|11/01/2015||Filled under Carradale, Scotland|
In this country it is during the month of November that we hold ceremonies during which we pause our lives to remember those whose lives were lost in conflict and we to try to understand the futility of war. We particularly focus on the lives of those lost in the last century, those whose relatives are still living with us. The passing of one hundred years since the outbreak of the First World War is a significant milestone and one of the remembrance events in Carradale took the form of a small exhibition where details of the lives of sixteen local men, fourteen of whom died during the 1914 – 18 conflict, were displayed. Information on each man’s life was gathered together, along with details of how and where they met their death. Rather poignantly, on the village memorial stone the men’s names are listed in the order of their having died, which brings home the horrible impact such losses would have had on this tiny community. There was a large turnout for the 2014 Memorial Service, after which most of us adjourned to the playpark, beside which sixteen young trees have been planted, one for every local life lost. Suitably protected from the rabbits and the deer, these trees, and the plaque beside them, will long stand as a reminder to those who come after us.
I find it difficult to comprehend the sense of duty that drove so many men to volunteer themselves for service rather than wait to be called up. Sadly though, although we may think that by remembering the pain of war it will change us all for ever, recent events in Paris show that there are some who are willing to start all over again.
2015 is the fourth anniversary of the move Kate and I made to Scotland, to Kintyre and to the village of Carradale, something we could, and we might, choose to celebrate. Instead I find myself looking back at this blog to see what words came out at that time to describe our first moments here (Mostly Moss). I suppose I am trying to work out whether my own feelings have changed, whether I still experience the same excitement I felt on first exploring the land around us, how different it felt from the south of England, the sights, the smells and the colours. The first thing I notice is that I am still taking photographs of lichen, on the trees, on the rocks or in this case, a lichen-covered picnic table. The wood here has taken on the appearance of a barnacle-covered rock, and rendered the table unsuitable for use in the process. I still find myself fascinated by this strange combination of organisms just as I am by the low angled winter light and its effects.
Some of the pictures I have taken lately reflect this, although they hardly do justice to the landscape.
Four years on and Kate and I both still find joy in short walks around the village even though by now we have now explored each and every passage and footpath thoroughly more than once. The beach will never lose its charm. Empty though it often is, we never fail to wonder how it is that we came to choose a place to live where such an unspoilt piece of coastline could be within only a few minutes walk. On the rare occasion when we do meet another human (or their dog) crossing the sand, even with the cold wind in their faces we can see immediately that they share our joy at being here. Carradale Bay has this miraculous effect on those that set foot there. Our remoteness guarantees that nobody is ever there by chance but only through choice or maybe occasionally because some magical force has pulled you there knowing that your soul needs to recharge itself.
Oh and it seems I am still taking selfies on the beach. So nothing changes after all!
On a wet Sunday when the horizontal rain lashes our windows for most of the daylight hours our biggest excitement comes when the ‘Men from BT’ arrive to plant a new phone pole in our garden. As fast as they dig, the rain backfills the hole but they are equipped with a large ladle on a pole, an essential item in this climate, so they can bail even faster. Knowing just how rocky our garden becomes just below the turf we cannot help being impressed by the speed of their progress and by the depth of the hole their efforts are achieving and soon our shiny new pole is standing plum upright beside its elderly (and rather slanted) predecessor. No matter how good the clothing Scottish rain will find a way through sooner or later so it doesn’t surprise me when they conclude their day before transferring telephone wires from old to new. Beyond taking pity on them (and providing tea) there was little we could do to help, so we had no qualms about watching them work from the warmth of our house.
Four years has taught us that no matter how bad the weather, a brighter day will always follow along and it is knowing this that makes life here so good.
|07/11/2014||Filled under Carradale, Kintyre, Scotland, weather|
I sit around at home trying to commit to memory the words for my part in the Christmas pantomime, learning my prompts and wondering how much of it will be acting and how much just me. The humour in the part I play requires me to act a little stupid, so nothing difficult there then. (More than this I cannot disclose at this stage for fear of revealing the plot prematurely and spoiling the show for the paying audience.) Having little or no acting experience counted for nothing in getting me into what is, as it happens, my first starring role. There was no audition, no submission of a ‘cv’, instead it was merely a matter of knowing the right people and being around just at the moment the panto rehearsals were about to start. That, and upon being asked neglecting to say the word ‘No’. But I have lungs strong enough to make myself heard from the stage and I have little fear of embarrassment. Acting the part is really no more than not taking myself too seriously, something I don’t find difficult.
