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Showing posts from March, 2019

Broubster Clearance Village

Throughout the Highlands in the Nineteenth Century, tenant farmers were evicted from their homes, or 'crofts', during the notorious Highland Clearances. Landowners, in a drive for efficiency and more profitable land use, wanted to replace the old system of small-holdings with large sheep ranches. The crofters were forced out of their scattered homes, often in a brutal manner, and re-housed in new communities. The land that they were given was often of poor quality and they had to work hard to maintain even a subsistence level of life. During this period many people took up the offer of a new life overseas, emigrating to Canada, New Zealand and Australia, where their descendants still have strong links with Scotland.

In 1839 tenants from the estates of Broubster and Shurrery, in Caithness, were resettled in a new village. Land was provided for them, but they probably had to build their own houses. The dwellings were in the form of long-houses, which consisted of a …


For much of it's early history, Wick was little more than a small collection of buildings at the mouth of the River Wick. However in the 19th Century, prosperity came to the town as a result of the growth of the fishing industry. Fleets sailed out of Wick, and other ports, in search of the huge shoals of herring that were in the North Sea at that time. This was happening at the same time that the Highland Clearances* were driving people out of their homes in much of Northern Scotland. Large numbers of these Highlanders were attracted to the fishing ports in search of work. In Wick it led to the construction of a new town, Pultneytown, on the south side of the river. The two communities were administered separately for many years, but eventually they were merged into one town. Sadly for Wick, the herring stocks crashed under the pressure of over-fishing, and the prosperous times came to an end.

Some imposing buildings were constructed during the prosperous years, incl…

The Shelter Stone

Throughout Scotland climbers, and other users of the mountains, share knowledge of places which can be used as rough overnight shelters. They are often known by the old Scottish word, 'howff'. One such place is at the head of Loch Avon in the Cairngorm Mountains. The Gaelic name for it is Clach Dion, and it consists of a large boulder resting on a number of smaller stones. Long ago someone must have discovered the natural cavity underneath, with enough space for four or five people. For centuries ever since it has been used as a refuge from the severe mountain weather, although some people might not find it easy to sleep with such a huge boulder above them!

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Balnakeil Beach

The community of Balnakeil lies at the furthest North-westerly point on the British mainland. It is well-known for its Craft Village, an experiment begun in the 1970's to turn disused military buildings into an artistic centre. The project was a success and the site now has various businesses, including a bookshop and restaurant, and a popular chocolate shop!
Below the village lies Balnakeil Beach, a long stretch of sand around one side of a narrow bay, with turquoise water and backed by towering sand-dunes. The beach leads to the end of a promontory at Faraid Head, where the Ministery of Defence still has a presence in the form of a small radar station. This is used to monitor military excercises which take place every year at nearby Cape Wrath.

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Shelter Stone Crag

The south-western end of Loch Avon, in the Cairngorm Mountains, is over-looked by the dramatic Shelter Stone Crag. It is named after a massive boulder that lies at its foot, at the bottom of the light area in the painting. The rock is positioned in such a way that there is a large cavity beneath it, which can be been used as an overnight shelter for travellers in this remote area.

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Sail Gharbh, Quinag

The mountain known as Quinag, or "The Milking Pail" in English, has three peaks. The highest is Sail Gharbh meaning "The rough Heal".

Quinag is managed by The John Muir Trust, a conservation charity dedicated to preserving wild places -

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The Dounreay Dome

One of the bestl-known landmarks in Caithness is the white dome of Dounreay Nuclear Power Station. The first nuclear facility in Britain was built here in this remote location in the 1950's. Despite the dangers it was generally welcomed by local residents because of the prosperity that it brought to a declining region.

Dounreay is no longer operational and is being decommissioned. Current plans are for the dome to be dismantled, despite calls for it to be preserved as a monument.

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Ben Stack

When viewed from a North-westerly direction Ben Stack is a perfect mountain. If you asked a child to draw a mountian it would probably look like Ben Stack, a perfect cone in shape. From other directions it can be seen that it's really a long and narrow ridge. Several other mountains in Sutherland have the same sort of shape, which is a result of the geology and the action of glaciers. It's possible that during the last Ice Age Ben Stack may have been a Nunatak, a geological term for a mountain whose peak rises above the surrounding ice sheet.

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Reay Church

At the time when the Vikings ruled over a kingdom in Orkney, they also had settlements in Caithness. These were mainly around the north and east coasts, and in those areas there was a significant influence on the language and culture. Some of that legacy can be seen in several Scandinavian-style churches, such as this one at Reay. Other examples are at Dunnet and Canisbay.

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The Lairig Ghru

One of the great mountain passes of Scotland, the Lairig Ghru runs for around 40 km or 25 miles through the Cairngorm Mountains. It has been used for centuries by people traveling from Deeside in the south, to Strathspey in the north. No roads have been built through it so it is still only a rough path. The origin of the name is unclear. The first part is the Scottish Gaelic for 'mountain pass', but the second part could have several different meanings.

