A magical place, where I spent idyllic childhood summers. (Article written for Writelink, Writer of the MOnth, November, 2006)
I have just returned from a blissful 5 days in the Scottish Highlands, the place that has such an unbelievable pull on my soul that I can no longer ignore it. There is simply no other place I want to be. And I intend doing something about it.
Before I recount the trek to the bothy I must mention my entertaining flight, thanks to two delightful people. Their names escaped me, so let’s call them “nice lady” and “window man.”
British Airways connect, is not to be recommended if you are anything other than Pygmy, and if you are over size 16 forget it, you’ll need two seats.
I arrived on board, clutching my Boarding Pass downloaded from the internet; all jolly good so far, I thought, but I found a lady sitting in my seat, so smiled and suggested that she had made a mistake. She laughed and gesticulated to someone. “Told you, didn’t I?” Wasn’t quite sure what “so” was, but sat down and minded my own business. A very large young man seemed to be sitting like a hen on broken glass. I know now, that he simply didn’t have room to sit normally. (Good old British Airways). The word “sardines” springs to mind. It really was a tight fit. Remarks started to flow between “nice lady” and “window man” mostly, somewhat sarcy, and referring in humorous overtones to “what would you expect, flying to somewhere like Inverness”. Words guaranteed to “get my dander up”. I didn’t bite but silently fumed. Why do they want to go to Scotland if they are going to be so sarcastic about it? I ticked myself off for being so tetchy. I decided to offer something to the conversation and waited for an opening. “Nice Lady” said something about it being just a small plane. “You think this is small? Try Norway,” I said.
And that was it. I wasn’t sure if she was with “window man” and soon found out that in fact her hubby was on the other side of the aisle; an internet faux pas. The sideways sitting guy talked about when he was in Italy, when he was in America, when he was here and when he was there. Hmmm. Well travelled! I wondered what his occupation might be. When nice lady visited the loo, I took the opportunity to ask him.
By this time I had noticed the Versace label inside his jacket.
“I sell furniture” he smiled.
“Crikey, it must be very posh furniture” I replied.
“No, not really, just well made. We supply people like Reid’s.”
My father was a House Furnisher. He had shops in three Border towns, and we had a workshop that even boasted French polishing. I told my new friend all about the “good old days” and he deigned polite interest.
When our third musketeer returned to her seat we enjoyed a varied and entertaining conversation. We talked about everything, from the McCartneys to the cost of a pair of Versace jeans.
I discovered “window man” lived in Florida. I had a go at him about infiltrating the alligators’ habitat, and when were they going to stop building there. He took it on the chin like the true gentleman he was. From thereon I ribbed him about his flash watch and asked what kind of car he drove. (Three actually!) “Nice lady” and I giggled and teased when I asked what the Sunday one was. It was some fancy Mercedes hard top convertible, but we roared when he was asked if his wife was allowed to drive it. No!! She was afraid of it. OH Pleeeeeez!!
Poor guy, didn’t stand a chance after that. When the glint gets in my eye, I take a bit of stopping.
I made his day when I told him that my Versace jeans only cost me a tenner, and that my full-length cashmere Jaeger coat was a spanking £5.50. He had paid 500 euros for his wife’s Versace denims and almost 500 euros for a matching tee shirt.
In what seemed like a very short time we landed at Dalcross.
“Window Man” said. “Well thank you ladies. I’ve had a really enjoyable flight. Just think I could have been stuck with two boring old gits!!”
Well “Window Man” and “Nice Lady” the feeling is quite mutual.
I just wonder if “Nice Lady” got out of Golspie before the storm struck. I know that was where she was headed.
As for “Window Man”? He was met by his chauffeur. Cor, how the other half live. But a lovely guy, no flash Harry. No boasting.
All a far cry from the fisherman’s bothy that has remained etched in my memory since childhood. The place I just had to revisit.
My naughty old uncle (you would understand the adjective if you had known him) used to rent the redundant bothy from the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. It opened up a world of freedom and love of nature to my three cousins and I.
Nestled amidst the whins at the tip of a straggly point that looks out to the Moray Firth and the Black Isle, it was only accessible by a rough track, through several gates. It was a low roofed, single storey building, with whitewashed walls and a slate roof. My uncle painted the only door a welcoming red. Inside the door were two rooms. To the right were four bare walls that became the kitchen with provisions kept in orange boxes and cooking done on a gas stove. A battery-run radio sang out guid auld Scottish music.
