We spent the weekend up in Wester Ross. This is a truly beautiful part of the world.

And despite it being a holiday weekend, it was also incredibly quiet. For two days, we had this glorious landscape pretty much to ourselves.

One of the many lovely things about this area of Scotland is its native woodland. The trees here are many hundreds of years old, and were once part of the ancient Caledonian forest. Visitors to Scotland often think that dense plantations of sitka spruce and lodgepole pine are what makes up the “Scottish” forest but this is not the case. In fact, such plantations are of relatively recent appearance, many being the result of a Thatcherite loophole, which, a few decades ago, allowed the wealthy to shelter capital from taxation by investing it in forestry. Large swathes of the West Highlands, Sutherland and Caithness were covered with densely-planted non-native species so that Terry Wogan could continue to line his pockets.

To get a true flavour of the old Caledonian forest – less than 1% of which survives – then you need to go somewhere like Beinn Eighe, where the native woodland has been protected since 1951.

Scots pines are the ecological backbone of a woodland environment that supports many important species: capercaillies, pine martens, red squirrels, Scottish crossbills.

Some ancient pines remain short, hugging the hillside, while others grow tall and majestic. Together they lend the landscape great variety and drama.

. . .perhaps particularly on a murky, misty day. . .

. . . and these trees are just as impressive at close quarters.

I remember, on childhood holidays, how much I enjoyed collecting pebbles. The best pebbles were always wet – found in rock pools or at the waterline. When I brought my treasures home, I was often disappointed in how their bright colours faded to grey as they became dry, so I took to storing them in a bucket of water, in order to admire them as I’d found them. Many people, I imagine, don’t like being out and about in the rain, the mist, and the wet. But to my mind, they are missing something – water lends a clarity to objects that is really pretty amazing.

And a wet walk is just fine, if you have a cosy van to dry out in , some tasty fare, and a delicious glass of cherry perry to enjoy afterwards.

Thanks for the perry, Jen! Slainte!

62 thoughts on “Wester

  1. When visitors come to visit me here in Scotland, either from down South or from my native America, they always laugh at the impressive amount of rain gear my children have. I try to explain that Scotland is best viewed and explored when wet, but try as I might very few view it as more than an inconvenience. Its a shame.

    Beautiful photos

    (and personally, my warming drink of choice is Orkney’s Dark Island Ale)

  2. Lovely photographs, Kate I know the Shetland landscape’s blasted heath is beautiful in a different way, but your pictures remind me of how much I miss trees… Happy Easter to you, Tom and Bruce.

  3. Wow, such a beautiful haunting landscape which sounds as though it is even more precious for being so very rare…… I love trees, here in Dwellingup, Western Australia, I am surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of jarrah forrest. Now there are only a few truly ancient trees left, the loggers took the rest 100 years ago. Any jarrahs over 400 years old that remain are called King Jarrah. Today, whichever govenment is in at the moment sees fit to allow the goldmines and Alcoa free access to most of the forest for mining. We hear the explosions. They clearfell with huge bulldozers and then replant after taking the bauxite or gold. Many of the townsfolk work for them. It is of course impossible to replace what has been lost. You often see the log trucks coming through town laden with old trees, bits and bites every day.

  4. Very lovely.

    I have to say, I really don’t enjoy being out in the wet when I’m wearing my specs; it’s fine with lenses in though! Just a practicality that really affects one’s ability to enjoy the landscape in the rain.

  5. Love a misty day in mystical place. I have pebbles from the coast of Maine, the shores of Suffolk, the edge of the Pacific…places that hold memories. And when I need reminding…I place them in a shallow bowl of water and let the colors sing. Thanks for the aide memoire.

  6. You’ve captured this description so well of the wet and misty landscape. I lived in Holland in my early twenties and always felt that the greens of the ground and vibrant yellows, purples, and blues of spring were made all the more vibrant by the misty overhang of grey sky. The easy contrast that wetness lends to objects is quite tangible. As you said, “water lends a clarity to objects…” Thanks for these images, and a glimpse into such an ancient place.

