After the epic Footsteps of Turner tour, I realised that I had broadly travelled nearly half the English coastline in one go…
Although I was still missing a few significant areas in between which I was determined to make up and join to the rest of my work, I also needed a change…
The paintings in this gallery show the second painting tour of that year, after Snowdonia, and took me to the West Coast of Ireland. It was a chance to see the landscape that inspired the wonderful Paul Henry, among many other notable artists – actually I was also starting to really enjoy painting the type of countryside that both North Wales and the West Coast of Ireland have in common, so two trips in one year were a bonus to me.
The first location near Lough Conn was a bit less than inspiring, if truth be known, since it was hard to get started: both views and weather difficult to grapple with. That was compounded by the fact that I prefer to have something local to paint for the start of the day, walking to a location rather than just charging off on the motorbike towards the scenery. Here I was halfway up a hill, on a barely-beaten track; eventually, this gave me a couple of decent views of Lough Cullin in the morning mist, but to start with it was a walk of a couple of miles of uncertain rocky track, under flat grey skies until I reached the main road; and then a series of blind bends meant that I crossed the road repeatedly, and climbed the verges to avoid the speeding traffic. The inn at the foot of the lough I’d seen when we arrived turned out to be closed down – so much for breakfast, then – and journeying any further around the edge of Lough Cullin left me at risk of heading straight for the scene of a potential traffic accident.
Journeys by bike became mandatory. Sometimes it is just a matter of getting back in harness, so to speak, since I really should be used to uncertainty in landscape painting: just grab the gaps in the weather and get on with it and take care not to stuff the bike into the scenery on the tricky descent of the hillside and its rutted path to the road.
Lough Conn itself proved elusive, too – I knew where it was and it was definitely there, but catching a glimpse of it required a trip around the entire lake, before I could see it through the trees. I realised that I should have come in Autumn!
Attacked by swarms of midges, gnats or similar black fly near the aptly named Black Bog ot similar, left my arms and face covered in itchy lumps and did little to endear me to the area, especially when combined with a fever that kept me in bed for the days when I should have been out working. It’s always a problem of balance, since the place you stay at is booked no matter what and you have to endure whatever comes at you or risk getting no pictures completed in the time remaining. I couldn’t wait for my next stop on the trip…
Belmullet was where I was bound, whilst Pauline went off to visit family in Donegal in the car. It was the first trip I have undertaken ‘in convoy’, so I was glad to lose that slightly stressful side of things and get back out on my own again.
A wild and windswept peninsula, away over on the West Coast, Belmullet is as much like an island as it is possible to be whilst still nominally connected by an isthmus. Low-lying and flat for the most part, my host luckily had included the word ‘trees’ in her description of how to find her house – there are few trees on Belmullet and she might have have had the lot; it certainly narrowed the search down along the long and largely empty main road across the peninsula, since ‘addresses’ were of little use.
Belmullet House at Dawn
Left to my own devices now, I set out to explore the ‘island’. Of course, no sooner had I packed the bike, noisily warmed it up for five minutes outside the house and then set off down the short track to the road, than I found myself looking at my first view of the day – before even reaching the road. So, I immediately parked, unpacked and painted the neighbour’s adjacent house, as it was lit by the dawn light. That’s the sort of start that puts a painter in the right mood for the rest of the day!
I set off for the nearest extremity of Belmullet, taking advantage of the fine weather that appeared for the morning. Side turnings that looked promising I’d follow until they revealed a view, or left me with the uneasy feeling that as the track narrowed I’d be left facing downhill with the unenviable task of trying to turn around without sufficient space (bikes don’t generally have a reverse gear!) and I’d explore elsewhere. Eventually I found myself at the top edge looking across to the mainland, a white lighthouse in the foreground and the soft roar of the Atlantic across to my left as it broke onto the shoreline below.
