Shetland: Burrastow House

“On the remote west side of Shetland you can find spectacular scenery, peace and the ideal refuge for the escapist. The guest house welcomes you with peat fires, a cosy library and all the marvellous food you could want after a day of exploring….” This is Burrastow House , near Walls.

Burrastow House from the front garden

The house is right next to the sea. Here’s a view across the bay.

Burrastow House from the beach

Around the back is a vegetable garden and polytunnel with herbs in. Here’s the view from the back. See all the chimneys!

Burrastow House from the vegetable garden

And here’s another view from the front garden.

Burrastow House from the garden, near the wall.

Here is work in progress on these pictures.

All pictures drawn and coloured on location, using a paper block by Saunders Waterford “St Cuthberts Mill” 300gsm Hot Press and Daniel Smith Watercolours over De Atramentis waterproof ink.

Thank you to my hosts, Pierre and Han.

Shetland: sea and hills

Here is the view from the Historic Site near Pinhoulland.

Voe of Browland from the Historic Site

The lines on the right are a mussel farm. Here is another sketch from the same place. Here you can see the cottages in the distance, near the Bridge of Walls.

Voe of Browland, distant cottages

Further towards the sea, the view widens out. Here is the view from another walk, looking towards the island of Vaila.

Looking to Vaila, from the Nettle Beach.

I drew this having scrambled up the hill. Four hikers had arrived, and were on the beach. Four people seemed like a huge number, a crowd, more people together than I had seen in a week.

Shetland: Foula on the horizon

Here is a sketch of the mysterious island of Foula.

Foula on the horizon

Foula is about 20 miles away from Shetland Mainland, so it hovers on the horizon, often with its own special cloud.

This is a view from the Virda Stane, which is at the top of a hill. It’s a rare view: normally at this stage on the walk I would hunkered down on the East side of the stone, with its bulk sheltering me from the howling West wind. However on this particular day, there was eerily little wind. So I could sit on the West side, and observe Foula, before it disappeared in the fog.

Shetland: Rocks and Headlands

On a long walk to Footabrough, I paused to do a drawing of a distant headland.

From Uskie Geo

The drawing shows the West corner of the island of Vaila, with the wonderfully named “Stack of the Cuillan”, which are the rocks forming a small island at the base of the cliffs. In the distance is a headland. The question is: what is the headland?

When I was drawing it, I thought it must be Skelda Ness, some 6 or 7 km away. But that might be hidden behind Vaila. So is that distant headland Sumburgh Head, 25km away?

It occurred to me that the phone might know. I have the OS Maps app. But evidently it didn’t think I was interested in any feature so far away.

Screenshot from the OS Maps App. It helpfully identifies the local features, but not the distant headland.
150 degrees bearing from where I drew the picture.

However it did give me the bearing: 149 degrees, as you see. So now back in London I can use my old school protractor.

It’s Sumburgh Head in the picture. I’m glad we sorted that out!

Further on towards Footabrough are the Skerries of Easter Paill.

Skerries of Easter Paill, drawn on location.

The word “Easter” here does not relate to the Christian festival, but to the fact that these small islands are the ones on the East. I guess this implies there must be a “Wester Paill” somewhere but I haven’t found it.

I drew this on location in my sketchbook.

The waves are done with watercolour resist. The resist is a kind of rubber solution a bit like Typex. The air was somewhat damp, despite the fine weather. I applied the resist before the paint was entirely dry, and then the resist didn’t dry properly either. I walked along for while with the sketchbook open, flapping it, much to the consternation of nearby terns. Then the terrain became more complicated, and too rocky to scramble over carrying an open sketchbook in one hand. I sat down on a stone and rubbed the resist off, which reveals the white bits. I was pleased with the result, obtained even in these adverse conditions. The product I was using is “Schminke Rubbelkrepp neutral”, in a tiny 20ml jar, applied with a brush.

In the evening I had another go, this time trying to describe also the brilliant light of the day, and the clarity of the water, as well as the pointedness of the rocks, and their regular angles.

Skerries of Easter Paill, drawn at my desk, based on the sketch on location.

On another walk, I drew the headlands of Mucklure.

The dark is terrifyingly black, and the glitter from the sea is blindingly bright. It’s impossible to draw. But it’s so arrestingly beautiful that I had to have a go.

