Return Crossing

red fishing boat
ripples
snow on the Cuillin

No tea room, but the hum of conversation of men in the back, their jackets luminous, waiting on the ferry. A line of gulls on the harbour wall, and one high above, circling. An engine hums. Diesel drifts across the stillness, a chain turning as the crane lifts and lowers, the trundle of a coach down the hill.

A fishing boat chugs into harbour, rippling.

Across the water, the ferry starts its return, snow still on the peaks, and the distant keening of gulls.

Mallaig, May 2014

Looking for the Grave of Compton Mackenzie

The long grass is soaking between the graves at Cille Bharra. A late spring, only the yellow of primroses on the slopes above the cemetery and dotted gaily round the stones. We move slowly, reading dates and names.

In the centre of the graveyard: three tiny chapels. Bending low into the doorway, a single light illuminates the rough hewn walls. Rain squalls outside, a battery of wind – the distant sound of chanted prayer, and still the touch of water, pooled in the curve of a stone.

Blinking back into the light, we find his grave. I had thought it would be more: some lines about his work, or the stories, a plaque perhaps to that Whisky Galore! but after all it’s only this – a name, and dates: the beginning, and the end.

raindrops
on a wild primrose
– this stranger’s grave

blowing over
the rasping of a corncrake
after the rain

Note:
The writer Sir Compton Mackenzie, author of many books including Whisky Galore (the inspiration for the much loved film of the same name) is buried in Barra, the island that he took as his home for many years. His gravestone is in the ancient churchyard at Cille Bharra, near Eoligarry, in the north end of the island, one of the few places in the UK where you can still hear a corncrake.

The Haar

It comes suddenly in my memory, rolling off the North Sea and catching us unawares. Although it has been known to move slowly and settle, blanketing the whole of a day, or an east coast town, it moves fast at the shore till we’re running and shrieking not just with cold but laughter at the need to leave the sea so suddenly.

The haar already thick and white with cold, I see my mother standing by the dunes, her arms outstretched with towels that will scratch our skin with sand.

at the water’s edge
a shroud of haar
the seagulls cry

An Evening Walk at Tarskavaig

There’s an hour before the sun goes down. A cloudy evening but from the shore at Tarskavaig I know the light will fade against the backdrop of the Cuillins, with Rum stretching out on the horizon. It’s a fifteen minute drive, the narrow road up over the moor, no other traffic tonight, pausing only in a passing place to watch the way the light moves shades of brown on the lochan, the dot of lambs on winter-brown grass, a touch of snow on the peaks.

A small crossroads at the township, and a red phone box marks the way to the car park. Beyond the deer-gate, a path leads up over the moor, ten minutes to the bay. Swallows swoop overhead.

picking my way –
a sheep’s track
so many primroses

dusk falling…
the sound of the water
pulls on shingle

to the west
a makeshift bench…
Atlantic driftwood

barely a ripple
across the bay
a cuckoo calls

fading light –
lichen on the black rocks
a splash of sea thrift

The stillness of this soft Skye air – already the midges! Almost dark now, I make my way back up the hill, the images still playing: the blue of the sea melding into blue of the sky, only the deepest blue of Rum, its peaks a jagged echo of the Cuillins, marking the horizon.

Even in the fading light, it’s an easy path back, the red breast of a robin marking the deer fence at the end of the open moor. I pause at the door of the car. The song of a blackbird fills the evening air, perched in an oak tree that’s been bent almost double with the wind.

The road hugs the coast before the steep climb back to Kilbeg. Ahead of the final turn, the wideness of the bay at Achnachloiche and I pull over for a minute to watch the last of the evening light, fading fast now behind the dark mass of the Cuillins.

twilight on water
a line of oystercatchers
suddenly rising