I recently returned from an epic visit to Ullapool – both in the old fashioned meaning: ‘Surpassing the usual or ordinary, particularly in scope or size’ and in the more contemporary meaning ‘extremely awesome’! The aim of the trip was to deliver ten pieces of work to An Talla Solais for their annual members show where I was invited artist alongside Scoraig-based artist Susan McSweeney. We were asked to show work that looked at the scope of drawing in our practice.
The first anxiety was whether my gigantic framed cormorant drawing from the previous post would fit in the small hire car I had booked. Luckily the friendly girl at Hertz gave me the largest car in the price category and we measured it with the seats down before I headed off. The drawing fitted with centimetres to spare – phew!
I had to pick up pieces from Gallery Heinzel in Aberdeen and the Tolquhon Gallery just north of Aberdeen so I stayed with relatives on the first night. The next day proved to be a lot of driving as I stopped off at the two galleries before making the one hundred and fifty mile trip to Ullapool. I arrived to a beautiful clear afternoon and was able to sit out in the sunshine in my host’s garden soaking up the sounds, smells and sights of Ullapool (gurgling river, late summer honeysuckle, tree tops and mountains).
The next day began with hanging the show – a surprisingly swift affair with a great hanging system at An Talla Solais and a good balance between scale and quantity of myself and Susan’s work.
It was a glorious Indian summer of a day so I headed north after lunch for an afternoon’s walking along the cost near Achiltibuie. Up high on cliff tops I was enchanted by the vast, stillness of the sea, scanning it regularly for fins. Sea watching is a strange and compelling activity and it was wonderful to have the time to indulge in it. I wandered slowly around the coast ending up at a pebbled cove which I soon discovered was heavily littered with plastic rubbish. It really felt like the edge of the world up there and it was a shame to be brought back to reality with such a vision of humanity’s recklessness. The current artist-in-residence at An Talla Solais, Julia Barton, is focussing on plastic rubbish and doing some wonderful things with it including printmaking. She mentioned that one of the worst plastic polluters are the plastic fibres found in a lot of clothing – they end up in the water systems when we put clothes through the washing machine.
The drive between Achiltibuie and Ullapool is breathtaking with views across the Summers Isles to Lewis and a number of huge mountains rising up out of the landscape reflected in the inland lochs which cluster around them.
The next day I had a very interesting time walking along the coast north of Lochinver at Achmelvich beach. Starting at a lovely sandy beach it wasn’t long before I had stopped to take in the clear water from a hill top. Behind me about six wheatears popped up from the rocks nervously watching me as I in turn watched a seal swimming in the incredibly clear, still water below.
I kept to the coast line, watching a cormorant dive down into the clear waters and disappear into a clump of seaweed under the surface – a magical glimpse of their life out of human view. A raven cronked (croak plus honk) overhead and I watched its beak opening regularly to emit the sound as it flew over the water. I settled on some rocks looking out to sea where I had already spotted some fins moving, a group of porpoise swimming from right to left out at the edge of bay, their fins so close to one another.
Then I began to see dark shapes in the water and the fin of a lone dolphin occasionally breaking the surface around these shapes. A closer look through the binoculars revealed these strange sea shadows were shoals of fish, those near the top were breaking the surface of the water. I watched this strangely silent visual phenomenon for ages before heading back to the car.
The next day saw me heading home with a brief stop at a Rogie Falls to see if I could spot any salmon jumping – the salmon remained largely elusive but as I was heading back to the car park I heard a flock of finches overhead – the noise they were making was not dissimilar to that of goldfinches but different enough to make me look up. And there, high up in a Scots pine tree, I saw a bright red bird and a lime green bird – this could be nothing else but a flock of cross bills! My first ever sighting of these birds left me amazed at how brightly coloured they were…glorious. All in all a fantastic trip.