Deiseil air gach ní – Sunwise in everything
We met at the gate of Scorrybreck House at 1.30pm on July 7th, the members of Step It Up Highland, Portree, led by John Kennedy, with Rosie Somerville representing ATLAS Arts and myself, the local artist invited to be present on this walk as part of the Còig Sgiathan Project that ATLAS Arts are promoting during 2017.
Rosie briefly outlined the aims and objectives of the Còig Sgiathan /Five Wings of Skye project;
“If you put a botanist or an ornithologist into a ramblers’ walk everyone knows what to expect but putting artists of different disciplines on walks is experimental. None of us knows, least of all the artist, what will happen. So let us go and find out.”
Not her exact words but that was the gist.
We headed up through the wood, past the old MacDonald laundry and up along the march dyke on to the moor at the back of Beinn Chracaig. The group fell naturally into twos and threes according to the state of the track. Three ladies and a dog left us at two o’clock to go back to work and the group became more intimate and leisurely. We ambled, stopped, discussed flowers, views, anything and everything that caught our interest.
I had chosen this walk round Scorrybreck because I have lived within sight of it for fifty years and know it better than anywhere. I have clambered all over it, inside it (MacCoitir’s Cave), canoed and walked and sailed along its coast and flown over it, once in a helicopter and once in the seaplane. I have studied its botany for myself, for the official recorders and also for the Nicolson clan but today all the Latin names I used to know seemed to have deserted me. I had not brought a reference book because I was travelling light – with only my own wee pocket notebook into which I had copied a few of my Scorrybreck poems in case I had the opportunity to prove I was a poet!
I was finding the walk quite easy – no adverse conditions weather-wise or midgie-wise and no fibromyalgic handicaps today either. I had expected to be tail-end Charlie, struggling to keep up with the more practised walkers, but no, I had some of my old style left. My boots, stick and waterproof breeks gave me confidence. Three cheers for that!
Walking round by Torvaig Farm is a much better option in the summer because the bracken is high on the hairpin track downhill; the going is easier and the views are even more spectacular.
When we stopped to take in the view I had fallen into step with Dave and Calum and began recounting my story of the dog and the bra, pointing out exactly where the events had happened. Their laughter and interest gave me the confidence to offer to read one of my early jingles, verses I had written for my son, Ross on his 15th birthday when he was forever exploring McCoitir’s Cave.
Later, to prove I could write seriously, I read “Seasons on Scorrybreck”.
“That’s really tender!” said Dave.
We wandered down the track, examining plants, rocks, bantering, sharing knowledge.
“What’s this? What do you call that?” “Trifolium dubium maybe”
“Is this a healing herb?” “Yes. It’s a wort – milkwort.”
“Is this a lava bomb?” “Yes. Look at the iron in it. Feel how heavy. See how it peels and flakes round and round. That’s onion-skin weathering.”
“Oh! Look! The wee white rose of Scotland!”
(We had a Yorkshire man and a Lancastrian in our gang.)
“That’s not just the white rose of Scotland; it’s the white rose of York – much better than that pale pink thing the Lancastrians have!”
Dave and John laughed together – an old joke.
Banter, chat, reminiscences, struggles with memory, all of us in the same boat with that. I fell into step with Calum from Benbecula as we crossed the glorious buttercup pasture on the limestone between the crags of Beinn Chracaig and the Beal and talked about the hardships of crofting, the impossibility of sustaining a living single-handed on a small piece of land, of the struggles of our ancestors, all crofters.
We diverted our course across the buttercup meadow to take a look at the Sailor’s Grave. In answer to John Kennedy’s query about the solitary headstone at our first meeting, I had done a fair bit of research in the Portree Archive Centre in Nancy Gatz’s excellent file on the subject. I also pointed out the DMD slate which seems to prove that others are buried next to Talorgan’s ancient cell.
Rev J A MacCulloch, minister of St Columba’s Episcopal Church Portree notes in his book,