Activities

  The Call of the
 North Coast

The rest of this site is intended to give the would-be visitor information about our houses and their surroundings, insofar as they able to be described. Facts, figures and even words cannot convey the emotional call of the place.  There is a sensual and spiritual dimension, a feeling of returning to a 'cleaner' existence which speaks to people in slightly different ways but seems, from the comments our visitors leave, to touch nearly everyone. This essay is a personal attempt to capture a little of the feel of the place.

     "As I stand here on the edge of the moorland, overlooking the glen of Strathan Skerray, in clear sight of the high tops of Ben Hope and Ben Loyal, and with half a mile of ever changing sea framing Island Roan, I am reminded of the rejuvenating quality of this landscape and how simply existing within it; of wakening to it and learning to understand its calls, can cleanse the mind, body and soul of the distractions which beset us in our everyday lives. I am afraid that as time has passed, what we have come to accept as 'everyday life' has become increasingly disconnected from the natural world - the natural world which our minds and bodies evolved over hundreds of generations to accommodate. As I wander over the moorland, along the tops of the sea cliffs, down to the beach and back up the glen, it is clear to me that my evolutionary and spiritual home is right here. The world to which we instinctively respond is that shaped and controlled by the natural environment. For me, the purest place to find that world and to live within it is the north coast of Scotland, and in particular the wild and wondrous ruggedness that runs west from Strathy Point to Cape Wrath.

          To the south, the great empty moors of Sutherland form a fitting approach to these northern fastnesses. Winding single track roads provide the imperative to travel with time in hand and to pull aside and let others pass. In doing so they help slow the impetuous to a more rational pace and way of life. These roads are a part of the moors through which they pass, unfenced, unpainted, frequently occupied by sheep and cattle and with lots of little places to stop and contemplate the landscape and the wildlife that abounds. Here at nearly 60 north, on the same latitude as Juneau in Alaska, is an agrarian land listening and responding to the cycles of nature. 

"To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven".

        All activity up here moves in accordance with the rhythms of season, time and tide, varied by the ever-changing patterns of rain and sleet, sun and snow, wind and calm. Along the cliffs and beaches swell and surf, often generated in arctic waters, determine activity at sea. It is a life far removed from the constraints of motorway traffic and the synthetic world observed through the television screen. Everything is real, everything is connected and everybody matters.

        The coast has a life of its own, or rather a thousand different and changing lives, for every part of the coastline is unique and has its own denizens and character. It is largely untouched by human hand, untrodden by human foot and untrammeled by wheeled traffic of any kind. For much of its length the road runs well inland and only he or she who explores by foot, boat or canoe can come to know the extraordinary richness and variety of this northern margin. Underfoot almost everywhere, in the rock pools, in the coves, caves, cliffs, bays, beaches, estuaries, in the sky above, in the little harbours and out across the landscape behind is an incredibly rich and diverse world that never fails to thrill.

         As I wander over this land, I find myself taken back to the work of previous generations and by reflections on the lives they lived.  Folk memory is long up here and generously recalled. My eye is continually attracted by the dry-stane dykes these people laboured so long on, the croft houses and steadings that they built, the peat workings they dug and the sheilings where they tended their sheep on the summer grazings. There are abandoned townships, miles from any road, discarded implements of yesteryear, sun-bleached skeletons on the foreshore that were their boats. Now no profit remains in raising sheep or cattle, lobsters and commercial fish are increasingly scarce, forestry operations are contracted out to firms from miles away, empty houses are bought up by incomers like me, the tourist season is short and fickle. Few young people stay to try to make a living. A holistic culture and a way of life that wasted little are slowly dying out.

        As I stand on the edge of the moorland, I can feel myself breathe out all that degrades life in the city; the noise, the fumes, the dirt and the hideous sodium light that dims the stars and planets and obscures their wonder. As I sit here quietly, I can hear Buzzards mewing from nearly a mile away, the soft bleating of lambs, the quiet murmuring of the burn and the wind gently moaning over the grass and heather. Here is solace for the weary soul, here humanity reconnects with nature, here is found the contentment and peace that the urban world cannot give."

        Richard Gregory

Pictures by Jost von Allmen

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