Saturday, 13 October 2012

Carrying A Story to the End of The Land {part 3}

{continued from part 2 here}

Our road north from Glasgow is long and beautiful. Scotland is big! The further up we drive, the more distant we feel from the mad thrum of the south. The signs become Gaelic.
Lunch and the afternoon is spent in the company of the tall trees at The Hermitage, Dunkeld alongside the crashing beautiful waters of the river Braan.

The sun glints on us as we walk by root and river...

...and find hidden there: Ossian's Cave.

The water froths through the forest and throws loud fresh jewels into our eyes as we sit by it. The greenness is a sound and the rocks are scooped-out undulating artefacts, sculpted by the time of water.  

There are gold coins of light scattered at the trees' feet. We walk on, enchanted.

In the haze of the advancing afternoon, we come across an iridescent lizard, trampled into the path, no less beautiful for its death.

And now we must drive on. We have ferry tickets booked from the port at Ullapool tomorrow morning, and we have many miles more of Scotland to drive through.

The highlands are indescribably beautiful. We reach the road to Ullapool as the dusk is coming in. Already there is a carpet of midge corpses smearing the windscreen.

We park up by old travelling friends Andy and Mel (whom some of you may remember from back then). Andy was away visiting his mum, who had broken her leg, so we spent the evening with Mel and several million midges.

Andy and Mel have lived off grid on this spot for a few years now, but have plans to head further north horse-drawn when the winter has passed, after having given up driving altogether recently.

Steak is cooked on the stove, a tune or two is played, news of the past years is exchanged. All around us the hills tower magnificent and silent.

But we cannot stand the terrible midge-biting for long: they are in our hair and eyes and mouths and ears and will not leave off biting, despite the layer of horrible deterrent we've slathered over our skin. So we retreat into our respective vehicles and sleep a dream-filled sleep.

Sun greets the next morning, golden and awake. We bid farewell to Mel and head to the Atlantic ocean.

The ferry port at Ullapool is small and friendly, and we are blessed with exquisite weather. The skies are clear blue and whisped with white clouds. The water is calm and laps the small off-shore islands quietly as the boat takes us out toward the open sea. 

Gradually we leave the jagged blue skyline and the archipelago of islands behind. I am stunned with the beauty of this edge of our land. I have never been here before, never crossed over this northern sea to the Outer Hebrides. I had expected lashing grey Scottish mizzle, but instead this topsy-turvy summer gifts us with a topaz theatre, filling my vision, shimmering with a beauty that is starting to pull at my soul.
We stand up on deck and the sea blows blue through our hair, whisks out any stagnation we had festering in us and flings it overboard.

Every so often, people get up and rush to one side of the ferry or another. Killer whales and dolphins are spotted far off, leaping through the water! All I manage by way of a photo (above) is some sea with a hint of what could be the Loch Ness Monster or the shadow of a gull. But we see them, and it makes us happy.

In time, land is sighted. The Isle of Lewis! Small buildings scatter the coast. A lighthouse, some houses.

We drive through the island which is empty. Miles and miles of treeless peaks, peat bog and water. The skies are still blue for us. Every so often we pass a house or two, remarkably modern and ugly, each with its former traditional blackhouse in ruins a few feet away. The houses have no trees to hide them, for trees struggle to grow tall on these windswept islands. Many people grow pampas grass as a barrier behind which to nurture less wind-hardy plants.

There's a wild and strange feeling to this place. I like it. 

We stop at the spectacular Callanais (pronounced Callanish) stone circle. A group of megaliths erected over 4000 years ago on the west of the island.

And on we drive, further west, further and further away from the busy mainland.

There are terraces cut into the peat all over the island. Often we see a little wheelbarrow and bag and spade left on someone's peat patch.

We cannot stop gasping at the beauty and intensity of the landscape we are moving through. The rock is powerful.

By chance we see a large wooden carving of one of the Lewis Chessmen, sitting kingly over the spot where the hoard is said to have been discovered.