Somehow, I had also manged to lose my binoculars. Not an expensive pair, I’d picked them up for a fiver on the Kent leg of the Turner Tour at a petrol station, but I had grown used to their ability to help me out with establishing a view. Back I skated on the bike along the newly resurfaced road from Ballyglass, but they had disappeared into the roadside undergrowth somewhere along the way, leaving me feeling slightly bereft at their loss.
Distant Hills – Belmullet
I noticed after a couple of pictures that many of the interesting views on Belmullet were actually of somewhere else – Belmullet just set the scene. It could be the hills of the mainland opposite or, looking south, the Isle of Achill over the water. I’d wanted to visit Achill, but apart from an afternoon visit with Pauline to break the cycle of gloom that had overtaken me at Lough Conn, there seemed little prospect of a decent visit.
Despite the gloomy weather, I felt far more relaxed on Belmullet and rode up and down the peninsula trying to catch whatever showed up to take my eye, no matter what the prospect. As my mood improved I felt imbued with the spirit, if not the ability, of the great Paul Hanry whose views of Ireland, with the white cottages and billowing clouds rising above the looming hillsides filled me with such pleasure…
Of course, the weather was there to keep me in check. Painting in glorious sunshine, or at least not flat, grey overcast, one minute, the next could find me soaked from head to toe – invariably at the point where I was farthest from home. One such trip was to the southern-most point to gaze across at Achill Island. Even as I started to draw, the rain was coming in, making the paper in the Moleskine sketchbook delaminate (it has a yellow surface colour) if I had to rub out anything and slightly complicating the mark-making – not always for the worse (see below – with ‘yellow’ tone removed), but just one more thing…
The journey across Belmullet had given me the chance to capture several views in pencil and paint, snapshots of the lakes and bogs, peatfields and white houses galore, whilst above me loomed the presence of heavy rain. But undeterred, I carried on painting, relying on my sense of timing to give me time to pack and depart.
Until, that is, I left it too left. The skies broke, the rain poured down and within ten minutes or so, I was soaked through. Through my waterproofs, through my leathers, through everything, in fact. And it didn’t stop just because I was wet, it kept going with no sign of stopping. My helmet was letting-by too, so water was streaming down the inside of the visor and opening it to dry my glasses did not improve matters. I set off blindly and took a wrong turn that required that I turn back and inch my way to a familiar piece of road. Still, it poured. I opened my visor for another pointless attempts to clean my glasses – only to find that I wasn’t wearing them! I’d put them in my pocket for a moment at the last stop and set off without them – that explained something. Still, it put me in a better mood to endure the ride home…
The next stopover was where Pauline and I met up again, in Cliffony – a pleasant enough bike ride from Belmullet, to a little granny-flat house annex off a blind side-turning from a main road; always an invigorating challenge when setting out on a morning road-trip! My approach to the area had been marked by my first sight of the magnificent range of the Leitrim Hills arrayed along my route, so I already had something that I knew I wanted to paint. As it turned out, they were the backdrop to our stopover, with the sea prospect just ahead. Result!
It’s funny looking back at the copies of the work on the computer, as it seems that I did almost no drawing on this leg of the trip and concentrated on painting instead. Although painting is always the object of the exercise, drawings usually indicate the lack of good weather on a trip…
Once an artist ‘gets their eye-in’ on a location, the paintings just don’t seem to stop. Despite deciding that ‘just up in the hills’ was the obvious next place to go, the picture of the cattle descending the hillside, with the Leitrim hills in the background, led immediately to the view just across the road, of the sea washing in to the sheep-dotted headlands below. Since these two had given me the ‘perfect three’ I like to achieve when I am out working, I usually knock-off with a certain smug satisfaction at this point and start wondering what the local pub/chip-shop or similar gastronomic experience will be for the coming evening…
But the Leitrim Hills wouldn’t go away, so off I went to find out more. Looming overhead they offered the perfect blend of picturesque drama towering above, no matter which direction I approached them from.
