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Blue hills and orange sheep: the Highlands in full colour

August 16, 2010

In my entirely unbiased opinion, we Scots live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. One of the things which I enjoy about having visitors to stay is having the chance to be a tourist in my own land.  It is a pleasure to abandon the chores in favour of sharing my favourite places with friends, and to spend the day visiting lochs and mountains and castles (yes, even people who live in castles like to visit castles!).

Last week we had a friend from Denmark visiting. Since he had never seen anything much of Scotland before outside Edinburgh, I grabbed the opportunity to show off a bit of the rest of it to him. We bundled the boys into the car and, within ten minutes of the front door, we were at the top of a farm track looking out across the highland part of the estate: forested glens, rough rocky pasture dotted with birch and rowan, rising to heather-covered tops where grouse lurk along with hares and herds of red deer.

Ahhh. Can you smell the clean air? This is a landscape to soothe the soul of the most jaded city dweller. Just the thing for an overworked friend from hot and dusty Copenhagen. (A beautiful city, but still, I know where I’d rather be at this time of year.)

Usually I try to persuade people to visit us in May or October, since I think that the August landscape is comparatively dull; a uniform tired green, rather than the fresh colours of spring and the tawny glow of autumn. As we carried on up into the hills, however, we found ourselves in amongst the heather in full bloom. From a distance it looks fairly muted, but up close it is quite a startling magenta: the sort of colour you get in postcards from the seventies that were surely touched up, except…perhaps they weren’t? Heather really is that purple, even in the inevitable shower that swept over us just as we stopped to pick a bunch for our friend’s children in Copenhagen.

Nor was the heather the only bright colour in the green landscape. Down by beautiful Loch Tay, the sun was shining again and we went for a wander along the beach, almost the only people there. Looking up the miles of this long stretch of inland water, we could see mountains in the far west that were as blue as the water and the sky,

as blue as the harebells in the hedgerows.

We just looked and looked, absorbing the warm sun, the sparkling water, the peace. How could I possibly have thought that there was anything dull about the Highlands in August? As if to confirm it, as we were driving along a small, lonely glen, we came across a field of orange sheep. Tangerine orange.

Either the local farmer had been feeling really bored of all the green everywhere, or it was a new kind of sheep-dip. Some of the ewes in the neighbouring fields must have been dipped earlier, as they had faded to a sort of genteel peach. (You could almost imagine turning one upside down to use as a powder puff in the bathroom. I suppose the legs might scratch a bit, though. Hmm.) But the first lot were really startling, especially against a background of purple hills.

The soft colours of traditional Harris Tweed are famously inspired by – indeed originally dyed by – the colours of the Scottish landscape. These days, though, tweed is woven in all colours and has become a staple of the fashion set. Looking at the zing of this purple and orange together, though – and throwing in that blue we saw earlier – I realised that even the brightest tweeds could still be inspired by nature. And by sheep dip. Scotland is indeed a marvelous place.


tweed bags from Scottish boutique


P.S. There is a recent post on Harris tweed over at Cornflower, with some lovely close-ups of the cloth.

P.P.S. A friend, whose husband is a shepherd, tells me that the explanation for the sudden appearance of orange sheep in the summer is that prize flocks are traditionally dyed orange for agricultural shows. Even she cannot explain why, however!

See also: the point of living in a castle; finding colour in a monochrome landscape

16 Comments leave one →
  1. August 16, 2010 5:23 pm

    Beautiful scenery. I really hope I get to visit Scotland next year. I need to buckle down and start planning. This landscape looks similar to foothills of our Adirondack Mountain area in New York State, except for the gorgeous heather and the unusual looking orange sheep!

  2. Margaret Lambert permalink
    August 16, 2010 5:39 pm

    One of the only garments of my father’s which I saved was a Harris Tweed jacket he had tailored in London about 1955. It always fit, it never wore out ( well, it could have used a new lining) and it always suited him, whether the lapels were the currently fashionable width, or not. Of course it wasn’t a pastel plaid! I remember when similar plaids were very fashionable in the mid-60s. It must be time for a revival…
    Purple heather and orange sheep… I like it!

