A change is as good as a rest?

The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed that a couple of the Scottish trips have bright, sparkling new names. This is not just for the fun of it, undisputed though that may be. If you’re really astute you’ll also be aware that the itineraries have changed; either a little, in the case of ‘The Bonnie Broom’ (formerly ‘Field of the Yellow Haired Boy’) or completely, as in the case of ‘Around the Blooming Heather’, which was originally ‘Sketch the 500’.

Sadly, the latter trip never got off the ground. Despite the most incredible itinerary, no sooner had I fully researched and written the trip than the whole so-called ‘route’ became massively over-touristed, leaving residents of rural communities in anguish and despair which I could not, with a clear conscience, exacerbate. In order to complete the whole ‘route’ (the 500 miles of its name) in a feasible two weeks, allowing for ample sketching and painting along the way, we would have had to stay just one night in each location which is not a sustainable way to travel, is exasperating for accommodation-providers and would be quite exhausting over a 14-day itinerary. Two night stays which I had endeavoured to work into the itinerary meant back-tracking and more mileage in order to see the undoubtedly unmissable highlights of each area.

To add to the woes, accommodation along the way gets booked up months in advance, so the chances of all guests finding a room within their budget for every night of the trip were as remote as the landscapes we travel through. So, as mentioned in a previous post, it was with a heavy heart that I first postponed and then withdrew the trip. Fear not, however! An equally wonderful, though different, itinerary is now introduced, based around the Highland capital of Inverness.

Accessible by public transport and with an almost infinite number of accommodation options to suit all budgets, this trip promises to be relaxed, though encompassing. Travelling no more than an hour in a different direction each day we will find a huge variety of landscapes and historic sites from castles to bothies, heather moorland to monster-filled lochs, or so the story goes. This is the trip for those without a car, and who prefer more time painting and less time walking. The format will be the same – looking for quiet spots, often sitting on boulders or grass – but it is not quite as rugged as the West Coast itineraries.

‘Field of the Yellow Haired Boy’ took place in the most stunningly perfect of painting locations – the tiny settlement of Achiltibuie, 15 miles along a single-track road ending at the Minch and a straggle of salt-washed buildings. The problems with this itinerary were two-fold: very limited public transport and a spread-out community once you arrive there, and the scarcity of accommodation, especially for those trying to book last minute, which quite often happens with Vistas trips. So, keeping a couple of days in this fabulous artists’ haven and introducing some new places, the home-base for this trip is now the popular fishing village of Ullapool. It’s a really enjoyable, buzzy place in summer with lots of great eating places for the evenings when you’re tired out from all the fresh air and concentration.

I hope you’ll love the new itineraries. As always, if you need to pick my brains, just get in touch.

And if you’re still hell-bent on ‘doing’ the NC500, I would say go for it – just please, don’t rush through. Linger, savour the peace and the beauty, sparing a thought for those who have made it their home and who are just trying to get on with their daily lives, mostly uninvolved with tourism. Thank you!