Longa Island in the Gairloch



This pastel hangs in our living room. I 'painted' it in the early '90's. It remains as fresh and unchanged as the day in was born in Mrs Mackenzie's South Erradale holiday cottage. It's my only attempt, to date, at a depiction of the kind of quiet light rain / sun-struggling mist that's so common in the early Autum up here. I was looking over Gairloch towards Longa Island and the north shore. Behind the island are the dunes of Big Sand camping ground where in 1974 we put up our tent, having first towed our boat 'Culash' behind a Ford Zodiac up hill and down dale for some 700 miles! Culash is the gaelic for 'little fly' althougn an 18ft, clinker built, open lug sailer isn't so little when you're towing it or trying to get it from the sea back on to its trailer.

We fished Longa Sound with rod and line for ten days that first Gairloch holiday, catching some 15 species. Many were to specimen size and one of them turned out to be a record dab (limanda limanda) that so far as I know is still a British record in the Guiness Book. It wasn't to last. When we returned a couple of years later the trawlers and, we were told, a French suction dredger, had spoiled it for themselves, for their quarry, for all of us. When, oh when will we learn about cutting off the bough that we're sitting on! Surely Gairloch (along with Torridon and Loch Ewe and Little Loch Broom and Loch Broom) is an absolute natural for adoption as a Marine Park under recent legislation. These lochs are the natural breeding grounds for many of the species sought by commercial boats (floating mechano-digitalia I call them) whose owners spend their lives moaning about Brussells' efforts to prevent them from using their advanced technology to empty the seven seas. The bottom of the sea may be out of sight but must never, never be out of mind to those not out of their minds. Read the book called The End Of The Line. I forget who wrote it.

This is the verse I wrote to accompany greetings card versions of the Longa in Light Rain painting ...

Longa Island

Wing helmeted, in boats that creamed
the ocean waves beneath square sails
painted in deference to ancient gods
or stroking oars in silent unison;
Fair haired, blue eyed, with menace filled,
the Vikings found their shelter
between this island in the mouth
of Gairloch and its green mainland.
then, as was their wont, they took
what little there was to take
by force of arms, moved on,
having named the island Longa,
'the Isle of the longboats'.

Seen from South Erradale
through light rain, a watery sun,
Isle Longa is a no man place
of mists and memories
Where still you think that you can hear
their shouts and warlike songs
and the gurgle of their oars.

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