I promised to write something about my holiday in Shuna but words fail to express the experience. Why have I, for decades, travelled to foreign parts for holidays when I have this on my dooorstep? Dear little ‘Fishkettle’ ferried us around on fishing expeditions and to neighbouring islands. We saw porpoises and otters and wonderful seabirds. We pootled over to Luing across the Sound of Shuna and saw their famous red cattle and their whitewashed cottages. Don Paterson wrote a poem about Luing. I’m going back there asap.
Solar power and wind power have brought some modern facilities to South End House – low voltage electricity to power lights – but this is not why you travel here. It is to experience the unique peace, tranquility and indescribable beauty of the Western Isles (and a chance to try out your wellies for consistency off-road – mine were fantastic). According to Radio 4 in 50 years the Western Isles will have a climate akin to that of Madeira. So get over there soon if you want to experience an antique land.
Out walking alone on Shuna
Half way through life and lost
(the straightway never in my ken)
I walk this place of bog, scrub forest
and clearings of head-high bracken.
With every step I take, it strafes my ankles
There is rain in the wind which does not slacken
or spare but tears at the stunted trees angled
through how many years of wind from the west?
I know not. I know nought. Only the half strangled
cry of a shag. A sailing boat hauls wind up the coast
— A West Highland Festival of Sail joyrider
I watch a while, sat on a slate, thought lost
in a sensual mist, smoking. Feeling I’ll remember
today with sadness and with joy in equal measure
These fleeting moments cut from the August calendar
Sense this day. Astringent. Crude. Bracken-pure.
Fixed by roots and stalk, unambiguous
The squelch of my boot, the meh of sheep, the scent of their spoor
in my nostrils. Should this not be enough
to satisfy a beating mind? Then turn
(artifice is absurd, ridiculous)
I round the cliff. The whitewashed house sits stiff, stern
with its list of chores to be done before we eat tonight
Could it be some oxide of iron that’s leaching from the burn?
The Otter and the Otter Stone
I saw her
At some distance
Sleek like a wave
Wash to the shore
Flash of silver throat; whiskered —
I should have hollered
Had I been sure but
Just then she arced her tail —
Once she’d gone beyond, beneath
Then I understood, what she had been
Still the otter stone remained
All following week I watched
That stone willing it to uncurl
Show me its whiskers and its tail