How blessed we have been, confined to place, to have found ourselves ‘imprisoned’ in such a naturally bountiful area with almost infinite possibilities for wild exploring.
From rocky, salt-washed coastlines to inky, silent lochans secreted into upland folds; tangled birchwoods scattered with primroses, bluebells and now, chanterelles; still, calm waters where black-throated divers lead their chicks through the waterlillies, to tumbling, frothy rivers surging through endless chasms and over fantastical falls, ‘confined’ to my immediate area I have discovered so many little corners I have hitherto overlooked in favour of somewhere a little further, more obvious, apparently more grand.
Undoubtedly Assynt and Coigach are awash with huge, almost incomprehensible landscapes that we, as painters, constantly battle to make sense of. Yet in the smaller, quieter corners just steps away from where I’m priviledged to be living I have found peace, beauty and inspiration in the humble.
With the help of warm (and occasionally even hot!) sunshine I have found renewed passion for this place and all the wildlife which has apparently enjoyed the quiet and calm without visitors. Apart from the resident red deer which have seemingly made their home around the streets of the village, I have spent happy hours watching otters, weasels, lizards, toads, ospreys, eagles, all three types of diver and a hen harrier (a first for me). This, of course, in addition to all the more ‘usual’ sightings of our upland and sea-going birds, including oyster-catcher, stonechat, wheatear, guillemot and a flock of lapwing. On a short stroll through the Culag woods a sudden raucous cacophony alerted me to a heron’s nest, and the arrival of a parent with fish. The nest seemed to be stuffed full of near full-grown chicks, long necks upstretched, beaks wide and screeching.
The machair, too, is in full bloom, the verges a riot of vetch and clover. It is a bit of a shame because yesterday should have been the annual ‘Wildflower Day’, hosted on Achmelvich beach in association with the John Muir Trust. As last year, I was to host flower painting workshops and an introduction to painting a meadow in watercolour. This had to be cancelled, of course. Yet in the midst of misery there is magic: I have never seen the place looking more spectacular and, with human desertion, more alive
My paintings are seemingly becoming more intimate. I have developed a fascination with the close-up, low-down views I am getting from my kayak or from squatting on rocks and heather close to the water’s edge. reflections, reeds and dead tree stumps are sure to feature in upcoming work.
Now, at last, we are welcoming a trickle of tourists. We need them, and we are happy to see them, now they are offically permitted to travel. In time, the trickle will become a flood and the single-track roads will once again be choked with motorhomes and lycra-clad cyclists, the hillsides colourful with fluorescent backpacks and cagoules. The life we are accustomed to will resume and most people will breathe a sigh of relief. Perhaps I will be tempted, once more, to seek the tranquility and solitude I desire in further glens, more distant hillsides, far from the beaten path but I shall never forget these blissful weeks where everywhere I looked, nature seemed to shine.