I’m back! Feels like forever since I’ve posted on this blog. It’s not that I haven’t been creating. But I’m in the middle of a couple of paintings and under contract for a picture book. So, nothing completed that I could post recently. More to come on the picture book when it’s finished…
In the meantime, I’m continuing my Scotland series with another drypoint etching. Neist Point is the western most edge of the Isle of Skye. The lighthouse was designed by the Stevenson family. You’re probably more familiar with Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Kidnapped and Treasure Island), or D.E. Stevenson (one of my favorite female British authors of books such as Miss Buncle’s Book or The Tall Stranger). Well, the Stevenson family in general was widely known as lighthouse engineers. Starting with RLS’s grandfather in the 1790’s, Robert Louis Stevenson’s father, uncles, and cousins proceeded to design over 90 lighthouses throughout Scotland (as well as a handful in Japan) from 1791-1937. In fact, RLS greatly disappointed his father by choosing to become a writer rather than carry on the family tradition of engineering. You can read more about Stevenson Lighthouses here.
My visit to Neist Point was on a gorgeously sunny day. We followed signs from the main highway to what seemed like a tiny road leading nowhere. West, west, west you go until you come to a parking lot near a cliff. The lighthouse isn’t even visible when you park. You must trust that it’s there and be ready/willing to walk a couple miles to prove you’re right. Of course crowds of tourists with cameras around you help confirm that there’s something worth seeing down below. The trek to Neist Point is not for the faint of heart! From the parking area, you hike down an extremely steep “stair case” of something resembling steps carved into the cliff-side. There is a railing made of metal pipes. The thing seems safe enough, as long as you hang on and don’t let gravity cause your feet to get too far ahead of the rest of your body. Needless to say, we left my mom at the parking lot. She would have to enjoy this excursion vicariously through my photos. Once you get to level ground, the next mile or so is easy! A lovely walk along a path with sheep sunning themselves amongst the boulders. If you get close enough to the cliff’s edge, you will see seagulls swooping out from crevices in the cliff-side, soaring along the sea breeze, then diving down to catch fish in the foamy waves below.
The lighthouse station itself is more like a barracks, with several rectangular “cottages” placed around the perimeter of the main building. I believe these were once rented out to tourists. However, when we were there, they were abandoned and run-down. Paint pealing on the window sills. Broken panes looking into empty rooms. An old lace curtain hanging at a window, one of the few signs that the place had once been a home. The lighthouse is owned by the Northern Lighthouse Board and has been run automatically since the 1990’s, when the last lighthouse keeper was withdrawn.
Etching cliffs was a new challenge for me! I feel like I had a better sense of shading with the scribe tool this time. I tried to vary my marks to represent each surface/texture: rocky patches, vertical ridges, shadows and ripples in water, and the flat expanses of grass. I’m also gaining a better feel for wiping the plate to maintain a haze of grey across the water. If you’d like to read more about the etching process, take a look at my previous post: Eilean Donan – Etching. Below are a few photos from our visit. Look closely at the top right photo to see a seagull nesting in the cliff side. If you’re ever on the Isle of Skye, this lighthouse is well worth the drive…and the walk!
When I told my friend that I’d toured 3 castles during my first 3 days in Scotland, her thought was, “If you’ve seen one castle, haven’t you seen them all?” However, having visited several of Scotland’s castles this month, I can safely say that no two are alike! No one can accuse Scotland of lacking castles. I’d be interested to know what the ratio is per square mile. Some castles are mere ruins; others have been occupied by families and/or clan leaders longer than America’s existed as a country. Urquhart Castle (pronounced Er-keht), which looks out over Loch Ness, was purposefully blown up by its owners to keep Jacobite forces from taking control. Many castles are simple fortresses to claim or protect territory. Others were built as protective walls, with a village of people or armies living inside. Some were built for glory, (then torn down and rebuilt even larger) to declare the owner’s wealth. Each is famous in its own right. But a few are famous for their gardens. When a family has lived in one place for generations, they have time to cultivate trees, flower-beds, walled gardens, waterfalls, in some areas of Scotland even tropical plants. Think of it as “Let’s plant a bush for Mom for Mother’s Day”…then times that by several hundred Mother’s Days.
One garden especially well-known on the Isle of Skye is Dunvegan Castle garden. When you walk down Dunvegan paths, you feel as though you’ve stepped into a scene from The Secret Garden. Natural waterfalls tumble into streams, with foot-bridges crossing them. A fence constructed of sawn branches lines walkways, blending in naturally with its surroundings. The Walled Garden houses more protected plants, including a lily pond with deep pink waterlilies gracing the tranquil surface. Meanwhile, the Round Garden has sections of open lawn and monkey puzzle trees stretching up to the sky. Everywhere color explodes around you in flowers of all kinds, each labeled with name and Latin classification for those who care to know what they’re seeing.
Of course, these gardens don’t take care of themselves. Acres of manicured beds, trimmed hedges, and weed-free paths require work. So, today’s portrait is dedicated to the many gardeners working behind the scenes to maintain a castle garden’s majesty. This particular portrait is a woman who works part-time at Dunvegan. In the few minutes I spoke with her, it was evident that gardening is both an enjoyment and a labor of love. She seemed a quiet individual; perhaps shy, but happy to talk about the plants in her care. Each gardener is given a particular section of the grounds to maintain. Her segment includes Rhododendron hedges (Scotland’s famous weed), spotted with pale pink blossoms. It also includes several beds with springy green heather tucked amongst the flowers. As I photographed her, she was trimming the heather. When I asked when the heather blooms, she told me that this is a garden-variety heather that blooms in spring. The wild heather which transforms Scotland’s hills to gorgeous purple will bloom later this summer or early autumn. An old wheel barrow with tools and extra flowers stood nearby. And as we finished our conversation, she paused to put on “midgie gear,” a net-like head covering to protect her from midge bites. For those who don’t know, the midge is the national bird of Scotland. Just kidding! However, they are like tiny gnats that swarm and leave you itching. In a garden that looks like paradise, midges remind you you’re definitely on earth. With her midge protection in place, the Dunvegan gardener continued quietly and happily, content in her work.