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Slioch and Loch Maree

Slioch means 'Spear' in gaelic, presumably from the broad, flat metal blade found on some spears. The mountain rises above beautiful Loch Maree, with its many wooded islands.

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The Chalamain Gap

This is one of the classic walking routes in the Cairngorms. It's a narrow pass filled with large boulders which make progress difficult. The route leads from Glenmore through to the pass of the Lairig Ghru, and then to join the paths climbing Braeriach.

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Blog Comments

It has come to my attention that there has been a problem for some people when trying to leave comments. They seem to disappear when the 'Publish' button is clicked. I have now changed the commenting method to a pop-up window, and that seems to have solved the problem. If you are one of the people who have been affected by this, I hope you won't have any further problems, but please send me an email if you do.

I have also changed the template, as I have seen some suggestions that they can sometimes cause problems.

While I have been looking into the issue, I have discovered comments from some time ago that I haven't been notified about. If some of these were yours, I am sorry about that. I value all comments and try to reply to all of them.

Inspired by Sargent

At Christmas I received a present of a book: 'John Singer Sargent Watercolors' by Erica E. Hirshler and Teresa A. Carbone. I've always admired Sargent's work in the medium, and this book is full of lots of wonderful, large illustrations.

Looking at some of the enlarged details, I was struck by how boldly the paint was applied. Sometimes the marks seem almost abstract until they are viewed from a distance. Then they coalesce into a wonderfully vibrant impression of the subject. In some ways his way of working seems quite modern.

It was interesting, as well, to see the variation in the thickness of the application. In some areas the paint is thin and transparent , while in others it is thick and opaque, so much so that sometimes cracking has occurred as the paint has dried. Look how effectively opaque paint has been used in the painting below, especially in the hands of the right-of-centre figure:

Sargent was, on many occasions, experimenting with innovative techniq…


Torrisdale is on beautiful Torrisdale Bay, at the mouth of the River Borgie, on the northern coast of Sutherland. It is a remote community of scattered crofts and houses, and is a place of timeless tranquillity.

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Dunnet Head

Dunnet Head is the most northerly point on the Mainland of Scotland. The lighthouse stands on the top of 100m/300ft high cliffs, which are home to large colonies of sea-birds. The views are spectacular, across the 14.5km/9 miles of the Pentland Firth to the Orkney Islands.

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The Flow Country and Ben Klibreck

This view from Ben Dorrery is looking over the Forsinard Flows nature reserve, towards the mountains of Ben Griam Beg and Ben Griam Mor, and snow-covered Ben Klibreck in the far distance. Forsinard is part of the Flow Country, the largest area of blanket bog in Europe.

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Ruthven Barracks

Ruthven Barracks, near Kingussie, was built to garrison troops during the Jacobite uprisings of the Eighteenth Century. It was one of a number of fortifications, including Fort Augustus and Fort William, which were set up at strategic points on the new network of military roads.

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Berriedale Water

The landscape of Caithness consists mostly of rolling hills covered with farmland and moorland. However in the south of the county there is a range of mountains, including the peaks of Morven and Scaraben. Berriedale Water flows through this range, and forms a deep gorge as it follows a winding course out to the sea.

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Ryvoan Bothy

Throughout the Highlands of Scotland there are remote buildings, like the one below, which are available for people to stay in overnight. They have been given or lent by the landowners, and they are looked after by volunteer members of the Mountain Bothies Association. This one at Ryvoan, in Glenmore, is popular with people heading into the heart of the Cairngorm Mountains.

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Ben Hope from the North

The mountains of the far north of Scotland have a character that sets them apart from the rest of Britain. The geology of the area tends to form isolated peaks instead of the mountain ranges of other areas. They also often rise from nearly sea-level, so they look higher than they really are. Ben Hope is one of these mountains and it looks particularly impressive from the north.

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The Ring of Brodgar

When I painted this view of the Ring of Brodgar, in 2009, it was part of a landscape that was already a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney -

Since then more discoveries have been made in the centre of the site, on a narrow strip of land called the Ness of Brodgar. Excavations have revealed a number of buildings, which seem to form what might be called a temple complex -

I doubt whether we will ever really know what went on here, but a picture is beginning to emerge of a site with great importance on Orkney, and maybe even a place of pilgrimage from other parts of Europe.

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Duncansby Head

There is a popular sporting challenge, which involves walking or cycling the length of the British mainland. The usual starting point is the rugged coast of Land's End, in Cornwall, in the far south-west. The finishing point is John o' Groats, in Caithness, but it really ought to be Duncansby Head, the most north-easterly point in mainland Britain. However, I believe that Lands End now has a theme park, which must distract from the experience for those who are looking for a sense of natural drama. Fortunately, Duncansby Head is unspoilt, so long may it remain 'Land's End to John o' Groats'!

