Seeing places from other places

My Relationship with Landscapes

Recently I have noticed that my knowledge of the landscapes within which I live are very much governed by where I can go by road or track. I do look at maps, but have trouble translating that into the real world. I don't know whether this is usual, but I suspect it is! My great passions are travelling on the water to islands and also, latterly, walking up the highest hills in the area to see the views. Seeing all the places I know link up is so entirely satisfying for me; only yesterday I was looking at a photo taken from the top of Sgorr Dhearg (one of the Ballachulish Horseshoe hills) and realised I could see the Sgurr of Eigg and Rum over Ardgour and Moidart. I have also been to the summit of the Sgurr of Eigg but when I was there (on the most spectacular day) I had no idea that I could see all the way over towards Glencoe.

Sgurr of Eigg from Sgorr Dhearg
The Sgurr of Eigg from Sgorr Dhearg

I had lived in Oban for quite a long time before I realised that the huge loch nearby - Loch Etive – cut straight up to Glen Etive which then joined up with Glencoe. Glencoe always seems a long way away to me because the road there obviously hugs the coast, but when you stand on the summit of Beinn Ghlas, just outside Oban, you can see directly up the loch to Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag which are climbed from the A82 winding through Glencoe. This makes me so excited! It also makes complete sense that humans used to use water to travel between places rather than roads, especially in hilly areas.

View from Beinn Ghlas
View up Glen Etive from Beinn Ghlas

I think we tend to look at hills as lumps in the landscape, often spectacular and photogenic, but that's where it ends. There is a hill on Mull which you can see from Oban and I would be surprised if many people who live here know its name. It's called Dun da Ghaoithe and rises 766 metres above the sea. In 2020 it occurred to me that I could walk up it. Even easier, there was a track some of the way up. I caught an early ferry to Mull on a beautiful autumn day, cycled a couple of miles up the road, left my bike by the fence and was soon at the summit, startling a mountain hare sheltering behind the impressive cairn. No one else was up there. The summit was large so I roamed around taking photos and generally marvelling at the views to Ben More then up the Sound of Mull towards Eigg and Rum, the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, Morvern, the Isle of Lismore, up towards Glencoe and round to Oban, then sweeping down towards Jura and Colonsay.

Dun da Ghaoithe
View up the Sound of Mull from Dun da Ghaoithe

It was such a memorable day, but interestingly, what came out of it is the way I have completely changed my relationship with that hill. I know its name and every time I look at it now (which is often) I think 'I've walked up you' and I can picture in my head what it looks like at the top and what it looks like looking back at where I am now standing. It's almost like an invisible thread which wasn't there before but is now, an eternal connection, another bond with the landscape I live in.

Beinn Durinnis
View of Beinn Durinnis from Connel Bridge

I am collecting more and more of these invisible threads, and one more I will write about is Beinn Durinnis. Again, this is a hill that can be seen from Connel, near Oban. It is unremarkable in its looks (unlike the mighty Ben Cruachan nearby). It isn't particularly high so wouldn't attract many baggers.

One fine day in late November, a day which we didn't want to start too early, we made our way up to the top. It's only from here you can see how remarkable this hill actually is. Another piece of the jigsaw that is Argyll, but moving across human boundaries to join up with the hills of Glencoe - seeing the Great Herdsman of Etive; Buachaille Etive Mor, and its slightly smaller neighbour Buachaille Etive Beag standing guard over the mouth of Glen Etive.

View Beinn Durinnis
View over Connel Bridge and the Isle of Mull beyond

There's a fine cairn up there, finer than at the top of many Munros. We marvelled at the views over the Cruachan hills, Taynuilt, Connel, the Isle of Mull, Loch Linnhe, the Morvern Hills and up Loch Etive to Glencoe. The view to Connel Bridge gave a completely different aspect to any I have seen from other vantage points in the area. I love to time my descents with sunsets, and coming down from the summit where we had eaten our sandwiches and drunk our tea, the snow on the hills turned pink, the still water allowed a near perfect refection of Ben Starav and the shadow of our hill connected us to this landscape.

Glen Etive
View up Glen Etive - Beinn Starav, Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag

I am becoming more addicted to this seeing places from other places. I keep thinking I will pick one spot and get the view from every hill around it, but so far I haven't decided on the spot! Some friends who overlook the hills have made it a mission to climb every hill in sight of their home - to climb the skyline. Again it is about connecting your own place with the places around you; sewing the invisible thread, making a visual map in your mind.

I find it hard to put into words how I feel about the landscape, partly because the feelings are changing and growing all the time. I have been enraptured with the books of Robert MacFarlane recently. He seems able to reach into my head and articulate all the jumble of thoughts I have. He has a proper way with words whereas I feel I grope about pulling the odd phrase out of the ether. This is partly why I love taking photos - it sums up how I feel; I can try to articulate and celebrate the relationship with my environment with the use of my cameras.

I also love the work of the local artist Ethel Walker. She excels in painting light and shade, and I was watching a video of her the other day and what she said in it is worth quoting:

"It is the interaction of the transient and the permanent that I find fascinating. I want to catch a visual instance and a sense of immediacy, but also a sense of enduring place."

She explained that it is because she is not a 'wordsmith' that she paints. I would disagree that she is not a wordsmith, but I do agree that words can sometimes seem woefully inadequate to express the feelings and emotions the landscape elicits. I am also not a great painter so I am lucky that I have cameras at my disposal!

Beady on the Isle of Skye
Beady with Janet and Angus on the Isle of Skye

One last person I will recommend to seek out is my great friend Beady (Leonie) Charlton. When we spend time together we are so completely in sync, and I find it very reassuring that other people also have the same overwhelming feeling of the need to fall to your knees with ecstasy at sights and sounds in the natural world! Beady is also an excellent wordsmith and I love seeing how she conjures visions up with her words. Marram, her first book, is a wonderful read.

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