Glasgow Botanic Gardens

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After an exciting but tiring month of client work and opening the Owlstation Etsy Store, it was brilliant to get away for a few days holiday to Glasgow. I’d never been before and loved exploring the city and recharging with plenty of decadent treats (hello gourmet donuts!) I was especially taken with the botanic gardens, so many beautiful exotic plants and exquisite natural patterns and colours.

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Drawing Adventure: The Isle of Skye

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Gosh, so it’s been a little while since I posted (okay half a year!)…but rather than bore you with excuses and apologies, i’d like to share photos, sketches and a few tales from my trip to the Isle of Skye last Summer.

My trip to the Shetland Islands a few years back got me hooked on sweeping Scottish landscapes, remote cliffs and ancient, rugged coastline…I wanted more and decided to make Skye the next destination on my Scottish bucket list. So after a spot of planning, my boyfriend and I picked up our hire car in Edinburgh and set off for a week of adventure…

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The Fairy Pools

For the first part of the trip we’d hired a cottage in Elgol on the more southerly part of the Isle. It was a traditional crofter’s house with a thatched roof, thick stone walls and a wood burning stove – not that we needed it…our trip had luckily co-incided with freakishly hot Summer weather! We decided to take advantage of this and seek out the Fairy Pools.

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The pools are located beneath the Black Cuillin Mountain range. The water flows down through the valley forming a variety of pools that make for a nice walk and a good wild dip! They were quite busy when we visited due to the heat, but we were determined to find our own pool to swim in. After a bit of wading and shimmying around boulders, we discovered the perfect spot. A high walled, deep pool, complete with its own waterfall. We enjoyed a magical swim to ourselves. I floated on my back, looking up at the crashing water and dragonflies zipping overhead.

 

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We enjoyed our picnic (port salut cheese sandwiches, salt & vinegar crisps, apples, oat cakes and ginger biscuits) and warmed up in the sun before heading back downstream to do some sketching. I drew a nearby peak, using watercolours to capture the rich rusty colour of the banks and my sharpie pen to pick out the details of wild flowers.

 

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Elgol Beach

The good weather continued the next day and we decided to explore Elgol beach. The sea was turquoise blue and distant peaks were visible across the water. Crumbling cliffs encircled the stony beach and pretty little cottages dotted the hillside. We clambered up the small cliff near the harbour arm for a better view and set up to draw on the spongy, rabbit nibbled grass.

 

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As the day grew hotter, we were desperate for a dip, but it took some time to find a suitable spot. The water’s edge was covered in slippery seaweed and ghostly jellyfish were waiting at every possible entry point! After seeking some local advice, we discovered this particular variety were the non-stinging kind.

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For the rest of the golden afternoon and in to the evening we sunbathed, dipped, painted and slept on the large flat rocks at the end of the beach. The sun got lower and sparkled off the water, fishing boats became silhouetted, bobbing in the distance.

 

Ruined Church & Portree

For the second part of our trip we were based on the North of the Isle at Monkstadt. It would take us a couple of hours to make the drive there, so we decided to break up the journey with a few stops. First, we were keen to explore a ruined church we had spotted on our day trips. Sheep grazed in the abandoned graveyard. The church roof had crumbled away, plants and branches were taking over its walls and growing a new, natural roof.

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Portree, the capital of Skye, is recognisable for its row of pretty, pastel houses on the harbour wall. After refuelling in a cafe, we spent some time absorbing and interpreting the view in our sketchbooks. Another dip in the harbour waters was much icier than expected.

 

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The Old Man of Storr

Over half way through the trip, our luck with the weather changed. So on a bright but windy day we decided to visit the famous landmark; a tall pinnacle of rock that towers up and is easily visible when driving around much of the Northern part of the Isle. The jagged ridge and surrounding slopes wouldn’t look out of place in the Lord of the Rings trilogy (we actually watched all 3 films during our stay as Adam hadn’t seen them!).

 

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We made our way up on the slippy, precarious path. The black prongs of rock and the Old Man looked spectacular as we drew near. Spying tiny people who had scrambled all the way up to his foot gave us a sense of scale. Deciding that route was a little too precarious for us, we set up in the stunning, boulder strewn valley below. As I sketched and Adam painted we realised we were being stalked by a curious weasel, the only other being near us at the time. Such a vast and remote space, it felt unnerving and exciting to be there.

 

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Boat trip from Uig

Having spent time on the land and beaches, we were keen to get a different perspective and see the Isle from the water. In Uig harbour we joined a boat tour that took us around the Trotternish Peninsula on a vintage, 1940’s fishing vessel. The friendly, knowledgeable guides told us about the history and wildlife of the area. We saw a variety of seabirds, including the irresistible puffins and a group of languid seals. The weather was changeable but we were warmed up with a hot flask of tea and shortbread provided by our hosts.

