1 imageIt is over five miles from the nearest hamlet. The local population is sheep. Occasional farmsteads peep from the hills and around crags. The single track road, with passing places, is more than enough for the traffic. Vikings raided these parts. So did everyone else. MacCormaig’s cave, a religious man’s sanctuary, lies off shore on an islet. Suitably windswept. Suitably small. Suitably barren. Castle Sween, across the Loch, hulks in the mist - a Norman keep, circa 1200, affirms hostilities, fear and uncertainty. It came much later than the celtic cross at Keills, within sight, across the water to the west. Carved by a craftsman, or men, in the 700s. These were people of practiced skill. Driven by the early Celtic Church, not of Rome, just Christian. Resonating skills and idioms from neighbouring enclaves, their work was art, albeit religiously inspired, but essentially art. I climbed the hill. Fences limited the sheeps’ propensity to roam. The stone wall surrounding the chapel looked in better repair than I remembered some 60 years ago. Gone were the nettles and overgrowth and half buried grave markers. The sheep-gate creaked as I passed. I tried the door handle, nobody would witness should I fail. Surprise. It opened. Unguarded. The mantle of responsibility weighed down. Entry carried a covenant of trust. On the walls hung carved gravestones of antiquity. Interpretive plaques explained. A modern roof and skylight protected and illuminated the space. Skills and traditions permeated. The cross, some 1300 years old, recently moved from its original open air place on the hillside, now sheltered, cast its pre-eminence among the assembled examples of artisanship and art. A time capsule, etched in stones. Despite its unguarded vulnerability, not the slightest trace of graffiti, despoilment or disrespect. Could there be some essence of affinity with a future, then incomprehensible, art form driven by cameras, printers and myriad technology? That our creations should last as long!
34 imagesAfter a 42 year absence, we returned - with mild misgivings that the scenery might not be as dramatic, the atmosphere as emotive or the sensual essence as immediate as memories portrayed. A little risky to put it to the test. The memories proved valid. How could we have doubted that the mountains explode from sea-level into the swirling clouds. Rain, alive, lashes out of the heavens on all below, cascading in torrents down craggy, barren slopes to bespatter the lenses of even wary photographers. Clouds arrive in layers and myriad combinations. Sunlight and sunbeams punch through the gaps and local downpours, rainbows appear spontaneously, wind ensures perpetual motion and an endless display of colour, shapes, shadows and fodder for the imagination. The weather becomes part of the physical landscape. Resplendent on sunny days, Scotland looks breathtaking in bad weather. Our itinerary ran up the west coast. That people eked out an existence in rocky, barely fertile land that only existed on the valley floors or coastal deltas or machairs amid what was, at times, incessant warfare, Viking raids, starvation and infant mortality. They couldn’t eat the scenery. Yet it was embedded in their psych. They did draw strength from their surroundings and, in that, we can connect and share. Against such a backdrop these images are presented here. Taken in October, past the heather bloom, with the bracken brown. No snow, yet. The sun mostly oblique. Tourists relatively sparse. The images span from Loch Lomond, through Knapdale and Argyle to Skye and Wester Ross as far as Ullapool. The Crinan Canal, built for entirely utilitarian reasons, is an accidental aesthetic gem.