Mull of Kintyre
I was listening to the radio the other night and the presenter was talking about Sir Paul McCartney and his songs. He played Mull of Kintyre and of course the drone of the bagpipes took me straight back to Scotland, the place of my ancestors, and my trip to the Isle of Mull in 2005. But into my mind's eye came not an image of the tiny villages of white and grey cottages clinging together as if for protection against the elements, formidable grey stone castles perched above cliffs or a restless grey sea slopping onto a grey rocky shore, but one of a bleak, wild, windswept moor between purple brown hills, cradling two lochs, like mirrors of ice.
I took out my diary, which strangely fell open at the very page where I described my trip on that day. (Scotland is a land of ghosts, myths and legends so why was I surprised it should do that). I had already written, “I am blown away with Scotland - I had no idea it was so beautiful.” But the Isle of Mull, it seemed, had sheer taken my breath away.
I had been lucky, for the May weather was bitter but calm and clear, the sea had been a millpond, and the sky cloudy but benign (friends who had done a similar trip had struck icy winds and sleet). That day the road from Craignure to Fionnphort (what a lovely Scottish name) wound through those rugged craggy hills topped with purple bald heads, so alien to a city-bred Aussie, and I was captivated.
“Up there,” said the tour guide, “can you see him?” We craned our necks. See whom? what?
“The Monarch of the Glen, up there on the highest crag of the hill.”
He was there indeed, sentinel of the moor and the two lochs, huge antlers raised in challenge, but he was just a speck and gone in an instant as our bus took us onward. A magnificent Highland deer. Is he there still? Sniffing the wind and staring at the tourist buses as they roll along the road, guarding his territory from two-legged invaders?
Little silver streams bickered through the valleys of those awesome crags, which gave way to desolate fields edged with low stone walls where shaggy tan-coloured Highland cows cropped short green-brown grass. Groves of firs marched along the contours, and around the little huddles of white houses were bright blobs of yellow - gorse bushes in riotous flower.
Our bus rattled along the very edge of the island where the water was calm and peaceful, fringed with little white and grey stony beaches, mossy mud, and tiny promontories of washed up detritus snagged by pirate rocks. But, stretching away to the distant hazy mountains, was a treacherous sea. That day it was playing tranquil and serene, but tomorrow? Would it be a raging monster? Would the wind be ripping along the crags and flinging sea spray onto the windows of the white cottages? Or would it be grey and placid beneath shrouding white mist, the tiny town of Fionnphort emerging from time like ‘Brigadoon'?
Whatever happens in the world - my two lochs and the brown moor protecting them will never change. They'll be there for next time. Whenever that is.
words: Helen Ellis, Australia
photo: Dorothee Lang, Germany (oil on copper)