This is my favourite time of year, and has been for as long as I can remember. Autumn at its best can deliver bright, crisp, sunny days, times when you feel a need to be outdoors, kicking up golden leaves, breathing in, and simply being.
And in more recent years, autumn has sometimes brought with it another treat for me and my husband: a trip to Inversnaid, or, more specifically, the Inversnaid Photography Centre.
If you type 'Inversnaid' into Google Maps, you will see that this tiny hamlet is in the middle of nowhere, about half-way up the eastern shore of Loch Lomond. It is actually at the end of a 15-mile cul-de-sac, which begins in Aberfoyle and then travels along a narrow, winding, undulating road, along the banks of several lochs and through stunning areas of woodland.
View from the eastern end of Loch Arklet, looking west towards Inversnaid
For nearly 25 years, André Goulancourt and Linda Middleton, ably assisted by Ian King, ran residential photography workshops with some of the country's best photographers, from their home, Inversnaid Lodge, a beautifully-restored, 18th century hunting lodge. My husband participated in several of these workshops, before becoming a tutor there himself. And - luckily for me - non-participating partners were made very welcome...!
My memories of Inversnaid are pretty unusual, as they're from the perspective of someone who hasn't participated in the workshops themselves. But this gave me a wonderful opportunity to explore the area in depth, and to come to know and love it.
Whichever way you walk from the Lodge, you end up in beautiful walking country. Head down to Loch Lomond, and you can walk a section of the West Highland Way. My favourite stretch of this walk takes me south, into a dense area of woodland which allows for only limited, dappled light, and where many of the trees are covered in delicate lichens. There is a stillness and a quiet here which is absolutely magical.
Looking west across Loch Lomond from Inversnaid
At my most energetic, I love the walk along Loch Arklet, up and around Loch Katrine, where the plaintive cry of the buzzard provides a haunting soundtrack. Whenever I've done this walk, I've always had to keep my eye on the time: I've covered as much as 14 miles in a day, pausing frequently to watch the birds or to enjoy my packed lunch. And my greatest fear has always been that I won't be back at the Lodge in time for dinner: ask anyone who has experienced Inversnaid, and they're bound to mention Linda's delicious home-cooking!
Loch Katrine at sunrise: not my favourite time of day, but very pretty.
And what of the Lodge itself? It is beautiful and cosy, and many of the rooms look straight over towards Loch Lomond. But I suppose the real measure of any home is the people living in it. For that reason, you couldn't hope for a warmer atmosphere than you find here. It really is one of those places where you arrive as a stranger and leave as a friend.
For so many reasons, the arrival of autumn always makes me yearn to be back in Inversnaid. And that feeling is given an increased intensity this year, because sadly it seems very likely that the days of photography workshops there are over now, after an impressive 24 years. (This, incidentally, gives my husband the rather melancholy distinction of having run the last one ever!)
All good things must come to an end, of course, and nobody who knows how much energy and effort has gone into the running of the Photography Centre will blame Linda or André for deciding to slow down a little.
Of course, my beloved path through the woods on the edge of Loch Lomond will still be there, and the fieldfares will return, to strip the rowan bushes of their berries and to set the sky alive in their chack-chack-ing, silvered flocks. These things will remain. But the atmosphere and warmth of the Inversnaid experience itself, the laughter and the friendship we all shared, can never be recreated. That will have to live in memory alone. But what memories..!
If you've been a fairly regular reader of this blog, you'll realise that music is a fundamental part of my existence. And if there is one piece of music which is guaranteed to bring the sensation of Inversnaid flooding back in all its loveliness, it is 'Soltarlo' by Claudia Gomez. I can picture myself in front of the fire in the sitting room, with a book and a pre-dinner drink, refreshed and happy after a long walk along country lanes in glorious, chilly sunshine. This is where I was when I first heard this song, and it never fails to transport me straight back to that blissful moment.
Silver birch at Inversnaid - handsome in its autumn livery!
I would like to dedicate this post, with much love, to Lin, André and Ian for the unfailing warmth of their welcome and their friendship over the years, for their tireless attention to detail, and for the magic they created for everyone privileged enough to have walked through the door of Inversnaid Lodge.
All photography copyright David Taylor Photography