Clifton Howlett, often working in collaboration with friends, is a region designer who always produces something very special to visit and appreciate. Over the years, I’ve written about the various regions designs he has produced / co-produced, from those celebrating Walter Moers’ Zamonia series, which I wrote about in 2020 and again in 2021, and his “hidden” regions (Hidden Lake and Hidden Bottle, which I covered in May and October 2021) and onward. So it was a good deal of delight that I headed off to visit his latest Homestead region design, Highland Retreat.
Built with the support of Coralile Resident, the region is described as:
An idyllic Scottish island perfect for relaxation. With picturesque landscapes, cosy cottage and hidden secrets, it offers a peaceful escape from daily life. Ideal for nature lovers and tranquillity seekers.
– Highland Retreat About Land
Which is actually saying the very least about this rural, almost pastoral setting; a place rich in inspiration and with a rugged and natural beauty which draws visitor in and invites them to stay.
Visits start on a small isle to the north-west of the region, linked to the larger isle by a small bridge as it spans the narrow channel between the two. A track meanders gently over the undulations of the main island from this bridge, pointing the way generally south-east and passing between and open-air events space using what might the flagstones of an otherwise demolished building or the stones taken from the older walls of the building across the track from it or for the dance floor area.
The building from which these stones may have come sits on a shoulder of rock, looking over the track and event space to the island’s eastern coastline. The track itself twists around the rocky side of this bluff-like hill to reach the entrance to the building, branching a couple of times as it does so.
To say this it is quite magnificent in design would be an understatement; it is one of the more unique structures I’ve come across in Second Life just for its mix of architectural sensibilities and clear sense of age and semi-organic growth. Called the No Cottage Bizar CM Build, it is by Marcthur Goosson, and while I’ve seen several of his buildings used in public regions across SL, this is the first time I’ve encountered this particular design. It suggests a fortified manor house of the kind common to the north of England and to Scotland, which had been naturally extended during its long occupation, prior to falling into ruin and abandoned (leading to the re-use of old stone for the dance area mentioned above?), only to be given a new lease of life courtesy of modern building materials and engineering techniques.
Sitting on the island’s highest point and overlooking the channel separating the landing point from the rest of the region, this building has a lot to offer visitors and is highly photogenic in its own right, indoors and out – more, in fact, than might first be apparent. A boardwalk runs outward from the small garden on its west side, connecting it with a large deck built out over the cliffs of the channel. Also on this side of the building, and a little further south from the garden, is a smaller ruin. Built from bricks and mortar, it appears to have been constructed much more recently in the island’s history – but not so recent that it also fell into disuse at some point, the single surviving window suggesting it might once have been a little chapel.
These chapel remnants overlook the sweeping curve of one arm of the track as it passes around a rocky outcrop to reach a small meadow. This is home to a series of standing stones, suggesting the island has been occupied from the earliest times, the stones roughly hewn and lacking the more regular finish associated with more famous henges. A long, altar-like slab of rock sits within them, its top carved, its base wrapped in a low-lying mist. a swirl of wind sweeping a spiral of blackened petals up into the air, sparking the imagination to think of sacrifice and burning…
To the east of this, the land slopes gently down to the south-eastern coastline, the grass connected to another arm of the island’s track by a further boardwalk. From this headland, complete with bench seat, it is possible to look back along the curving eastern shore and the shallow arc of its bay to where a dock sits out over the water, a motor launch tied-up alongside. The southern coastline can also be partially seen from here, birch trees obscuring some of the view, as it sweeps back west and then north, a little camp site and fishing raft just visible, encouraging visitors to walk to them.
Just as this part of the coast starts to turn northwards, so to does the land rise, forming a grass-covered shoulder to protect the standing stones from sea-spray. Rocky, sloping cliffs drop to the water from here, partially masking the island’s secret: a set of drowned steps sitting above a great archway carved from the living rock, a shimmering blue portal within its span forming a gateway to a hidden cavern – which I will leave to you to visit.
Set under a suitably dour sky mindful of the weather in Scotland, Highland Retreat offers itself to many EEP settings (I took the liberty of taking some of the photos here under my preferred “travelling” EEP settings), and offers multiple places to sit for those who wish to tarry within its borders either on their own or with someone close to them. Needless to say, opportunities for photography abound, and the entire setting is rich with a sense of place which makes visiting a joy.
In this latter regard, wandering across the grass, poking at the ruins and standing stones, I felt mindful of places along the north coast of Scotland, notably close to the coastlands of Caithness and also, conversely, parts of England’s Northumberland coast (a part of the country I deeply love and have spent a lot of time exploring). In this, Highland Retreat continues the tradition of all of Clifton’s designs in setting free the imagination and letting it roam through the landscapes he and his creative collaborators provide.
Definitely one to catch while it is available.
- Highland Retreat (Mundo virtual, rated Moderate)