On a wet July day we set of through the dunes. In the novel ‘To the lighthouse’ by Virginia Woolf the family travel to Skye. Godvrey lighthouse is the actual lighthouse, that and the cafe at the were our destinations. On the way we wandered through the dunes, stumbeling through the ruins of an ordinance factory.
The path in from Acharn takes you along the southern shore of the Loch. I first walked it in Winter. Brown and damp. It leads to Arienas Point. A closely grazed green finger that stretches out from the heaps of ordered stones. Here the Oak peters out and gives way to Ash. Here the signs of a once inhabited village.
Crossed the ferry at Lochaline, turned of at Salen, and over to West Coast of Mull. Rounding headlands, with views of Coll, we arrived at a reasonably deserted Calgary Bay. My first time.
The sea was clear and cold. Little flatfish dashed away from underfeet. Fronds of kelp broken,and in places stirred like a black porridge, the sand hard from the sea. The kids had a great time.
Lunch at the Calgary Hotel – okay. The adjacent gallery – vertical clad in timber with a tin roof – attracted my attention. Light, cheap, local, and part of the Highland vernacular – what have the planners got against timber and tin.
My grandfather lived here briefly in the 1930’s- before returning to Skye. His stepfather worked at the sawmill. The ruined remains are within the galleries woodland walk. When he was growing up the laird didnt allow anyone on the beach or dunes. Occasionally in summer the boys were allowed to play football. Perhaps that might have limited the erosion. The dunes are worn and slipping, fences and brash lines coves, a foothold for the sand. Telltale holes of sandmartins, quickly flight.
‘Coffee and Books’ in Dervaig, chips on the pier in Tobermoray, home.
The track from Ardtornish Castle in Morvern to Inninbeg on the Sound of Mull is in good order. On a bright day when winter is becoming spring we set of on our bikes. Great Northern Divers are often seen along here at this time of year, but the cycling and our timetable, do not allow dawdling. We are heading for Inninmore Bay, just where Morvern begins to curve away from Mull and towards Argyll. From Inninbeg a rough and occasionally non existent track takes you to Inninmore. The woods hang thickly on steep ground below a basalt escarpment. Even in winter you only catch glimpses of sea and rock. The woodland changes as we skirt along the path. The first section, probably planted by the estate owners, is dominated by the non native beech. After a promontory bright with primroses, we are surrounded by ash and hazel, before finally it gives way to oak and birch. Eventually this too gives way to rough hill ground. We begin our descent to the bay in search of an old sandstone quarry. Just above us an Eagle takes to the air. We watch, is it White Tailed (Sea) Eagle that has drifted over from Mull, or a Golden Eagle – ‘it’s a Goldie’. Rising up, becoming smaller and smaller until it is lost amongst the specs of matter that only seem visible to an eye trained on a pale blue sky.
Farquhar Angus (2006) “the Storr: Unfolding Landscape”, Luath Press, Edinburgh
I first heard rumblings of a project to turn ‘the Storr’ (a finger of basalt at the base of the Trotternish peninsula on Skye) into an ‘environmental art installation’ in 2002. Angus Farquhar responded promptly to my answer phone request for information. We had a long chat about the iconography of landscape and about visual arts in the Highlands, a chat that left me wondering just how ‘the truth’ of Bodach Storr could/would be extracted from the myth.
In August 2005 I stood in the Storr car park waiting to find out. I was impressed by; the repair of the footpath, the light ecological touch, and the contribution to the local economy – but not the artwork. The poetry of Sorley MacLean and songs of Mairi Mhor nan Oran were confined to the non-native forestry block, while silent 70s disco dancing and the ‘Romantic’ poetry of Rilke were settled in the midst of the ridge. Invoking ‘German Romanticism’ does not disrupt the mythology of Highland landscape. It re-inscribes the Highland landscape with the ideologies that saw clearance landlords de-politicise their actions, and rewrites the area as a wilderness playground.
If the intention of the work was to highlight the role of ‘Romanticism’ in reimagining the Highland landscape (through the absent presence of any critique) then it is to be commended. If this was the project agenda, then the knowledge required to decode the message is too exclusive. Essays by people from Skye temper that sense somewhat – Rilke would have approved. Rilke (like Heidegger) saw that ‘being’ and ‘authenticity’ were dependent on dwelling. However, many of the essays deal with ‘the Storr’ at a distance, this, coupled with the relative lack of post project comment and reflection, occlude the desire to dwell authentically.
The majority of the material in this volume was handed out free at the end of the £25 trip up to ‘the Storr’. This reprint has a glossier cover, but really features no notable additions. That said, I think this is still worth a look. Spot the rehashing of the argument that heritage quangos are the new landlords, except this time clearance landlordism is cast as being a democratic shaper of landscape (sorry no book token for the first correct entry). You will find plenty of other arguments of interest and ire in this volume.
This article appeared in Issue 5 of Northwords Now, March 20007