“If you could zoom through space in the speed of light, what place would you go to right now?”
“We’re nearly there”, I said as we headed around the next headland.
“Good thing too, the fish and chips will be cold soon”.
We were on a brief road trip around the north west of Scotland, stopping at small Bed and Breakfasts each night before moving on. Our budget wouldn’t stretch to dining out, so we would purchase food from the local grocery shop and either sneak back into the B&B for a surreptitious supper, or head out to a local beauty spot and dine almost alfresco. This limited our menu for the week, and on the evening that we stayed in Mellon Charles we decided to treat ourselves to takeaway fish and chips. The layout of our overnight residence would have meant transporting our dinner through the lounge to get to our room. The landlady could have been on guard and might not have taken to well to our rather aromatic dinner being consumed in a tiny space which had been adorned with swags, cushions and tie-backs galore. All just waiting to absorb the scent of salt and vinegar.
So we headed out to Gruinard Bay. Si was new to being this far north, but I had visited there two years earlier.
The road between Poolewe and Ullapool almost hugs the coast, allowing you glimpses of inlets and islets on one side, and contrasting rugged mountains on the other. This makes for pleasant journeys, but can result in your oasis being further away than you first envisaged. Mirage like it appears in the distance, only to disappear, reappear then disappear again.
But we did reach our destination and stopped in the deserted car park across the road from the bay. It was odd to see it empty. When I had visited with my parents in that lovely summer, it was jam packed with families wanting to make the most of the sunshine and beach. At the time that Si switched off the engine, most wise people would be indoors, secured away from the midges, which can ruin an otherwise pleasant evening with their incessant biting.
Somehow, we were lucky and the midges had headed off to the nearest campsite to wreak havoc, leaving us to enjoy the view across the bay to Gruinard Island. Beyond that was the peninsula where we were stopping. It looked so close.
We had dinner uninterrupted by man or midge, crossed the road and made our way down the rickety wooden steps which allow access to the beach. The sun was setting but we had time for a quick stroll along the shore. Again, I was struck by the contrast to my previous visit. The sands are a pale gold and there is shelter from the band of coast which is slightly raised. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there are cliffs, the drop from the road ranges between ten and twenty feet. This makes it a haven for beach lovers, the only dark cloud being the ominous shadow of Gruinard Island, which was used for biological weapon testing in the cold war and which was only decontaminated in the late 20th century.
We walked and talked, and talked and walked. Before we knew it, the sun had gone and the moon was reflecting gently on the still bay waters. Temperatures can fall quite quickly in this area and, not knowing the road that well, we decided to head back to our over-upholstered abode for the night.
Halfway up the steps to the road we turned back to take in the view. It was then that we spotted the seal. We hadn’t seen any whilst walking on the beach, but there it was, bobbing up and down, appearing to watch us.
“Goodbye Gruinard Bay. Goodbye Mr Seal” I whispered as I waved. Incredibly, the seal raised a flipper and appear to wave back. It was probably just scratching its nose, but to us, on that magical evening, we had been bid farewell. This was before the days of mobile phones with cameras, and we weren’t carrying the 35mm, so I cannot share a picture, but I can still see it clearly in my mind over 25 years later.
The following morning we drove past the parking as we headed north for our next destination. We didn’t stop, it would have broken the spell of the previous evening. Despite observing this taboo, I would love to return to the area, smell the sea and dodge the midges. Who knows, we might even do some seal spotting.
With my eyes still on the horizon,