We resolutely donned full waterproofs and set off up the road in the cold driving rain, leaning into the wind, and turning to walk backwards as the sleety hail stung our faces. I didn’t bother to take my phone or camera, the weather was too awful. This was just a quick dog walk to stop us all from going stir crazy, stuck inside, locked down in Harris by gales and rain as much as anything else.
At the old school we left the road and followed the torrenting river down towards the shore. This is where I started a beach clean a couple of weeks ago. I had piled 6 sacks of rubbish neatly in a sheltered spot, awaiting collection once youth work can begin again and I can get the kids involved in helping me remove it by sea. The wind had interfered with my neat stash, and in the driving rain I now re-stacked the bags, tucking stray plastic debris back inside them, and anchoring them down with drift-wood and an old fish-farm pipe.
We stared around the pebble beach at all the fresh debris lately driven in by the storms. Bright flecks of white and orange plastic churned amongst the brown seaweed lying in heaps of tangled green fishing net and bright blue nylon rope. The wind and swell teams up to sweep everything into SW facing coves like this one all along this rugged shoreline of North Harris. It’s the same story all over the Hebrides. These little nooks hold all the rubbish, while the other beaches are some of the cleanest you will find anywhere in Britain.
We started to walk along the coast back towards Miabhag, watching our footing as we negotiate slippery rocks and burns running deeper than usual with melt water from the hills, glancing up occasionally to take in the churning ocean and to brace against the next squall coming at us across the Sound of Taransay. Huge waves were visible as far away as Borve, the white water ripping from their tops to be carried high in the air and raggedly dispersed.
Suddenly, the dunes at Luskentyre lit up. Giant rays of sunshine plummeted through a break in the cloud, illuminating an area about 3km south of us. This other worldly patch of sunlight was blowing our way rapidly.
We continued walking, just reaching Aird Miabhag and the mouth of Loch Miabhag (our loch) before we were stopped in our tracks again. The suns rays landed on us. The immediate area just lit up, whilst the sky above Tarbert turned to charcoal. The active water in the mouth of the loch transformed to a bright, translucent, gum-drop emerald green, contrasting brilliantly against the blackest day sky I have ever seen. Daryll and I just stood and soaked it up, as the sun glinted off every wet surface, making the sky seem blacker still. If I had my phone or camera, I might have captured an element of it, but then I wouldn’t be writing this.
So instead of fumbling for the best shot, I just braced myself against Daryll and watched the drama unfold. Catabatic gusts came tumbling and twisting off Beinn Dubh, gathering water off the surface of the sea to form swiftly moving plumes and spirals, which, undecided about what direction they were taking, swept up and down the West Loch Tarbert. We imagined our own reactions if we saw one of them coming towards us from a sea kayak….You would frantically try to dodge it, but it would hunt you down to suck you up and spit you out as extra marine debris to wash up on Brandasaig bay.
I looked out to the skerry a couple of hundred metres off-shore. Brightly illuminated waves were crashing into it, their spray carried high above and across it. The first time I ever got in a sea kayak I paddled from here over to that skerry to visit the singing seals, and back again. It was a flat calm day, and I kept thinking, “I won’t capsize. Why would I capsize?”. In my mind, sea kayaks were for exploring, and I was going to start the way I meant to go on. I never imagined that 5 years later I would be a sea kayak coach who has helped many people make their first wobbly paddle strokes on beautiful still days, unlike this one, right here in these seas. Today, it would be an exhilarating adventure for any experienced kayaker to survive that short journey to the seal skerry and back.
The darkness over Tarbert abated, and the contrast settings equalised around us, so we got moving again, taking the high line adjacent to the shore of our loch, heading inland back towards our village. Our self-built house stands there, steadfast and wooden, among the other houses. All apart from ours show a blind gable end against the SW wind rushing into the glen. The sunlight flashed defiantly off our tall gable end windows causing us to mull over, once again, the pros and cons of achieving those amazing views out of the mouth of our loch, as we watched the house bearing the brunt of those mighty gusts funnelling into Glen Miabhag. The other houses in our village were certainly not built with views in mind, and none of the ruined dwellings were visible to us from here at all, having all been wisely tucked down into dips out of the way of these high winds by the past inhabitants of these shores.
As we stood with the wind at our backs, discussing how robustly we hope and believe we have built our house, another wonderful thing happened; a beautiful rainbow gradually formed and brightened around Miabhag nam Beann. From our high point above the shore, it encircled the village, showing us 2/3 of a circle, rather than the usual rainbow shape; the full spectrum of colour continually intensifying with our little house at its centre. All this against the backdrop provided by the steeply sloping monochrome forms of the North Harris hills; raw gneiss, clad in white patches of thawing icy snow, their peaks and ridges drawing a familiar and awesome horizon. A line well known to our eyes and our feet.