Tag Archives: Glenfinnan

Beinn Odhar Bheag, Glenfinnan

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!

The Road to the Isles …

Back in the mists of time in my twenties, one of my favourite parts of the journey to the west coast – ‘the road to the isles’ – was the stop at Glenfinnan House. After the splendour of Glen Coe (my photos and sketches, from the moving car, below) you arrive at the top of Loch Shiel …

If you were to take a boat along the loch you’d arrive at Castle Tioram in the far west of Scotland. A little road on the left takes you through the trees to Glenfinnan House Hotel. At first it looks a bit imposing, but on entering you’re met with a roaring log fire in the entrance room and offered a cup or glass of whatever you like.  I remember the first time I visited -sitting in a comfy chair that looked out over Loch Shiel and the awe-inspiring mountains beyond – feeling the silence after the noise of city and roads.

It’s well-known now as the spot where the Hogwarts express drives over the viaduct, but Harry Potter hadn’t yet been invented when I used to stop here for a drink. (To locals it’s always been known as the spot where Charles Edward Stewart gathered the Highland clans for the last ill-fated Jacobite rebellion.) I’ve always wanted to stay overnight at Glenfinnan and last weekend that little dream came true (an early birthday present from my partner Adam since lockdown would have made it impossible later this year!)

I loved it – the warmth and hospitality, the scent of woodsmoke in the air, wild venison and mash for dinner, a huge glass of red wine to take up to our room with its medieval-looking furniture and ancient paintings of Highland scenery, and in the morning the view from our room of mountains over the tree-tops.

Most of all the October colours – misty russets and lilacs, flooded lochs and streams entranced me. I was reminded of George MacDonald’s descriptions of mountain colours and rain floods in The Princess and the Goblin.


When I mentioned our trip there to my mum I detected a hint of envy; ‘aaah, in October, with its melancoholy beauty…’ she sighed! My mum used to visit Glenfinnan House some years ago. She’d travel up there with friends and enjoy a drink (or five!) since she was lucky enough to have friends who knew the locals well! She agrees with me that it feels like the heart of the Highlands.

My next series (which I’ll begin next week) will be inspired by the rich colours of October seen through mist and rain, not disimilar to ‘Through Kintail’ in my last series but in a lighter, more delicate palette.

I’ll be starting the Glefinnan series next week. A heartfelt thank you to Adam for the magical experience and inspiration – who knows how many months until we travel again? Our time at Glenfinnan will be cherished in memory and in paint!