Monday, June 18, 2018

The Scottish Adventure Continues

Talisker Beach Waterfall 5x14 gouache

As I write, I am seated in a 200-year-old bothy--a stone lodge used for farmworkers--on the north end of the Orkney Islands. Far from being the rustic dwelling it once was, the bothy has been beautifully renovated and modernized by a local artist. But what I enjoy most is the setting. From my chair, I can see cows grazing behind stone fences, and a pair of guinea hens playing hide-and-seek in clump of wild roses. Farther off, looking across the Eynhallow Sound, I can see the island of Rousay, perched at the edge of the Westray Firth, and the white waves crashing against its eastern cliffs.

It’s already 7:30 pm, but the sun is still high in the sky. We are approaching the summer solstice, still two days away, and the sun won’t set until 10:30. Here at 59 degrees north latitude, the daylight period is nearly 19 hours long. I could get a lot of painting done with daylight like that--if I were painting. But I’m not doing much of that. There’s so much to see. The Orkney Islands have over 166 prehistoric archaeological sites, many of them dating from neolithic times, and we’re visiting them. The Ring of Brodgar. The Stones of Stennis. The Unstan Burial Chamber. And the most famous and oldest of all, clocking in at over 5000 years, Skara Brae. But we’re also enjoying historic sites, such as the St Magnus Cathedral, which was started in the 12th century and took over 300 years to build. Finally, we’re discovering connections with my ancestors, some of whom left Orkney for America at the time of the Highland Clearances.

The Isle of Skye plein air painting retreat ended a week ago now. I actually have painted since then. Marion joined us one last time after the participants left, and we went out to Talisker Beach. It was a windy and spitting-wet kind of morning. Sheep roamed with abandon in the pasture that abutted the beach; I settled down on the beach, away from the sheep dung, on one of the large beach cobbles where I painted first the sea stack and then a long arm of cliff that sported a waterfall. (Two days of rain followed the completely dry ten-day retreat, and every hillside had a waterfall.)

After that, we were off on our Orkney adventure, first taking a cab from Portree to the Kyle of Lochalsh and then the train to Thurso, followed by a ferry to Stromness at the southern end of the islands. I am now in possession of a car and learning to drive on the left side of the road.

By the way, I well remember my patrons for this trip and my project. I made many good studies on Skye and taken thousands of photographs, and now that I am settled on Orkney I will shortly get back to sketching. In the meantime, I leave my readers with the two sketches I did at Talisker Beach and some photos of our new environment.

Now I’m going to close the light-blocking curtains, shut out the sun, and try to get some sleep.

Sea Stack 5x7 gouache











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