Blue hills and orange sheep: the Highlands in full colour
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.
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!