Buchan Ness Lighthouse in Boddam, Aberdeenshire, shining its light out into the sunrise.
We’ve reached the point in the year, here in Northern Scotland, where light is scarce. It arrives late in the day and leaves early, by about 4pm. But that low sun does some special things, especially at the beach:
And the low temperatures play with ice and colours…
Above is the large sand dune on Fraserburgh beach known as Tiger Hill. Below, a puddle.
Rivers and lochs seem to reflect back more light than you can see in the sky. Morning reflections at Pitfour:
The sun sets in the woods… What sparks of light have you spotted in winter?
We arrived in the dark. On a boat. It missed the pier and had to spin round and go back out to sea before trying again. It was all very exciting.
Port Askaig, Islay:
So, the five of us – four humans, 1 canine – went to bed in a lovely old house and awoke to sunshine and a eucalyptus tree.
We ate breakfast. We unpacked. We ran about on golden beaches…
and had our cares blasted away by the wind on rocky shores.
There was much fireside sitting and eating and laughing and talk.
History was explored. The Kildalton High Cross and church:
The Seat of the Lordship of the Isles at Finlaggan in the soft island rain:
Then, refreshed and de-stressed, it was back on the ferry to the mainland, though the view there is of Jura:
We passed Kilchurn Castle on Loch Awe:
And walked between weather-battered oak trees on our way home.
There’s more (oh, so many more!) photos on Twitter and Instagram.
Beautiful isn’t it? Yet, I felt panicked when I saw the loch was being drained. I stood like an angry lorax at the side, pointing at trees that had been felled to carve an ugly canal in the bank, asking irate questions: Why? When will it be fixed? Why?
It didn’t look quite like that then.
The freshness of the change was jarring. A conversation made things better. It wasn’t mindless destruction. There was talk of a loch-improving grant. There will be an island to encourage wildlife. There are to be oxidising plants to improve the water quality.
Swans started spending the night in the new shallows of the loch:
They left a feathery tide:
Sunrise still happens.
Clouds still gather in dramatic formations.
I walk out onto the frozen floor of the loch and examine long-hidden tree branches, pine cones, old boat jetties and numerous wine bottles (who?). I like getting to know the space in this new way, looking back at the shore, seeing it from a different angle. Nature doesn’t take long to smooth over the tracks of human intervention. There’s been mist, there’s been ice and now there’s snow.
What will Spring look like? I’m not sure, but there’s going to be beauty. There always is.
I mentioned a visit to The Wine Tower, Fraserburgh’s oldest building, in a previous post here. During a recent Doors Open Day it was… open! Inside we go:
There was no humming and hawing from our guide as there sometimes is in official written histories of the place. The topmost room of the wine tower was a 16th century (post Reformation) Catholic Chapel owned by the Frasers of the nearby castle. The carving you can see above depicts Christ’s hands and feet. The one below is the Fraser crest, held by an ostrich.
There seems to have been little or no exploration of the two lower rooms, the middle one can only be reached via this hatch:
The old castle kitchens were also open for dark and creepy viewing:
Further up the coast on the way to Rattray beach, we came upon another church. The 13th century St. Mary’s Chapel had these very interesting steps. I skipped up them…
and down the other side…
I later found out that they are known as ‘Pirate steps’. Pirates and smugglers were not permitted to pass through the gates of a kirkyard, but presumably were allowed to attend church.
Let’s end on an Autumnal painted sky sunset.
The view turns green.
Fairies dance and laugh in the woods.
The canopy returns.
Trees froth and flower, filling the air with their sweetness.
There’s blue above and blue below. The return of summer.
Clouds of mist swirled over the surface of the loch last night. An unexpectedly hot day led to unexpectedly beautiful conditions. Well, not completely unexpected, it’s always beautiful, always different.
Summer brings lush green foliage and colour to the loch*, it’s not very deep so swimming can be warm.
That glassy ‘stand and stare’ stillness can happen at any time of year. Sunsets are pink, silver or even purple. Whatever the sky is doing is intensified in reflection.
Winter is fierce. One year layer upon layer of ice and snow built up so thick that people and dogs ran about on it. It was at once surreal and yet so very real, unconnected from civilisation as it feels up there in the woods. No TV, no computers, just life and joy and fun on a natural huge flat screen among the trees.
I feel the need to go for a walk and wonder what awaits me today. A liquid mirror? Slow moving ripples? The slightest change in airflow, made visible by water. There’s blue in the sky so there will be in the loch. Maybe there’ll be swans, or an otter leaping about on the banks (happened once), a boat, a dog, an owl… Excuse me, I need to go.
* I freely admit to having overused the word ‘loch’ in this post. The word ‘lake’ is not a suitable substitute. If you don’t come from Scotland you can have no idea how very wrong that notion is. And while we’re at it, make sure you’re saying/thinking the word right. The ‘ch’ sound is like a Scottish wildcat (something I once saw up by the large expanse of water, but no one believes me) hissing in the back of your throat. There you are, got it.
How could I have forgotten what proper cold feels like? It pulls you up short as you realise that just breathing in the sub zero air is going to chill you, no matter how well wrapped up you are. And the dark, the days that don’t begin until half way through the morning and seem to end at 3 in the afternoon. This is the truth of December in Scotland.
I complain (this was especially evident during the five hour power cut we had last week), but I love it. It’s a time of hibernation, of books and log fires, and writing, writing, writing; no hot sun to distract and lure, only the occasional frosty bright sunrise.
I’m also enjoying all the Christmas cookies and hot chocolate of the season, sparkly tree lights, nostalgia made real.
It’ll all be over soon. The Solstice will herald the lightening of the nights, that’s always noticeable quite quickly. But for now I appreciate the views of winter: the loch is frozen and my neighbour forgot to take in his boat, now also frozen.
And the field makes me think of chocolate cake dusted with icing sugar…