Kate is seated in another armchair with her computer perched on her lap. She has recently abandoned her ‘laptop’ computer, which had become so hideously slow that writing on papyrus would have been faster, and upgraded to a significantly faster tablet PC. This makes her smile as she types up a set of minutes taken at a meeting of the local Harbour Group or maybe it is the Village Hall committee or the management committee of the local Abbeyfields care home. By virtue of being rather good at documenting on paper proceedings at these events she has progressed to the role of Champion Secretariat in the village, a secretarial superwoman if you like.
Early one morning a lorry manoeuvres down to the end of our road to deliver some more timber joists and a handful of planks for the decking I am constructing around the concrete hard standing beneath the car port we know as the ‘Bus Shelter’. The rain is lashing down and the southerly gale is blowing the water beneath the canopy so it is rather wet out there. Ducky is away being serviced so I help Steve, the lorry driver, unload my planks and lay them flat on the ground before rushing back indoors to avoid the rain. We live in a wet climate, with local vegetation sometimes being described as ‘temperate rainforest’, and have experienced days of continuous precipitation on numerous occasions since we moved here. So today is not unusual. The landscape here is mountainous. The rivers have only a short distance to flow before reaching the sea, so water does not generally stay long on the land. The rivers swell, turn brown and churning, but water usually stays between the banks as it rushes towards the sea. On this occasion it has been raining heavily all night, the land is already saturated from last week’s rain and the rate at which the stuff is now falling suggests that this just might be something a little out of the ordinary.
I have a dental appointment in Tarbert, 25 miles away to the north and in these conditions this is a major expedition. So I dress up in waterproof clothing, check the mobile phone is charged (not that a signal can ever be guaranteed around here), and set off to drive up the single track road that winds along the Kintyre coastline. In and out of pine forests, across countless small streams, past farms and remote cottages, rising high one minute and dropping to sea level the next, anything can happen in the next hour, the time the journey usually takes. There could be fallen trees, the road could be undermined by water runoff, lying water could splash into the engine and kill it dead, a skid on mud and leaves on the road could put me in a ditch, or else I could just make the journey safely, in which case I have to endure the dentist’s drill after all. The road is wetter than I have ever seen it. In many places the water pours off the steep hillsides and overwhelms the channels dug to carry the water away. I drive past ditches so full they carry water half a metre above the road surface. It all has to go somewhere and randomly and unexpectedly around a corner there is a flood which flows across the road washing gravel and small rocks down the hill on the other side. Water ejected into the air from under the tyres is blown across the windscreen by the gale but fortunately the engine is well protected and it doesn’t falter. It is important to keep both wheels on the thin band of tarmac as the ground is soft on both sides; to drop a tyre off the road is to risk sinking in and coming to a sudden halt. Care is required, speed is best kept low even if this means I am late for my appointment. But no, I have set off early and I arrive safely for my treatment, unfortunately.
It is raining in Tarbert, maybe not quite as heavily, but the high tide pushed even higher by the southerly wind brings the water in the harbour almost up to road level. I feel strangely uncomfortable walking next to this as it heaves gently and two swans paddle over, stretching their necks hopefully towards me in case I have something for them. The high water level gives them a view across the road into the shops opposite, something they don’t usually get to see. I wonder what they make of us featherless people strutting about in the rain.
Much later I have survived the return journey down the single track road and I splash past the village hall, a place Kate and I now have a stake in. Our newly gravelled car park is awash with runoff from the hill opposite which is normally culverted away beneath the road. Now the foaming flood is pouring across the road taking the easiest route towards Carradale Bay which, were it not for the still torrential rain, I would be able to see in the distance. I fear for the safety of the hall and can imagine the carpark surface being washed away downstream but can do nothing about it. What will happen will happen; it is too late now to intervene.
