Over the last few days high tides and a scouring north westerly wind whipped up coffee coloured foam and piled it high. Gusts carried salt and globules of froth to stick on my cheeks and glasses. Gone are the sand castles of summer holiday-makers; instead there are fragile, unstable towers wobbling and shivering, heaps of rust and green seaweed and a few abandoned pieces of wood, blackened by the campfires of visitors. Sadly this is no golden September or ‘Indian summer’ but a feisty re-churning of the weather systems that brought alternating sunshine and showers to Wester Ross through the whole of August. And while hurricanes sweep through the western Atlantic the changeable weather here is just a small reminder of how atmospheric and ocean dynamics control so much of our lives.
As dog and I pathered along the coast path and down to the beach this morning, Skye and the Outer Hebrides slowly emerged from a dull grey shapeless horizon. Rolling clouds began to fracture, gradually uncovering pale turquoise and peachy patches of clear sky. In the gaps between showers I could see houses on Skye, and for a few moments the stripes of Kilt Rock, some 14 miles away across the Inner Sound, gleamed before disappearing in pale haze.
Water is still streaming down the hillsides finding new routes to the sea after all the heavy rain. As Dog and I reached the shore-path a solitary otter slithered and splashed along one of the rivulets, slinking under a fence and between boulders. He stopped, caught my eye and then dashed into the waves. A few seconds later he surfaced and floated on his back looking directly at us. Dog began nosing amongst the seaweed and rocks but the otter took no notice; instead he watched me, until perhaps satisfied that I was not going to interfere with his crabbing, he rolled over and vanished into the waves.
As the otter disappeared a cawing noise swirled about somewhere. Looking about I missed any final glances of ottery curiosity that may have emerged from the water but then spied three ravens flying along the cliff edge. They may have been looking for creatures driven out from their holes by the pouring waters or hiding under tufts of heather. I held a dog biscuit in my outstretched hand wondering if that would entice them nearer. The largest raven flew back and began to circle above us; he cawed loudly and looked down, seeming to inspect what I offered him. And then the other two joined in, also curious. I have not seen ravens on this small stretch of coast before and for me the encounter was ‘a first’. They flew close until Dog realised I held one of his treats and came to sit next to me. I watched as the ravens flew away over the hill while Dog waited patiently for his biscuit.
The overt boldness of birds and otter is the surest sign that summer is over, that the holiday season has ended. Our small beach has been busier than ever this year reflecting the large increases in tourist visitors to the Highlands that many are reporting. Family and friends have been coming to visit thick and fast for most of July and August, so our croft too has been a busy place.
These two months in the Highlands are usually characterised by a mixture of sunshine and showers, heather bloom and biting midges. And for almost all of August vigorous showers swept in from the west flowing swiftly behind thick ruffles of indigo and grey cloud. None lasted long; they were interrupted by brighter spells and occasionally by several consecutive days of sunny warmth and dazzling light.
Despite increased rainfall the air has been thick with sweets scents of heather, myrtle and juicy grass-growth, and with buzzing bees. Dragon flies, damsel flies and other long-winged and brightly coloured insects danced over bog pools and ditches and skipped along the river; and in the warm, moist conditions wild flowers have bloomed especially along the river bank.
The coast has glowed with rich, ripe colour in wet spells: russet beaches, aquamarine seas and purple-blue clouds.
Warm and shower-free days blinked brightly with azure waters, lemon and turquoise skies and apricot sands. When clouds and sunshine followed on quickly from one another the sea appeared to be diamond crusted, the sky made of jet and tourmaline.
On the beach, whether wet or dry, the squeals and excitement of children merged with the sounds of singing waves and boisterous sea breezes, and for a time otter and seabird footprints were replaced by various digging and castle-building enterprises.
Now the evidence of creaturely activity is all around us again: footprints, spraint, nibbled crab’s legs, mysterious holes in heather and grass, droppings on rocks, bent stems and muddy scrapings. And once again it is the voices of wilder things that spread out across the landscape and come knocking at my door.
Normal service has been resumed.