Assynt (pronounced with the accent on the first syllable) is a parish in the Scottish Highlands, in the remote North West, on the coast opposite the Hebridean islands of Lewis and Harris. It is remarkable for its geology, and the great isolated hills or inselbergs of Quinag, Canisp, Suilven, Stacpollaidh, and Cul Mor , which stand out, each a different shape depending on where you see them from.

this is Quinag, seen from the lodge at Kylesku where we stayed in late April this year (2022)

As with all the Gaelic speaking Highlands, each small place – hill,  hummock,  little lake (lochan),  track, summer grazing – once had its name and story, before the Highland clearances when new money, derived from the proceeds of the slave trade and connected industries, and seeking the respectability of property ownership, came in and land was seen as a mere resource to be used for the creation of more wealth, or a rich man’s playground for hunting. After the tenants/peasants were cleared off the land much of this naming was lost, but some has remained in memory, tradition and records kept by map makers.

These paintings are inspired by the depth of story in this landscape, in deep time, geology, flora and fauna, and in more recent time, the history of its people.

If you go to my blog (link at the top, and look for titles that contain the word Assynt, or Waterlily lochan), you will find much more detail about the place itself.

GLOSSARY of Scots Gaelic (Gàidhlig, pronounced ‘gaa-lik’) words involved in place names

ACHAD – a field

ALLT –  a stream

BÀTHAICH – byre, shed or stable for livestock

BEALACH – pass between two mountain peaks

BHUIDHE – yellow

BRADHAN – quern(stone)

CHORNAIDH or cornadh curl/fold’ (possibly) or the stony place.

CHOIRE – corrie (horseshoe-shaped valley which is formed through erosion by ice or glaciers. Corries are north-facing, away from the sun which stops the ice from melting. As snow and ice build-up, the underlying rock is eroded.)

CUINEAG – milking pail

GARBH – rough

GHORM – blue

GNEISS – not Gaelic but the word for a very old kind of rock, pronounced “nice”.

GHUIRM – green

LOCHAN –  a small loch (lake)

MÒIRE – large

SAOBHAIDH – fox den

SÀIL  – (heel) slope

SHIELING – a summer pasture

UAMH –  cave


I have to thank Gemma Smith, whose work on the place names of Assynt can be found here on Assynt Wildlife’s website. There is much there to read if you are interested.