Tag Archives: Castle Tioram

Sunart and Ardnamurchan

Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan. Rose Strang 2019

Words and photos can’t do justice to the beauty of Ardnamurchan and Sunart. What an utterly inspiring experience it was.

Hopefully my upcoming paintings will capture something of how it feels to stand on the beach of Sanna. The light there makes you feel you’ve entered a different dimension, or as though you’re seeing beyond normal perceptions – everything opens up, including your self.

Which sounds as though I was on some sort of druggy trip, and it is a sort of high, but it’s more hyper-reality, almost raw in a way. It was an emotional experience, which is often how it feels when you’re in these places. It’s strange to return to Edinburgh – nice to be back home and what’s familiar, but it feels several steps removed from Sanna and Ariundel forest, so I must keep it alive in my mind and imagination for the paintings I’ll be working on, because nice as these photos are they don’t get what it’s like to be there.

Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan. Rose Strang 2019

Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan. Rose Strang 2019

Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan. Rose Strang 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I took hundreds of photos, made various sketches and I’ll create a couple of edited videos as well as paintings I think. Also my friend Donald (who was an excellent companion throughout the trip), will hopefully be recording a guitar response to the videos once they’re made. Donald felt similarly moved by the experience; as he described it  –

‘the ocean, that was the most cosmic for me, looking beyond the sky, then inside the forest, walking the leaf-strewn path, then the wild and windy moors and glens from a speeding metal box’.

Absolutely. Something I’ve always really loved about these journeys is the contrast between the road-trip/car-time – chatting and playing music, the sound of the engine and the feel of impetus – then when you leave that small human-made world of your ‘speeding metal box’ and stand still on a beach of epic proportions looking out to the Atlantic – the almost shock of silence and space.

Also, Sanna is I think the most beautiful beach of the west coast and islands of Scotland I’ve seen. It felt sad to leave and I found myself walking backwards for several minutes as we headed back to the car. It was getting towards evening and it’s a long drive across the wildest parts of the Ardnamurchan peninsula on single-track roads …

We also stopped that day at Castle Tioram, which has to be one of the world’s most beautiful settings for a castle. This is my third visit there, and each time I learn more about the area, the centuries of history and its golden age before Culloden and the Highland clearances. (I wrote about this in a previous post, link Here).

Castle Tioram, Sunart. Rose Strang 2019

Castle Tioram, Sunart. Rose Strang 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In that blog post I also talked about Ariundle oakwood in Sunart (which is before you head out west on the proper peninsula of Ardnamurchan). Suaineart ghorm an daraich – Green Sunart of the Oaks.

We visited Ariundle the next day and it was such a contrasting experience to the epic feel of Sanna. Such a gentle feeling amidst all those multi-hued mossy hillocks, flowing streams and lichen-covered oaks. (I made sure to pick up a pile of oak twigs for my niece, who wants to frame a couple of oak-leaves she was given at the hobbit-land place she visited in New Zealand!).

Ariundle – it is quite a Tolkien-esque sounding name don’t you think? It means shieling (or ‘settlement’) in the fair meadow. It’s heartening to see how much conservation work is going on there to preserve it – Ariundle is a remnant of the ancient oakwoods that once stretched from Portugal to Norway along the Atlantic coast – hence why it’s described as Atlantic oakwood.

Ariundle Oakwood, Sunart. Rose Strang 2019

Ariundle Oakwood, Sunart. Rose Strang 2019

Ariundle Oakwood, Sunart. Rose Strang 2019

Ariundle Oakwood, Sunart. Rose Strang 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I discovered a new hobby on the return to Edinburgh – sketching the surrounding landscape from the car, it makes you quickly focus on the obvious points, shapes and lines – here they are (scenes from Corran ferry, Glencoe, Rannoch Moor and Balquhidder) …

Road sketches. Rose Strang 2019

Road sketches. Rose Strang 2019

Road sketches. Rose Strang 2019

Road sketches. Rose Strang 2019

Road sketches. Rose Strang 2019

Road sketches. Rose Strang 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I always like to visit Balquhidder before returning to Edinburgh, as it’s the last part of the Highlands before the relative flatness of Lothian – it eases the shock of re-entering the city I suppose!

