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Homecoming Scotland

We are back in Scotland. And before going any further I must repeat the words we have heard now from two separate sources about last winter here in Oban. I quote word for word and they both said, ‘It’s been a great winter’. This might sound a strange way to describe a long period of intense cold, plenty of fierce gales and more rain than runs off the back of your average duck in a year. But then this is the Western Isles, a place where many people live through choice and without any illusions about what the weather can do. The ferryman taking us across Oban Bay to the Isle of Kerrera put it best when he said ‘It’s just weather, after all’.

So what was last winter’s qualification for being ‘great’? Apparently it was the frequent sunny days, short though they were, and relative absence of cloud. It has been very cold here and when the mercury hangs around minus eight for too long then the sea starts to freeze over – we have heard tales of boats crunching though a skin of ice on their way to the island – but this sort of thing does not make for a bad winter up here. Our friends Tony and Joyce, who lived all winter in the marina on board their lovely wooden yacht, told us they wandered ashore for the New Year barbeque festivities but once the New Year was in and the echoes of ships’ sirens had faded away they scuttled back below decks again. It was minus ten degrees after all and the chill from the light breeze that had spring up made it just too cold to hang around. But still it was ‘great’.

Our first slice of the glory of the place came as we journeyed north from Glasgow on the bus. This three hour trip must qualify as the best way to spend £5 known to civilised man, especially when the sun is casting its longest shadows across the hills and valleys. Setting off at 6pm we travelled the whole journey in what the Scots call the gloaming, that extended period of twilight found in these higher latitudes, across a landscape that although predominantly brown, was full of many shades and textures of the hue. There was last year’s bracken (tan coloured) lying amongst tussocks of grass (straw coloured) all barely recovered from the crush of snow. There were brown trees just beginning to think about making leaves and there were acres of heather which hasn’t even started at all. The water in the lochs was a deep brown too although it was the splashes of silver and gold reflected from the low sun that most caught the eye. The amazing roadside scenery from Loch Lomond to Mull gave us the most spectacular ‘Welcome Home’ we could have wished for. And this was just the start.

We have been fortunate indeed to bring high pressure with us to Scotland, sunny skies and light winds which have raised the temperature far above its seasonal norm. As I write the Western Isles are the warmest part of the UK, hotter even than what we left behind on the Italian Riviera! And the sun has brought the gorse bursting into flower, filling the air with its exotic coconut fragrance. Yes, coconut.

Over in the marina, Cirrus Cat has been well looked after in our absence. Our belongings are all safe and dry and the new genoa, ordered last September and sewn impeccably together during the coldest months of the year, fits the boat snugly, an excellent example of the sailmaker’s skill.

We can hardly believe our fortune as we gaze about us.
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