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Remarkable nature

There is just something about dramatic orange and red sunrises and sunsets that makes a huge impression on the human psyche.Evening sky Whether it be the sun reflected on clouds in the western skyline, setting them on fire with complex mixtures of colour or simply an unlikely monochrome which spreads over the whole sky, such sights never quite satisfy us. There is no such thing as the ultimate sunset, the next one we see is always that little bit more dramatic.

Sky-gazing has had another reward just recently as the moon has been on a close pass-by and the merest hint of a clear sky no doubt encouraged many to dust off their cameras to capture the sight. So naturally on a recent visit to Oban when the moon winked at me for a Oban moonshort while I could not resist pressing the shutter. Had I waited a night or two the moon might have been even bigger, had I been able to see it through the clouds, of course.

Our run of dry weather seems to have come to an end, at least temporarily. The Highlands will welcome the rain as water drains away rapidly from our hills and they were beginning to look a little wilted. There is an ecology here which needs moisture to sustain itself. Before the end of the dry, clear weather, however, my mother and her companion, George, manage to squeeze in a luxury cruise around the Western Isles on the Hebridean Princess, an ex-ferry ship now converted for comfortable cruising. They take up residence on board for a week in the same suite occupied by our very own Queen Elizabeth when she took a holiday here recently. It was this fact that prompted me to take a photo of mother sitting on her rather grand-looking bed,Mum in Queen's bedroom a picture worth sharing with the world not because it shows where royalty slept but more because it shows there really is nothing special about the room that would not be found in a small hotel bedroom anywhere in the world. The rich and famous have, after all, normal needs just like the rest of us. They must sleep, eat and do all the everyday things that I do using the same basic set of equipment that we all use, something that had not occurred to me before.

Meanwhile, as they say, Kate and I take a holiday from our ever-busier Carradale lives by the simple task of jumping in an inflatable dinghy and rowing out to where Cirrus lies on her mooring in Campbeltown Loch. After a shaky start while we wait for the wind to leave its north-east corner, not the ideal direction for leaving port, our sails are raised and we fly off downwind towards Pladda, a lump of rock just off the southern tip of the Isle of Arran.Goat Fell from Lamlash From here it is but a short distance to Holy Island (yet another volcanic plug, by the way) and Lamlash Bay where we pick up a mooring for the night. The cold air we have been experiencing of late has left its mark on the mountain summits just to the north of us and the snow-whitened peaks make me think of the Swiss Alps I used to climb many years ago instead of Scotland. On board Cirrus we struggle to keep warm once the sun leaves us and when our diesel heater fails to function properly we begin to think that perhaps we have made a rash decision in going away at this time. It is still early in the season and unreasonably cool, both the sea and the air being cold, and without added warmth during the evening on board we are distinctly uncomfortable. Our heater has let us down before in strong winds. It is a primitive device which relies upon hot exhaust gases rising up a chimney which passes through the deck and extends above. But when there are fierce gusts outside these blow back downwards choking out the flame and puffing smoke into the cabin so that we are left breathing unpleasant fumes before the stove can give us any benefit. This is not quite the state of happy marital bliss that we envisaged. We survive one night then set off towards Bute where there is a marina. Marinas come equipped with electric power sockets and we have on board a long orange cable which, with various trip switches, enables us to connect the boat safely to the mains supply and to deploy our backup strategy, an electric fan heater. The cost of the electricity is included in the overnight berthing charge so we make full use of it with a clear conscience and our comfort is restored.

The marina is in Rothesay, a town we have visited before in indifferent weather. It is a good port in which to take shelter and is a place with a Victorian feel to it, the age when most of the buildings were constructed. On arrival we cower away from the 40+ knot gusts and the torrential rain which drives us inside. By morning though things are a little better – the rain is interspersed with sunshine now – so we visit the Victorian toilets, one of Rothesay’s timeless attractions, to warm ourselves under their hot water showers. Rothsay church wallThe urinals, hand-basins and the original tiling may bring in the tourists but for me there is something just slightly more intriguing to be found tucked away in Rothesay. Hidden in a quieter corner of the town lies one of several disused churches, this one having features that caught our attention when we happened to pass by. Rothsay church towerThe structure still has a solid, tall, Victorian look to it but despite its towering height, nature is re-claiming the building from the bottom and from the top. The south wall of the church, from the roof down, is completely encased in delicate purple flowers, trees are encroaching from below and even the bell tower is home to sprouting plant life. Through the broken windows pigeons fly easily in and out, making a clear statement of ownership as the whole structure gradually disappears beneath a green tide. It is as if the building, whilst standing tall above the ground, is being returned to natural humus by the local greenery. It may yet be many years before it succumbs (unless man decides to intervene and spoils the game) but in the end it is nature that will triumph. It always does. This natural marvel is not, however, in any tourist guide. If asked, Rothesay would probably say it was ashamed of the place when in fact it should take pride in the healthiness of the environment that enables all this verdant growth to happen.

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