Before the storm

Sat, Jan 13, 2018

Rain pattered the window as I fell out of bed under a sky leaden with long exposure clouds smearing and mingling over the tops, not sure what to do. The forecast was a storm on the way, barrelling in from the Atlantic but a few hours of indecisive weather before it came in gave us a chance of a walk and some views. A jaunt up Ben Suardal with Mrs. Woman was just the ticket.

Atlantic storm approaching Blaven, Isle of Skye

As I stood at the window brewing a cuppa, a couple of hoodie crows came down on the south east wind, turned a full one eighty degrees and alighted upwind on the dead tree opposite. They immediately turned their faces in unison down wind. The left one on a higher branch and the other, lower down, were in perfect line with the ridge on the far horizon, where the Isle of Skye ends and the sea begins before rising into the uninhabited wilds of Knoydart. Half closing my eyes they looked like giant grey and black watchmen stalking the ridge, keeping watch over the island, keeping watch for the storm.

We drove round to the old chambered cairn in Strath and struck straight up the hill. Deep, resisting heather and boggy gloupy glaur made for slow progress until up on the ridge in the south easterly gale. It was freezing with winter in the air although most of last week’s snow had gone. The light was storm-thick with a bluish cast, like a faded photograph, details smudged by time, nothing definite in the atmosphere, just long streaks of grey-light cloud waiting for instructions. Just hanging around.

Ancient hawthorn, Isle of Skye

On the way up, the limestone on the side of a south west facing gully was plastered in prostrate cotoneaster, escapees from the houses down in the glen no doubt, blown up here by the prevailing wind.

Eyes watering, ears numbing, noses streaming, we headed down towards the old railway track, instantly into shelter in the grassy bowl, picking up a bleached fox skull as we made our way through the ancient hawthorns lower down. Fantastic old trees, veterans of a thousand winter storms, shaped by the wind but kept in check with endless chippingg, nibbling by an out of control deer population.

A large red granite boulder perched on jagged grey limestone, where the cailleach across the glen had thrown it in a rage of weather. Braced in a storm force westerly on the summit of Beinn na Caillich, where the norse princess sleeps, she grasped it with bony, sinewy hands, gnarled as the ancient rock-gripping hawthorn we stood under and threw with all her might. Her roar of agony blown over the mountains like thunder, long wild hair streaming from the rocky summit like black-white plumes of volcano ash.

By the time we reached the car it was coming in. Big drops of rain as the wind swung to the west and the approaching front neared the island. I imagined the Cailleach retreating to the depths of the enormous cairn on the wind blasted summit, preparing for the coming storm.

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