Thursday 22 May 2014

Scotland by Rail - Mallaig, then over the sea to Skye

Tues April 22nd 2014

Blog post 1 was the journey, Glasgow to Mallaig on The West Highland Line

Blog post 2 was the destination - Mallaig.

Blog post 3 is a spontaneous (and cheap!) trip over the sea to Skye.  This is blog post 3.

I was in Mallaig on a research trip, making preparatory sketches for an outdoor painting for Mallaig station platform. Here's the compositional sketch. 

Mallaig harbour composition, watercolour, 24 x 38cm

Monday afternoon and first thing Tuesday morning I was outdoors around the harbour. I'd been noticing one ferry, the Cor' Uisg', coming and going and coming and going, more frequently than I thought a ferry should. I went into the booking office and picked up a timetable - Cor' Uisg' runs all through the day, to and from Skye, only half an hour each way, only £7 return! 

MV Loch Nibheis (Lochnevis) on the left, MV Coruisg (Cor' Uisg') on the right.

I love ferries. I couldn't resist. An hour later I was onboard and half an hour after that I was disembarking in Armadale on Skye. 

The ferry:

loading at Mallaig

from the ferry deck

leaving Mallaig

Armadale Castle, looking tempting

arriving in Armadale

From the ferry I saw shags, all the gulls, grey seals, black guillemots, regular guillemots, razorbill.

ferry sketches - black guillemot, shag, grey seal

On Skye:

Armadale is small. You walk from the ferry down onto an open area where a nice assortment of craft shops tempt. I wanted to get to the castle so I didn't stop, but I did get a coffee in the Sleat Community Trading Co. Ltd (deli-cafe+internet-localfarmshop-postoffice-garage) just up the road. Everyone was lovely. 

Between ferry and Community Trading Co. is a little bay on your left. Swallows were swooping for insects, redshanks were running along the pebbly sand, taking flight with their peeping cries, a blue tit flew over, from one stand of trees to another, willow warblers were willow warbling.

A ten minute walk on footpath set back from the road (amazing lichens!) gets you to Clan Donald Skye - Armadale Castle, Gardens and Museum of the Isles. It's a beautiful spot: ruined castle (including cast-iron-banistered stairs that once stood in the main hall, now under an open sky), dappled forest, woodland blooms; rhodedendruns, wide herbacious borders; sunny multi-levelled pond, romantic stone bridges over fairytale gorge. 

There's a fantastic raven sculpture, dark, large and wise with a slight knowing smile twitching the edge of its beak. A memorial to Donald MacDonell, 22nd Chief of Glengarry. I walked, sat, photographed, painted a watercolour.

from Armadale Castle lawn

'Albies alba, Silver Fir, Europe'

Armadale Castle entrance arch, Skye, watercolour, 15x21cm

Then home:

Then back onto the ferry, to the hostel to collect my bags, leaving Mallaig by train at 4.05pm, arrived home in Burntisland 11.14pm.

my ferry, Cor' Uisg', heading to Mallaig

'Fame', not my ferry, heading to Mallaig


Harry was here


Corrour Summit

crossing the moor

from Horseshoe Curve viaduct,  night coming

How to get there: 

Trains to Mallaig leave Glasgow twice in the morning, once at noon and once after tea. Trains back leave Mallaig terribly early, a relaxed 10am, late afternoon, and just after tea. Check it all before you leave - up-to-date timetables on ScotRail website here.

Ferries to Armadale on Skye are regular and cheap. From Mallaig Calmac also run services to the Small Isles - Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna. Timetables here.

Friday 9 May 2014

Scotland by Rail - Mallaig. boats, gulls, first 2014 cuckoo

Monday April 21st & Tues April 22nd 2014

Blog post 1 was the journey, Glasgow to Mallaig on The West Highland Line

Blog post 2 is the destination - Mallaig. This is blog post 2.

my bedroom, the Mission bunkhouse

I was here on a research trip, making preparatory sketches for an outdoor painting to go on Mallaig station platform. I had from 2.10pm on Monday to 4.05pm on Tuesday. Most of my exploring and sketching was done on Monday, and Tuesday first thing, because mid-Tuesday-morning I went to Skye. That will be blog post 3.

I already had a scene in mind for the commission composition - I've been to Mallaig I think twice before, Neither of these trips was for long so today I looked properly around and stopped, sketched, photographed whenever something caught my interest.

If you like boats you'll like Mallaig:

"Look, a boat..."

Lots and lots of them...


this was my favourite, the orange and white, the squatness

ferries approaching...

gull, ferry, yacht, Skye

looks like it's a race



If you like gulls, you'll like Mallaig...
There must be something really good left on those pallets.



herring gull and the very helpfully named great black-backed gull, size comparison

sleepy gull

I like boats and I like gulls and I like Mallaig.

But it wasn't just gulls: around and from the harbour I saw guillemot, black guillemots, razorbill, shags, cormorants; on rocks and scub at the shore I saw rock pipits, linnets, sparrows... oystercatchers and curlews further out; on a couple of mile circle out of  town and over hilly moorland I saw and heard lots of the usual songbirds, saw and photographed (badly) my first stonechat of the year (male, crisp white collar, black head, rusty chest), heard my first cuckoo!

In the water were often grey seals.

sea thrift, Armeria maritima (also thrift, sea pink, cliff rose, cushion pink, lady's cushion, lady's pincushion, marsh daisy, sea gilliflower, sea grass *RHS)

From beside this sea thrift I painted the view to Eigg and Rum.

Eigg and Rum

grey seal in harbour

Instructions for a short walk:
If you have only an hour and a half in Mallaig, ideally two or more to be safe and not rush it, there's a small circular walk that gives you a good overview. And a good over-view - that's where I sat, looking down, watching the sun set over Skye, seeing little boats come to harbour, listening to my first cuckoo of the year.

From anywhere in Mallaig walk to the harbour area, turn right and follow the only road, east then north until you've passed the last of the houses. Now the road goes steeply uphill for a short distance then levels off and dips down towards the next bay. A few final habitations are dotted around. Over Loch Nevis the hills to your front-left are those of Knoydart. You'll feel them making you want to be there.

Just past a house is a signpost marking the circle and a smaller road track turns right, passes a second house, becomes little more than a footpath. Follow this to the right of a final final house (old, whitewashed, slate roofed, set in its own fenced tree-ed garden) and you're now in a hidden Highland valley, away from everything. At some point a left would take you to a reservoir and a much longer circle. Round about there a right leads up through heather onto the hill - views down to Mallaig then in a wide arc across the Sound of Sleat to Eigg, Muck, Rum, Skye, and beyond. Watch the sun set then walk back downhill to complete the circuit and return to town.

dragon hills

yacht on Loch Nevis, Knoydart beyond

the final final house

looking back from the valley. the final final house is at middleground-right

spot the stonechat, my first of the year

Very exciting, a new bird for me. Didn't recognise the look, didn't recognise the song. Wrote down the details, recorded the call (badly), photographed it (worse). Definitely some sort of warbler. Got back to the bunkhouse, searched the internet, couldn't find it. Got home, searched all my books, couldn't find it. Last resort, emailed cousin Richard and uncle Chris, they're very good, they know these things. Richard replied, "It's a meadow pipit."

sketch from the hilltop viewpoint, coloured pencil, sun setting

Mallaig through binoculars, looking at the spot my commission compostion would be taken from


 How to get there:

Trains to Mallaig leave Glasgow twice in the morning, once at noon and once after tea. Trains back leave Mallaig terribly early, a relaxed 10am, late afternoon, and just after tea. Check it all before you leave - up-to-date timetables on ScotRail website here.