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for recent posts on Scotland see Highland Holiday 2 and falling, falling, falling

Scotland – my other soul place…or more exactly, it’s the western highlands that resonate somewhere deep inside me. The land and sea meeting, melding together. Ice deep blue, azure-crystal water lapping; tangy, salty seaweed mixing; soft pink clumps of thrift and silvery sea grasses changing; scraggy, rocky headlands, deep green gullies shifting; spongy peat bogs spangled with drifts of cotton grass turning; majestic peaks rising high above and forever into the distance. Soft, clinging rain, damp grey-pink mists, whisping, weaving clouds parting to reveal glimpses of some gothic other world. The sounds echo and reverberate too – the haunting call of the curlew, the cry of a lapwing, the drumming of snipe, the call of a sheep, water, wind, rain fading to silence. It moves, refreshes, invigorates and stimulates me.

We are here on a week’s holiday.

The hustle and bustle of leaving the farm left me with the sinking sensation of ‘is it going to be worth it?’ I know I need to get away. I grow stale and boring. Time off the farm regenerates.

We arrive…

Small stone croft thatched with turf. Warm and cosy with a fire burning in the stove and views across old broken field systems, bumpy gneiss moorland to stunning jutting peaks – Suilven, Stac Pollaidh, Cul Mor, Cul Beg, Ben Mor Coigach, Quinag, Canisp. Ever moving, ever changing.

Outside our window two Highland cows graze with their calves. So different from my cattle – short-legged, wide heads, broad muzzle – lean and rugged – long coats blowing in the wind; bearing more resemblance to yaks than cows. Their calves have cuddly teddy bear appeal but are as wild as hawks.

We walk and explore the lumpy moorland etched with water, lochans and blanket bog. I imagine how people managed to eke a living from this wild, remote landscape. We come across settlements nestling in sheltered hollows, ruined and deserted, though much stone work still strong and standing. Beautifully and skilfully constructed. I find old lazy beds, cairns marking patches of cleared cultivated land; stock holding and handling pens, small shepherd huts. I try and imagine myself surviving here. Protein from the sea and animals; carbohydrates from potatoes and oats; wool to spin and weave; skins cured for rudimentary footwear; light from tallow and rushes; meagre warmth from furze and drift wood. The harsh elements always fighting back.

We climb lofty peaks of red Torridonian sandstone and sculptured limestone.

High, high, up a sandstone ridge we spot mountain hare, a soaring eagle and surprise a perfectly camouflaged ptarmigan hen with her brood of chicks and a striking ptarmigan cock sporting a brilliant red comb. We are astonished by strange beach-like plateaux complete with dunes where hundreds of the rare Black Mountain moth had just emerged.

On limestone hills we find a stunning array of flowers. Mountain and water avens, globe flower, moss campion and rose-root. Dotted everywhere are the deep blue flowers of common butterwort and purple-rose spears of the northern marsh orchid. We explore caves and rocks looking for fossils and the marks of ancient man and mammals.

We take a boat around the isles, find bays of coral sand and watch common seals sunbathing, fat with pup. Sea birds abound: tystie and guillemot bob amongst the waves; small regiments of shags dry their wings on rocky outcrops; bonxies and artic skuas fly threateningly over us and eider duck make a home in a sheltered bay. Our ferryman is also the owner of an island. I’m intrigued. Tell me about it, I urge, how do you manage? Power, sewage, rubbish? Upkeep, building, living? Dreams, aspirations, failure? I’m greedy for information. I learn much.

It’s time to leave…

I’m not sad, I know I’ll be back and this time going home is different. I’m returning to Olly and new possibilities!

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