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    November 2022
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    The Magic of the Scottish Landscapes…

    When we first discovered Scotland, like many travellers, we immediately fell in love with this wonderful land. Since then we have never stopped going back there, again and again, never getting tired of its wild beauty, of the quality of its light, of its changing skies…

    Ardvreck Castle Loch Assynt Sutherland Scotland Wikipedia

    There is truly something magical in the solitary rugged landscapes, in the dramatic scenery of Scotland…

    Scottish Scenes © 2022 Scotiana

    … and so many sources of enchantment there!

    Ratagan View Loch Duich viewpoint Scotland © 2015 Scotiana

    People often ask us when is the best time to visit Scotland…

    Up recently we thought that Scotland was at its best in spring and autumn,let us say in May-June and September-October,  but we came back from our last trip in December and January 2019/2020 with unforgettable memories of winter scenery. Of course, the weather is colder then and the days shorter but it’s really worth the effort. The atmosphere is quite different and, though more austere and solitary, the scenery can become sublime.

    Burial Isles Loch Leven Glencoe © 2019 Scotiana

    Burial Isles Loch Leven Glencoe © 2019 Scotiana

    To tell the truth, such is the charm of Scotland that we could go there at any time…

    What is the explanation of the charm of Scotland, what is the secret ?

    “This is our last day in Scotland; it is really a delightful country, and I am very sorry to leave it.”

    (Queen Victoria at the end of her first journey to Scotland in September 1842)

    Before our first trip to Scotland,  in 2000,  we never thought we would fall under its spell as we did… our first trip there lasted no more than ten days but we already knew it would not the last one…

    Many writers, poets, musicians, painters have tried for centuries to understand what makes Scotland so attractive!

    “I was sitting one evening with a well-known London bookseller in the palatial smoke-room of a great cruise liner, making its way down the rugged West Coast of Scotland. Our conversation had been general, but as the evening wore on we discussed Scotland and its characteristics, and ultimately ended by the bookseller addressing the following questions to me – “What is the explanation of the charm of Scotland, and the allure it casts on the visitor? What is the secret of Scotland’s unfailing power to command that sincere and wonderful love of the Scots themselves.

    At the time of this conversation I endeavoured, so far as possible, to furnish briefly an explanation, but on the conclusion of the cruise, the seeking of a more definite answer to this question so intrigued me that I set out on this Scottish Quest.

    The Quest was to be a longer journey than I had anticipated. It was to take longer time than I had expected.

    Now follow my notes. I wonder if the impressions they contain will help to furnish, if not a complete answer to the queries, at least something towards a better understanding of what the answers may be.”

    (Scottish Quest Iain F. Anderson – Herbert Jenkins 1935)

    A never ending Scottish Quest…


    Scotland from the air © 2003 Scotiana

    We had our first sight of Scotland from the plane before landing at the airport of Paisley, in the spring of 2000. The view of the country from the air is stunning.

    We couldn’t take our eyes off this strange landscape, so different from what we were used to in France, a typically Scottish landscape with its solitary green hills and dark valleys (“bens” and “glens”), lochs, rivers, villages and  towns. The above picture must have been taken when we were flying above the Southern Uplands.

    When the flight ends at Edinburgh the landscape seen from the air is quite different. If the weather is fine, you can have a glimpse of the three magnificent bridges crossing the Firth of Forth: the iconic Forth Bridge (1890), the Forth Road Bridge (1964), the Queensferry Crossing (2017).

    Letters from Scotland

    Our daily correspondence with Iain and Margaret and their very interesting Letters from Scotland and comments published in Scotiana regularly make us love their country more and more every day ;-).

    Siccar Point Scotland

    “Siccar Point .. not a blade of grass to be found here !”  Iain. 🙂

    Very recently Iain sent us, with his usual touch of humour ;-), a very interesting BBC article dated October 25th 2022, informing its readers that two Scottish sites have just been classified on the list of 100 “internationally important geological locations”: Siccar Point situated in the Scottish Borders, on the east coast of Scotland which is often considered as the birthplace of the science of geology and The Moine Thrust in the Highlands, a huge fault formed 430 millions years ago”

    Scotland is a true paradise for geologists and, indeed, their research on many places of geological interest have contributed to make us understand the specificity of the Scottish landscapes and how these landscapes have become what they are…

    Scottish scientist James Hutton‘s studies of the area’s two sets of rocks of different ages in 1788 revolutionised ideas about the Earth’s origin and age.
    The Scottish Geology Trust said Siccar Point provided the first glimpse of “deep time” and great geological cycles in Earth’s history.
    The Moine Thrust Zone is a major tract of ancient tectonic faulting where rocks have been moved sideways for more than 62 miles (100km).
    It can be traced from Cape Wrath on the north Sutherland coast south to the Isle of Skye.
    The feature is the centrepiece of the North West Highlands Unesco Geopark.