The Sentinal – Cliffony
Livestock and telegraph poles in the foreground offer a great sense of perspective and motion in a picture – something that I’d become aware of when painting in Wales, a place with plenty of sheep and poles to go around. The magnificence of the hills behind only served to re-inforce their dominance of the landscape.
Achill Island from Belmullet
The final leg of the tour was a short last-minute stopover on Achill Island. A proper island this time too, of windswept, rainswept beauty with towering hills rising above the peatlands below. Though probably considerably more built up than when Paul Henry visited, the white houses still dot the land evocatively, that testimony to the hardiness of folks prepared to live anywhere and stake their claim. Pauline and I had taken in a flying visit to Achill when we were stopped at Lough Conn and caught the island in a rare moment of sunshine, and I’d seen it at dawn from Belmullet, so I knew that it was possible to have good weather. In theory, at least…
A Moment of Sunshine on Keel Beach – Achill Island
I arrived in pouring rain, to be greeted by my host as I dripped on the carpet and pointed in the vague direction of a local pub, to find something warming to eat. Almost impossible to see through my leaking visor as the rain lashed down, I finally stumbled upon a pub, probably the pub, but to be honest any pub would do by that point. There I was served ‘Chicken Curry – with scones’ a hitherto unimagined local delicacy, at least to me. That’s right, chicken curry, as once made in England in the late 50’s: chicken stew plus added teaspoon of curry powder, plus scones. Different. Being on the bike of course, I resisted any drinks and tried not to enjoy myself too much!
With the trip to Achill squeezed in at the last minute, two days before I was due to return home, I had my work cut out to discover what I was hoping to find. And render it in paint as well. And keep dry.
Dawn on the Sound
As it happened, I found my first view almost outside the door in the morning. In fact, it took longer to warm up the bike than to actually walk to the place. It was only that I looked back over my shoulder as I headed out to explore the island that I happened to see it, wheeled about and got stuck in to an evocative view across the sound on a half-panel. Though the skies promised little respite from the rough weather of the day before, it wasn’t actually raining yet, so I set down the view fairly rapidly.
Once I’d finished, I started up again, travelled all of a couple of hundred yards and then stopped to paint a 10×12″ looking across the sound itself, with the hills of the mainland in the distance. From the biker’s perspective it can be a real pain hop-skipping across the countryside, I just had to remind myself that it was really about the paintings…
Overloooking Keel – Achill Island
Everywhere the artist is surrounded by stark beauty, with picturesque images available at every turn. Since my time was limited though, I really had to make the most of it, and yet still had to choose whether to stop and paint the first thing that assailed me or assume that something better will arrive just around the next bend. I took to the road again, crossing around the top of the island, past the pub of doom and followed the road around to Keep at the foot of the hills. I’d glimpsed a lovely view of Keel and the cliffs from up above and on finding that it diminished in impressiveness as I approached, just grabbed lunch materials froma local bakery and headed back up the hill to paint from where I’d first seen it. Unlike my previous visit to Keel, the sun was more of a distant memory this time…
Long Drop – Achill Bay
With so little time left, for my final day I set to around the south of Achill to paint anything that struck me on my travels. With each stop, the grandeur of the hills and the starkness of the landscape impressed on me the beauty of this bare outcrop perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.
White House – Achill Island
White houses perched on misty hills, waves crashing onto the rocks below, it was all starting to come together just as my time was shortening. My departure was due for that night, around 11.30pm, to catch the ferry from Dublin in the morning – having teamed up again with Pauline along the way. That meant re-fuelling before I set out, as well as an uncertain fuel situation as I headed to the West, since rural Ireland may not be running on the same schedula as myself, at 3am or so…
South on Achill
The all-night ride across the country was an adventure in itself and that only got me as far as Dublin; for the subsequent journey through mid-Wales and then back to London, you will have to wait until you read the diaries of the trip at the exhibition…