Strands of coloured sand weave in and out the frayed coast of northern Scotland, appearing and reappearing like a dashed line marking the outer edge of Europe. They are disputed places, the volatile and muscular Atlantic against heavy, dry sand, which seems passive and pliant – animated only when it is reluctantly dragged into the wash of a wave. An inviting walk along the sand is done across this shifting boundary and next to a vast body of water that stretches hundreds of miles and which daily reasserts its claim upon the land.
These are some of Britain’s least accessible and most beautiful places. They demand a commitment to reach and are usually pristine, any prior disturbance is wiped by a sweep of the tide. To witness moonlight and sun rising upon sleek, wet sand is to partake in a mysterious, silent, celestial choreography that remains unchanged by modernity. It is profound.
Each beach is different, has its own character, and I have favourites. The texture of the sand, the colour, the size, shape and the aspect and setting, all are factors. Having given an allegiance one can feel cheated when the tide or weather robs one of the place one has come to visit, like a friend who failed to remember you were coming. Perhaps this is why they are so special? They are ephemeral and brief. Just as the sea can conjure new shapes and colours, so too the sand is able transform and then vanish.
The far north west of Scotland, the Hebrides, Sutherland and Wester Ross is the focus for this project. These beaches are the ones that face the fullest force of the Atlantic. Here the mercurial light of the north, glancing on the sea or fleetingly captured within a cresting wave, is the most transformative. These are places of beauty and shocking power. Quiet days are interludes, pauses, no more.
These are places I have visited and painted many times. This is the first time I have fully given them my attention.