We're nearly there, but the late afternoon sun and this wide sandy inland beach calls to us; and our sea-bronzed cheeks and our road-weary eyelids will let us fight no more. We lie here on this soft sand on this far flung island, and sleep.

The rock underneath us and all around us speaks.

And as the high northern summer sun moves a little lower in the sky, we head on, remoter still... to the end of the far western road.

And there, on a croft in the tiny hamlet of Breanish, live Sharon Blackie and David Knowles, creators of Two Ravens Press and Earthlines Magazine. 

They look out on a point of land that borders the Atlantic ocean, and there is nothing and everything all around their house.

As the last rays of sun cast pink gold across the hamlet, David takes us out to the point, and shows us this wild and lonely and wonderful place.

I am very moved by the feeling in this rock. It is Lewisian Gneiss, we learn - the oldest rock in Britain. I become more and more fascinated as David explains incursions and other long-ago geological magics.

There are bog plants, too: small and hardy, plants you could imagine growing across the Arctic tundra, so different from those tall greenings we find in southern hedgerows. Cotton grass flits above the peat in deft little wefts.

By the next day, the clear sunny skies have been replaced with Hebridean cloud, and a different kind of quietness. We go out exploring again.

One way is sea. The other way are bare mountains. The rock still calls me with its ancient old voice. It has aeons and footprints of time etched into its bone. It knows things.

We find a hole, not unlike the entrance to the Underworld our hero Ivan will have to venture down again later today when we tell our story to the folk of Lewis.

Just looking at it gives us vertigo. You can hear the sea at the bottom, though you cannot see it. Bold little plants grow on the sheer edge.

And then it is time to prepare for our fourth and final storytelling. This venue is different again: we conjure a little makeshift stage in the shed where the animals winter, and farming paraphernalia is stored.

This audience is the smallest yet: about 8 people come from far off on the island to hear our tale. Afterwards we all enjoy a feast cooked by Sharon and learn about life on Lewis from these islanders.

Sharon and David have traditional crofting rights to a lot of land around their individual croft. Here they graze sheep and a cow. They also raise pigs, poultry and vegetables (which is a much hardier task than down south: Brussels Sprouts have to be grown in the poly-tunnel!). Peat-cutting for fuel is still common here too, and crofters have an area of peat bog allocated with each croft. Perhaps next time we'll get the chance to sit by a peat fire.

On the last day there, I wander out to the point with Macha and clamber amongst the rocks and crashing silence.

This place, I decide, is a place to come to be alone. It feels like a last refuge on the edge of Britain - a place where nobody else is, a place still big with The Numinous, still wide and open and un-fenced.

I crouch by the grey-green pools which dance with seaweeds and salt.

The stones and the limpets and the barnacles and the wracks and the unnameable things of this Hebridean seashore all sing to me. And I sing back.

Having reached the zenith of the arc of our journey here on the farthest tip of land, we begin the slow wend homewards. The ferry leaves tomorrow morning from Harris - the southern part of this island. We drive most of the way that evening, climbing higher and higher between mountains whose heads are hidden in cloud.

We park up overnight high up in the Harris peaks. Cloud is all around us, water below.

We look happy and alive in the photograph we take of ourselves on the top of this hill. The journey has scuffed and rounded us, it has stretched us and led us, and we are bigger because of it.

Morning coffee is made early; our ferry leaves soon.


The homeward road is no less beautiful than the outward bound. The ferry crossing is grey where the first was blue, and we arrive on Skye which feels like a bustling metropolis compared to where we've been.

The land we drive through is endlessly stunning. It is jagged with mountains and lochs.

We keep imagining what this land was once like when covered in Caledonian forest.

We stop to rest and eat by a loch fringed with fireweed. Scotland is very long, and there are many miles before we reach the border, but we are sad to be leaving; these western isles and western hills have moved some Scottish part of us.