This scenery demands to be drawn.

Here are some blog posts from previous expeditions to Shetland. You can also see a collection of Shetland Landscapes (2017) on this link.

Shetland: Towards Vaila

There’s a beach near Burrastow that looks towards the Island of Vaila. Here’s a sketch I made from the cliffs above the beach. Those cliffs look steep and dark. The tower is a “watch tower”, I’m told, built by the Laird back in the day (1700s) to watch over his fishing operations. The story I … Continue reading “Shetland: Towards Vaila”

Shetland landscapes

Here is a collection of landscapes all done directly in watercolour with no pen and ink. I am using Daniel Smith Watercolours, and trying different mixing combinations. All of these pictures are done with three or fewer colours, alone or mixed together. It seems to me that the fewer the better. The picture hangs together … Continue reading “Shetland landscapes”

Here’s another attempt at the skerries of Easter Paill:

Shetland: Roads in a landscape

Roads in Shetland trace three-dimensional calligraphy across the landscape. On the West Side, the hills are undulating. The roads loop to and fro, taking a route that yields to the contour, but is not dictated by it. On every visit I try to draw these roads.

Here is a bend in the road. I was walking back from Walls with my groceries. I paused to rest, and draw the route I had just walked. The town of Walls, with its famous Post Office and Shop, is close, but it is not just over the hill you can see, much as you might like it to be when you are walking there. There is yet one more hill after that, and only then you descend to Walls.

A bend in the road: looking towards Walls.

The hill in my drawing, where the road disappears, is owned by the terns. They see you coming and get organised into squadrons. Then as you reach the brow of the hill they start launching themselves at you, in regular swoops, screeching to terrify you. I was there towards the end of the tern season. But they were defending their hill to the end. I feel like an intruder, and walk fast until they are well behind me.

Here is my running route.

Dale -> Walls road, looking east towards Walls

A section of this road falls within the territory of the curlew. He has a different technique from the terns. Rather than terrify you, the curlew’s idea is to entice you away. He flies overhead, making a piping sound, a clear note repeated three times. Having thus secured your attention, he then flies ahead, as much as to say “come this way”. He then courageously lands on the road, and looks conspicuous: “Come and get me!” As you approach, he might bounce up the road a few times, until he is sure you are properly out of his protectorate. Then he goes back home, job done.

Here is another view from the Walls road, not far from the bend in the first drawing. Walking back from Walls, I was arrested by a bright view of the sea, and an array of colours from the flowers. There was a formidable wind blowing. But I had a go. Ten minutes in, the skies darkened, the temperature dropped. I just managed to get my art materials back inside my waterproof rucksack before the rain came down. Welcome to Shetland.

Shetland landscapes

Here is a collection of landscapes all done directly in watercolour with no pen and ink. I am using Daniel Smith Watercolours, and trying different mixing combinations. All of these pictures are done with three or fewer colours, alone or mixed together. It seems to me that the fewer the better. The picture hangs together better if I don’t use many colours. And it’s faster.

Click the picture to expand it.

Shetland 2019 – pen and wash


Here are some pictures I drew in pen and wash.

I spent a lot of time drawing rocks.

Rocks off Burrastow

The rocks are overwhelming in their detail. Not every thing I saw is in the picture. But every thing in the picture, I saw.



Here are some pictures I drew on the journey going back South:

From the bus stop in Walls

And another one, really quick sketches:

Another sketch from the bus stop in Walls

And here’s a sketch I did looking out of the window from my cabin on the boat.


I sent a copy of this to PS, a magical person I met on Shetland. I was thrilled when she replied with a letter and a chart identifying the buildings:

Letter from PS.

On my next visit I shall walk over there and take a look.

Shetland, Historic site walk

IMG_3182The wooden sign from the main road said “Historic Site”, and pointed up a small road that lead steeply uphill. I was on my morning run and felt energetic, so I set off up there, keen to see the Historic Site. In Shetland, Historic Sites are often at the top of hills.

At the top of the first hill, there was no Historic Site, but a view of the next summit. I carried on. At the second summit there was no Historic Site either, just undulating hills in all directions. I was disheartened. I was also a long way from home base.