Local knowledge later tells me that this is nothing exceptional, it is not the biblical flood it might have seemed but is just one of those ‘rather wet periods’ we get from time to time. Although it continues to rain all the next night, the wind slapping the rain against our windows, by late morning the next day the sun is shining and the wind has gone. Likewise most of the water has flowed away too. I can hear the burn in the woods just below our garden but cannot see it, which means it still bubbles along happily within its banks. The village hall car park is back to normal, still with its coating of gravel and the sun warms me as I continue with my decking construction project in the garden. The ground is sodden, as you might expect, but other than this two days and nights of heavy rain has disappeared like magic.
Later in the day we sit in front of our log fire and contemplate how fortunate we are in our choice of house, that it can be so unaffected by weather extremes.
|05/08/2014||Filled under Carradale, house refurbishment, Scotland|
Scarcely have I left home for my sailing exploits amongst the Western Isles when Kate gets stuck into building a home for Ducky, our much loved campervan, at the bottom of our garden. She did have a little help it has to be said, with larger pieces of timber and digging the massive postholes, fitting the wooden cladding and climbing up to fix the roof but she tells me that nothing would have happened, nothing at all built, without her being there to make the tea.
I had seen the plans, of course, but seeing the structure in the flesh on my return home was something of a shock because this thing is big. Very big. The roof clears Ducky’s highest point by a clear margin and we have space under the cover all around which will be handy when the rain is pouring down.
Naturally word gets around the village very quickly that something new has sprung up. Suddenly we notice dog walkers detouring down our way, dogs we have not seen before stagger past, no doubt asking themselves why their owners have come this way, have broken their usual routine. The dogs can’t make sense of it but we know what is going on. We no longer have difficulty explaining where we live to those we meet. All we have to say is “The house with the monstrous carport” and understanding dawns. “Oh yes I’ve seen that. Now I know where you are”, usually followed by a strange look, the “That great thing” look. Visitors too, holidaymakers, have suddenly begun using the end of our road to turn in, pretending they are lost, something that has never happened before. We are beginning to think that our carport may be the most exciting thing to have happened in the village since the Vikings left and it amuses us that we might have created something of a talking point.
Our latest foray away in Ducky takes us to Barnluasgan over in Knapdale to see the beavers. Just a short drive north of us, a trialled reintroduction of beavers has been going on since 2009, exploring (at some considerable financial cost I might add) what might happen if we replace what was once a native species all over Scotland. We have it on good authority that there are currently at least ten of the beasts living here although despite setting off at dusk and tiptoeing as quietly as possible for a mile or so along a gravel path (not the best surface for stealth) beside the freshly created loch to the site of the beaver dam, we see nothing but a few ducks. We feel certain that the beavers are there, close by, perhaps chuckling to themselves about our clumsiness, but no way are they going to show themselves. Perhaps this is because they have discovered the strangest thing about this much-publicised species introduction which is that they are not the only beaver population currently living in Scotland. Little talked about is the fact that over on Tayside some one hundred and fifty wild beavers have set up home. Nobody seems clear about how they got there (they may have been released deliberately or else they are escaped pets – but who keeps beavers as pets?) and because they are not part of the trial and are not being so carefully studied we hear little about them. Indeed one senses that their very existence must be something of an embarrassment to those involved in the Knapdale trial. We are intrigued to see what will happen once the trial is over and a decision is made on whether they can stay, a decision apparently already overtaken by events.
Our beaver spotting being thwarted, we retire gracefully to spend the night camping ‘wild’ nearby and wake to a surprisingly hot summer’s day that tempts us to explore the area some more. Beavers might be shy but apparently adders are less so. The young lady we come across sunbathing close to her home, an iron drainage cover which crosses the forest track, is a little coy at first. She is quite well known to those walkers who come this way often (and that’s not many) but we feel a certain pride in being able to point her out to one passer-by who has never seen an adder before and had just walked by this one. The adder cautiously sniffs the air by flicking her tongue and will disappear very quickly into cover if she senses danger but this morning her need for warmth from the sun clearly outweighs caution and she slides slowly and gracefully away. If only beavers could behave like this.