  7. I awoke this morning to dense fog and your beautiful words and photos. This is wildflower season in the Texas Hill Country. The colors of the flowers and the new green show up best on foggy days, so I will be out ith my camera as soon as I’ve had my coffee. Oh, I still collect pebbles, too! And sand, and pine cones, and shells, and driftwood, etc.

  8. If you’re interested in Caledonian forest, check out the charity Trees for Life:

    I spent a volunteer week with them restoring Caledonian Forest a couple of years ago, it was a brilliant experience. Great way to spend a holiday, or you can support their work in many other ways for example by buying their calendar or scottish craft (a tree is planted with every sale)


  9. I had been wondering when your next van adventure would be! That landscape looks lovely. I have some sort of “rain magnet” lodges in me I think…as every time I go camping or canoeing it rains. The rain here in Ontario is not a lovely mist however, but usually a very wet downpour from which you never seem to dry out. Boo :-(
    I love the idea of sheltering money in forestry. Sounds much better than say, Swiss bank account or Cauman Islands ;-) How would one get the money back out of forestry though? Logging? That’s a part of history I’ve never heard about and would be fascinated to hear more about. Hopefully the remaining forest you visited is well tended and is around for hundreds more years.

  10. I so enjoy you evocative writing…beautiful entry. It makes me visualize this mysterious landscape even in Texas… Thank you.

  11. Just lovely! Reminds me of my honeymoon, spent hiking, reading and eating on Vancouver Island, both on the beaches of the west coast of the island and in the interior. If you ever felt game for some long-distance travel, I think you might find it just up your alley! I could give you some tips about where to find the best rain-soaked big trees, misty rocks, and hazy ferry rides: -B When I tell people it rained for nearly our entire honeymoon, they express sympathy. But before we left, we spent some of our wedding money on full rainsuits and new hiking boots, and as an added bonus, we missed a two-week scorching heat wave in Ontario! Just heavenly, and heavenly, as you point out, to come back to a good meal and a drink too.

  12. This sort of weather envelops one.
    A feeling of being the lone person to enjoy
    I love this weather and surroundings

    btw, I grew up in the American Southwest and lived five years in Saudi Arabia
    but now live in mid-America were we do have four seasons

    Thanks for the ride along. Lovely weekend :*)
    so re-newing of one’s soul
    hugs to all

  13. Oh yay, as anticipated, a timely and tastey post is yours today ! Your photos of the Scottish Highlands in this post look an awful lot like my Northern California ! Delicious, misty, inviting scenery to drink in. Thank you.

  14. there really is nothing like a grey day to bring out the colors of things. my favorite dog walks were in early spring, end of winter, when we’re all about to slash our wrists. come a grey day, the tiny buds, invisible on bright blue days, would come out chartreuse, and the red buds, just showing magenta, would just zap the chartreuse in a zingy way only those of us with all weather clothes and dogs to walk could see. beautiful! your wet black rocks and pearly grey skies.

  15. That is just so beautiful! Thank you for the pictures and the mini history lesson. (I love those!). I also am a rock collector and I too discovered they are not as beautiful when they are not wet. Hadn’t though of storing them in a bucket of water though…

  16. A woman after my own heart! I have been complaining about the invasion of large swathes of non-indigenous tress for the past thirty years! They were put in, as you say, for tax purposes and to the ruination of our native species.I also complain about rhododrendrons eating up the countryside and ruining our native oaks, but I am just a lover of our native countryside and not just an old moaner!

  17. I agree with the above…

    Really love your blog and all the info you provide with the pictures !
    We’ve got a rather grey day here in Holland too, but I enjoyed walking in it.. Too bad that pictures ain’t olfactory though; the odours that go with rain in springtime ( and forest ) is another thing that makes it so worthwhile, from my point of view…

  18. It is just like with collecting bits of shells on our beach – so vibrant when wet only to turn dull and colorless at home. Keeping them in a saucer with water to admire for a few more days is a lovely idea.
    These photographs are simply beautiful, Kate.
    Thank you for sharing.

