Wednesday 10 May 2023

A Week By Loch Hourn


I just had a week of walking and sketching at Arnisdale, on the shores of Loch Hourn. It wasn't many miles for me to travel, but it felt like a real change.  And we took the ferry at Kylerhea - the shortest route for us.  I decided to go there because it's within the Wester Ross Unesco Biosphere, and I'm trying to focus on the Biosphere as the main subject for my next body of work.  The most southerly point is actually in the middle of Knoydart.

View from Arnisdale to Knoydart

Arnisdale seems to me to be a special place. It lies at the foot of a very steep hill, crushed up against the sea, and looks out over Loch Hourn to Knoydart, one of the most remote areas of Scotland. The hill that overshadows it is the iconic Beinn Sgritheall, a rather isolated munro mountain...and a rather steep climb.


Glowering Beinn Sgritheall

I wimped out of climbing Beinn Sgritheall, but I did get up as far as some lovely lochans.  Here's one of the views I sketched of the hill viewed across the lochans.


Beinn Sgritheall (blue)

This one gives a better idea.  It's a lovely approach from the west, and not nearly so steep....!

Beinn Sgritheall 2

We stayed in a traditional cottage on the shore - great for weather-watching - we experienced a range of weathers, luckily mostly benign.   Strangely the outlook was similar to our view at home!  Just a bit more dramatic.

Looking west along Loch Hourn

Loch Hourn is a commanding presence.  Many of my sketches are of the Loch.  I did these two when we walked the Herring Path - a fascinating walk, if somewhat awkward in places.  The path is beautifully constructed in several places and is holding up despite a bit of erosion.  And you feel as if you're walking into the past as well as walking closer to Knoydart - almost within touching distance.

Loch Hourn's Little Isles

From the End of the Herring Path

Glen Arnisdale has another long-distance path which apparently was occasionally used in the past for motor-cycle racing (it's barely navigable by bike now).  We walked to the lochans in the glen on a very mature footpath (very steep in places).  I found it rather brooding - this sketch is a bit too bright!

Glen Arnisdale Lochan.

The woodlands were also rather fine.  The trees were mostly oak and birch - beautiful places to sit and sketch.  I think it's a remnant of our Temperate Rain Forest.  And the trees cling to the shore at the bottom of the steep hills.  It was a lovely time of year to go, with the trees just coming into leaf.

Woodland Paths

Woodland By The Shore

You can't go to this area without visiting Sandaig - where Gavin Maxwell once lived.  It is a beautiful spot and we caught it on a lovely day.  The white sand and the rocks reminded me of Iona.  

From above it looks so beautiful too....a most unusual place.

View of Sandaig, with Skye in the Distance

This part of the Biosphere has a pronounced coastal influence - it's everywhere you go.  I hadn't expected to feel such a sense of history – the Herring Path and Glen Arnisdale path feel so old and well-trodden.  Someone kindly lent us a book "Arnisdale and Loch Hourn" which records a past way of life in the area in an engagingly anecdotal way, with lots of old photographs.  Peter English collected the old stories and local lore and compiled the archive.  And the Ceilidh House at Corran has an interesting set of historical interpretation boards.


Loch Hourn From The Slopes of Beinn Sgreathill

What I have taken away from the week is how Arnisdale and environs have such a feel of rugged remoteness and fragility.  Knoydart casts a shadow of enchantment - it's so massive, hardly anyone lives there and it feels unreachable.  And, for an artist, Arnisdale bay has great light and interesting clouds as the weather systems move in and move away.  I think I'll have to return.