|21/06/2014||Filled under Carradale, Scotland|
It is a while since I wrote to this blog. Inspiration temporarily evaporated after returning home from our tour of Scotland a few months ago, home to an increasingly busy life, an important part of which now is James and his mother Eleanor, soon to be our daughter-in-law when our son Mike makes his vows next year. James has adopted Kate and me as his new grand parents, an honour we do not take lightly, whilst we in turn fall victim to his charming ways and try to remember all the mysterious things that small boys like to do, things our own sons taught us when they were growing up but which have faded from our memories. Sensibly we still have a substantial box of Lego stored away and this never fails to inspire a small mind into creativity when tipped out onto the floor. We now live in a world where small plastic bricks emerge from beneath chairs, under cushions and behind radiators but none of this bothers us unduly.
Our jaunt around Scotland having ended, a rapid warming took over delivering more sunshine than we rightly deserve. When this happens the landscape gradually changes into something dryer, the pine forest acquiring a rich, resinous smell which reminds us of our time in northern Italy a few years ago, and the sphagnum mosses cease to weep moisture, becoming paler green in colour and eventually wilting and looking rather poorly. Much of Carradale’s woodland is not natural, having been planted as a crop some sixty years ago, so barely within the memory of many local inhabitants. I know this because the timber is now being harvested so the trunks lie horizontally in heaps awaiting collection and I can count the growth rings, which I do. This extraction process is a massive insult to the landscape, being transformational in the same way as a natural disaster would be. To lovers of trees, as I confess we are, the sight of the forest being torn apart by massive machines is quite shocking to witness and the speed at which the operation can be carried out is frightening. When the trees have been felled whole new vistas open up, the likes of which have not been seen for decades. Such is the timescale here that views remembered only by people reaching the end of their lives are now revealed. Who knows what memories are stirred into life by this.
But it is unlikely to be the same remembered landscape. What we now have is a devastated field of broken brash timber and stumps which stand out like pale dinner plates. It is a world torn apart by men with powerful machines showing little care for what is left behind. It is a scarred tableau that must now undergo a lengthy healing process that will gradually soften the edges and smooth over the injuries. Mosses will eventually carpet anything close to the ground, bandaging everything up until only a series of uneven shapes will remain visible, dark green mounds, and through this will sprout saplings whose seeds have lain dormant for want of light. Grasses and wildflowers will come first then as the new growth climbs higher the light reaching the ground will once again become dim and competition for what filters through will intensify.
If nothing were replanted then the forest would regrow in its own way; tree colonisers such as willow and silver birch then ash, gorse, bramble and rhododendron would soon form a green carpet. We know this because the land just beyond our own garden fence was once conifer forest, felled within living memory since when it has lain neglected. All it takes is a clamber over the fence and we are in wild place, untamed and unkempt, difficult of access but fascinatingly peaceful once deep inside the tree cover.
Then one day we awake to the brrrup, brrrup of chainsaw engines revving up close by and we realise that change has come to our little world. Fortunately, instead of clearing the land completely, forestry workers are just thinning out the trees, presumably to promote thicker growth of what is left. Since this is only a narrow strip of land and the soil layer here is thin, a stand of conifer trees would be vulnerable; the chances are that they would be blown over before reaching maturity. And anyway, why re-plant when nature has already done such a splendid job for you.
Through the leaf cover we catch glimpses of men in their protective orange clothing as the trees sway and fall around them. At first we were concerned that our green backdrop might completely disappear but as it turns out when the work is finished the view from our kitchen window has only subtly changed. Through the leaves we can see sunlight now where there was none before and this is bound to stimulate something to spring into life. We can’t wait to see what it will be.
