Seeing about Gairloch

From the turmoil of my business adventures (and misadventures) in the Middle East and the associated madness of the fall of the twin towers in New York City, our Gairloch holiday presented, in September 2001, a true haven of tranquillity. I think this is reflected in my painting at the time; A Gairloch Morning ...

I painted this in pastels. 'Painting' is probably an incorrect word for the use of sticks of pure pigment stroked across, then finger rubbed into a sheet of special 'paper' in order to produce an original picture. Never mind. As you can see it was a perfect morning. I sat on a smooth rock up on An Ard overlooking the loch and some of its islands. I had first ventured here with Joan and our young family way back in 1971. Later on I had returned with Delia for her first visit amidst a November storm of rain and wind that I had been sure at the time would put her off the place for life. It had not; quite the opposite.Who knows what stirs into reawakened life our individual genetic history?

Years later I made this picture into a greetings card. The back of the card bears a version of this poem ...

Seeing Gairloch

You have to come here, I told them.

But it’s so cold and wet, they said, isn’t it?

I said, I want you to see what I’ve been looking at.

They said, Well, why don’t you tell us about it?

Right, I said, I’ll send you a card.

Sitting in a café with a cup of tea,

a Highland scone,

I wrote…

‘Dear people

You think you know about colours

until you’ve seen an early day

over a cloudless Gairloch. 
you think you know about distance

until your eyes have roamed around

the curves and contours of the world

through air so clear, this clean;

noiseless save the shushing of the sea,

the calling of the gulls as if to you and me


You know, just what are me and you,

within all things?

I swear you taste these lands

of time lost Highland clans,

so wild, so free - this everlasting majesty:’

And so they came, our friends,

and it rained and blew a gale of wind all week.

(A different kind of beauty.)

This place smiles not, shows not herself

so often, nor to everyone.

And they will come again.

Dee had already suggested it was time for us to think about migrating north. I am sure many people have such thoughts following their holidays in Wester-Ross, especially should the sun have shone for them!. But of course you need to consider life where the nearest supermarket is seventy miles away, ditto hospital, where the winters can bring hundred mile an hour (plus) gales, where the summers will definitely bring hordes of biting insects in still conditions together with overmuch rain, where local society revolves largely around the church(es) and where we 'white settlers' can all too easily divide up into sects or cliques; above all where looking out of your window at the stunning scenery will soon lose its lustre unless you have need (and the ability to) make a living, thus creating a properly useful way of life for yourself, 'retirement' being the soft and pointless option. But of course this machine on which I'm writing makes it all that much more possible for the incomer.

Above and beyond everything there is this indefinable sense of calm by way of contrast to the generally overpopulated and materialist turmoil of the world outside.And here the people generally have a smile and a wave for you - even have the inclination to remember your face, perhaps your name.

We discussed all the possibilities on the long drive home to Laundry Cottage near Winchester. We discussed them constantly whilst Stuart and Lorraine tidied our things up for us in Bahrain before themselves returning to England, eventually settling down in the romantically and appropriately named Carefree Cottage in heart of a pretty Dorset woodland. Almost exactly one year later we were to make our move north.

But there are one or two episodes of this before that!.

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