roses

The Beast from the East is washing up roses; yellow roses, long-stemmed and fresh. They lie in front of me on the shingle shore, a bit battered but still intact, their damp petals closely furled and gently tinged with pink like cheeks flushed from the cold.

Where have they come from? I look around to the snow-covered hills behind and then back to the growing wildness of the sea ahead. It seems so improbably, to be standing here beneath all these white-capped waves and hills and find damp yellow petals at my feet, but here they are. I stare at them more closely. Their tender colour is vivid against the dark wet stones and, in this monochrome world, their presence makes everything else look even more black or white.

And I can’t decide which is whitest: the froth on the waves as they spill over, scalloping the shore, or the fresh snow lying in crystallised lines among the pebbles, or the smoothed fragments of quartz, or the plump breasts of the eiders paddling out into the wind, or the lean bellies of the herring gulls soaring up sideways in the stiff air, or the blanketing cloud pushing in briskly overhead, or the pure white disc of the sun within the cloud, sometimes dropping a cold platinum glint on the grey water, other times bestowing a soft sheen which rises on the slow westering swell before casting itself graciously on the shore.

I can’t decide and it doesn’t matter as I stand here before this shone water, before this powerful sea turning itself over with a glancing tenderness at my feet, softly smashing on the shingle like crumpled petals, like flung roses washed clean.

rosy-tinged yellow rose on wet pebbles with white surf receding behind

West Bay, Dunoon, Argyll, Scotland
28th February 2018

Ettrick Bay

cold sea, cold sun,
   Arran hidden within a vanishing haze,
      shining sands evaporating invisibly

Ettrick Bay, Bute, Argyll, Scotland
23rd February 2018

tasks

Everything’s done that needs to be. The hills are heaped up, the moors stripped down, the beaches lovingly spread. The deer are taking care of themselves, ambling in their steady streams down and up the slopes.

There’s nothing to do here.

What a relief.

Lochinver, Assynt, Scotland
3rd September 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

tenderness

It was a dark and stormy night when we arrived, dropping anchor finally at midnight. Ara’ Deg, our ship, had borne us through it, yard snapped and mainsail useless, but ploughing on with her foresail and newly-fixed engine. It was rough sailing but we tied ourselves on, and up and down the waves through hammering rain she carried us, two bodies in one.

We rode it out together – the skipper kept us sailing and I kept my nerve – and we’re glad for that. But when the morning comes and the sky clears, we take separate tenders to row ashore to the sunny Irish harbour we find ourselves beside.

We tie them up at a set of stone steps on one of the piers. Each is tethered with its own painter (rope) and each has its own shape and buoyancy – one a rigid fibreglass shell, the other a plump inflatable. As such, they have divergent trajectories of drift, as we do once we climb up onto land. Yet while we are gone the tide – washing in, washing out – nudges them together. And when we return, there they are, sitting on the exposed sand, gunnel to gunnel, as if despite their different tendencies they belong together after all.

small scruffy fibreglass tender and inflatable grey tender beached side by side

Kilronan, Inishmore, Aran Islands, Ireland / Cill Rónáin, Inis Mór, Oileáin Árann, Éire
15th September 2015

beach

The land is slow here. Green hillsides flow gently down and shallow lochs lie pooled in their hollows. Sheep, cows and horses lazily graze and the odd car putters along the small single-track road which curves along to the beach, where the gentleness finishes and the land disgorges itself between steep-cliffed jaws.

Great slid slabs and tumbled boulders lie piled around a choked throat of a beach, thrown up from a raw red gut. Some are smoothed into sensual bulbs and bulges by the steady lapping of the sea, but at the edge of the sand, worn rows of serrated teeth catch at the sea’s lips, and white waves rush over and smash into scudding cream foam.

Someone nearby told me that only a few years ago the beach was scalloped and sculpted with golden-white sand, before a few storms blew it all up onto the grass (and the farmhouse) behind. But I like it like this: rock-jawed, boulder-throated, and frothing wildly at the mouth. It’s not a beach to be folded into brochures. There’s no domestication here.

Balchladich, Assynt, Scotland
22nd February 2014