It’s been raining much of the night. There’s water running down the road, and the cliffs by Boreraig are streaked white. The moor will be sopping, and walking sloppy. So it’s a morning indoors while the the rain blows itself east and things dry out a bit. Thirty years ago when we first started to come to Skye there would be frost at the end of October and always snow on the Cuillin and on Bla Bheinn…in two days, I’ve yet to see them this year,the cloud low-hanging.
Yesterday afternoon it cleared down here by the seashore..dry enough for a wander. I met a chap who wasn’t quite sure of where things were or went. He asked me where was the best place to see ‘the otters’. I was on the point of saying ‘on a calendar’ but bit it back. The thing is, in thirty years I’ve yet to see one. I’ve sat for hours in the hide at Kylereah and seen a lot of seals and even more kelp. In the cluster of cottages where we stay at Ord, the residents complain about them. They tend to come off the shore in winter and shelter in the spaces under the houses. The bring fish with them.What they don’t eat rots and stinks. I still haven’t seen one. I didn’t tell the chap this, either.I pointed out the rocks about half a mile along the shore where I’ve been told I’d be guaranteed to see at least a couple. I didn’t tell him that I hadn’t, but he looked disappointed, as though the half mile was an unsurmountable obstacle, and wandered back in the direction he’d come from.
Five years ago I was staying here with my youngest son, and his mate Steve, who’s a professional cameraman. He’d driven up from London eager to try out his very expensive new camera. On a brilliant clear morning with a mediterranean sky we drove up to Glen Brittle, walked up by Eas Mhor, the biggest waterfall on Skye…full of of white water…..and up into Coire Lagan. 2000ft up from the shore, a mini lochan in a volcanic bowl surrounded by a 275 degree amphitheatre of 1000ft cliffs and scree. The view to the Outer Islands was astonishing and lovely. When we got back some hours later, he wanted another walk, so I sent him off along the shore. An hour or so later he was back.
“Do you get a lot of otters round here?” he asks, his camera full of images of a family of them doing tricks and dance routines. There again, there are folk who’ve been to Skye many times, usually in the summer, and never seen the Cuillin completely clear of mist. Anyway, here’s a poem I wote for Steve. I couldn’t quite keep the bitterness out of it.
A watched pot
You can watch all day for an otter
among the delusions of kelp;
if you think you’ve seen an eagle
odds-on it’s a buzzard;
for days, in the Glen, The Cuillin
could be there, but all you’ll know
is blown grey mists and ghosts.
So, that time on Am Mam
as I eyed the two miles down
to the shore, when the eagle came
unlooked for, below me, and not gold
but matt brown in the smirr,
freewheeling on the wind,
why would I fumble for a camera,
drop pack and gloves, faff about,
when I could just be still and stand
and watch, try to see, remember?
When I looked up it was a mile away,
vanishing into Bla Bheinn’s flank
like a thrum in a bolt of tweed.
Young Steve: first time on Skye,
hikes by Eas Mhor – a hundred feet
of bridal lace and champagne flutes –
Corrie Lagan crisp edged, gun-metal blue
under a cerulean sky without a cloud;
photographs an otter family in the bladderwrack
not five minutes from the house.
Well, good luck to him, I think.
It’s the metaphor that bothers me.
A watched pot never boils. Fine.
Don’t watch the pot. But when
the pot boils dry? What then?
(first published 2014 in Running out of space . See the My Books link)
If the weather turns fair, there’ll be no more posts from Ord. And if it turns foul, there’ll be more Rainy Day Women. Win-win situation.