To the right was the “living quarters”. The hiss of the Tilley lamps lulled you into a cosy stupor as we sat round the open fire and listened to the wind as sand whisked under the outer door. Enormous oak bunks formed an L shape in one corner. All four were doubles, which must have been capable of sleeping 8.
Outside the front door were two stoic benches made from old railway sleepers. We often visualised the fishermen with their weather-beaten skin, tapping out their pipes and mending their nets. Only the adults, my parents and my aunt and uncle, slept in the Bothy. All children slept in the big two-bedroom tent. We whispered ghost stories and watched the sea grasses whiskering against the canvas. No one dared venture to the loo after dark.
We sat on monstrous looking tree trunks, with the sun beating down on our tanned faces and watched as the little terns scurried frantically amongst the pebbles, shrieking loud warnings at the hint of any threat to their young.
Our long, unruly hair was washed in rainwater caught in a barrel, and somehow mince and tatties cooked on that little gas stove tasted absolutely wonderful. We were innocent kids, imaginations running riot, enjoying the freedom of that magical place.
My cousin Marie agreed to walk to the bothy with me. She sometimes goes down there with her white German Shepherd, “Coisty”, named after “super Aly” (McCoist, ex- Rangers for the non-football people amongst us)
A few years ago, I couldn’t have even considered walking the considerable distance to reach my destination, but my personal life has improved so drastically that a lot of my rheumatoid pain has vanished. The link between stress and pain being proved ten fold. We had to park the car in an old run-down farm steading and set off in the direction of the wee speck on the horizon.
Coisty looked a picture, his cream coat contrasting against our verdant surroundings. He’s a lovely dog; hardly ever barks.
We had plenty of time to reminisce and talk about life in general. We recalled the days when Marie’s Dad, my uncle, would bump his way down in the big Humber Hawk estate car. Every day he disappeared to fill the water butts, which somehow seemed to always take in a visit to the “Alma” in the nearby village of Ardersier. We seemed to walk for miles and still the wee speck seemed so far away. My cousin kept saying “We can turn back you know”. But I was not to be daunted.
Nothing could have prepared me for the travesty that was waiting. It obliterated my hopes and dreams. Now back in the hands of Cawdor Estates, they have lifted the roof, removed the slates and replaced them with tin! Yes tin! Some horrendous clapboarding which appeared to be made with tannalised wood, is slapped on to the upper part of her body. The door is blue, the windows boarded until the next yuppy decides to appear for a “back to nature” fix. An assortment of ropes and nets spider her sea-facing butt, like some sort of trophies from a battle with the ocean. Her whitewashed walls are no more. The rough casting has been chipped off and red bricks lie open to the angry elements.
Oh Bothy, how I mourn you. I felt your walls and heard you moan.
Across the adjacent little inlet from the Moray Firth, known locally as the Stripe, lies an enormous shed, another leftover from the recent intrusions of the oil industry; a huge ex-fabrication shed. Big talks are ongoing; marinas, executive housing?
We used to skinny dip in that inlet. Before they dug out the channel, making it twice as big. The fabrication yard came and went. No more oil rigs are born here.
The rich and arty will come and enjoy the novelty of no mod cons at our little gem, but none of them will ever know the magic of the huge oak bunks (ripped out) that housed weary fishermen. They no doubt will have something more civilised than a tent with a hole in the ground for nature’s needs, but I wonder if they will ever really understand what made her so special.
I keep my memories, forever in my heart, and despair that any so-called building expert could adulterate her beauty beyond recognition.
I wrote the following before I discovered her physical assassination.
Rest in peace dear bothy.
Only a whisper from the sea
hidden by knife-sharp sand dunes
lies a redundant Geisha,
her porcelain skin, faded now,
has stood against the ravages of
a thousand climatic tantrums,
as cosseted within her, leather skinned fishermen
closed wearied eyes relishing an evening’s slumber,
upon sturdy, varnished bunks.
Oiled sweaters on muscled backs
leaned against her sparkling walls,
next to an open door that always offered a
scarlet lipped smile, as the chore
of mending nets began.
Pipes knocked out on a weathered bench and clenched
between tarnished teeth, puffed tobacco wisps
that snaked into the waving sea grass,
home to busy terns screeching ridiculous warnings
to comrades on the shingle.
Just memories now, she stands alone,
mourning times when she was not only cherished but sacred.
Salty tears tumble down her faded skin,
she dreams of Prince Charming’s kiss,
when life may again breathe through her.
She still has much to offer those who
discover her and offer love.
Until then she sleeps.