4×4 Sources of Writing Inspiration: Unpopulated Places

Field in Sunshine

Following on from yesterday’s post concerning the populated places in which I find writing inspiration, this post addresses the unpopulated places that get my synapses firing. Whereas yesterday, I was focusing on how people can inspire through their snippets of shared narrative, either spoken or unspoken, today I want to show how places themselves help me to become inspired through introspection. They help me to tune out all the hubbub, the voices, the demands, the deadlines, and they help me to listen to that inner voice which sometimes gets ignored.

Now, instead of giving you actual locations that I find particularly inspiring (although I’ll give you those as well!) I thought that I’d give you more generalized settings so that they can be applicable to a wider range of readers, rather than just those from the Scottish central belt!

OK, so here are my top unpopulated places where I find inspiration:

  • Beaches

Beach on Orkney Mainland

I just love to walk along the shore, listening to the water as it rushes and retreats with foam and fizz. The rhythmic quality of the waves coupled with the sand between my toes centres me in a way that I find very difficult to describe. The wide horizon of where sea meets sky raises the possibility that anything I can conceive of is indeed possible. With no visual barriers in front of me, I can begin to broaden my perception, and I can look at the bigger picture. The other thing that I just adore about visiting the beach is beachcombing. In a post back in February, The Wonder of Shells, I wrote:

There is something just so magical about strolling along the strand line, hoping for that serendipitous find. Because you never really know what you’re going to find as you work your way through the detritus washed up on the shore.

That fantastic element of beachcombing is that the connections you make between what has been washed ashore can often seem completely random, but later appear to be a part of some larger thought. Like clues scrawled in the sand, these connections can lead us to greater and grander visions. Anyway, here are a few of my favourite beaches in Scotland: Tantallon, Ceannabeinne, Balnakeil, Sanna Sands, and Yellowcraigs.

  • Waterfalls

Edge of the Waterfall

There’s just something so energising about being this close to a waterfall. The sheer power of the water as it moves from one place to another, pushing past obstacle, wearing down rock, carrying leaves, branches, stones and silt from higher up, makes me feel powerful in its presence. I feel like there is nothing that can prevent me from moving along the course I have decided upon. Any kind of writer’s block that may be holding up my progress, becomes as insubstantial as a leaf caught in the torrent of my creativity. Some of my favourite waterfalls are: the Alva Falls, the Falls of Shin, and the Bracklinn Falls.

  • Woodland

Forest Light

When I find myself deep in the woods, I can’t help but reflect upon the passage of time. The trees towering above my head, give me a sense of my own impermanance. The brevity of life, the inevitability of change, the enormity of history are all brought home to me as I walk amongst these broad trunked inhabitants of the forest. I explored this in more detail in my post Long Walk Big Thoughts, in which I wrote that:

Some of these trees began their lives in a time when my great grandparents played carefree games of hopscotch and skipping, their young limbs moving with the graceful ease of youth. These trees are still reaching for the sky, while my great grandparents only exist as fond memories recounted to my children by their great grandparents.

I suppose, in a sense, the woodlands make me look outward by giving me the impetus to look within. I am inspired to explore time, history and my own position within it. Standing beside these old old trees, the distance between me and my ancestors becomes shortened; I am closer to my roots.

  • Lochs

Sunset at Loch Lomond

As you may have noticed, 3 out of my 4 top unpopulated places for writing inspiration are closely linked to water. I don’t find this in the least surprising, as I often feel inspired when beside water. What I do find surprising, however, is that different types of water incite different types of inspiration. In the case of the beach, it was the rhythm of the waves and the infinite horizon that helped me to centre myself and lull my thought processes into contemplation. The waterfalls bring out something far more dynamic through the sheer force of the water rushing past and down. Lochs, or lakes as they are called in other countries, have a different effect again. The large body of water, enclosed by steep sided mountains, or gently rolling, green hillsides act as a pool for collection and recollection. It’s a place where I can go and find my words, and bring them home again to place upon the page. It’s a place where I can find my reflection, and in so doing, find myself. A small sample of my favourite lochs are: Loch Shin, Loch Clash, Loch Lubnaig, Loch Marree, Loch Awe, Loch Ness, Loch Lomond and Loch Achray.

