Grey tails and skylarks

As the first page of March opened, tall thunder clouds passed over the Cuillin and Trotternish on Skye and glided across the Inner Sound. Soundless, austere and stately, the heights of their heads were impossible to estimate and yet I heard no thunder, saw no lightning. In between these colossal mounds and from around their billowing edges white-hot beams of sunlight were thrown, fierce and piercing. This kind of weather bleaches retinas as easily as Alpine snowfields on a sunny day, so a lack of lightning was no surprise. Fast-moving and driven by westerly winds, the anvil-headed cumuli simmered like rice boiling in a pan. They brought short, sharp showers of hail and ice interspersed with white, bright prickles of light. But by day’s end they were suffused with saffron.

_dsc3808 The morning of St David’s Day was noisy as wind grumbled in the wires, snatching at branches and rustling through clumps of rushes. And along the shore metre-high waves, large green, aquamarine and cobalt blue rollers, appeared to match the energy and movement in the sky. Some were clear enough to see orange and burnt-umber seaweeds churning inside; others were translucent and milky as they sluiced back and forth sucking up fine sands. Their collective sound was greater than the noise of the wind and they surged and frothed up over the sharp rocks at each end of our little beach. Their foams and lathers were powerful enough to knock football-sized rock cobbles against each other while smaller stones were dragged back and forth, objecting loudly, so the whole shore clacked and smacked like the sound of bubble-wrap being popped.



As showers lurched past, sunlight flashed creating gems and crystals everywhere; white spume turned to diamond and shining quartz, green and blue waves to malachite and jade, sapphire and azurite, red rock to ruby and garnet and orange sands to amber and topaz. Some cloud banks were so low they almost brushed the sea. The island-studded horizon of turquoise light was sandwiched between thick matching bars of cobalt blue, one reflecting the other. Birds taking off from the sea appeared as dazzling snowflakes that disobeyed the lines of icy showers whose dance formations were being directed by the prevailing winds.


It was cold. Even as I walked back to the croft ribbons of sun-warming relief chased the showers but passed through my body swiftly. I looked up seeking gaps in the clouds and saw dark blue patches of the high outer atmosphere. Their blues seemed so deep they pierced my eyes making them water and I had a fleeting sense of spinning as if I could feel the earth’s position and movement in space, and I was temporarily unbalanced. Then careening clouds pulled their cascading hail-snow showers behind them closing up the lacunae. Now they looked like the well-combed tails of grey horses, preened and primed for competition, flowing, rippling and glossy with motion and energy. Down at the base of these shower-tails the bogland, orange in the shimmer of reflected light, soaked the wetness up. I imagined individual Sphagnum moss stems, tiny, fragile, delicate absinthe-green and blood-red, holding their uppermost fronds to the sky; a billion, billion microscopic hands cupped to catch the falling droplets.



Rising up over fields and bog came a new voice, audible above the clacking and whooshing, hail-bouncing and wind-wailing: a skylark singing a song of spring joy as he rose high, then higher. All at once I, too, was filled with glee and knew that despite the wintriness this little bird was heralding the changes to come. Then, another bird rose, as if jolted awake by the first; then another, and another, until I could not count them in the bright light and dashing showers. Filled with gladness at the spreading colour, light and fickle warmth from the sun they began to hover, singing loudly, each matching the joy of the others. I simply laughed out loud; the sounds stopped dog in his tracks so that he too lifted his head skywards.

Back at the croft house, perhaps also roused by the skylarks, a cacophony of noise from the hedges greeted us: sparrows, feisty and pugilistic, shouting so brazenly that all their songs blended into a single stream of sound, like static from an old radio stuck between stations. There seemed to be so many of them I could not separate out individual voices nor decipher their conversations; their social media intranet was encrypted.

Try as I might the blended vibrancy of house and tree sparrow song is still too cluttered to unravel, but now I can hear other songs from the little patches of hedge and woodland: robins, blackbirds, song thrushes, blue, great and coal tits, wrens, chaffinches, goldfinches and the cooing of collared doves. There is energy and movement and a sense of excitement about.

For a few days roaming bands of starlings have also added to the music. They come to the wires in neat rows, bunched up like an audience in the seats of an old theatre, almost too close for comfort, and their voices babble and bubble as if waiting for the show to start. When they rise up their colourful coats with sparkling flecks vanish and they billow and churn like blackened fragments of burnt paper from a dying fire. Through the showers and sunshine they gambol in clusters until they drop to the wet meadows and the chattering begins again.

Geese have also begun to fly, turning their heads northwards in answer to some unseen signal; in small groups they dip down to the meadows and lochans before lifting up again to disappear from view. The migrations have not yet started in earnest but the geese are slowly and steadily moving around this wild landscape feeding as much as possible, readying themselves for departure later in the month. Like me they have been roused by the skylark’s singing, by the wild and fast-paced changing weather and by the overwhelming sense that the land is changing.

While winter still reigns in the high mountains, here, by the sea, we are sensing spring, in spite of the curling, stinging showers.

There is frogspawn in the pools of black water across the bogland.


About Annie O'Garra Worsley

Hello there. I'm a mother, grandmother, writer, crofter & Professor of Physical Geography specialising in ‘environmental change'. I live on a smallholding known as a 'croft'. The croft is close to the sea and surrounded by the ‘Great Wilderness’ mountains of the NW Highlands. I was a fulltime mother, then a full-time academic living and working in north-west England. In 2013 we decided to try and live a smaller, simpler, wilder life in the remote mountain and coastal landscapes of Wester Ross. When I was a young researcher, I spent time in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea living with indigenous communities there. They taught me about the interconnectedness and sacredness of the living world. After having my four children I worked in universities continuing my research and teaching students about environments, landform processes and landscape change. Eventually, after 12 years, I moved away from the rigours of scientific writing, rediscovered my wilder self and turned to nature non-fiction writing. My work has been published by Elliott & Thompson in a series of anthologies called 'Seasons' and I have essays in several editions of the highly acclaimed journal ‘Elementum’, each one partnered with artworks by contemporary artists. I also still work with former colleagues and publish in peer-reviewed academic journals. I am currently writing a book about this extraordinary place which will be published by Harper Collins.
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7 Responses to Grey tails and skylarks

  1. A Small Country Living says:

    J > Wow! Wonderful words and pictures, Annie.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Grey tails and skylarks | A Small Country Living

  3. alisondunlop says:

    Beautifully evocative, Annie!


  4. Sandra says:

    Oh my goodness – simply breathtaking! Thank you for this 🙂 Am I right in thinking, Annie, that you’ve changed themes? Larger font? Larger photos? Maybe it’s just me, blown away even more than usual by this stunning post. And I am delighted – more than delighted – to read in your expanded ‘about’ section that you’re writing a book! It was through the Winter volume of the seasons anthology that I came to discover you. Such a joy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sandra says:

      Ooops, forgot to add in all that gushing praise, that I have been enjoying the skylarks here too. To hear their song on a grey day is especially welcome 🙂


    • Hi Sandra,
      Thank you for your kind words. I’m so glad you like the blog. Yes, there are a few changes to style as I try to navigate WordPress ha ha!
      The book is underway and I’m excited to be doing it.
      Hope all is well with you!

      Liked by 1 person

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