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.


  1. Hi Leo
    Apologies for being a bother. Love the "sketch from a hilltop viewpoint". Reminds me of he Canadian artist John Hartman's work. Should you not be acquainted with his work you might Google his name, John Hartman, Canadian artist. John is one of Canada's leading contemporary artists with a huge reputation. Again, best wishes with the commission.
    Ernest Somers
    (Old) Artist Naturalist

    1. Ernest, never a bother! Thank you for reminding me of . I had looked at his work before, possibly even it was you who told me of him. What fantastic paintings. I would so love to see them for real.
      I'm still very much enjoying working my way through your blog posts. Your Killarney sketches are just wondeful, such an overview of the place. Maybe one day I'll be able to get back there.
      Thanks re the commission. Will be putting compositional sketches in my next post hopefully.
      Leo du Feu
      (Young[er]) Artist Naturalist