Villingardalsfjall

After that moment of pure terror on the mountainside – when I clung to the sliding scree in desperation, the fjord deep and blue below me – I’ve finally reached the summit and sit at its northern precipice, looking down. Fog blows up at me in cold gusts. It’s hardly a surprise: the whole summit has been crawling in cloud since I arrived but, unlike the dull clamminess I’ve come through, this fog is lit from the inside. It seems sourceless, blowing up out of nowhere in swirling puffs and, other than the lumpy rock immediately around me, I can see nothing else. I would have thought I would be disappointed: to have come all this way – by sea, by bus, by painstaking foot and hand – and not be able to see the view from this most northern Faroese peak. Yet I find I am grateful. After that terrifying moment below, to be here now in the presence of this unseen luminance, this blind light…

I become still and let it absorb me. I hear birds cackling, wind in small gusts; I see moss shining quietly when the fog is blown thin for a moment. And it’s such a beautiful fog. It fills my brain, like a dream I can’t wake from – a bright mist, a lucent opacity, a billowing emptiness I don’t ever want to leave.

Villingardalsfjall, Viðoy, Føroyar / Faroe
22nd June 2019

Arriving in Suðuroy on a Sunday morning in June

It was in a world of fair-weather fog…

Forty-four hours of blank horizons and seasickness and suddenly, unannounced, we’re here. We sail slowly up the shelterered waters of the fjord. Cold fog blows over the sheeny surface. A kittiwake arcs over us and a couple of terns pick deftly at the sea to port. The fog rises, showing the hems of steep green hills, then settles back down. A pair of great northern divers, big dark birds, sit placidly in the sea ahead.

We tie up to a tyre-lined dock and step ashore. The town is pale-streeted and quiet except for the intermittent tolling of bells. We walk the length of the town, exchanging smiles with the odd passer-by, then come back to the boat to make a cup of tea. The customs officer steps aboard, apologising for coming late due to being at church. He asks us if we have any contraband then immediately answers for us, “of course you don’t,” laughs heartily, and welcomes us to the Faroes.

“We like it here already,” we tell him truthfully. And we set off once more to explore this island behind the fog, unable to shake the uncanny feeling that we’ve sailed out of time and have arrived in an earliness of some kind; as a native poet might put it, that we’re somehow here

with the whole unspoiled world
that God had made in the first days.

(Christian Matras)

silhouette of metal sculpture of rowing boat with three rowers and a coxon, mounted above a rock in mist

Vágur, Suðuroy, Føroyar / Faroe
16th June 2019

marina

I sent photos of the marina: the still water brightly gleaming, the hills snow-covered in the distance, the boat bathed in soft late afternoon sunlight. I invited them to come and visit, telling them of how spectacular the sunset had been and adding that we still have some Aberlour aboard. Later I tucked myself into a thick downy cover beside a slowly ticking wood fire and thought snugly of them over there on the mainland, held in Glasgow’s bright busy lights.

I thought I would slide quickly into a deep sleep but instead I listened to the wind pick up and wheech round the breakwater, the halyard of the boat in the next berth start clacking against its mast; felt the waves start slapping, felt the boat begin its classic dockside jerk and sway. In the morning I woke cold and underslept and significantly less smug. But then the water stilled itself, the hills glowed rosy in the morning sun and, walking back to the marina a few hours later, a small white flower stood pink-edged against the blue twilight chill.

Boat life. Nothing beats it.

pink-tinged daisy flower seen from the side in front of blue sky, blue water and low dark hills in twilight

Port Bannatyne, Isle of Bute, Argyll, Scotland
22nd November 2016

Tangasdale beach

marram grass blowing in the wind with fine pale sand beyond

The forewaves run to and from each other, lapping and overlapping in little rippling frills. The sand shelves steeply in a concave curve so that the waves running shorewards rebound diagonally, criss-crossing back through the incoming waves in a series of interlocking diamonds.

Occasionally simultaneous groups of wavelets collide, stop moving, and then fibrillate for a few moments, like a thousand tiny hands upwaving. My chest flutters tremulously in tandem. It’s unbelievably beautiful. And the delights don’t end. Just a few paces further along the beach, a slim freshwater channel is carved in the sand and, as waves flow in over its outgoing stream, their rims curl gently under it, as if they’re cradling the stream, folding themselves around it in light white rolls of froth.

Beyond this channel the sea spreads thinly over a shallow sandbar, swelling out roundly and withdrawing, leaving a trailing edge of lacy bubbles, like a delicate shawl being strewn out and slowly gathered in. Like my heart being strewn out and slowly gathered in, and returned to me, carefully washed and intricately sewn.

Tangasdale beach, Barra, Western Isles / Barraigh, Eilean Siar, Scotland
13th August 2016

hogmanay

It was an awkward night. I didn’t know anyone in the hotel bar so I propped myself up against it and drank Glenkinchies a little too quickly while trying to make conversation with the karaoke singers when they came for refills. Midnight finally arrived with free drams and cubes of tablet and, after shaking hands with enough strangers, I went outside.

The moon hung above the eastern arm of the town like an old lamp, huge and half-lidded, kept company by a few tiny white stars. Bulging black waves banged heavily at the harbour wall beside me, their hefty slap reverberating round the deep indent of the bay. And I felt like the stars, far and high and distant from the glad swelling tides in the bar; and cold in this country that I thought was my home.

Millport, Cumbrae
1st January 2016