 

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Magical Skye

It really was a magical trip. The Isle is wild, a fantasy realm. Driving on the narrow, craggy roads, we passed lunar-esque landscapes, steep valleys, dark mountains and lochs. After our sunny start we got the whole range of weather, torrential rain, high winds that chase the clouds and incredibly dense fog! At the end of each day’s explorations we’d relax with a hearty meal in the cosy cottages and review our reportage; illustrations, paintings, photos and even drone footage for a totally different view of our surroundings.

 

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With two Scottish forays under my belt, I can’t wait for another trip…I just have to decide which gem to explore next.

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to check out my @Owlstation Instagram account where you can discover more videos, sketches and photos from this Drawing Adventure! Landscape photographs taken by Adam Clague.

 

Shetland Adventure

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Last year my brother, father and I went on a road trip to the Shetland Islands. We’d all been keen to explore and to visit our friends who had moved there some years previously. They’d been tempting us with stories of epic scenery and wildlife. I packed my sketchbook, plenty of jumpers and warm clothes (it was May but I wasn’t taking any chances!) and booked us into a series of ‘Böds’ – buildings once used to house Fisherman’s equipment – now turned into basic accommodation for travellers.

We had such a brilliant adventure! I didn’t keep a journal at the time, so will share some highlights with you here, as well as sketches and photos made along the way…

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Dunnottar Castle
Before taking the ferry to Shetland we visited the ruined, Medieval fortress of Dunnottar Castle near Aberdeen. Perched on the headland, it has serious Game Of Thrones vibes to it! The many crumbling windows and arches gave incredible views of the sea and coastline and provided plenty of inspiration for drawing.

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Ferry Crossing
We then took the overnight ferry to Lerwick, the main port in Shetland. It made me realise that I’ve got a bit of a ‘thing’ for drawing modern fishing boats! Something about all the criss crossed lines of the ropes, the symmetry of their cranes and pulleys, the bold strips of colour and chunky iron fittings…Spending a night on the ferry was pretty exciting too. We had fantastic views of the choppy sea as we made our way north. And enjoyed several intense games of Canasta with beers and hot chocolates.

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Arrival in Shetland

It was snowing when the ferry pulled into Lerwick. We spent the next few days staying in a Bod near our friend’s house. They were wonderful tour guides and hosts and took us to some of their favourite spots. At Sumburgh Head Lighthouse (foghorn pictured below) we were blasted by icy winds and saw puffins. A stones throw from our friend’s home we saw the washed up spine of a whale and spotted otters but the big treat came when we visited the lunar-esque cliffs of Eshaness…

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Just as we were about to leave the cliffs, our friend bolted from the car and pointed out to sea. She had spotted a pod of Orcas! We were extremely lucky to have seen them on our first visit to Shetland and luckily had a pair of binoculars with us (nature nerds) but we could even see them with the naked eye; the tall dorsal fin of the male and a baby orca keeping up with the pack.

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Though I made some drawings I was very happy with during our trip, there were several occasions where I was thwarted by the weather and had to admit defeat. Snow one minute, torrential rain and howling winds then beautiful, warm sunshine the next, quite tricky to keep up with! But I was determined to finish my drawing of little coloured houses across the bay and these fluffy Shetland ponies (chalk pastel sketch at the very top of this post).

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Island Hopping
We moved on from the mainland to stay in Yell. This involved another ferry crossing, though this one was so quick there was barely time to finish a Mars bar. On Yell we stayed in a Bod next to a ruined, haunted house. There were a few eerie buildings during our stay which was exciting – until you turned off the lights and let the fires go out!

From here we made little expeditions around Yell to see ‘The White Wife’, the figurehead of a German ship that wrecked near the island, some secret beaches and to drink in the Northern-most pub in Shetland (or so claimed the pub). We also travelled to neighbouring Unst for a day trip.

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A grey day on Unst

Unst is one of Shetland’s North isles. We took another little ferry over to explore. It was a very grey and foggy day. On a quiet winding road, a Viking Longboat suddenly appeared from the mist! A complete replica perched next to a reconstruction of a turf covered Longhouse.

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Later we took a walk to the cliffs at Hermaness Nature Reserve. We stuck to the wooden path to avoid falling into the saturated ground – very reminiscent of Tolkein’s ‘Dead Marshes’ – until the path ran out and disappeared into the fog. Knowing this was pretty close to the cliff edge, we decided it would be a smart move to turn back!

At the Keen of Hamar nature reserve we hunted for Edmonston’s chickweed. A small, yellow flower that can only be found in this little stretch of protected land. On a chilly, seaweed covered beach we were eyeballed by a large male seal from the water. We posed in the decorated bus shelter, an attraction straight from Craggy Island and marvelled at one of the moss covered Standing Stones.

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Ferry Home
It was a calm sunny evening when we took the ferry back to the mainland. There was a beautiful pink sunset and the sea had a milky quality to it. We stood on the deck for quite some time watching Shetland shrink into the distance.

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There’s a lot more that we did and saw on this trip that i’ve missed out but these are some of my favourite memories. If you’re a nature lover that’s sturdy enough to withstand the constant weather changes and seeking somewhere untouched and remote to explore, then I highly recommend visiting Shetland. Don’t forget your binoculars!