  3. August 17, 2010 3:43 am

    It certainly is a beautiful spot on the world’s landscape! I just love those orange sheep!

  4. August 17, 2010 2:59 pm

    Orange sheep notwithstanding, you do, indeed, live in a most beautiful country. And every time I drive northwards and cross the border, I am struck by how very different that beauty is from England’s. I do a lot of holding my breath and then letting out quiet gasps of astonishment whenever I visit. There are so many places in Scotland that speak to the spirit and the heart as well as to the eyes.

    • dancingbeastie permalink
      August 17, 2010 3:46 pm

      60goingon16, you have perfectly summed up what makes Scotland special. For me, conversely, it is a pleasure to head south to the manifold beauties of England, and yet I feel so lucky to be coming back again to somewhere like this.

      Alaine and Margaret, I’m glad you enjoy the sheep too! They make me smile. Margaret, your story of your father’s jacket reminds me that I bought an old Harris tweed jacket from a flea market in Oxford nearly 20 years ago, and it is still going strong as my gardening jacket. I have customised it over the years with bits of ribbon and badges and so on, but the only repair I’ve ever had to make was to strengthen the thread on a button. It should certainly outlast me.

      Bonnie, I hope your plans come together. I would love to visit upper New York State one of these days. It is always fascinating to visit a strange land and to find familiar details.

  5. August 18, 2010 3:57 am

    The natural landscape is quite beautiful isn’t it? Its a pity its not so much like this in the suburbs – which i suppose is good or else i’d be out of the job.

  6. August 18, 2010 1:45 pm

    Wow, gorgeous. I especially love thefinal photo with the orange sheep and purple covered hills. Would rather be there than the city right now!

  7. August 22, 2010 5:39 pm

    Hi Beastie: I’m always struck by the parallels between old Scotland and new Scotland (Nova Scotia where I live) Ou mountains are not as high and we have few sheep due to the prevalence of coyotes, but the colours and the grandeur are so similar, and many of our people have ancestry from Scotkland and the highland clearances. Gaelic is still spoken in areas here.
    I haven’t seen heather growing wild since I visited some offshore islands in St.Margaret’s Bayas a teenager. I wish I still had the lovely soft sage green Harris Tweed hacking jacket I had as a young woman – gave it away when I got too long in the teeth to ride safely!!!
    BTW I love that book on native trees of the British Isles you sent among the giveaway goodies and salivate after more tablet!!

    • dancingbeastie permalink
      August 22, 2010 10:57 pm

      So glad you’re enjoying the book, Janet. I have heard that there are more Gaelic speakers in North America than there are in Scotland these days. Our boys are taught it at school, but it’s rare as a first language now. There has certainly been a revival of interest in it in recent years, however, and also in the Scottish diaspora: we are well aware of the links with Nova Scotia, not least through traditional music.

      Must admit that I’m glad we don’t have coyotes to contend with! Although there is talk of re-introducing wolves to the Highlands. Wonder if orange sheep are orange-flavoured…?

  8. February 23, 2011 8:30 am

    wow. it’s simply stunning.

  9. July 7, 2011 5:02 pm

    That Was Soooooo Funny!!!!!!!! I love it!:) That must be really weird, seeing all those orange sheep! I wonder how they like being orange, they don’t seem to mind to much! Who can tell!

  10. June 11, 2014 10:28 pm

    Your landscape photos are making me quite homesick. I am a Fifer who was living in Argyll for the past decade and just moved, eight months ago, to live in Pennsylvania. Except for the Poconos, this landscape is flat as the proverbial pancake (or bannock!) and instead of living in a rural setting I am not in the suburbs to boot. I am missing the heather, the gorse and the lichen covered trees of home. Your photos reminded me of what I already knew when I left Argyll – I will never live anywhere more beautiful than Scotland. *Wistful sigh*

    • June 15, 2014 11:20 pm

      Hi Papict, thanks for visiting! I admire you for taking the big step of emigrating with your family. I reckon it takes two years to settle into a new area, so I’m not surprised that you are still homesick for Scotland, even if the change had been a smaller one. I hope that the flat suburbs of PA begin to reveal their charms to you soon! Meanwhile there is always Dancing Beastie for your fix of rural Scotland. 🙂


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