    Books, books, books…

    In my library, a fan of Scotland could sit for hours, deeply immersed in one of the many volumes I’ve collected over the years. I could not do without them. They make me feel that our Scottish journey goes on and on long after we’ve come back home. They keep horizons open…

    Indeed, what better companion than a book to help plan a trip or for the nostalgic traveller who has just come back home, the eyes still full of images of the land he has just left.  My library is crowded not only with books of poetry and fiction, essays and travel stories, Scottish history and biographies, but also with very useful Scottish guides and magnificent books illustrated with gorgeous photographies, the kind of books to offer for Christmas, each one being “une invitation au voyage“…



    Scotland’s Landscape is the first book of my too short selection. It’s truly a fascinating book which allows the reader to discover what Scotland looks like from above. A trip in itself! The book offers the reader and traveller a very different point of view of the country. I never get tired of turning the pages, trying to recognize places that have become familiar to us au fil des voyages

    Scotland’s Landscapes James Crawford RCAHMS

    “This book is absolutely spectacular. It’s a whole new way to see Scotland – from above. The aerial photos are in large format and extremely sharp. They show things you’ve never seen before (unless you spend your days crisscrossing Scotland in a Cessna), helped by knowledgable captions. If you love the Scottish landscape, this is the book for you. I’ve seen and bought many books about Scotland but this is in a league of its own. Congrats to the authors, pilots and photographers! Rush to buy it!” ( Herbert Frei-Schindler – Amazon –2012)

    “The landscape of Scotland is a rich and beautiful tapestry of mountains, lochs, glens, islands, moors. From an eye in the sky, by aerial or satellite photography, an observer can see the contours and colours, the infinitely complex shape of the land. This eye traces, too, how the landscape has been used and altered over the years: the thick fleece of forestry plantations, the clean lines of farming, the different beauty of towns and cities with their spires and blocks and strings of lights.”

    Land Lines The Scottish Literary Tour Company Ltd 2001


    Land Lines is based on literary quotes and poems and that is why the book is so fascinating. No people are better placed than writers, poets and artists to describe the beauty of a place and Scotland seems to have given birth to a particularly great number of inspired people, endowed with a deep sense of their native place (Robert Burns, Hugh MacDiarmid, Norman MacCaig, Nan Shepherd, Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott, Neil Gunn George Mackay Brown, Iain Crichton Smith, Neil Munro, Hugh Miller…).

    Land Lines is one of my favourite books about Scotland and, so far, the best book I’ve found to help me understand the specifity of the Scottish landscape and why we feel so enthusiastic, not to say euphoric, when we travel there.

    Just have a look at the very suggestive contents of the book :

    I – The Natural Landscape

    • The Cool High Bens
    • People of this Glen
    • The Great Wood of Caledon
    • Water music
    • The Ultimate Island
    • The Might of the Sea

    II – Landscape and Community

    • Stone and Spire
    • The Life of the Land
    • The Big House
    • Small Town Blues
    • Shrieking Steam
    • Cityscape

    III – The Other Landscape

    • Fingalian Places
    • On the Road
    • A Cold Ceilidh
    • In the Heather
    • Between Worlds
    • The Skinklan Stars

    Bibliography (a very rich and extremely useful bibliography)

    Sources of Quotes

    The Photograph and the Photographers

    Index of Places

    Index of Names

    Books about the Scottish mountains :

    Scotland has always been celebrated for the remarkable beauty of its landscapes and the visitor can’t but fall in love with its grandiose and dramatic scenery, especially, though not exclusively, when travelling in some of the mountainous parts of the country, in the Highlands, in the Cairngoms to mention only these very popular places…


    As the above topographical map clearly shows Scotland is a very mountainous country and this omnipresence of the mountains is one of the elements that gives so much charm to the landscape of the country. How lovely it is to see the hills and mountains reflected on the quiet waters of the lochs dotting the country, their slopes covered in purple heather or snow with, here and there the silhouette of an old ruined castle or a herd of deer suddenly stopping and staring at you before running and disappearing up there in the woods.

    The Scottish mountains are not so high but the traveller can only be surprised to find himself driving in front of mountains looking as impressive as some of the tops of the Alps or the Pyrenees.