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Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge

The British Commandos were formed during World War II to take part in raids against occupied Europe. They had their depot at Achnacarry Castle, where they went through tough training in the surrounding mountains. Later, they were joined by US Rangers and commandos from other countries. The famous monument was set up in 1952.

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The Far North Line

An old line-man's hut, beside the track of the beautiful Far North Line, in the north of Scotland. The scenic route runs from Inverness to Thurso and Wick, in Caithness, and the journey takes three and a half hours. Some of the wonderful scenery along the way includes: The Kyle of Sutherland, the coastline at Brora, the Flow Country around Forsinard.

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Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis has two distinct characters, making it seem very different depending on which way it is approached. The southern side has a rounded profile with steep slopes. Most visitors climb the mountain from this side by a zigzag path called the Pony Track. It was made at the end of the Nineteenth Century when a weather observatory was built at the summit. For a number of years men were stationed there permanently to make recordings. It must have been a tough assignment in bad weather. The building even had to be made taller so that it wasn't buried under the snow in winter.

Although the Pony Track is steep in some places, it is a fairly easy route and makes the mountain seem deceptively benign. However the approach from the north reveals a different prospect. A glacier, like a gigantic ice-cream scoop, has carved away the side of the mountain, leaving 600 metre high cliffs. They are popular with climbers and in the winter they provide some challenging ice-climbing ro…

The Great Wood of Caledon

At one time the Great Wood of Caledon covered most of the Highlands with a more-or-less continuous area of forest and mountains.

Caledonian pine forest is a mixed woodland of Scots Pines and other native trees. It forms a unique habitat and home to some of Britain's rarest species, including the Capercaillie and the Scottish Crossbill.

Over the centuries much of the forest has been cleared for grazing land and for shooting grouse and deer. A few areas survive and some of the largest are in the Cairngorms National Park, where efforts are being made to allow them to regenerate naturally.

The main threat to these forest now is overgrazing by deer. There are no large predators in Scotland and the size of the deer population has become a problem, especially for the regeneration of forests. Any young trees that become established are browsed by the deer, resulting in a dying habitat that has only old trees. Where deer are fenced out or managed the young trees can grow undisturbed…


Throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland there are the remains of ancient round towers, called brochs. The best-preserved ones are in the Orkney Isles, but there are some impressive examples on the mainland in Glenelg, in Wester Ross.

These mysterious towers were built during the Iron Age and experts disagree over what they were used for. They seem to be defensive structures, but they may been intended to show off the wealth or power of their owners.

The most complete of the surviving brochs are around 25 metres tall, but they may originally have been higher than that. The walls were hollow with staircases ingeniously built into them to give access to upper levels. There were no windows and just a small, low doorway. They were built of stone and amazingly no mortar was used to hold them together. The fact that they have survived at all, after two thousand years, is a testament to the skills of their builders.

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Dunbeath Strath

Dunbeath Water flows through a variety off landscapes on its journey to the sea. In the upper reaches it runs below a vast area of treeless moorland, forming a broad strath, or valley.

Further down the gorge becomes deeper and narrower at a point called Prisoner's Leap. There is a legend that a man was told that he would be set free if he could jump over the gap, on the assumption that he would fall to his death. Incredibly, he is said to have succeeded and thus gained his freedom.

The lower part of the strath is more gentle in character, and the river runs through broadleaved woodland before joining the sea at the village of Dunbeath.

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Ben Loyal in Summer Haze

The Pentland Firth

The Pentland Firth is the stretch of sea that separates the Orkney Islands from mainland Scotland. It is a treacherous channel, full of strong currents and tidal races. The islands are often shrouded in cloud, giving them an air of mystery. Most of them are fairly low-lying, but the island of Hoy has some mountains and dramatic sea cliffs, and the famous rock stack known as the Old Man of Hoy.

The island of Stroma, which is part of Caithness and lies just off the coast, had a thriving community at one time, but now it has been abandoned. It has a haunting quality, with the ruins of numerous cottages lining the skyline.

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Thulachan, in Strathmore

Thulachan is one of the many old dwellings scattered throughout the Flow Country. Originally it would have been a croft-house, and later it was used as a shooting lodge. Probably few people visit it now except for occasional fishermen and walkers seeking shelter.

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A Picture of Northern Scotland

Google+ is closing down at the beginning of April, so anything posted there will be lost unless we save it in some way. I have a collection, called 'A Picture of Northern Scotland', which has gained quite a lot of followers, some of whom might like to be able to view the posts in future. To that end, I intend to copy the posts here and give them the label 'Places'. Some of them have already been shown on this blog, so I will try to exclude those ones, but I'm sorry if there are any duplications.

The first 'Picture' is of one of the most distinctive mountains in Sutherland:

Ben Stack

The mountains of Northwest Sutherland are made of rock that is among the oldest in the world, having been formed around 3 billion years ago. It is also very hard, and resists the weathering that wears away the softer rocks, so the mountains are left as isolated peaks. This one, Ben Stack is particularly prominent, forming a perfect cone.

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