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Friday, 20 January 2017

I think you’ll enjoy this beautifully-written record of a visit to Arran by my friend Lynne Emmerson:

The Glorious Significance of Quiet

The moment I step onto the sodden deck of the rusty Cal-Mac ferry, some way out of Ardrossan harbour, I start to wonder – what am I doing, why am I travelling as far from my usual city-life as I can get?

And yet … I feel my cares starting to wash away in all that greyness - the damp mist and the stinging spray flung up as the wind sweeps across the tops of mercurial waves. I can hardly tell what is sea, and what is sky. There’s just a slightly darker line like an artist’s smudged pencil mark.

The lonesome cries of gulls, following the ferry in the hope of a fatty carbohydrate tit-bit or two, cut through my city armour and pierce deep inside me evoking a strange unidentifiable longing. I stand alone, hot tears of indeterminate source blending with rain and spray, and wonder about my own tit-bits to come, awaiting me across that empty seething sound.

The movement of the water is strangely hypnotic, conjuring up images of gigantic beasts, breathing in and out, in and out; beware leviathan sleeping. In profound empathy I match its rhythms, cleansing my lungs with fresh, if somewhat sea- and rain-saturated, Scottish air; gasping slightly with the cold.

Driving off the ferry (it’s still raining) I take the eastern coastal road towards the delightfully named bay of rowan (Lochranza) situated in the north of the Isle of Arran. At first, the road winds around tiny rocky bays populated by busy waterfowl, whinging gulls and even a fat seal or two lounging amongst the rocks. Already I’m singing as I pass tiny coastal villages before following the road up and onto the moors.

Up here, the scenery is majestic but looks worn, as if it has battled the elements for millennia. There are few buildings and not a single other vehicle before or behind me. I’ve never been anywhere so empty. As I drive, the clouds break at last revealing a lone golden eagle gliding on the air streams with sunlight glinting on his enormous wingspan. I’m surprised how privileged I feel.

On and up the road meanders with barely room for two cars to pass, hardly a problem today. Soon it will switch-back down towards Lochranza. For now the road twists and turns as I steer around potholes and the odd supercilious sheep wandering, for his or her own reasons, across from one stretch of vegetation to the other, and which looks neither more nor less greener.

The newly visible sun is highlighting the colours of this Scottish island landscape. Everything is subdued, blurred and smudged as if an imaginary artist has wiped her arm across a pastel drawing. My island-dwelling friend tells me that Scotland has its own official palette of colours – delicate heathers and subtle greens, soft silvers, peat browns and dilute blues – all just tinted grey, really.

I stop, get out, and look around at all this space, and I realise it’s true. Here is my friend’s colour chart spread out before me; and, like an ancient bard, I suddenly feel a deep-seated need to record Arran’s subtle beauty through art, through poetry, within my dreams.

Paradoxically, with the weight of gloom-laden clouds still draped heavily over the central peaks, I feel my spirits lifting as the sun warms the moorland causing occasional drifts of ephemeral mist. How soul-nourishing it is to feed on such bounty, to rest one’s city-bred cynicism and allow consciousness to expand, muscles (of the body and mind) to relax, and breathing to slow, in keeping with a pace that has barely changed since pagan times: slow time.

In my mind’s eye I imagine I can sense the hand of ancient deities in the blurred yet rugged lines of the moors, the call of sea and moorland birds, the dark, mysterious woodland down in the valley, the streams that bubble magically up from the ground to trickle over beds of strewn rocks, and in the rain-fed waterfalls cascading down from jagged impenetrable peaks at the islands centre. Other than the sounds of nature it is strangely quiet. This is a land that sleeps with one eye open, watching maybe for the next insecure, innocent city-dweller to seduce. Can anyone, ever, better the artistry of wild nature?

Shaking my head to release my poetic musings I recommence my journey down from the moors, turning at last through the gates of my friend’s campsite where I’ll be staying for the next few days. It nestles between two rolling bracken- and heather-clad hillsides, and cannily opposite, on the west side of the road, the island’s award-winning distillery.

The campsite sits a short walk from Lochranza village, directly in line with one of those typical box-like Scottish castles, ruined now but still standing sentinel on its rock in the midst of the bay, surrounded by little bobbing boats. Continuing beyond this, the road passes traditional cottages and modern bungalows before turning left and travelling back down the west coast.

Around the campsite grazes a herd of curious fawns and does, whilst I can hear the stags bellowing their superiority, ownership and challenges from somewhere upon the bracken-covered hillside. A red squirrel runs from behind a massive horse-chestnut, dodging death by Chevrolet Matiz. I’ve only been on the island a short while and I’ve already seen so much wildlife; I shake my city head in wonder.

After checking in and unloading my car I sit on the caravan step to enjoy a cup of hot and much-needed caffeine. Gazing around my heart expands almost to bursting-point as the sun sinks over the western hilltop, painting the loch and surrounding hillsides in a metallic palette of gold, bronze, silver and steely lavender-grey. Like some wild creature I lift my head and snuffle the air, relishing its heather-fragrant, quiet noisiness that tastes and sounds so different from city air. Surprising myself I let the mantle of responsibility drop away as a mystical realisation dawns. I feel like I’ve come home.