Further on and the sun creeps back again...

...dancing a cloud-chase over these fissured ancient mountains that surround us.

As we hurtle on southward, the clouds move back further, and a whole rainbow perches beautifully over the moors.

By evening we still have not reached England. We park up just a few miles from where I used to live in the South Lanarkshire hills...

And meet the next morning a little green riddle hiding in the grass:

These hills which I once loved to walk in, have in the intervening years been prodded all over with wind turbines. I find the once-familiar skyline quite shocking. Everywhere you look these huge things loom and bristle.

And so, home.

We made the rest of the journey in one day and collapsed into bed, filthy and brimming and tireder than we knew was possible.

I notice that I have begun and ended this post with photos of motorways, which is unlike me. I like all my doings to be bedecked with aesthetic delight, devoid of cars or industrial inorganic trappings. But on this journey we passed through both exquisite beauty and exquisite ugliness. This sacred greengrey land of ours is heavy with a human-made mantle it did not want. Widening ribbons of tarmac and retail distribution centres choke it.
And in all the nooks of Britain, thrive good people striving to re-weave the old songs, rekindle the old tribes into marching. They are there, and our journey stitched a few together, binding them as pages into our new book of the road.

Thanks and love to all the folk we met along the way for feeding and housing us, for telling us stories and for listening to ours.


{this post has been divided into separate episodes on account of its excessive length and the inability of google reader to cope! If you'd like to read it all in one go, please go here.}


Rois said...

I was just wondering the other day where you had gone.Now we all know,thanks for sharing your story with us.

I love your photos,they are very much like the ones I take.I like to see the small things that often get overlooked.

Ronnie (RR) said...

What amazing photos Rima thank you for sharing. It looks so peaceful up there. Love the photo of you two together, such happy people

Teresa Kasner said...

Dear Rima, I am writing to you from Oregon, USA - I live in a beautiful wild windy Columbia River Gorge and so do love the things you showed to us. I just love and appreciate how you show so many wonderful images to us, it does draw me in and make me feel like I'm experiencing it with you. My gratitude to you for taking the time to share with us. My love to you, Teresa

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much (!) for this wonderful story from Scotland which I miss so much.... When seeing all these photos, I was overwhelmed with homesickness and love for this beautiful country and tears came into my eyes...
...And Harris and Lewis...we have been there two years ago, too. The landscape is breathtaking and, as always, you found exactly the right words to describe, what one feels, when standing in the middle of it...

Thank you...very much...

Wayward Harper said...

Thank you, thank you rima for sharing these travels with us xx

Laura Morrigan said...

Those rocks are amazing! The forest too! I love that feeling of ancient wisdom!

The windblown island looks strangely beautiful, very wild and fierce! I like it!
The stone circle is wonderful, I feel drawn to the idea of them and their ancient mysteries!

the Lewis chessman carving is wonderful too! It's such a strange story, digging up a forgotten chess set. I think I like ancient mysteries!

The huge egglike stones on the beach are amazing, you can imagine ancient things hatching from them!

It must have been wonderful sharing stories with the people of this island, and learning theirs! I would love to see this island, but I could never live there, it looks much too cold, and thanks to my wool allergy, cold winters are something I need to avoid as it's hard to stay warm.

I really want to visit Skye one day, it's my namesake for my middle name.

Sorry for the huge length of comments. Your post was very inspiring! I am not sure if I will have the courage to one day brave driving on the opposite side of the road to drive around europe, but I will find a way to experience it all one day!

Kerry O'Gorman said...

Oh Rima! You have just cemented the ideas in my head of going to Scotland to see the rocks and water. I was in Ireland a few years back and while on the Atrim Coast we could just about call out to those on the Mull of Kintyre on the clear day we had. Thankyou for showing such simple and immensely stunning images. Macha is an old soul, I can tell by the smile and the look in the eyes! A lot like my Griffin.

Nanita said...