    We’ve got unforgettable memories (and took many pictures) of the Scottish mountains:

    Elgol Coruisk Bay Isle of Skye Scotiana © 2007 Scotiana

    • the grandiose and very impressive scenery of Glencoe
    • the very popular Ben Nevis (with its 1345 m, it is the highest peak in Scotland and the UK)
    • the  strange-shaped mountains of the western part of Assynt, a very solitary and remote area in the North,  including Quinag and Suilven rising steeply from the surrounding ‘cnoc and lochan’ scenery made of small lochans, rocks and moorland.
    •  the Cuillins and the Trotternish Peninsula on the Isle of Skye
    • the Goat Fell on Arran
    • the Paps of Jura
    • the Cairngorms
    •  the mountains we saw near Moffat in the south of Scotland with ‘ The Grey Mares Tail’ the fifth highest waterfall in the UK surrounded by uniquely dramatic scenery
    Moffat road green hills Dumfries & Galloway © 2004 Scotiana

    Moffat road green hills – Dumfries & Galloway © 2004 Scotiana



    Many writers, travellers, mountaineers,  naturalists, geologists, ornithologists have celebrated the beauty of the Scottish Mountains. Two of my favourites are Nan Shepherd who lived in the Cairgorms and Norman MacCaig in Assynt.


    Winter light on the Cairngorms © 2022 Scotiana

    Nan Shepherd has often been called “The Bard of the Higlands” and she has been second to none to describe  the beauty of her beloved mountains, the Cairngorms where she lived  all her life. Not only in her poems but also in her novels (…)

    The Living Mountain Nan Shepherd 2019

    The finest book ever written on nature and landscape in Britain’ – Guardian

    In this masterpiece of nature writing, Nan Shepherd describes her journeys into the Cairngorm mountains of Scotland. There she encounters a world that can be breathtakingly beautiful at times and shockingly harsh at others. Her intense, poetic prose explores and records the rocks, rivers, creatures and hidden aspects of this remarkable landscape.

    Shepherd spent a lifetime in search of the ‘essential nature’ of the Cairngorms; her quest led her to write this classic meditation on the magnificence of mountains, and on our imaginative relationship with the wild world around us. Composed during the Second World War, the manuscript of The Living Mountain lay untouched for more than thirty years before it was finally published.

    The book which contains a very detailed map of the Cairngorm Plateau is wonderfully introduced by Robert Macfarlane. Robert Macfarlane is one of the greatest contemporary British travel writers. He himself knows very well the Cairngorms and is a great admirer of Nan Shepherd.

    “The Cairgorms were my first mountain range, and they are still the hills I know best. My grandparents lived in a converted forestry cottage on a rare limestone upsurge on the north-eastern slopes of the massif, and the field of rough pasture which they owned ran down to the banks of the River Avon. From a young age, I visited them with my family, usually in the summers. On a wall of the house hung a vast laminated Ordnance Survey map of the whole range, on which we would finger-trace walks done and walks planned.” 😉

    “I knew the Cairngorms long before I knew The Living Mountain, which I first read only in 2003 (..) I read it, and was changed. I had thought that I knew the Cairngorms well, but Shepherd showed me my complacency. Her writing re-made my vision of these familiar hills. It taught me to see them, rather than just to look at them.”

    (Robert Macfarlane – from the introduction of The Living Mountain)

    “The Cairngorm Mountains of north-east Scotland are Britain’s Arctic. In winter, storm winds of up to 170 miles per hour rasp the upper shires of the range, avalanches scour its slopes and northern lights flare green and red above the summits”.

    How we would like to see northern lights in Scotland !!!

    There is, at the end of the book, a very interesting and quite moving afterword by Jeanette Winterson. It’s called “A Bed. A Book. A Mountain” 😉

    It begins :

    “I am lying in bed reading Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain. This is a kind of geo-poetic exploration of the Cairngorms – a mountain range in north-east Scotland. The book was written in the 1940s, and lay unpublished until the 1970s. Now it has been reissued by Canongate.

    Reading it seems to me to explain why reading is so important. And odd. And necessary. And not like anything else.

    There is no substitute for reading.”

      Nan Shepherd features on the Royal Bank of Scotland’s £5 note since 2016.

