Swallows, ghosts and purple rain

Our run of sassy, warm and sunny May weather ended in a flurry of sharp showers and midge mists. With the addition of moisture after weeks of dryness everywhere is sappy, buzzing and busy, especially in the croft fields. Even the surrounding hills that are bare of trees are greening now.

Winds, blowing hard over the last few days, brought rolls of bright blue, white and pearl-grey clouds across the Minch. Trundling on through the mountains they thickened, becoming violet and ink-blue bands that stained peaks and slopes darkly purple.

At the coast we missed the very heaviest downpours. Yet dry ground has been wetted enough to encourage plant growth. Once or twice I was certain the fine rain didn’t actually reach the fields but was swept up with the breezes, spritzing my face as it sluiced by.

Even with the showers daylight has been so fiercely bright that I have still needed sun glasses and sun-cream. From the garden one afternoon I could see white horses galloping through a field of aqua and a glinting Trotternish edged in silver and, feeling the pull of the sea, I set off for the shore. The Inner Sound glowed, resembling a cathedral stained-glass window with light pouring through; somehow it seemed to be lit from within and not by the sun.

There were people and dogs on our sandy beach, holiday-makers as well as locals, enticed by the sunny warmth and bouncing waves. Dog was puzzled, we usually have this place to ourselves, but we walked our grassy, downhill path anyway and headed for the shore. Salt and moisture filled the lower atmosphere adding to the silver dazzle. Scouring gusts of wind by the water’s edge were loud and exhilarating; it was like being prickled with millions of tiny silver needles. I felt grounded and in tune with the pulse and rhythm of the waves, the heat of the sun and the cold buffeting wind. Yet even with my feet firmly on the sand came a sensation of sky-diving through silver and gold. The waves were brightly turquoise or they shimmered opaquely like moonstone; all were topped with crests of royal icing. Dog danced in and out of the sea and I wanted to go in too.

Aware of others coming onto the beach I retraced my steps. Some of the sand was so smooth it looked as though had been skimmed by a skilled plasterer. There were rippling pools, sand on one edge, cobbles and stones on the other. Voluptuous wave forms were everywhere: in the sea, rocks, sands, shells, seaweeds and clouds, and even the storm-gifted branches I have added to our log seat. There is so much of the feminine in the natural world.

I turned away from the glinting water and went up to the log to sit and watch. Dog lay down in the warm sand. A family walked slowly along; a small child, parents and another adult with a walking stick, a grandparent perhaps. A choke caught in my throat. Memories came flooding in, washing up and down in waves. This little scene could have been a replay of one of my own holidays with our youngsters, my parents in tow; such happy days, so fleeting and so very, very bright. I watched as the small child tottered back and forth picking up shells, seaweed and handfuls of sand. There is a picture of me somewhere with my own mother doing exactly the same thing on a beach a long time ago. I could lay it out next to photographs of our children and grandchildren, and with others of my grandparents, sepia children themselves, and trace in them all the instinctive intergenerational love of the sea and shore on bright, wild and windy days.

In the evening, I headed once more down the track, drawn to the sea by still ghosting memories stirred up during the afternoon. The brightness had sailed into the west, sunset was not far away. Dog raced ahead. The tide was high and the sun was sinking quickly. At the shore I stopped to listen to dunlins. Their cluster calls were loud and in unison; they sounded like the distant roar of a football crowd heard several street blocks from a stadium. The birds were scavenging mounds of titian and orange seaweed dried and shrivelled by sunlight. They saw us and lifted up in teams. I tried to count them and failed, thinking there were three or four groups, each of twenty birds, but they swooped back and forth so quickly that I couldn’t really tell. At the edge of the machair I sat down on a boulder still warm from the day’s heat, dog beside me. The birds soon returned to the largest mounds of kelp closest to us. We were as still as we could be. The seaweeds glowed in the last rays of sunlight. Other birds joined the dunlins: sanderlings, ringed plovers, a few turnstones, rock pipits and wagtails, and the air was still and quiet for a few moments as they all picked at the debris.

Behind me stonechats piped and rattled from fence posts. Then the gusting winds seemed to sift swallows out of the air and they tumbled and spilled across the slopes and along the shore. Despite the heat and flame in the sky the air was cold. As I stood up and turned for home, birds scattered in a piping rush. I walked back upslope; the grassy turf path, though well used, was thick and lush. As my feet trampled and knocked the grasses and sedges tiny twisting clouds rose up like miniature dust devils in a desert. Lace wings, moths and other insects, disturbed by my passage, were visible in the low angled evening light, their wings glimmering. Swallows began to dive even lower and swoop past me at knee height, feasting, and in the last embers of sunlight they turned blood red. The whole narrow trail was a crimson artery filled with coursing life.

For a few moments I felt part of the swimming stream of nature and, family photographs in mind, had the sudden sense I was walking home with ghosts as well as with swallows.


About Annie O'G Worsley

I'm a mum of four, gran, writer, crofter & Professor of 'Environmental Change'. I now live on a small farm (known as a croft) by the sea in a place surrounded by the ‘Great Wilderness’ mountains of the Scottish NW Highlands. I was a full-time academic, a geographer, but I decided to go feral and follow my dream of living a smaller, simpler, wilder life. I have always loved wild places. As a child I was inspired by tales of Trader Horn (my great-great-great uncle Alfred Aloysius Smith) told to me by my mother. Trader Horn spent his life wandering, mostly in Africa. I too, love stravaiging (Gaelic for wandering) and spent time in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea as a young researcher, living with tribes there. Although I spent years researching and teaching university students about environments, processes and habitats, I am discovering much, much more exploring the wilds around me. In moving away from scientific writing, I have rediscovered my wilder self and have a much deeper, truer understanding of nature than I ever had before. My work is published by Elliott & Thompson in a series of anthologies called 'Seasons' and I am currently writing a book about this extraordinary place. I continue to write academic papers with my research colleagues but I am developing new skills including landscape photography and painting. And of course, I still love to wander.
This entry was posted in beaches, birds, coasts, environment, experiencing nature, landscape, nature, nature writing, photography, Scotland, sea, Skye, weather, wilderness, wildlife and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Swallows, ghosts and purple rain

  1. Beautiful, Annie. Thank you so much for sharing this landscape with us!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A Small Country Living says:

    J & D > Beautiful, as ever, Annie! As ever, you capture the moment, the essence of where you are.


  3. Pingback: Swallows, ghosts, and purple rain | A Small Country Living

  4. That is very kind and makes me smile, thank you!


  5. Jennifer says:

    I’m transported – and what stunning images, the colour of our place bathes us doesn’t it – your hues so different from here where meadow and the gleam of a deer’s back in sun-bright buttercups affects.


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