Away

Nestled, battered, and stoic, sits an old Crofter’s Cottage on a landscape far-flung. Off the ferry from Oban to Colonsay, this is the final leg of a very long journey, and here we are, over the last crest of Killiecrankie- a cranky, stony, slope. We stop. A bags down stop. For there, just beyond the undulating dunes, are two sets of chimney pots; our compass points, our North Stars, great, big beacons of home and as comforting as the guiding light of any lighthouse- those chimney pots with all their homey, stony familiarity, were a most welcome sight after a journey of odyssean efforts.

In this harsh place of craggy inlets, crumbling cliff faces, and stretched out pasture-bleakness, this ‘lonely isle’ is laden with tenderness of a sweet and unexpected kind; rock bound wild flowers that shiver in salt wind, shore-lapping, life-nurturing rock pools, warm as a tropical lagoon, and the soft wah-wah-wah of free falling snipes, filling the dusk air with their copulating-calls.

Kelp- great big armfuls- covefuls- beachfuls of the stuff, lilting on the wind with salty gusto, mixed with sheep-shit, cow-dung, and the freshest air I have ever tasted; it’s a recipe for one ripe and peculiarly, delicious smell- one that I may never forget. The water that comes from the tap, that comes from the tank, that comes from the pump, that comes from the somewhere else- the kelp’s in there too, I’m sure of it.

Down on the shore- that magnetic, lapping shore, there is a plentitude of shells in all shades of incandescent. Green winkles and pale pink cowrie’s, crab claws and limpets, pearly mussels and gloomy-grey scallops. This is a place to stay all day. Plunging bodies into the lung-puncturing cool of the Atlantic, only to be warmed again by a driftwood fire. This is a place to swim, to eat, to think and to write; and this, after all, is what I’m here for.

Under skies of generous proportions, in all the gentle hues of umbered-apricot, plaster-board pink and faded cerulean, are suckling lambs and thoughtful, lowing cattle.

Brushing my teeth morning and night- that one routine that never changes, even when away- brushing those teeth and gazing out at the vanishing horizon; there’s nothing between me and America. Nothing, that is, until on the other side of the window-pane, a cow appears. It looks at me with a perplexed curiosity. It took a while, but I worked out that if you look back, with a determined sort-of amusement, it will, most likely, wander off, leaving you alone, to brush in peace.

The salt winds blow good and proper here; Gulf Stream blasts that tease out freckles and bleach hair saline-gold, whisking off all drops of cold sea from naked bodies, and bringing great gulps of freshness into thirsty lungs. These are the sorts of winds that conjure large appetites, for heady, heart-achey romance (and for great big portion sizes at dinner).

There’s a waxing and waning sunlight that almost never leaves; it’s a place where the twilight is suspended, bestowing an evening light so lasting, so aurous, that sighs upon heaving-happy sighs are woven into it. It’s spring now, well past the equinox, so when twilight does settle, it tapers into a yawning sort of dark; a soft, deep sky, still illuminated, still generous.

As night falls, the isle is full of noises, (sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not). Seals lupine-howl at the moon, winds pick up into a roof-rattling dance, and fires lick and crack in the hearth.

Then there’s the house, ‘the last humble home in the west’, a wind blistered homestead, on a pock-marked land of hooves, and clumps, and clods. It’s an enchantment in lichen, a symphony of patinations; swirling, sticky saltiness, lichen spotted walls, and peeling painted doors.

There it sits, this Crofter’s cottage, lost in time, immovable in all its 3-ft-thick-wall, stalwart perfection, patently practical and relentlessly tireless in an atrophying battle against the elements. There it sits. There it sits.

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