Summer has become Autumn, with all the characteristic north west Highland signposts; cooler air, sharp squalls, a multitude of rainbows, changing light and more sustained gusty winds. But what a summer!
Reader, Writer, visitor to the island and friend, Jane, spent some time at home with me in Harlosh in the final days of August.
With the last of summer on the breeze, the turning bracken, the deepening clarity of the sunlight and burgeoning brambles, she took a walk on one perfect day out to Harlosh Point.
Here are her thoughts…
Sara Maitland found her Silence in the Cuillins, which gave her space to think about what is silent, really. What about the buzzing in your ears when there’s no other sound, or the wind. Out here on the headland the wind is a constant walking buddy, and then, rounding a mound in the terrain, another wind winds up to a whistle; a wind that could creep around a haunted house. Sheep chatter amongst themselves, setting off associations in my heart with other walking holidays; other farming village homes.
Past number 6, quiet on a weekday – or off season perhaps – the air is suddenly scented with rose oil. Pink tea roses still flowering, groups of new buds, and rose-hips forming ready for autumn. Further on a furry leaved mint is thriving across the road from a cottage garden; i drape my lightweight top through it gently, to borrow some of its scent.
The sea is denim blue today, and diamond white where it smashes against the black rock cliffs.
Rocks, blocks, some black as coal, and draped in red-brown as if the seaweed has wrapped a fur coat around their shoulders. In some places its hems lie on the water, slowly disintegrating. Amongst some of the rocks a tiny pool is lined with green, bright and young as an unripe lime.
I go through the gate into a “No dogs” enclosure. I feel safe here, with only the sheep to negotiate. I lie down on the soft green mattress and stare up at cloudless blue. I scramble down the grass into a cove with fishing debris caught on the rocks and look out to the sharp jags of the Cuillins. I pick my way down to a tiny bay, take my shoes off and feel the hardness of the rock and the moth-toned silk patches of lichen. Not wanting to put my shoes back on I follow the sheep tracks across the grass, trusting them to keep their hooves and mine out of the bog.
Jane opens with a reference to Sara Maitland, who wrote A Book of Silence in 2008 following a prolonged period of silence, including 6 weeks in a cottage on Skye. Among her thoughts on the nature of quiet she describes ‘bad silence’, hearing voices and their almost hallucinogenic effects but she bookends these ideas with the observation that a positive encounter with silence is something like a state of bliss.
I read this book before I took the decision to move to Skye and I think it had some part to play in that. I wanted away from my own noise-filled world to find quietude and space and thought I would find some here. While there are places on the island where you can truly find yourself alone and while there are times of ear-splitting silence when one can imagine a pre-industrial age, really I suppose my greater understanding after 6 years here is that there is always the noise within and unless one can find calm and quiet inside, it doesn’t matter where you are.
It’s proved difficult over the years to entice friends to visit, since it involves an epic journey for most and most have little precious free time and so it was a real moment to see Jane here, for her to share the pleasure I have had from the land and seascape of Skye. And gratifying it is to have words from her in exchange and to share them here with you…
With thanks to Dr. J Herlihy of Walthamstow, London Town, Englandshire.