I stared out over the hillside. I could just see the sea
out of the corner of the window but the mainly I could see
the Mackenzie’s untidy, ramshackle house and the cars,
vans and tractors that seemed to be in permanent disrepair.
I thought of how my father had loved this place and the
childhood holidays I had spent with my brothers, playing
on the darkening hillside. My parents had never grasped
that this far north, dark descended slowly and so much later.
They would feed us Hobnobs and slices of bread with Dairylea
through the kitchen window until late in the evening, whenever
we came gambolling up, hungry again.
I had always loved the cottage. It represented a freedom
that I never felt in London. I felt at ease and as if I
had morphed from the me that was always on the outside of
things into the real me. My brothers and I would make up
adventures. For six weeks every summer we became the “fearless
three”. We would build camps in the ruins of the old
village, collect the skulls of sheep that had died on the
hillside, invent stories, adventures and rituals, build
dams across the small rivulets. We didn’t need other
children to play with. For some reason the three of us became
a harmonious whole on the island.
We were only segmented in the early mornings, when we would
each, in turn, have an adventure with my father. I loved
it when it was my turn. I felt so special. I was always
ready and had sneaked downstairs to wait for my father to
get up. We had prepared everything the night before. I didn’t
really care about the rods and the little bag of floats
and reels and of course the box of maggots. I just wanted
to go on our expedition.
I brought myself back to the present. Why not? I thought.
It wasn’t far. It had been years since I had gone
to “the Stream”. It had been out of bounds to
us unless we were with my father. I pulled on my climbing
boots and left the cottage climbing the slope opposite.
The Stream wasn’t far, but I had to cross the hillside
first. At the top of the slopes I smelt the May flowers
of the white hawthorn. I just stood and looked down to the
Kilbrennan Sound, breathing in the sweet smell and watching
the few sail boats in the sea below.
I could no longer see the metal carcasses that until just
minutes before had invaded the view. I turned to walk across
the rough ground towards the Stream. The peaty earth gave
a bounce to my step as I walked through the heather. Every
so often there were patches of yellow celandine and scatterings
of speedwell as well as some other tiny flowers that I couldn’t
identify. I wished I could. My father had known all the
wild flowers. We had collected them when we were little
and brought them back to the house to identify from all
of the books that we had. How I missed his quiet serenity.
He loved the holidays that we spent together and collecting
the flowers, the seaweeds, the bugs and beasties from rock-pools
that we would take proudly back to my mother to look up.
I shook myself and walked on. The bracken was getting thicker
now, though I could still wade through it easily, not like
it would be in a few months. The path no longer existed.
As the old crofter villages in the hills had declined and
the modern villages around the coast road had sprung up,
so the tracks had grown over, but I pushed on. I was sure
I would find the way through again.
I could smell the dampness of the woods ahead of me, the
peaty smell wafting up with each step. In the distance I
heard a lamb bleating for its negligent mother who had wandered
off. The sound always made me anxious.
I found an old sheep track, heading through the bracken
and the young birch trees and followed it deeper into the
woodland. I could hear the Stream now and followed the sound
of it, louder and louder. When I was younger and with my
father we would be off to catch trout for my mother’s
breakfast. He would only ever take one of us at a time because
the slopes down to the Stream were so steep. He would sit
me down on the fallen trunk of an old oak tree and take
my little rod and tackle bag from me. He would slither and
stumble through the dewy grass and moss down to the ledge
and then come back for me, then we would do the same journey
together. He always told me to hold onto the bracken as
I went sliding down.
The Stream frightened me. There was so much noise as the
water crashed into the pool that we would fish in. But I
also felt so secure at the same time. I was with my father,
nothing bad could happen. I always pretended that I liked
the fishing because I was afraid that he would stop taking
me if he realised that I didn’t like putting the maggots
onto the hook. My hands always shook as I did it though
I could weight the lines and attach the floats easily. Once
our lines in the pool we would break open the paper bag
with our “piece”, take out the packet of Hobnobs
and just sit and wait.
I found the old fence and followed it up to the gate. It
was broken and I couldn’t open it. I had to squeeze
through to follow the sheep track on the other side down
towards the water. Bluebells covered the mossy floor of
the wood and I could hear birds around me though I couldn’t
spot any of them. I could see the edge of the hillside and
knew the Stream was at the bottom. I zigzagged my way down
the slippery slope. I had seen the place we used to fish,
recognising it from the old bridge, broken even when I was
I child. Two of the four logs were dangling into the water.
Years ago it was the crossing from the old village to the
farm on the other side.
The sides of the Stream were steep and wet with the spray
from the waterfall. I remembered how I had always thought
of this as a fairy dell. It was the only thing that I didn’t
share with my brothers. It was too “girly” for
them. Now I looked through my adult eyes and thought exactly
with same. The pool was deep and the waterfall steep. Splinters
of sunlight fell through the branches of the trees, sparkling
on the tumbling water. The walls of the pool were lined
with moss and fronds of bracken. I could see some wild primroses
on the other side. The wood of oak, rowan and birch trees
was so peaceful. I just sat. I closed my eyes and lay down
against the moss-covered tree trunk behind me. I listened.
The gentle rustle of the wind in the young trees and the
bracken around me, the water as it pounded the pool below,
the invisible birds above me.
I don’t know how long I stayed there. I roused feeling
cold but that was more because of the dampness seaping through
my clothes than any chill in the air. I raised myself and
feeling a peace that I had not felt since my father’s
funeral set off up the slope
again, hauling myself up the steep hill using the young
bracken shoots as I had done as a child. Coming out of the
woodland, I again breathed in the sweetness of the ancient
hawthorn and looking from the swathes of wild violets up
into the mountains, I saw a pair of buzzard, circling in
on the wind.