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.





Acrylic and linen on a deep cradled panel, 40 x 40 x 5.5 cm, 2022

This one has the Gaelic words for waterlily scratched into the paint, and a patch of linen underneath. Duilleag-bhaite which means drowned leaf, and bhan is white. I am fascinated by the idea of a wilderness full of lily ponds. Of the hummocky glaciated ground and the Lewisian Gneiss under it riddled with dyke swarms in straight lines, lochans and small hills and pockets of bog. I am also trying to make brush marks which fly over the surface, using the brush taped to a cane much more lightly than I have before.


Acrylic and gold mica flakes on canvas, 61 x 61 x 4 cm, 2022

This is one of those paintings that looked gorgeous when just finished and then the next day flat and boring, So I had to work on it with layers of glazing on some more translucent blues – pthalo, ultramarine, and deep Australian blue – with some black too. and then the gold mica flakes are specks floating on the surface.

In Assynt in the summer the many little lakes (lochan) on the hummocky Lewisian Gneiss are full of wild waterlilies.


Acrylic and linen on canvas, 2022, 50 x 50 cm.

There is a lot going on under the top layers of paint in this one, a rectangular piece of raw linen over previous layers … and then the top layer itself is quite three-dimensional, thick and thin, skimming over the surface and then stopping in lumps and squiggles. The final brush marks done with a small brush taped to a bamboo cane, to try to let the brush fly over the canvas. Suggesting water surface and light in some sort of homage to Monet’s Nympheas.



Acrylic, plastic item from the beach, paper, on canvas, 50 x 50 cm, 2022

I am aware that the waterlily theme must refer in some way to Monet’s great paintings in the Orangerie in Paris, and his oil sketches too, though I am not thinking of them. the shimmer of light on water, the shivery brush marks and skidding paint are most reminiscent in this one, though my palette is different. Golden lily is scratched into the gold paint at the top, and duilleag-bhaite bhuide, (yellow waterlily) down the side.