June is now giving us long dry sunny days in a seemingly endless supply. The solstice has arrived, a time of year when sunlight beams through our rear north-facing windows both in the early morning and throughout the evening. We live at a latitude where dusk, a long period of gradual light reduction which we know as ‘The Gloaming’, seems to last forever and where the darkness of night barely exists at all.
|09/04/2014||Filled under caravanning, Carradale, house refurbishment, mountains, Oban, Scotland, weather|
I can say with some certainty at this moment that winter is over here in Scotland. The weather will deliver up its usual flavours of wind and rain, no doubt, but I can be confident that it will remain mild, perhaps unseasonably so, right through until summer takes hold. How do I know this? Well because in our living room we have now have a wood-burning stove providing lots of warmth to the house and an embarrassment of hot water too. All winter we waited for the moment when the big white van would stop outside our door and Robert the stove fitter would stagger in the door with the heavy steel beast to begin the installation. All through the coldest months, the gales and storms, the floods, the hail, we sat on the sofa and warmed our hands before an imaginary fire, wishing we could have a real one before winter ended, but our prayers going unanswered. Nothing we could think of doing would bring it to us any quicker, no magic words, no strategy nor financial incentive. We had placed our order and just had to wait our turn, wait for this moment to arrive. All this time we knew we could be certain of just one thing; that it would happen eventually. And so it did, just as the weather warmed. But fortunately we live in a place where the first signs of spring are accompanied by chilly afternoons and nights so our new acquisition does add the sudden benefit to our lives that we’d expected. And thus it is that I find myself slipping into the morning routine of clearing the ash, laying the paper and kindling in joyful expectation of the afternoon or evening to come when I can strike a match and watch the flames spread.
Rather than become too single-minded, however, for some weeks now we have been hatching another plan; to load up Ducky with provisions and head off northwards, in the general direction of the North Pole. A brief glance at a map reveals that there is a sizable chunk of Scotland that sits between us and the Arctic Ocean and it is this that we are keen to explore, right up to the very edge of the last piece of land. So we abandon Carradale one wet morning, after taking fresh food parcels from house to campervan, stuffing warm clothes into cupboards and filling water containers to the brim, then just turn north along the edge of Kintyre and keep going.
The heavy overnight rain still falls as we charge through deep puddles which drench every inch of the van with mud-stained spray and it still falls heavily as we lurk in the car park outside Oban’s Lidl. But no sooner have we finished our shopping, stocking up on Campo Largo baked beans and Crusti Croc paprika flavoured crisps like we hadn’t seen a Lidl for months (which is true), when suddenly the clouds part and the sun shines down. In the blinking of an eye Scotland performs the magic trick we love, winter becomes spring, rain becomes shine, dark becomes light, wet becomes dry. My dark glasses are resting on my nose once more as I gaze out at Mull’s looming peaks across a sparkling sea. Ah yes, this is why we left our lovely new stove behind.
We do not intend to travel quickly as there is much to see along the way, loads of scenery to take in, so when I write the words “250 miles later” it needs to be said that nearly three days have elapsed since leaving home. We move along at a gentle pace.
But as it happens just 250 miles distant by road from Carradale (Ducky choosing to use imperial measurements) there is a mountainous chunk of rock going under the name Stac Pollaigh (which is pronounced ‘stack polly’). It stands 613 metres (according to our metrified map) above sea level and 549 metres above the car park that lies just below. More than thirty years ago when I visited this part of Sutherland I charged up Stac Pollaigh, as I was wont to do in those days when a summit looked as though it needed to be conquered, then danced along the summit’s rocky ridge, before galloping all the way down again and driving off somewhere else. I made a promise, as do so many others who climb this iconic hill, that I would one day return. Which explains why Kate and I find ourselves in assault mode tackling the steep path which winds its way to the top, not alone, but in the company of both old and young, first timers and old hands like me, many of whom are also returning for the first time in thirty years. The summit’s very proximity to a road as well as its isolated position in the landscape make it into a ‘must do’ climb that traps many who come this way. It is just that sort of place.
It turns out to be a windy climb, the air cooling noticeably for each upward step we take, and we are not disposed to hang about on the summit ridge nor indeed dance along it. The strength of the wind makes this unwise. Instead we find a little shelter and wolf down the cream cakes that have made the ascent in my backpack, before pointing ourselves downhill again. With little warning a rain squall chooses this moment to attack and what seemed like an easy path becomes somewhat trickier as the wind tries to pluck us off the hill. Within minutes we are drenched to the skin and thoroughly chilled but away to the west we can see a line of blue sky so this is where we head, knowing we’ll be dry again in minutes once the rain stops. Scottish weather never disappoints.