Nothing to do with my walk to Brighton, in fact a journey in the opposite direction: our annual holiday in Scotland.
One perk of staying in their holiday cottages is the opportunity to explore the grounds out of hours. We wandered through the artist-friendly gardens on a blazing evening, saw the first glimpse of Skye at the end of the loch, discovered a Japanese garden and had a mono no aware moment, finding two petals on a cast-iron bench in the Old Rhododendron Glade.
Another nature-meets-art moment: finding alpine strawberries growing in this piece of hillside, carved with the legend LIFE IS NOT A REHEARSAL by artist Graciela Ainsworth.
This reminded me of something I read at school – a man fleeing tigers, dangling from a cliff, death above, death below – sees a strawberry growing from the cliff and eats it – ineffable sweetness. (Fuller version here.)
(As it happens there was a sculpture of a cheetah nearby suggesting that the cliff+wild strawberry+carnivorous cat combo may be a repeating pattern in the warp and weft of things.)
Other trips made while we holed up at Attadale, in log-stove/DVD/malt whisky comfort:
Across the nearby bridge to Skye on a dramatic, lowering day; grey hills streaked with waterfalls, reminding me of Gary Snyder’s ‘Mountains and Rivers Without End’. It’s all in flow, it’s just that the water flows faster than the stone.
Out to Ullapool; breakfast in the excellent Tea Store
(Ullapool has a fine bookshop, where I looked for new Scottish poetry; bought three volumes from Two Ravens Press who are actually based in the town: Kevin Williamson, Dorothy Baird, Larry Butler. A hat trick. I found these diverse works troubling an rewarding in equal measure. Result!)
Inverewe Garden, visited now for the third time, always on aspic days like this, though never before with such concerted midge attacks. Skin So Soft, invented by Avon from Blakes 7, does indeed help repel them and, as a side effect, is giving me the aged suppleness of a lady’s glove.
Revisiting the Old Inn at Gairloch – which was nice as always, though the food wasn’t as good as we remembered; perhaps their continuing popularity and numerous awards are making them complacent. By contrast, a meal the next day at the Potting Shed at Applecross was fantastic – local produce prepared thoughtfully but unfussily. The Potting Shed is based in an attractive walled garden combining raised beds, colours that blazed in the odd moment of sun, and wild corners.
I finished the new James Bond book that morning, and found Sebastian Faulks’ effort better than the critical slatings had suggested (certainly a better pastiche than the Amis, Gardner, Benson and Higson ones, with the 1960s setting a lot more interesting than the timeless present of many of the franchise versions.) Bond-like driving skills were needed as we crossed Bealach na Bà, a switchback pass dropping from 2035ft in a sphincter-tightening, brake-burningly short space of time. Despite a fear of high, exposed places and blind corners, Jennie managed very well, hanging grimly on to the steering wheel – literally a white-knuckle ride. At one moment it looked as if we would simply stop, in which case I suppose we would have had to stay on the hills, preying on travelers like Sawney Bean and family.
A slow day followed, with a trip to Plockton. This place may well be an ‘unbelievably picturesque village’ (Rough Guide to Scotland 2006), but on this day it exuded misery and distaste for visitors, through the maws of its ‘gift shops’, ‘studios’ and the like (the obvious nodes of antipathy to tourism.) Clearly the winding road had deposited us in the evil mirror-universe version of the ‘chocolate-box row of neatly painted cottages ranged around the curve of a tiny harbour’, or perhaps in a time-bubble, doomed to recycle an inhospitable moment for eternity.
Moving on swiftly, we enjoyed a restorative meal and input of humanity from the good folks at the Carron Restaurant
…and then our Loch Carron time was over.
More holiday linkathon to follow…
…and here’s all the pictures.