You head off the motorway after Edinchip on a little bypass, then you see the Mhor84 cafe, which serves excellent coffee and nice cakes, but if there’s time it’s nice to drive under the bridge and towards the village of Balquhidder then along the beautiful shores of Loch Voil. It’s always fairly quiet as the road ends after a few miles at the end of the loch – after that it would be a lo-o-ng and arduous walk over the mountains west to the coast again, if you wanted to keep going.

After a mile or so along the loch, you get to Monachyle Mhor Hotel, where you can stop for a drink by the open fire if it’s cold, or if it’s warm sit outside admiring oak trees, shimmering loch and mountain valleys. The hotel interior is lovely (if a bit ‘Farrow and Ball’ – you know – tasteful chalky paint finishes in deep colours or neutrals!) also they have an impressive art collection – it’s kind of perfect, as hotels go, I’ve yet to find out how much it costs to actually stay there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today I’ve been gessoe-ing up my wood panels. I’ll make a little road-trip video, then it’ll be on with the paintings, and a fuller video with paintings and music, wish me luck! In a few days I’ll post the first video, and also some info about an upcoming three-person exhibition at the Resipole Gallery in Sunart, which I’m looking forward to. I’m not forgetting that these paintings are part of my planets series. March is related to Mars – war, heroism and sacrifice, also early spring – Mars Silvanus –  new leaves – and the corresponding Narnian book, Prince Caspian. More on that too in later posts …

Planet series – Jupiter (in progress) day 3

‘Jupiter’ (in progress).

Today’s progress on ‘Jupiter’. I wanted to create a luminous backdrop for the painting – the sea is a glaze of blues and gloss varnish, which you can see slightly better in this image ..

(This is the second in a series of seven paintings inspired by the seven planets as understood in Medieval cosmology, and the seven books of Narnia, which as the writer Michael Ward discovered, were themselves inspired by the seven planets. For more about the series, click on ‘Home’, above, and scroll through previous posts).

As mentioned in a previous post, I decided to paint Castle Tioram as the theme for ‘Jupiter’. Jupiter rules the months of February and March and I’ll be including trees, flora and fauna related to the planet as the painting progresses.

Fairy Tales ..

Castle Tioram, photo Rose Strang September 2018

 

 

 

 

 

I first visited Castle Tioram (pronounced ‘Cheerum’) in the Ardnamurchan Peninsula in 1992, and returned again for the first time since then in September last year. It was a beautiful, entrancing place back then, and still is. The Ardnamurchan Peninsula is one of Scotland’s most remote and un-spoiled areas of landscape. Ancient forests grow right down to the coast. Mosses, lichens and rare plants flourish in the relatively unpolluted atmosphere – the forest’s ecosystem is more or less untouched, save for a very few pathways and single track roads that weave through the area.

If you’re interested in forest ecosystems you’ll know that forest trees ‘talk’ to one-another in a sense. They communicate via their complex root system, so that younger trees, or weaker trees are fed nutrients by older trees – they’re interdependent. Before a tree dies, it sends nutrients to the roots of nearby trees. When the forest root-system is disturbed by, for example, motorways cutting one area off from another, the forest ecosystem is destroyed. An ancient forest is a sort of entity in a sense (or a community if you like!)

So Tolkien wasn’t far wrong, and C.S. Lewis (a close friend of Tolkien for decades) shared this reverence for nature – both author’s books featured the idea of conscious trees. Lewis’s stories featured dryads (tree spirits) able to ‘leave’ the physical tree and travel far distances to communicate important news. (in The Last Battle for example a dryad tells King Rillian that her tree, miles away, is being destroyed along with the rest of the forest).

In the east part of Ardnamurchan, further inland, is one of Europe’s rare original oak forests. It’s called Ariundle (derived from Scottish Gaelic Àiridh –  meaning a shieling or collection of small huts and Fhionndail – a fair meadow). So, ‘a collection of huts in the fair meadow’. Ariundle is a remnant of the ancient coastal oakwood that formerly stretched along the Atlantic coast from Spain and Portugal to Norway.

Ariundle Oak Forest in Ardnamurchan

 

 

 

 

In early medieval times Castle Tioram and Ardnamurchan were far busier places than nowadays. The highways of the ancient world across Scandinavia and the north of Scotland were sea-routes – quicker to navigate than land before modern times when roads were cut through mountains and forests.