    Five Pounds Scottish banknote featuring Nan Shepherd on the front

    I discovered the great Scottish poet Norman MacCaig while reading “Lumières du Nord”, an essay written by Michel Le Bris and published in a very interesting issue of la revue Autrement devoted to Scotland and entitled Pierre Vent et Lumière. This issue was edited by Kenneth White, a great Scottish-French poet and philosopher. The name of Kenneth White may ring a bell for some readers of Scotiana. 😉

    Michel Le Bris was a great French travel writer and a specialist on Robert Louis Stevenson. He was also the organizer of the Saint-Malo literary festival “Astonishing Voyageurs” which he started in 1990.

    In his crystal-clear essay so aptly called “Lumières du Nord”, Michel Le Bris quotes several extracts (translated into French) of Norman MacCaig’s poem A Man in Assynt. I immediately fell under the spell…

    Norman MacCaig wrote:

    Glaciers, grinding West, gouged out
    these valleys, rasping the brown sandstone,
    and left, on the hard rock below –
    the ruffled foreland –
    this frieze of mountains, filed
    on the blue air –
    Stac Polly,
    Cul Beag, Cul Mor, Suilven,
    Canisp –
    a frieze and
    a litany.


    Who owns this landscape? –
    The millionaire who bought it or
    the poacher staggering downhill in the early morning
    with a deer on his back?

    Who possesses this landscape? –
    The man who bought it or
    I who am possessed by it?

    False questions, for
    this landscape is
    and intractable in any terms
    that are human.

    Norman MacCaig

    from The Poems of Norman MacCaig (Polygon, 2005)

    Between Mountain and Sea Norman MacCaig

    ‘Two Men at Once’ is one of Norman MacCaig best known poems. He was indeed two men at once: Edinburgh, the city where he was born and lived as a teacher and poet, was his home, but no other place shaped his poetry more than Assynt in Sutherland. It is here that he would spend many a summer on family holidays, walking the hills and fishing the lochs. MacCaig’s fresh eye saw remarkable newness even in the everyday and each poem is a tiny revelation, a new look at an old friend. This collection celebrates, renews, and rediscovers Norman MacCaig’s Assynt.

    Assynt landscape © 2015 Scotiana

    The wild landscape of Assynt © 2015 Scotiana

    Books about the Scottish Islands

    Hamish Haswell-Smith’s The Scottish Islands is by far my favourite book about the Scottish Islands. Below is its last edition published in 2015…

    The Scottish Islands Hamish Haswell-Smith Canongate Books 2015

    “The acknowledged Rosetta Stone of island hopping” Sunday Times

    “Fully revised and updated, this is the only book with detailed information and maps on every Scottish island. With the author’s own paintings illustrating it, this beautiful guide will take you everywhere, whether by armchair or yacht.

    From the abandoned crofts of Mingulay and the standing stones of Orkney to the white beaches of Colonsay, this is the first complete gazetteer to cover all of Scotland’s many hundreds of islands, including those which are uninhabited and those which are notoriously difficult to reach.

    Packed with information on access, anchorages, points of historical or natural interest and things to do and see, this fascinating compendium provides indispensable information for touring, for browsing, for reference, and for all of those travellers who wish to experience some of the most beautiful and remote places in the world.

    No other book begins to emulate the range and depth of the information contained in The Scottish Islands. Illustrated with full-colour illustrations and relief maps of all the main islands, this is both an impressive work of reference and a fascinating personal view of Scotland’s distant outposts.”

    I couldn’t have missed An Island Odyssey, the author’s more recent book. I’m still reading it, always anticipating the next chapter… what island are we going to discover? Or re-discover for we know only a few of the islands which are described in the book (Staffa, Berneray, Barra, Eriskay, Handa…). Yes, it’s “an island odyssey”…

    An Island Odyssey by Hamish Haswell-Smith – Canongate 2014


    “In An Island Odyssey Hamish Haswell-Smith casts off in his forty-one-foot sloop Jandara, armed with his sketch pad and a route map of a journey first taken by Martin Martin in 1703. Haswell-Smith sets sail on a voyage that will take him to fifty-two different islands around the Scottish Coast, from Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde to St. Kilda, Fair Isle and Bass Rock.

    Filled with natural history, local legend and landscapes and accompanied by the author’s own distinctive sketches and watercolours An Island Odyssey is a delightful way to discover or rediscover the romance, beauty and inescapable magnetism of the Scottish Islands.”

    I could say much more about the magic of the Scottish landscapes and I certainly will do in my next posts. The subject is great and inexhaustible.  I will talk about the writers who speak best about the subject, Scottish travellers, naturalists, geologists, mountaineers who never ceased to haunt the paths of this wonderful land and sublimated it in unforgettable pages… so stay tuned.
    Bonne lecture ! Á bientôt. Mairiuna


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