  19. I used to collect agates with my cousin on the Lake Superior shore… we were the ones picking up rocks and licking them to see if they were “good” ones.
    ; )

  20. As a kid I loved collecting shells and pebbles, and was always disappointed to see how sad they looked when dry. Sometimes we would paint them with som clear nail polish to get them to stay wet-looking. Not as natural as the jar of water, but it works really well. :)

  21. I have a colleague who has a fascinating research project on pebbles and human relationtionships with them and the landscape in Devon (being half anthropologist, half archaeologist). We took a bunch of undergrads onto a pebble beach and he was able to accurately predict which pebbles we would find appealing (they particularly included striped, patterned and contrating ones, as per your lovely photographs). There was a strong correlation in contemporary human taste in pebble patterning as with those that have been found in bronze age burial mounds and ritual sites, despite our present day colour saturated lives.

    Well worth a look (and a lovely part of the world to boot):  http://www.pebblebedsproject.org.uk/

    Especially here:  http://www.pebblebedsproject.org.uk/poetics_of_pebbles.html

  22. Also a fan of wet stones. I’ve visited Scotland twice and, as a Canadian, found it be feel much more comfortable than England. Something about the wild open spaces…

  23. Beautiful, gorgeous, pictures!! Love the root among the little pebbles.
    Are you wearing a sweater with a little dab of mohair in it?

  24. Well, I don’t know where the previous gibberish came from.
    I have for a long time stored my favorite stones in jars of water, on windowsills where they get light but no direct sun. I love ’em. What a thrilling landscape Scotland is.

  25. It’s interesting to hear that Sitka spruce and Lodgepole Pine have been widely planted for forestry in Scotland, as in the U.S., where those trees (and me) are from, Scots pine has been widely planted for forestry and is considered invasive in some areas. People just don’t seem to be happy with the trees they have anywhere in the world! I’ve never seen Scots Pine like in your photos though, over here it doesn’t grow well and gets attacked by quite a few insects and grows all twisted.

  26. Kate I loved this post and the photography is beautiful! You are right water does add a sparke to life. I loved your new bike in your last post too, hooray for wheels :-)

  27. My daughter and I love misty damp days. I tell her it is in our family dna. Some how we hold some part of our ancestors from Scotland and we long to be back there. Some day I will walk in the paths of my family.

  28. I to collect pebbles! Always excited by the color when wet. I rub them dry to see if they are worthy of coming home with me. We also collect beach glass. Blue is a rare find. We find mostly green, clear or some brown. People don’t toss bottles like they use to but we still manage to find sea glass now and then. Thank you for the beautiful pictures.

  29. Beautiful, places you visit and share with us. Those first photos arereminded me of old paintings my grandparents (mother’s side) had on her lounge room wall. So beautiful, and then your delicious foods.

  30. My wet, foggy soul really enjoyed this post, especially on a hot, Virginia spring day! As well as all the great tips for keeping the pebbles “wet”. I like the idea of putting them in a jar of water.

  31. As someone who regularly blogs about Scottish trees, I LOVE these pictures and your descriptions of the real Caledonian forest. As my husband always says, ‘every tree is an ecosystem’. We found some rare beauties at Loch Morlich in the Cairngorms: see http://dancingbeastie.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/mountains-eagles-and-a-snowy-beach-the-best-of-scotland/ .

    Your close-ups are just as fine: the root and pebbles remind me of Andy Goldsworthy.

  32. I too love the rain. I recently reconnected with the work of Don Paterson. I came to him through his ‘Landing Light’ collection of poems, and was compelled to buy ‘Rain’. One opening the book at a random page, the first I read was ‘The Rain at Sea’. It instantly struck a chord as does most of his other offerings. ‘Why Do You Stay Up So Late’ reminds me of your childhood rockpool memories. All mine are stored in a drawer labelled ‘sea treasure’.

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About Kate Davies

writer, designer and creator of Buachaille (100% Scottish wool)