How much I enjoyed this wonderful journey! I will now sit back with a cup of coffee and savour your pictures all over again :-) Thank you for taking us along, Rima! x

Heather said...

What an amazing post - full of wonderful sights to delight us. I love all those rocks and mossy places, the roots and rushing water too. I would love to see those standing stones and the Lewis chessman for myself but you have made it possible for me to do in comfort! Thankyou for sharing your incredible journey with us.

yew tree nights said...

Woah, this post is a journey onto itself! It was great seeing you two in Glasgow, and it's lovely to see that the rest of your trip was such a success.

As for the midges, in case you return this way, (maybe you already know this but) everyone around here seems to swear by Avon's Skin So Soft moisturizer for keeping them away. I'm not quite sure what they're putting into that moisturizer to make it more lethal than bug repellant, but hey....

Anyway, thanks for the beautiful post, and I hope all's well with you both.

The Faery Folklorist said...

What a beautiful and inspiring journey, thank you so much for sharing it with the world :)

Unknown said...

You weave such an enchanting tale with your pictures and words Rima, thank you for taking us on your journey with you.

Paula said...

Lovely, woderful tale of your journey. Thank you for giving it to us.

olive said...

Wow... that was a great and spiritual journey.. You took me home to the Lakes and then on to Scotland, a place of happy memories. Its so wonderful that there are still folk who do these tremendous feats, bringing stories and music to us all. The scenery is glorious, magical and spectacular. Many thanks Rima..... Making me very wistful of life past. Olive xxxx

trish said...

Wonderful Rima, that was just wonderful... all love to you.

Eva said...

What a stunning series! We are Scotland lovers, too, and when I saw your pictures, I was carried away and started longing for this dreamland again. Thank you a thousand times for this magic hour.

Rachel said...

Wonderful amazing photos for a wonderful and amazing journey. Thank you so much for sharing. Just stunning.

Mya.L said...

5 years since I last went to Scotland, just spent a few days up there myself. I'm in love with Scotland again - back to the horrible Big Smoke and want to go back straight to the Wild! Your pictures are beautiful, thank you.

SueRawley said...

Enjoyed being carried away by your Travels again Rima ,
Indeed I too , wondered where your Summer Travels had eventually lead you all to! .......
.. Many thanks , for sharing the Magic of Ancient places , and as always Wonderus photos too!
always look forward to reading your blog ....
Tis indeed a long way from the Beautiful Thatched Cottage in " Olde Hanwell" & the lovely Bunny Park ....
. Many more Happy Days to come I'm sure! :-)

Peacocks and Sunflowers said...

A delicious bumper summer edition! I'm still reading in chunks, and will be going back to enjoy your photos of such ancient and beautiful landscapes in more detail. I'm imagining a map of your travels, with red story-threads unreeling along roads the length and breadth of these islands and historiated vignettes in your stopping-places. Thanks for taking us along on your way!

jen said...

Rima, thank you so much for sharing your travels with us! I have just read parts 1-3 in one sitting and loved every minute! It is a beautiful part of the world and one I long to go back to; your blog has inspired me to make sure I do.
How wonderful to be able to set up in such unusual places. So atmospheric and you both bring such an energy and passion to your story telling, a rare gift. I am very grateful to you for your recording too as I haven't caught any of your live performances yet. Maybe one day.... jen x

Paula Bowles said...

Beautiful! What an adventure :) I hope I get to travel Scotland one day soon

zooms said...

I read from beginning to end and want to thank you so much for taking us on your journey! I can only imagine how much work was involved in telling this tale, seldom do we get a gift such as the one you have given to us in this epic post. I did make tea and knitted part of a sock whilst listening to your accordion and spellbinding story. You have me longing to visit The Hebrides! It is always wonderful spending time here and thank you once again for allowing us such an intimate peep into your world. Thank you x

LittleInsect said...

