased an incredible motorhome which we were able to park up in and wild camp throughout our venture, an added bonus to an already exciting trip! In this blog post I’ll be sharing with you our itinerary for our trip; the places we went to but won’t go into too much detail as this post would then read like a book! I can honestly say I’ve never seen so much and stopped at so many incredible places in the space of such a short time! It’s gave me an entirely new appreciation for my truly wonderful home country and I was left after the trip feeling completely overwhelmed at the history, the culture and the rich geology we have in abundance in Scotland. It’s also provided me so much inspiration for my photography and art work for the future.

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Setting off!

We started the trip in the best way possible; driving all the way through the Cairngorms instead of taking the quicker but a lot less scenic option of the A9! We were starting the Route 500 and instead of going West which most people do we decided to go up the East Coast First. The first stops of the journey on the East part of the route were in Tain, Dunrobin Castle, a visit to the incredible Timespan in Helmsdale, Berriedale, Northlands Glass in Lybster, Camster Cairns, Hill O Many Stanes and then parked up for the night at the very top of the Whaligo Steps!

IMG_9664Camster Cairns 

The following morning we explored the spectacular Whaligo Steps, this is an area that is quite hard to find but so worth it! I was recommended it by many people and it met all of my expectations and more! The way the steps that were built by hardworking fisherman fall into the sea to be surrounded by the immense cliffs is spectacular. It was then onto Wick to meet a representative from North Coast 500 who gave us some tips on things to see off the beaten path, a visit to the Wick Heritage Centre, Caithness Broch Centre in Auchengill, Freswich to see the ruins of the Bucholie Castle (another must see off the trail.) Afterwards we spent the rest of this day up in John O Groats looking out over to the sights of Orkney, exploring the beauty of Sannich Bay, Duncansby Stacks, a cliff walk along Dunnet Head (the mainlands most northerly point) and spent the evening parked up on the water overlooking Dunnet Bay!

12Whaligo Steps 

IMG_9731Ruins at Freswich 

IMG_9773Geology at Bucholie Castle 

The following day we embarked along the North Coast from John O groats towards Thurso, we spent a good while in Caithness Horizons, a five star museum with so much information and knowledge of the area. It was then along to Melvich, Strathy Point, Bettyhill and it’s spectacular beaches including the wonder of Farr Bay. The rest of the day was spent exploring Tongue in the far North and the Kyle of Tongue beach, Loch Hope and Loch Eribol with it’s breathtaking mountains framing the area. We realised on this day how quickly and dramatically the landscapes change in Scotland, as soon as you are past Bettyhill the landscape starts to become significantly rockier and wilder, the mountains start to rise up towards Loch Eribol where you are truly immersed in their power compared to the more flatter yet spectacular cliff area of the the north eastern part. We made a quick visit to the Lotte Glob Artist Studio which sits right on Loch Eribol. Lotte is one of my favourite artists and if you are interested in geology, ceramics, beautiful paintings and an incredible location I would recommend a visit here highly! Her studio and home is an art work in itself! We parked up for the night right on the shore of Loch Eribol watching the mist drift low over the mountains.

IMG_9867Loch Eribol and the wonderful Island home. 

IMG_9898View from Lotte Glob’s Studio, Loch Eribol

The next day we made our way straight for Durness to visit the wonder of Smoo Cave. We were given a tour of the caves to explore the impressive waterfall and geology that is so bountiful there. This had to be one of my favourite places on the whole journey! It was then onto some of the untouched beaches around Durness, Balnakeil Craft Village including a quick pit stop in Cocoa Mountain (we had to) and then a long walk along the sandy bay at Keodale which completely takes your breath away as soon as you embark around the corner after Durness. South of this route we stopped constantly to get out, walk and just marvel at the landscape at the start of the North West Geo Park area. There were many many long winding roads through mountains, rocky outposts, otherworldly places through wild landscapes that overwhelmed us in their power. After stopping numerous times throughout this part of the route (it was my favourite part of the road trip) we parked up at Kylesku bridge to make dinner and watch Loch More Kinloch and the incredible mountains that dominate the land in this part of Scotland.We then made for the infamous B869 single track road that winds and sweeps up and over all manners of landscape watching deer and being careful not to break down along the way! Last up for the day was hiking up the hills on this route looking out to the Western Isles and parking up in the middle of this wild remote landscape near Drumbeg.

IMG_9958Smoo Cave Waterfall 

IMG_9989The middle of the otherworldly Geo Park Landscape 

The following day we woke up in the middle of the mountains off a single track remote road; that has to be the best feeling! We followed the route around to Drumbeg, Clashnessie and then a turn off towards Point of Stoer Lighthouse where we hiked for a while around the cliff area which looks out to Harris and Lewis. There is even the ‘remotest toilet in mainland Britain’ located here! It was then onto Clachtoll and a visit to one of the most inspiring beaches in Scotland; Achmelvich Bay; we are incredibly lucky to have places like this so unspoilt and breathtaking! Afterwards we headed towards Loch Assynt shrouded by dominating mountains once again to the ruins of Ardvreck Castle looking out to the misty mountains of Assynt and catching sight of Suilven for the first time when we were travelling through Elphin. It was then a big hike up Knockan Crag learning about the impressive geology which is so important and rich in the area.This area in particular was one of the most memorable for me because of the sheer drama and atmosphere of the landscape; I’ll always remember that feeling of standing atop Knockan Crag looking out to the wilderness in the Geo Park area and the mountains of Stac Pollaidh and Suilven. We then passed through Ullapool and continued onward to the incredible road of the A832 passing ruined crofts, deep valleys and more wilderness parking up for the night on the road to Badrallach, a quiet wild secluded spot with many deer around us!

