A Christmas at Udrigal

For Christmas 1998, three years before we migrated north, we rented Udrigal House, near the tiny coastal Wester-Ross village of Laide. That was one of our best ever Christmases, as I recall, and was probably when Dee and I first set our sights on leaving Headbourne Worthy, near Winchester, in favour of the Scottish Highlands.

Before we left the house that year, I wrote a poem and subsequently presented it to Joanna, its owner. Udrigal House is reputed to be one of the oldest inhabited dwellings of its type in Wester-Ross, built, I seem to recall, not long after 'The Forty Five' of Bonnie Prince Charlie fame / disaster.

Having lost my copy of that poem I was surprised and delighted yesterday to find same Joanna at my door bearing a copy. The original I sent, she told me, is now framed and hanging on the wall of her fine old house.

Having touched up the verses here and there ... this is it .... I hope to be able to paint a picture of the place where we spent those few, so precious Christmas days and nights.

Christmas at House Udrigal

I dreamed a dream most magical
Of times before House Udrigal
Of clansmen, living by the shore
And on the hill, well used to war
Yet speaking, singing poetry.
I dreamed this fierce northern land,
Made beautiful by Nature’s hand
From ice and loch and living rock
Was gifted to its Highland stock
Whose origins are mystery.

Those people lived in hardiness
In turv-ed structures windowless,
Until that chieftain did decide
In honour of his fair haired bride
To build a house for history,
Named ‘Outer gully’ (‘Udraigil’);
Here’s where he dug away the soil,
Well found on rock his place would be
Safe from the storms, the raging sea
Withstand all that adversity.

Great boulders came up from the beach;
He chipped and shaped and fitted each
To those beneath, row upon row
And joined the timbers one by one
Built solid strong in symmetry.
And then upon a lintel stone, to mark
Above the fire, in letters stark
For all who here sometime might pass
That this was “Williams’, Lilias’s”
And shall be throughout eternity.

Then in my dream I gladly talked
With friendly ghosts of those who’d looked
Across this moody, salty-plane
To distant hills in sun and rain -
A view of such great majesty.
I spoke with lairds and tacksmen and
The crofters who had worked this land
Had built this Highlands House sublime
Sired of the wind, the sea and time
That always shall stay close to me.

Awake! It’s Christmas ninety eight!
We walk the dogs and get back late
Then eat and drink and so at last
We toast our future and our past
For each is vital, equally.
And when we pull the curtains back -
A star-less night of stygian black -
White lights ride bright up in the sky-
And yes, we hear a baby’s cry.
For this is Christmas, magically.

Bryan Islip
December 1998

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