Lovely post as always Rima. I was in Scotland myself a few weeks ago - at the Buddhist Monastery in Eskdale. Such a peaceful place.

Your 'green riddle' is the caterpillar of the Emperor Moth - Britain's largest moth, and found on Moorlands and uplands.

So, a riddle no more!

Kay said...

dear rima i want to thank you for this wonderful trip to scotland....once my home...the pictures are just so amazing,,,the skies and desolation, the hills and soaring made me want to get in the car and go...NOW!!!....once upon a time a million years ago.....with love and hope we walked on coral beaches of skye and held our dreams wrapped in velvet cloaks while hardy ponies raced us over moors and we fished for our supper....things change life drifts to other seemingly important things but you made my mind flood with memories.....................................................................................xx Kay
ps.The photo of your gorgeous hound with nose to the wind is just beautful.

Kay said...

ps for the nesx time ..avons so soft lotion..the army use it!!! for the midges don't you know!!x

Unknown said...

Thank you Rima, for your Scottish tale and beautiful pictures. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Nia x

Linda B. said...

These posts are exquisitely beautiful. Many thanks for taking us along on your journey. I am still under the spell of your beautiful land.

R.Mason said...

I must take my truck to Scotland after reading this, I can imagine watching giants cross that landscape. I was thinking of getting one of those portable yurt stoves are they any good?

35jupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vickie said...

this is love history for the land. I feel like I have been on a journey too from the reading. I had to shake myself. heartfelt protection and honor of the Ways with all our help, all over the world. your smiles are radiant!

linden said...

My Dear Rima...
I went to look you I am in love with your storytelling ways. You see, tomorrow we leave for Dorset, England. Monkton Wyld. Are you near there? It is one of the most wished for things on my hidden basket of hopes and dreams. I just read this post of yours from Ullapool to Lewis. 27 years ago, my husband and I traveled to Scotland and were married in Ullapool! Oh, it was the most magical and memorable of fairytales in my life. We then ventured onto Lewis and Harris to spend our long days in married beginnings together. We have never been back. I keep trying and this is our first trip tomorrow back to the UK in all these long years. Sadly, we will not make it up to Ullapool where this long grand adventure began for us, so many years ago. I cannot tell you how full you've made my heart in seeing all of the beautiful photos of this special place to us. It all looks the same beautiful place! So, now we venture forth to Monkton Wyld Court to take the Permaculture Course and see about Peoplecare. Is there some way to learn of your whereabouts? Perhaps you'd be telling a story somewhere? Maybe you could come to Monkton to tell all of us a story in our Peoplecare Course which runs through November 22nd....I know very forward of me to ask such a thing!! So, if you are anywhere near Dorset...and you are telling stories of playing songs...maybe we could meet? I would be brief but, want to hug the woman that paints magic in the world and tells stories to keep our souls full of love. My email is journeyseeds at if you feel moved to write in return. I do not know if I will get to check my email while travelling but, I shall try in hope of finding a surprise! I hopes...Linden

STAG said...

So, I had a few minutes, and decided to do some "blog surfing". Found this blog, and I thought, well, I have to feed those chickens...I'll just finish my coffee and see what this is about.
Two hours later, the chickens are pecking at the door trying to get my attention. Goodness me...what a delight to read this blog.
I have book marked it, and will drop into it again from time to time. And check out your etsy shop. (I think I saw a link up towards the top there...)

stewcat said...

This brings back my memories of visiting Lewis and Harris in 2006. I fell in love with the wildness and wonder found there. My fondest desire is to return, spending time to take in every bit of its essence.
Thank you for sharing.

Lunar Hine said...

Brilliance throughout. A reliable light to warm hands by. I think you shine a way forward for many people and I am glad.

Naviana said...

You've got an amazing blog! :) This entry reminds me so much about my Scotland travels. I even spent one of the most beautiful days in my life at the Hermitage! Happy to see pictures of it. I will be following your blog now :) Currently blogging about Scotland travels myself.