Sunday, 26 April 2009


Image Left: Pinnacle rock
Wednesday 22nd April

Sadly the recent run of calm weather has come to end making the boat a last resort for a morning’s escape. I head out early on foot for otter island, the street is empty, even the milking crew have yet to clang churns and buckets. Only Val has stirred for a baking shift in the community kitchen, the smell of fresh bread leaks from around the doors drifting down the street. I leave the cottages in sunlight and take the track up to the quarry before dropping again past the derelict blacksmiths forge.

The sunlight feels harsh and almost wintry in the stiff breeze. From the crest of a small ridge my silhouette is projected by the low sun onto a canvas of heather. I follow a chain of outcrops which until today I have completely overlooked, it carries me to a vantage point that offers a clear view of the otters’ regular haunts. I scan between breaking wave crests, kelp fronds exposed by the falling tide and sea birds. I pick out the shape of an otter’s snout trailing a small wake, it is joined by another and I scramble down over the rocks and heather. The wind is behind me and part of me acknowledges this disadvantage. The otters are still away off shore, I make use of their dives to move between the wave worn boulders playing a game of musical statues with my quarry. As they near their unease with my scent becomes apparent as they dive and fail to resurface. I wait ten or fifteen minutes but they are gone so I set off to retrieve my hastily abandoned camera bag and tripod. In the cleft of rock I find a clump of primroses hiding from the island’s sheep. Having moved a little way back from the shore I pick out the squeaks of an otter cub,the sound ringing between the faces of stone . I chance another close encounter but the wind is not with me today and once my scent reaches out from the shore they disappear.

I retrace my steps toward the blacksmiths and the quarry stopping to photograph a small stone pinnacle that lies half hidden in the network of rock, bogs and heather that cover most of the island.

Image Right: Primroses in the cleft of a rock

Monday, 20 April 2009

Into The Blue Again

Image left: Porpoise and Soa Island
Friday 17th April

Today the sea is quicksilver infilling the space around the islands while its movement is arrested by its density. I am out beyond hell's kitchen heading towards Soa Island and a horizon that is obscured but hangs as a vagueness in the heat. The surface is alive with small groups of sea-birds, eiders, razor bills, guillemots, cormorants, shags and even great northern divers. I catch site of a fin and then part of tail as a porpoise does exactly what the name suggests. These are dainty almost delicate animals, although it is never easy to judge the size of anything from a moving boat. One eventually surfaces close by with a hiss from its blowhole before it disappears. It is hard to gauge numbers or even whether I am looking at a pod or one or two rapidly moving individuals. They move off and I follow short way before turning into the sound of Iona.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009


Image left: Collecting and cleaning mussels in the bay

Wednesday 15th April

So the sea is flat, and I make it through Tinkers Hole to meet the ocean and swell. I was here last night and for a moment I saw what I thought was outlying rock in the wrong position. It turned out to be the arch of a whale’s back; what the swell had revealed it quickly swallowed. I come out here to get wrapped in ocean, to be held by an intangible vastness. Some days the ocean is benign and the boat sits like a feather on water, buffeted by the gentle talk of the gods. There is no certainty and Tinkers Hole is more often a gateway to the maelstrom, a place to turn back from. As the granite walls open up a single swallow rises on the updraft of a swell; things are on the move.

I take the boat to Hell’s Kitchen and find my favourite fishing mark by following the line of a fault through the island and into the depths. The swell is confused by the skerries making the boat pivot on every axis. I drop some lures over the side and gently nod them up and down in the knowledge it is probably too early for fishing; never mind.

This is the end of my holiday, I never went anywhere in particularly, it came to me. Two of my sisters arrived a few days apart and brought my son with them. The weather improved for Easter we collected mussels, oysters and in the evening drank whisky while singing Dolly Parton songs. My son, Louis, ran feral with the rest of children on the island, he appeared at intervals either damp, dirty or just hungry. Occasionally we managed to persuade him to join in with our more ‘constructive’ pursuits but this is an island. It is almost traditional for children to go a little wild, there are no cars or ‘strangers’. Even the lighthouse keepers’ children had a reputation which often made it into the Northern Lighthouse Board’s official records and the island’s history. Coal must be thrown and garden walls must by walked on; adults who grew up on the island often follow these patterns of behaviour on subsequent visits. On Easter Monday most of the island’s residents and guests made it out to Easter Island for our annual picnic and barbeque. The island is named after the event rather than as a reference to any primitively carved monoliths. We hunched down in patch of grass amongst the primroses and granite boulders like a troop of mountain gorillas. A small fire powered the kettle, coffee pot and two frying pans of sausages. In the afternoon the tide dropped low enough to expose an almost pure white beach from the turquoise waters.

Today the sun is still trying to break out of the low clouds as I push on beyond the outer islands into pure swell. Above skeins of geese are moving north maybe in search of an artic summer and its unending light. Soon the mackerel will return to the sound and fishing will cease to be a sport and become a harvest.

Image right: Easter island