I turned around. In the distance was the island of Foula, which lurks on the horizon, looking menacing. Usually it’s seen across the sea. But from that second summit, Foula hovered above the green hills, too large,  too grey, too abrupt in its cliffs. As I started running back downhill, Foula sank reluctantly, until it disappeared below the horizon and all around was again soft green hills, and sheep.

The next day I resolved to find the Historic Site. I went on a mega-walk. Here is my route:


You see marked the “Germattwatt Café” where I stopped on the way.


I found the Historic Site which, against all expectations and precedent, was not at the top of any hill, but low down. near the sea, on a promontory, and near a fishing lake. There were low ancient walls, and the distinctive patterns of undulations that indicate a dwelling, property divisions, field boundaries.

In tribute to the wisdom of the ancestors who chose this place I stopped a while. There was a good view up and down the estuary. Good fishing was to be had, both freshwater in the lake, and salt water in the sea. Such fishing was still being had. In the sea was the fish farm and the mussel farm. I drew a picture:


You see the stones of the Historic Site in the foreground. In the distance the “A971” makes its way East at the foot of the hill. The lines in the sea are the mussel farm. The high hill is  the Ward of Browland. Here’s the Ordnance Survey Map. The arrow shows the direction I was looking when drawing the picture.

Screen Shot 2019-08-27 at 16.30.38

Then I walked on, following the sea. Here’s a drawing near the “pier” circled in red on the map.

The whole walk was 22km, and took 8 hours, including two hours of stops for drawing, refreshment and looking at the view.



Experiments with colour: sci-fi landscapes

Yesterday I was experimenting with Daniel Smith watercolours. The aim was to get a really good deep black with just two colours.


The Perinone Orange with Prussian Blue is particularly magic. Two quite pale colours suddenly combine to a carbon black. It’s like watching a chemical process. Although it is, of course, a physical process. These two colours are complementary, and together they absorb all the visible spectrum. Impressive.

I did other experiments:

Then I had a lot of colours left in the mixing tray. I didn’t want to throw them away, they looked so lovely and jewel-like in the mixing tray. So I made some sci-fi landscapes.

The watercolour experiments were in a Khadi sketchbook. The Sci-fi landscapes in a Carnet de Voyages, by Arches.

Shetland, July 2018

Shetland is a place of sky and water. I was working on reflections.

Here are reflections of rocks:

Here’s one that is almost abstract. Perhaps it reflects a mood.


The rocks round Burrastow each have a skirt of yellow and brown seaweed. So does the pier. There are lobsters down there.


I am using a new paintbox and experimenting with the colours.


You see the brown seaweed on the shore.

The island of Foula is sometimes visible from nearby cliffs. It is about 20 miles away, so it floats on the horizon. Foula is a mysterious place.


Here is another picture of Foula. The island disappeared while I was making these photos of my painting things.

I walked to Footabrough. Here’s the route, and some pictures of Footabrough.

On the way, there is a lagoon where the seals live. The arrow on the map shows the direction of the view in this drawing. The weird dots on the map are because I drew it on the left hand page of the sketchbook. I’d previously used that left-hand page to try out colours (see photo below). Note I am wearing gloves. This is July, in Shetland.

Here are the headlands north of Footabrough. They have marvellous names: Knowe of Banascord, The Hamar and West Stack, Gerdipaddle, Skerries of Watsness. The picture is from Braganess, south of Footabrough.

Headlands north of Footabrough

This is a characteristic Shetland scene. It shows the remembered view across the Weisdale Voe.IMG_2909

As you see, there was a lot of wind and fine rain. Here are some local drawings around Burrastow (click to enlarge).

On the way to Burrastow I stayed in my favourite Shetland B&B: Hayhoull, in Bigton in South Mainland. It is right next to the amazing St Ninian’s Isle, which is connected to the Mainland by a strip of sand.

On this trip I also did quick sketches using pen and ink. Each of these takes about 10-20 minutes.

These pen sketches are done in the Travelers Company Sketchbook. The other sketchbook I used, shown in some of the photos in this article,  is the Seawhite Watercolour Journal. I also did some drawings on a thick spiral pad from Jacksons Art Supplies. All watercolours are Daniel Smith, from Watercolour Box 3, July 2019.


Mostly I use just one brush, the marvellous L. Cornelissen 1855 Kolinsky No. 12.

Cornelissen brush and water pot, on beach near St Ninian’s.

I stay in Burrastow, near Walls on the West Mainland.