IMG_0051Point of Stoer cliff walk 

IMG_0076Loch Assynt from Knockan Crag 

IMG_0083Geology at Knockan Crag

IMG_0101Abandoned croft on the A832 from Ullapool

We woke up the following day to sun cast over the Little Loch Broom and the surrounding mountains. On the road again we stopped off at Gruinard Bay with its enormous sandy bay and bright turquoise waters, Loch Ewe and down towards Gairloch. In Gairloch we visited Hillbillies Bookshop; a brilliant cafe and bookshop full of impressive mountain reads and a cosy atmosphere looking out to sea. We then drove down through the wild wonderful roads along Loch Maree and onto the mountain road towards Torridon; another part of the journey that consisted of us stopping every few minutes and walking about/ staring at the otherworldly landscapes. The road is tiny compared to the vast and dominating mountains that surround it, another favourite! The last of the day was spent surrounding Upper Loch Torridon, hiking up the hills to see the wilderness around us and spending the night in the quaint little village of Shieldaig with it’s free community campsite!

IMG_0167Gruinard Bay 

IMG_0179Mountain road towards Torridon 

IMG_0199Parked up in just another epic spot! 

Our last day of the route 500 was spent walking around the quiet village of Shieldaig, taking the windy spectacular coastal road towards Applecross with it’s epic views out to Skye, heather clad lands and misty moors. Again, this was another part of our journey that we had to stop and simply stare out at the views in front of us. We spent a while in the magnificently located Applecross and then onto the sublime ‘Bealach Na Ba’. Nothing will prepare you for the views you will encounter either driving up the Bealach Na Ba or down it, either way you will find yourself gobsmacked with it’s beauty, it’s rugged charm and it’s height of course! We stopped as much as we could to drink in the views and feel the impressive atmosphere that is so unique there. It was then onto Loch Carron, the mountain road through Glen Carron, Strathspeffer and back down towards Inverness where we started!

13IMG_0270IMG_0277All three from the ‘Bealach Na Ba’ 

Phewwww, that is the journey covered! I really hope you have enjoyed reading this huge blog post and I hope I’ve covered the route well. I also encourage you all to just get out and explore Scotland, there is so much to see in this breathtaking Country!

Now I’ve taken so many photos and it was very difficult for me to sit down and select the photographs for this blog but I’ve shared my favourites from the masses I took on the trip. If you would like to see more of my images from the route, I have the high res files up on my website and social media: twitter & instagram. Also if you would like to get more tips about what to see and do on the route, head on over to their website at North Coast 500.

As always, thanks so much for reading my blog and I hope this inspires you to get out and explore Scotland or it’s helped you in the planning of your North Coast 500 trip! There’s SO much to see in our wee Country!

 

Week 1 of my Icelandic Venture.

I have just finished my first week here in Skagaströnd and it’s been better than ever expected. The town is quiet yet leaves you with room to think about your practise and roam around the surrounding mountains, the studio facilities and housing are very well equipped, the locals and fellow artists are lovely and the views out to the Westfjords from the town and coastal villages are breathtaking.

I’ve spent the first week here adjusting to the slow pace of life again, reflecting on what has been an intense year and then connecting to what it is I would like achieve and focus my practise on. It is a different level of time where everything is measured more slowly, it’s been a much needed adjustment and has left me with the space to really connect with nature again and the thinking behind my visual art work whilst being constantly inspired by Iceland’s wild raw mountains.

The weekend involved a mixture of settling into studio life, setting up and starting off a new series of drawings. I ventured out on a hike around the coastal cliffs around Skagaströnd, where the land meets the sea in this unique fishing town and spent a good few hours drawing on site, exploring the secret bays that erode into the sea and watching the mountainous snowscapes of the Westfjords far off in the distance. The light at the end of a clear day is overwhelming here, the golden hour where the sun sets significantly earlier and earlier every single day casting a glow over the bright weather beaten style buildings that lie dotted around the shore.  I’ll be spending my winter period through this and I’ve been told by the locals that the shortest day of the year is the 21st of December when there is only 2 hours of sunlight, yet it is still very much a subdued twilight glow.

There is an immeasurable level of more free time here yet it’s interesting how quick it fills up with things that truly matter to you. Reading, walking in the mountains, learning, cooking, painting, things that matter so much yet sometimes get overlooked in the modern over stimulated world.

I’ve also spent time throughout this week walking along the long black sand beaches that are north off the town, filming and listening to the wild arctic seas, walking by the wild Icelandic horses, late night studio chats and focusing on my new paintings directly connected to the land up here, lying out on the grass late at night away from the light pollution underneath the most breathtaking views of the Northern Lights. So far I have seen them on 3 separate nights in clear view, bright green and purples cast full over the sky  and I’ve been told it’s been the best of the year so far. I’m looking forward to seeing more and more and documenting them as much as I can.

On Wednesday we took the bus to the nearest town of Blönduós, and then onto Sauðárkrókur and further east to the Northern City of Akureyri. The journey itself into the North East peninsula of Iceland was tremendous and the mountains rise and rise forever surrounding the road as it weaves throughout the valleys. We spent a good few hours in each place and learning more about the culture, hiking and capturing the land!

Lastly, on Thursday, I successfully climbed one of the mountain ranges that surround Skagaströnd called Spakonufell which is an impressive rocky mountain that lies above the town. The terrain was quite rough, it was very windy yet the views out to the Westfjords and surrounding mountains were completely worth it!

I’ll be using this blog as a visual and written diary showcasing what I’ve been up to weekly throughout my time as artist in residence in the far north of Iceland, I’ve also included some of my photographs that I’ve taken here of my wanderings throughout this first week, please let me know what you think. Now that I’m all settled here it’s time to get on with the work! Updates next Friday!

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