I’m a little bleary eyed as I write this. It’s gone 02:00am.
I have just returned from a nocturnal expedition. Not the planned sort. I must have cut quite a figure, shuffling along the road in my pyjamas. Fortunately, not a soul was around to see me. Apart from the birds.
As something of a hermit, I am adept at finding reasons to not do things: I’m tired; I have to be up for work tomorrow; walking about in the middle of the night is a peculiar activity; respectable people dress before leaving the house; this is how scandalous rumours start in small communities… and so on.
When unseen forces beckon you to the front door, it’s usually a simple matter to scrunch up your eyes, snick the catch and dive back into your nice warm bed. I teetered at the threshold. It was a dank but balmy night. Quite beguiling, really.
Moonrise over the southern flank of Ben Hynish.
Stepping beyond the yellow puddle cast by my open door, I crossed an unseen watershed. The landscape was a dim impression of itself – like the soft pencil transfer on the opposite page of a sketchbook. The sea had escaped; crawling through the dunes at Tràigh Bhi and oozing into their hollows like dry ice on a cheap filmset. Over Loch a’ Phuill, fingers of mist jabbed skyward in bony columns. Above it all, the cataract moon glared sightlessly.
The heavy mist which seems to roll into Barrapol from Traigh Bhi.
As a small girl, I ran wild on my father’s farm. I loved the mossy, verdant, tumbledown growingness of the place. I knew it so well that I crept like a half-pint ghost between its thickets and ruined buildings – smeared with bramble juice, refusing to wear dresses, and clutching owl pellets in grimy fists. For my eyes only, the Byzantine riches of the Dunnock nest. Or the clasping yellow feet of Kestrel fledglings; who, after patient weeks of observation, might be persuaded to perch delicately on my hand before learning to fly. We were all bright eyes, swiveling heads and diurnal living in those days.
The abandoned farmhouse and orchard where (against stern warnings from my parents) I loved to play.
Now, twenty years later, I was walking through a different world. A darker one. Snipe fluttered above. The weird bleating of their tail feathers thrummed through the air like shuttlecocks. Corncrakes stridulated; unseen in their secret iris beds. Behind me, the kissing gate clanged shut: a stoically binary object on a night where the edges of things had started to bleed.
It’s always a little warmer in the dunes and I was grateful. The moist air was gravid with herby deliciousness, and fat, dozy moths bounced off my cheeks. My slippers were already wet with dew. Beads of it glittered ahead of each step as my feet brushed the colourless machair flowers. The dune creatures shifted nervously. Tentative piping betrayed roosting Oystercatchers, and galloping hares’ feet crossed my path more than once. I was a daywalker. An unwelcome Lucy in their Narnia.
When I emerged, lean black waves were braking on Tràigh na Gilean. As each bit down, it shattered like a handful of silver coin. Beyond, Ceann a’ Mhara reared from the mist. From Tràigh Bhi this headland slopes gently – inviting the walker upward, closer to the sun. From Tràigh na Gilean, its shoulder and pelvis jut like a sleeping giantess. Steep stone gullies have formed in the folds of her sheets; filled with the damp industry of seabirds, clinging like lint. Her arm, face and hair press gratefully into the dunes. Her legs trail into the cold silk of the Atlantic.
Waves breaking on Tràigh na Gilean.
The sea at night is a tumbling, grasping thing. Rucking up my pyjama bottoms, I allowed the waves to briefly cover my feet. As soon as I did, the rushing water and the darkness created a horrible sense of vertigo. The inky sea was too eager, and I didn’t like it.
I thought about Carraig nan Gillean – just half a mile hence – where three boys had been swept to their deaths. It wasn’t the time for paddling, and my nerves prickled from the greedy touch.
Skerryvore winked from an invisible horizon; casting its lonely beam over my path home.
I turned to leave.
Dawn breaks through the mist over Loch a’ Phuill.
Tiree Ranger Service