His local accent, soft and smooth; his words kind and simple.
Jimmy, a local fisherman and our host for coffee, was telling us philosophically that after retiring he missed the ocean, the boat, the birds and the cold on his face, he missed standing up all day in the wind with no one for a yarn but the hard-faced sea gulls that sit out the winters like the lovely people that live there. H He didn’t know that as he spoke he voiced something that we all thought, that we all knew was true and within us, that the smokey walls or our soul could not quite articulate. He, like Hemingway and the Old Man himself and the sea, thought it unnecessary to talk too much whilst at sea. His warm home was on the northern shores that slope to face the harshest North winds, his views were unchallenged and it was clear where his wisdom came from. He showed us his creel nets and the chickens that had just hatched, as we said our thanks and farewells he offered us rooms in his home for our stay and we knew he meant it.
We left Jimmy and his Creel pots and walked the coast thinking the wind too strong and that we should be somewhere else but then the Nordic Gods’ eyes shone bright, and when they do they shine on us one and the same and with the sun and smiles we were treated to some twinkle twinkle. A long and fast left with almond then open tubes, we shared the surf with a few new and local friends and when the tide changed and killed the waves we shared some story and some water of life, standing on the cliff near the sunset-coloured rocks with a tipple of the good stuff, this is what it’s all about. Hidden from roads and the scene, these moments are not easy and if it was everyone would be doing it.
Someone always sleeps in and as the sun rises slow like the shadows of sharks on a seabed we see the world like all lost sailors did, like Solcum, Crowhurst’s and Crusoe, we see the world with new eyes of those explorers, and like children. We wake Al from his dreams and decide on the day, without the strictest of plans as real travel requires maximum unscheduled wanderings. Al is used to beautiful winters of the North, beyond the wall, he seems haunted by the beauty of the landless latitudes and is one of the rare ones that stays in a storm. That and being able to talk the finest secrets out of even the tightest lipped rock-strong folk, the places he knows seem like they are borrowed fairytales but they’re not. He pays more than money for his visions. It takes us a while to break camp, mornings always do. We are not in a rush, the waves will come but first we need coffee and some bread.
I have spent many a moon on these fair shores and it’s my intention to spend many more until the wind has gone from my sails, until the flakes of snow have fallen, until I’m old and happy to watch the world from a mix of memories and make believes. When I first passed my driving test I came here singing like a sky lark in spring and I found out what real waves looked like, full of power and feeling. I was grateful and excited that I was now a child of the tide. We surf again, eat and walk the coast. Then in the afternoon we watch a few locals surfing a right point, they arrive together, surf together and smile together, we leave them to it. Around the corner, the sun is going down, we are semi-surfed out but the wind and light has come good and it’s too beautiful not to be in the ocean. With a little luck and coffee we surf a heavy, fast, hollow left that with the backlighting looks like the pipeline days of Gerry.
A few weeks before we had all been brought together to make some magic with Finisterre, to camp with the merry bunch of men that make up their army and after the parade had left we carried on. Chris McClean directed Beyond the Scars, Uncommon Ideals and Urchin Howl and it’s a wonder how his mind works, he was a native to the harsh northland, related by blood or romance and it seemed during those days, fog creeped over his mind and maybe it’s content or maybe he wonders if it’s a place he’s meant to be. His green eyes, old smile and van kept us going for as long as she could and in her time she did us proud. It seems that at lonely fringes like these hearts grow responsive and sympathetic, some of the kindest most warm and lovely people I have met have been on the far corners of the land. Every single person we meet welcomes us with talk and story about the days to come and gone by, they advise best they can and seem happy that we are enjoying their fair coastline, happy that we are acting like children.
Our last night in flora-less landscape was a wonderful farewell as the cloudless sky unfolded around us and night crept in we prepared for the subtle sleep that camping brings, the sharp and cold night, mysterious and deep arriving slow but with it came a wonder that none imagined. It seemed the sun’s work wasn’t done and the maze of darkness had fooled us, for what we were about to bear witness was something the Norse thought was the shiny armour of the Valkyrior and the Romans called the Goddess of Dawn but what we knew to be the Northern Lights. The night seemed to go on forever and even though the sky was warmed with colour we lit a fire and forgot ourselves in the gift that seemed to be born like the waves in the breeze.
This is what travel is about, discovering surprises and marvels, unexpected madness and blessings from the big pond. When the time to leave comes and the longing of stillness disappears, all a little flat from the excitement, all grateful for the stars and the moon, we are not shy in expressing how much fun we had and how happy to meet new friends, share food, sleep and magic but all happy to be going home.
WRITTEN BY MATT SMITH / PHOTOS BY CHRIS MCCLEAN, AL MACKINNON