How lucky we were last week, I think to myself as the tail-end of some storm or another lashes against my window. After a slightly disappointing (breezy and showery) first day we had wall-to-wall sunshine for the rest of the week, leading to more enjoyment for the participants and a lot less stress for me. People sometimes ask me why I don’t offer regular dates for the popular ‘Windswept Wilderness’ Scottish Highlands itinerary, or if I’m willing to go at a different time of year. I often consider it – that would be lovely! – and then I remember the reasons.
At the moment, and for the forseeable future, I don’t have a large enough studio in which to accommodate clients during inclement weather and the holiday is designed to take place outside, as all my trips are, sketching and painting ‘en plein air’. If we get a wet day I have contingencies up my sleeve, but a whole week of precipitation would be miserable, and with the rain comes cloud in these parts, often rendering that spectacular view invisible. For this reason I choose what is usually the most reliable time of year for the West Coast trips: May and June.
These days global weather patterns are becoming unpredictable, of course, and there is no such thing as a completely ‘safe’ month in Scotland. We are becoming generally wetter and windier all year round, yet the up-side seems to be that when the sun does put in an appearance, it’s nice and toasty. During the summer months (May to October) we often experience brilliant sunshine and gentle breezes interspersed with squally downpours and occasionally the dreaded ‘mizzle’ – a soft, misty drizzle which settles in for the day like a wet blanket, quite literally. Last week, though, was glorious and we all ended up a few shades darker, intentionally or otherwise.
Sitting beside a deep blue loch with a uniquely-shaped mountain perfectly reflected in the water, the silence broken only by a twittering meadow pippit, the caw of a hooded crow or perhaps the clack of hoof on stone from a startled stag on the hillside above us, it’s easy to wish every day could be as idyllic. Yet the weather is what makes this landscape what it is: the rivers and waterfalls thunder after rain, the land grows green and healthy.
The northwest Highlands – and Assynt in particular – might just be the most beautiful place in the world. Visitors prepared for cool, damp conditions whilst hoping for otherwise, and those willing to negotiate the sometimes less-than-ideal painting conditions will be amply rewarded with an experience they will never forget. But if this all sounds like your worst nightmare, remember I also offer holidays in sunnier places! Every departure is designed to coincide with the destination’s optimal outdoor painting seasons, so there’s a Vistas sketching holiday for everyone. (And if there isn’t – find three friends and I’ll design one for you specially!)