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!