“Sow an act, and you reap a habit. Sow a habit, and you reap a character. Sow a character and you reap a destiny.” Charles Reade
The historical kingdom of Dalriada was first settled by Irish raiders and eventually came to include much of what is now known as Argyll. You can’t walk far in the area around Oban without coming across reminders of a past which sowed the seeds of Scotland and Scottish character. This 11 mile walk from Oban to Sutherland’s Grove Forest (near Barcaldine) followed part of the Caledonian Way cycle route, most of which is traffic free or on quiet lanes. If, like me, you start by going down the old carriage road towards Dunollie Castle, you’ll pass Fingal’s Stone. Legend has it that that Bran used to tie his faithful hunting dog, Fingal, to this piece of volcanic rock. It was just starting to rain when I got there so rather than get the paints out, I came up with a tercet.
“From the west he will call through
time. Scenting the air, Fingal
waits – still, listening, ready.”
The weather was improving as I left Dunollie Castle and turned north. By the time I reached Ganavan Sands with it’s wide sandy beach, the clouds were lifting with the sky promising a weak sunshine for the rest of the day . I’d wanted to visit Ganavan Sands because it hosts a parkrun . I wasn’t going to be in the area at 9.30am on a Saturday to do the whole 5K so I followed part of the route across the dunes and heath towards Dunbeg.
I’ll confess that cycling doesn’t hold much in the way of attraction for me but if I’d had a bike on this stretch of the Caledonian Way, I’d probably have ended up walking anyway – there were some seriously steep slopes! Having made the summit, the track wound downhill through a magical woodland. The hillsides were covered in ancient oaks that clustered and curled together, gossiping secrets as the light breeze filtered through their drapes of lichen. Occasionally a hidden crow splintered the silence with a loud C-a-a-a-r-k! Field sketching and walking always combine to make wobbly paintings but I think it’s a great way to capture a mystical atmosphere of place.
I diverted from the path at Dunstaffnage, home to many of the ancient kings of Scotland and where in the past the iconic Stone of Destiny was kept. This was the place which was once the centre of Dalriada and for many people, it is where the ideal of a nation called Scotland was born.
Wandering through the bee-humming woods and past the ruins of a stone built chapel, was like walking through a lake of bluebells.
I came to a pebbly cove which is now home to a piece of Unlost Places art. I drew the image with a waterproof feltpen so the sea shouldn’t damage it too much – for a while, at least. I don’t suppose my pebble will ever be found on a beach where they are not only in infinite supply but constantly moving in and out with the tide but I like to think that it was my gift to Dalriada.
The Caledonian Way goes past some magnificent lochside scenery and walking is a wonderful way to appreciate the landscape. I took this photograph when the Caledonian Way had curved behind some trees and away from the road. I could hear cars hurtling along, their drivers having no idea of what they were missing. From Benderloch I walked on quiet lanes towards Barcaldine where I encountered the first of the day’s midgies.
Not even midgies could stop my heart from lifting when I realised that Sutherland’s Grove Forestry was home to an orienteering course. My joy was complete when I found a map that someone had left on a bench rather than taking it home or putting it in a rubbish bin. Following the orienteering course took me through some of the most picturesque parts of the woodland but even if it hadn’t, I loved chasing through the trees looking for controls and when I couldn’t find them, remembering that I’d always had a tendency to overshoot my intended location by misjudging my stride length. Some habits die hard!
In some of the glades, there were creatures sculpted in dead wood that could have inspired (or been inspired by) The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. A troll – presumably caught out by the May sunshine – was lurking close to a bridge over a narrow gorge.
Higher up the slopes the scenery was even more dramatic. It’s an area associated with the Celtic legend of Deirdre who escaped from Ulster to this part of Dalriada with her lover, Naoise of the Red Branch. This photograph is looking towards Beinn Lora which translates to Deirdre’s Hill.
In Wales, we call the gathering of wool tufts from hedges and fences gwlana. I used gwlana and pickings of forest litter to create this piece of weaving which I left hanging from a tree in Sutherland’s Grove.
Unlost Places is a project about mapping the metaphysical features of landscape, using art to express what it feels like to be a certain place. Just before I started this walk through Dalriada I’d stopped off in a shop in Oban and bought a pack of textured threads. Since then, I’ve worked with my poetic tercets, field sketches and stitched samples to create this map of my walk using Free Form Knitting, Crochet and Weaving.