Above Beinn Odhar Bheag, Glenfinnan. Oil on 32×23″ wood. Rose Strang 2020
Back in my twenties (when money was even scarcer than it is today) one of my favourite things was to drive up to the west coast of Scotland with a friend or two and camp wild among the ancient oaks and white sands of Arisaig, Morar or Ardnamurchan.
Cooking over a tiny gas stove under heavy rain required ingenuity – an anorak served as a tarpaulin over the bushes above my head as I cooked spag bol from scratch, in the dark, with a torch strapped to my head. Numerous swigs from a bottle of red wine helped with the ever present midges, in as much as I was beyond caring after a while, though I’d awake the next day with a face so covered in midge bites it resembled a shiny pink football!
Something about camping wild can lead to the most immersive experiences though, I remember sitting at the foot of a freezing waterfall, dipping my head in the water to cool down the midge bites, until my face felt numb – a strangely pleasant sensation, relatively!
I’ve never much enjoyed constant city-life, and have from time to time lived in more rural locations (in Orkney, and on the Isle of Paros in Greece). So it’s a surprise even to me that it’s taken so long to move out of the city – next year I hope to move permanently to the countryside.
One of my favourite stops on the road to the isles was at Glenfinnan. Leaving the constant noise of Edinburgh we’d drive for a few hours to Fort William for supplies, then it’s just a half hour drive west to Glenfinnan. Beinn Odhar Bheag sits just south of the village of Glenfinnan, a place redolent with history and atmosphere. It was here that Charles Edward Stuart first gathered Highland clans from across Scotland for the fateful last war of independence which culminated at Culloden. And it’s the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct bridge here that featured in the Hogwart Express journeys in Harry Potter films.
Harry Potter hadnt been written back then, and I only vaguely knew about the Jacobite connection back then. What I loved was to drop in to the Glenfinnan House Hotel for a cup of tea. No matter how scruffy and muddy our car, or boots, we always felt welcome there. As soon as you enter the hall you’re greeted with a Scottish Highland miasma of huge log fire, vast dark oil paintings depicting various moody mountains, wildlife or battle scenes, a mish-mash of antique furniture and dark wood panelling.
On a sunny day, you might carry your pot of tea into one of the sitting room areas, clad in fading green tartan comfy chairs, where floor to ceiling windows look out on one of the most stunning views in Scotland – across the silvery Loch Shiel to wild mountains beyond. More likely though, you’d sit warming your damp feet in a huge sofa next to the fireplace and find that your head would be almost reeling with … the silence. The sheer redolent and resounding silence after all the city noise!
I painted Beinn Odhar Bheag (pronounced ‘Ben ower beg’ meaning ‘the little dun coloured hill’ in Scottish Gaelic) a few years ago and didn’t think much of it at the time. Dusted off and looked at again, it’s better than I remembered! So I’ll be submitting it for a landscape painting award, and we’ll see what happens.
I’ve left the wood showing through and there’s very little paint used. I added a swathe of darker colour to the left to suggest the ever changing light on the mountains as the clouds pass over.
Adam and I were lucky enough to stay at the hotel for my birthday in November 2020. Though it was lockdown it still felt warm and friendly and we absolutely loved it.
I’m sorry to hear that the couple who managed and cooked for the hotel have moved on to new projects after twenty years. So it’s temporarily closed at the moment, presumably due to open again soon once they’ve appointed new managers, I hope. I wish them luck!