What are your favourite unpopulated places for writing inspiration? Do you find your words when atop the summit of a mountain? Or do you find them while striding out across moorland? Maybe you find inspiration when the normally populated places are empty, such as the shopping mall just moments before closing time, or the concert hall pre-gig? I’d love to hear what works best for you, so do leave a comment. Oh, and make sure you come back tomorrow, when I’ll be posting about what virtual places give me inspiration.

PS This post is the 2nd in a series of 4 posts that I’m writing as a contribution towards Joanna’s group writing project. If you fancy joining in, check out her rules and prize here.


March 20, 2008. Inspiration.


  1. Karen Swim replied:

    Amy,I sat drinking in your photos and words along with my morning coffee and felt a surge of awe and connectedness. I love the water and since moving desperately miss the beach. I also find great inspiration from trees and clouds. Both stimulate me even as they give me a deep sense of calm and peace. I anxiously await tomorrow’s post. Thank you so much Amy for inspiring us all.


  2. wendikelly replied:

    Oh…..THANK YOU for starting my day with such beautiful and inspiring pictures and a lovely post. I feel as if I went on a morning vacation! I too am mostly inspired by water. I am drawn to the ocean the most, but waterfalls and the sound of trickling water would be a close second.

  3. mrschili replied:

    Beautiful. I love the idea of connecting to your own past through the trees…

  4. captainstardust replied:

    that forest photo is extraordinary… what an enchanting place!

    i find a particular magic in the moments when usually crowded places are peaceful and empty… usually in the middle of the night. this is an inspiring post that makes me want to participate in this discussion.

  5. Nick Cernis replied:

    Simply gorgeous.

    Great choice of imagery too! A timely reminder that I don’t get out as much as I should and evidence that, by choosing not to, I’m missing out on a heck of a lot…

    I practically grew up in the woods, so I always love walking or cycling through forests. To me though, the most glorious uninhabited spaces are wide open rolling fields when there’s not another person in sight. There’s nothing quite like being the only soul in 100 acres of sun-kissed grassland to inspire and enlighten.

  6. Joanna Young replied:

    Amy, I love wild and unpopulated places too.

    I guess it’s one of the reasons I live in Scotland and spend as much time as I can in the highlands, because the chance to get away from people and just be… is phenomenal.

    You’ve captured the different moods of places so well here, including the different effect of water, combined brilliantly with your pictures.

    I defy anyone to look at that picture of Loch Lomond and not want to come here!

    Truly, you are an inspiration to so many of us.


  7. Penelope Anne replied:

    Okay, making me think again…
    1. My yard
    2. the forest
    3. a lake
    4. an open field

  8. kacey replied:

    Oh, one of my favorite unpopulated inspiration places is early morning at the lake, before it becomes a zoo of people. My backyard backs up to the woods. I find that a great place to recharge my batteries too.

    Great pictures and a great post!

  9. amypalko replied:

    Glad I could provide some inspiration along with your morning coffee, Karen 🙂

    I like that, Wendikelly: a morning vacation! Fabulous!

    I really do feel very connected to my past when I’m around trees, Mrschili. Maybe something to do with ancestral roots…

    That forest photo was taken in the Balquhidder Braes, Captain Stardust, which is where Rob Roy is buried. It really is quite a magical place.

    I think we all need that reminder to get out and enjoy, don’t we, Nick?

    That is the great thing about Scotland, isn’t it, Joanna? All those rugged unpopulated spaces – bliss 🙂

    I forgot all about gardens, Penelope Anne! Thank you for the reminder.

    Lakes are just lovely places, aren’t they, Kacey? I’m not surprised that you get inspiration from the one near you, especially before it becomes a ‘zoo’!

  10. Daz Cox replied:

    I agree, there’s a quote by Michelangelo that I’ll paraphrase “peace can’t be found save in the woods…”

  11. Elaine replied:

    Hi Amy.your website is simply amazing,i look forward to it every day
    Regarding the photo under Beaches,please tell me where you took this photo
    keep up the good work

  12. amypalko replied:

    Thanks for the quote, Daz. I love it!

    I’m so glad you’re enjoying what you find here, Elaine. The photo of the beach was taken on Orkney Mainland. From what I can remember it was near Tankerness…
    Hope that helps!

  13. Myrna replied:

    Thanks Amy-dreamy and inspiring! I loved the rocks.

  14. Shai Coggins replied:

    Gorgeous. You live in a beautiful place! 🙂

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  16. amypalko replied:

    You’re most welcome, Myrna! Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

    I know that I’m biased, Shai, but I truly believe that Scotland is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I feel so blessed to call it my home.

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