The north and west of Scotland as a whole was teeming with activity. There were numerous wars of independence and during the Middle ages, Scottish castles were often burned and destroyed during war-times to prevent them being occupied by incoming armies (which is what happened to Castle Tioram).

Towards the end of the 18th century (post-Culloden) Highland clearances, then the industrial revolution almost entirely emptied some areas of the west coast. Anyone who hadn’t emigrated, or been forced to emigrate, to America and Canada moved to the cities and towns for work.

The one upside of this is that the landscape has been left untouched. Castle Tioram, situated on a rocky outcrop in a glass-like sea surrounded by wild forest, can have quite an impact on visitors to the place –  it does look almost other-worldy, or mythical.

Maybe it’s just nostalgia that makes people respond with emotion to the castle, a sentiment or belief that things were better in times past. Looking into early Scottish history though, there are as always two stories – one from ruling leaders, post war, and the story discovered in ancient Gaelic manuscripts. Tioram was never defeated in battle, for hundreds of years it was relatively peaceable (for those times at least, when feuds were common throughout Europe).

The castle and surrounding area was home to a large community ruled by the MacDonalds under the complex laws of the early clan system. This society enjoyed thriving art, literary and music traditions, and although the more democratic approach to running society appeared chaotic or ‘barbaric’ to outsiders, it now looks ahead of its time. Men and women inherited title and property, children of the ruling monarchs were often placed in the poorest households of the clan, while poorer children in the community were adopted temporarily by the ruling family. This encouraged connections, the learning of skills, and a balanced community.

It wasn’t all peaceable of course, there were the numerous complex feuds between clans, and the wars of independence which occurred between the 13th to 18th centuries. In 1715 the then chief of Clan Donald, Allan MacDonald, torched the castle before joining the battle at Sherriffmuir (1715 Jacobite rebellion – thanks for correction Murdo MacDonald!) He expected to lose, and didn’t want the castle to fall in to government hands. The final battle took place in 1745 at Culloden, and after this the Scottish clan system was destroyed (also due to the fact that many Scottish clan chiefs bought into the new feudal system as it offered unlimited opportunities for wealth and land) and Scotland never regained independence.

All of that explains some of the historical reasons why we respond to such places, but maybe our response to castle ruins in a wild remote landscape is also related to the power of fairy tale or archetypes – it ‘speaks’ to us of something important and valuable. In Ardnamurchan the air feels different because it is different – it’s clean, scented with salty brine, sun-warmed wood, mossy forest floors and the honey of heather throughout summer – it feels idyllic. Nowadays we understand the environmental fragility of such places.

In an earlier post I described C.S. Lewis’s fascination with Medieval mythology and cosmology – an era in which he believed imagination held an important philosophical role. From a different perspective Jung also explored this area – focusing on the importance of archetypes in the collective human psyche. Early Medieval thinking hadn’t yet lost that sense of universality, and connection to nature.

A castle on a remote island reminds us of a thousand different myths and fairy tales – tangled forests, ogres, battles, knights, magicians, princesses plotting escape, not to mention Camelot – a legend based on dreams of a lost golden age and the search for a mysterious holy grail. One conflict of the story is the battle of Pagan and Christian religions – neither of which comes out on top, interestingly. The myth goes (of course!) that both Merlin (Pagan) and Arthur (Christian) will return again.

It all reminds me of this sort of art …

From ‘Très Riches Heures’. 15th cent’  French illuminated manuscript

From ‘Très Riches Heures’. 15th cent’ French illuminated manuscript

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This Gothic or pre-renaissance style of painting is a continuation of Byzantine art. It made way for new ideas of realism in art – perspective and so on – leading to high renaissance art and ‘the age of reason’. Boticelli was sn artistic bridge between these styles and Northern renaissance art sometimes referred back to this earlier era stylistically.

All of this is ideal subject matter for my Jupiter painting, relating also to the Jupiterian book from the Narnia Chronicles The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe which centres on the idea of Winter passed, guilt forgiven – restoration of a golden age of peace in the sea-side castle of Cair Paravel after years of cold and brutality, but this comes after challenges, sacrifice and re-birth (the Christian element of the story – though there are many themes).

In this story, the dryads and trees of Narnia are still fully alive (in later books they have to be re-awakened) and since the oak is the tree most closely associated with Jupiter, that’s another reason to paint Ardnamurchan, one of the few places where you can enjoy fully living forests.

