2nd October 2020

Culture / Featured / Outdoors / Imogen Bole

The Great Outdoors: An artist’s impression.

138 6 mins 7

EExplore the unbridled beauty of the Scottish landscape through the masterpieces of JMW Turner, as we retrace the sites from his many tours across the spectacular country.

JMW Turner is one of Britain’s most celebrated artists and an icon of nineteenth-century Romanticism. Taking inspiration from the natural world to capture the sublime, the picturesque, and the pastoral, Turner sought out sites of untamed wilderness where natural drama converged with awe-inspiring topography. For such an undertaking, Scotland was his perfect muse, and he Scotland’s most-suited illustrator: Turner’s characteristic loose, swirling brushwork and his atmospheric use of light and colour captured perfectly Nature’s ungovernable hold over the Scottish landscape.

Turner visited Scotland six times between 1797 and 1834. And you are invited to ramble down these very same paths of discovery, along which you’ll pass ruined abbeys, possessed waters, beguiling caves, and man-made wonders. Some sites you can venture into; others you must appreciate from Turner’s distanced viewpoint. Wherever you go, you’ll be drawn into a new imagining of Scotland: an artist’s impression.


Loch Coruisk, 1831 – Isle of Skye

Tuner visited Loch Coruisk in 1831 on a commission for Sir Walter Scott’s poetical work, Lord of the Isles. To follow in his footsteps, meander along the Scavaig River up to the loch and scale the mighty Sgurr na Stri. From there, bask in the most spectacular vista of Coruisk and the surrounding Cullin Mountains. Like Turner, you’ll see how the serried ranks of petrean giants guard Loch Coruisk, fortress-like in their scale, structure, and near impossibility to surmount. 

So challenging is this mountainous stretch that it was deemed a suitable training ground for the legendary Ulster warrior, Cú Chulainn. And think twice about swimming in Coruisk, for in it lurks Scotland’s mythical water-horse, the kelpie, that drags weary travellers to the water’s depths.


Dryburgh Abbey, 1832 – Melrose 

Little did Turner know that about a month after first sketching this place, his commissioner, Sir Walter Scott, would be laid to rest on these unstirring grounds.

Dryburgh Abbey is a haunting twelfth-century relic of Gothic majesty on the bank of the River Tweed. Visit Scott’s tomb as well as the abbey’s magnificent Chapterhouse – one of the best-preserved monastic outhouses in the UK.

As is the custom with ancient buildings, this abbey possesses its own spirit that haunts its passageways: Fat Lips is the Goblin companion of a woman hermit who once resided there. Having gone mad after losing her lover in the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion, the woman confined herself to a cold, damp cell in the deserted abbey. Only Fat Lips kept her company, supposedly, treading down the damp from the floor with his great, iron boots.


Bell Rock Lighthouse, 1819 – Angus 

It is a little-known fact that the great Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, descended from engineering royalty. The ‘Lighthouse Stevensons’ dynasty is responsible for not only shaping the Scottish coastline, but building the Muckle Flagga lighthouse on Unst – the place that inspired the Treasure Island map.

Bell Rock Lighthouse was designed by the author’s grandfather (also Robert), who commissioned the illustration in 1819, which Turner mastered based solely on the lighthouse designs and a vivid description of a blustery night spent there in a storm.

Today, out on its craggy reef, Bell Rock stands as the oldest surviving offshore lighthouse in the entire world.


Fingal’s Cave, 1831 – Isle of Staffa, Inner Hebrides

Curiously, just over the North Channel, you’ll find identical basalt columns in Northern Ireland at the Giant’s Causeway. And this, geologists claim, is because the two natural wonders were the result of a huge lava flow over 60 million years ago that left them connected by a sedimentary bridge. Though the bridge has since collapsed, the sites remain united through the legendary tale of the rival giants, Finn MacCool and Benandonner.

Recreating Turner’s voyage in 1831 will include taking a boat from Tobermory and approaching the cave on the uninhabited island of Staffa from the south.

Many today have never heard of Fingal’s Cave (or Uamh-Binn, the ‘cave of melody’), but after visits from Turner, Wordsworth, Keats, Jules Verne, and even Queen Victoria, at one time, Fingal’s Cave saw 300 passengers a week arriving on paddle steamers for a mere glimpse of its splendour.


Falls of Clyde, 1801 – New Lanark 

Turner visited the Falls of Clyde in 1801 on an extended tour of Northern England and Scotland, the studies from which were dubbed the ‘Scottish Pencils’ by Ruskin.

The Falls of Clyde comprise four mesmeric linn (‘waterfalls’), of which Corra Linn is widely considered the finest – it was later immortalised in Wordsworth’s
Composed at Cora Linn.


Overlooking Cora Linn stand the ruins of the Bonnington Pavilion (or the Hall of Mirrors), which, when built, in 1708, was fitted with angled mirrors that gave the spectator the impression of being immersed in the falls. Follow the flow of Cora Linn downstream and you’ll find a cave said to be the hiding-place of William Wallace after he had slain the English sheriff, Haselrig.

The Scottish National Gallery hosts a free annual exhibition, ‘Turner in January’, which showcases 38 of Turner’s most spectacular watercolours from the Vaughan Bequest Collection for the public to admire.

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Imogen Bole

Imogen Bole is a freelance arts and travel writer. When she’s not looking wistfully off into the distance, she writes articles.She grew up in Surrey and hasn’t managed to escape just yet. But, she has lived in Spain and Argentina to spice up the shire existence.Imogen wears a lot of burgundy, reads second-hand books, walks long distances for no reason, listens to willfully pretentious audiobooks, and prefers limes to lemons - always.

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