Rain and chocolate

Many people of a certain age will remember the Cadbury’s flake advert of the early 70’s, in which a young woman in a floaty dress sat herself daintily down in the middle of a cornfield with her watercolours. It began to rain, but instead of hastily packing up and making a dash for it, she simply unwrapped her flake and watched the water drip down her masterpiece, before deciding it looked perfectly acceptable upside down.

Funnily enough, it doesn’t usually work out this way. Do we lack the right chocolate, or are the raindrops wetter? Or is it simply that impressionist poppies are more forgiving than Highland glens?

On the recent, Inverness-based, ‘Around the Blooming Heather’ itinerary, which is designed to coincide with what should be largely decent weather towards the east of the country, we tried both approaches. My instinct, once I feel the initial drops, is to persevere if I’m still doing the initial drawing, as colour notes can be taken and watercolour added at a later, dryer time. Once the paints are out, though, my priority is whatever is already on the paper, and the first thing I do is to turn the sketchbook over so that the rain falls on the hard cover. If a plastic bag is to hand, all the better to place on top, but closing the book will smudge the painting, and using a sheet of kitchen towel will likely produce and unwanted pattern when it dries.

Others in the group continued working, the water forming tiny white blobs on the page like snowflakes.

‘I think it looks pretty cool’, suggested Alex, who wasn’t feeling too enthusiastic about his paintings in the beginning. He had a point, although a snowstorm in late June would have been even stranger than the weird weather we did receive: a mix of rain, hot sun (in pitifully small doses), wind and thick cloud, during the eleven-day itinerary.

‘You don’t come to Scotland for the weather’, they agreed, as everyone does, though they shivered under the woolly hats and fingerless gloves I’d added to their list of what to bring. They had not imagined they would need them, and neither did I, but overdressed is definitely more comfortable than underdressed, especially in an El Niño year.


Alex had an umbrella stashed in his backpack and this proved a valuable aid to keeping a wet watercolour away from the rain whilst allowing it to dry naturally. Dense bushes and tree-root overhangs also proved useful. Sunday dawned particularly miserable so a last-minute contingency plan saw us sitting in the botanical gardens sketching tropical foliage. Not typically Scottish, perhaps, but it was a great exercise for variation in greens as well as practice in layering techniques, and we stayed comfortable, cosy and dry.

Organising any outdoor-based holiday relies on a degree of faith and optimism, especially in temperate regions, and one must embrace the possibility of itinerary changes, adaptions and substitutions. Sometimes a visit to a certain point of interest must be abandoned due to temporary or permanent closures, quite apart from freak weather events. The upside of this flexibility allows for the discovery of new or overlooked places.

One new location I learned about from an Australian girl in Sri Lanka. She couldn’t get enough of the Clava Cairns, she said. Such a special place – I simply must go! I confess I could never muster the enthusiasm for what I believed to be a simple pile of stones lying somewhere amidst nondescript countryside. Until I had clients who were raring to see new things and try their utmost to paint, or at least gather information to finish later. Even in the misty drizzle the cairns exude an indescribable magic. The giant muddy puddles merely enhance the austerity of the ancient stones; the surrounding beech trees are incredibly beautiful in their own right, their canopies providing a giant umbrella of sorts. Now I am fighting hard to find a permanent slot for it within this itinerary, which will normally take place a little later in the year. The only difficulty is what to leave out.