Here’s a link with more about Ariundle – https://www.wildlochaber.com/ardnamurchan/wildlife/ariundle-oakwood

Ariundle Forest . https://www.nnr.scot (Scotland’s National Nature Reserves, website)

Planets Series, Jupiter – day 1

Above – a preliminary rough sketch for the Jupiter painting.

Every moment the patches of green grew bigger and the patches of snow grew smaller. Every moment more and more of the trees shook off their robes of snow. Soon, wherever you looked, instead of white shapes you saw the dark green of firs or the black prickly branches of bare oaks and beeches and elms. Then the mist turned from white to gold and presently cleared away all together. Shafts of delicious sunlight struck down on to the forest floor and overhead you could see the blue sky through the treetops.

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I’m sketching ideas for my new painting ‘Jupiter’, second in a series of seven paintings inspired by the seven planets as understood in Medieval cosmology, and the seven books of Narnia, which (as the writer Michael Ward discovered) were themselves inspired by the seven planets.

(you can view all the previous posts from my home page – ‘Home’ menu above)

What’s Jupiterian about the painting and excerpt above you may ask! Firstly, the planet associated with the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is Jupiter, secondly it’s coming up to the right time of year; in the order of Medieval planets Jupiter comes after Saturn. Saturn is associated with winter, Jupiter represents the overcoming of Saturn and long winter. Not quite the arrival of spring (associated with Mars) but around now the days become longer, we see the first snowdrops, and in the wildest most ancient woodlands the arrival of the beautiful star-like seven-petaled wood anemone (associated with the north wind and Jupiter). Winter is losing its hold at last.

Snowdrop illustration by Pauline Baynes, Narnia Chronicles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jupiter, ruler of Sagittarius and Pisces (this is the Medieval view of planets, so Neptune, Uranus and Pluto were not viewable at the time) was seen as the ruler of all the planets. Jove (Roman title) also relates to Zeus (Greek title) and Thor, god of thunder, storm and the north wind.

Subjects associated with Jupiter were higher learning, the law, theology,  the cosmos and the sea. Qualities – joviality (optimism, laughter), honesty and kingship. Colours – azure, purple. Animals – horses, dolphins and various others including the mythical centaur. Plants – wood anenome, dandelions (among many others). Trees – Oak mainly (associated with Thor). Day – Thursday. Order of planets …

(image from website http://www.planetnarnia.com )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also … wardrobes – you can look it up yourself in Medieval planet associations!

‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. ‘Ward Robes’ – robes worn by kings and members of the court. Fur coats worn by Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy discovered in the wardrobe before they enter the land of Narnia through the wardrobe. In the book, Tumnus the faun asks Lucy how she got into Narnia ‘I – I got in through the wardrobe in the spare room’. Tumnus replies – ‘Daughter of Eve from the far land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?’.  All appropriately ‘jovial’ – Lewis was himself a Sagittarian!

My painting sketch above is a simple, stylised painting of the ruined Castle Tioram in Ardnamaurchan on the west coast of Scotland (which, incidentally is where the Resipole Gallery is situated, which exhibits my paintings).

Castle Tioram, photo Rose Strang September 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jupiterian themes in the sketch include oak trees, moss, azure, sea, kingship (castle), some snow, and a suggestion of wood anemones.

Ardnamurchan is wild – one of the most un-touched areas of the west coast of Scotland. I associate the castle imaginatively with the Narnian castle of Cair Paravel (also the Jupiterian idea of kingship or rulership) particularly as it’s experienced in Prince Caspian, in the spine-tingling passage when the children find themselves near the sea, surrounded by a thicket of ancient trees growing down to the beach, up above on the rocks they discover the ruins of a castle, and decide to camp there for the night, then gradually realise it is in fact Cair Paravel where they once ruled as kings and queens, but while they’ve been back in England for a year or so, hundreds of years have passed in Narnia  …

In my previous painting, ‘Saturn’, there’s a reference to the castle there too, but it’s night so you can’t see its form. Once I paint the large version of Jupiter, there will be more Jupiterean themes – wood anemones among the snow will be a clear foreground feature, and hopefully I’ll be able to paint the feeling of wind in the treetops (Jupiter ruling wind and thunder).