Scotland

Camping holidays are great, overall. Escape, adventure, a touch of my father’s character with a helping of Celtic spirit. Responsibility, resourcefulness, recklessness. Romance does unusual things to the soul, not necessarily just “for it”, as does the inability to measure the time and distance from life departed. Nearer to God than thee, all that. Boadicea in my head on the crossing from Arisaig in the Sheerwater, spattering of salt-water over head, the brutal beauty of rocks among the crashing seas. Impossible to separate the hints of Tolkien from even that distance; Rùm has doors hidden in the sheer sides of mountains, takes its language from the calling winds.

Eigg, Rùm, Canna; three sisters scattered across the seas, waiting for their parents to return home. Spellcasting in silence. I sat on the “point of contemplation” on the other side of Eigg’s harbour, watching the breathless subtlety of a new dawn passing over the mainland. Maybe “God’s fingers” are more than the result of a contrived combination of sun and clouds after all? Be not amazed by what you knowst to be nature’s gift, for He provided the air and the water and the light…..

In the sunset of my life, may I be taken to Eigg to watch the sunrise again? Such watercolours in animation, such changing in the silence. Yellow, peach, red, ruby, orange, cyan, silver, iron, blue. It’s impossible to avoid sounding a bit too much like William McGonagall when on Eigg – “out glare the blind stare of Sgurr”, that sort of thing. Hear the call of the Highlands in the sing-song accent. Eigg is the flirty, charming girl at the party, who jokes and laughs but suggests a deeper romance if only the correct amount of attention is received. She will be a dangerous woman to cross, that much is known. It’s the scent on the wind, the knowing hint in the smile.

My hand shows the wound of a dragon’s stone, the momentary loss of concentration at the entrance to the Cathedral Cave; a slice of time, blood across two centimetres, a sign directly related to pressure and prayer and His warnings.

Rùm has a darker, more mature character. She’s the girl who never wears the same dress twice, who tells blue jokes and drinks sweet whisky. Rúm is the island of dowager women draped in silver scarves, of unforgiving waterfalls carving paths through history. Kinloch Castle stole my imagination, its eccentricity instantly magnetic. Our tour-guide knew her audience, sidestepped anything suggested by the heavy doors and high windows. Her South African accent danced and tiptoed through the hour we spent as guests of Sir George Bullough, asking us to admire beautiful “lenscep pentinx” and the “bilyart rum”. We drank bottles of Highland Gold until the dusk turned to a dark purple night, barefoot in the courtyard, lost in heavy dreams.

My sleep could have been eternal, where it not for the cunning design of the servant’s rooms – now dorms – with mirrors positioned to ensure the morning sun always woke servants from sleep at every angle.

Canna is beyond description, although many swearwords could have been offered given the lack of even a tea-room now. She is the smart, sassy girl with golden hair and a love of Rothko. My eyes were filled with beauty from the moment we set foot on the tiny harbour. At night we watched a dinner-plate moon break through napkin-thin clouds, broken by the waves below into countless smiles and frowns. How easy, how brutal, God shows the magnetic pull of honesty and falsehood even in the growing hours of night.

In the early hours of the morning, with Nocturne in the head, I walked to the bridge connecting Sanday with Canna, watching the still full moon, now dusted with chalk and tears, broken only twice by its reflection. A hundred solutions to a thousand thoughts crossed my mind. Peace in prayer, however quiet, however remote. Out across the seas to a lighthouse on the horizon, hundreds of miles again between that outcrop and the Western Isles (across the seas, beyond the waves, ‘ghaoth thig a Canaidh gum fairich mi blàth i…..)

Return would be at the drop of a hat, the instant, the very moment of possibility. Escape is what you make of it. Tourist or traveller, writer or walker. “Enthusiastic amateur” as I may be, who eat a potato cooked within an empty beer can on open flame, still very much alive with the possibilities which flow from such days away. Coming through the days to England’s youngest city, such a sudden shift following 10 hours of travel, retains the warmth of a Highland life which pounds the heart and feeds the mind.

O! To be there again, soon, soon…

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