Tag Archives: camping

Camping on the edge of the world

I had the camping gene injected into me by my family pretty much at birth. Mum and dad would pack the tent every summer, rain or shine, however hard I argued for a package holiday. And so, at this time of the year when the weather warms and the evenings lengthen, I long for nights under canvas. I dream of unzipping the tent on a still dew-damp morning and tip-toeing barefoot through the damp grass to an empty beach. I want to wake up to the sound of the cuckoo. Cook sausages on a fire. Make coffee on my stove. Fall asleep to the whisper of the wind. Camping calls.

Sanna sands

The sparkling blues and secret sands of Sanna.

I live in a fairly out-of-the-way place, but I felt the need for something wilder. The Ardnamurchan peninsula was just the place. It’s an inspiring land; remote and breathtakingly beautiful. We found a magical little campsite clinging to the coast near the village of Kilchoan, and pitched by the sea surrounded by thrift and bluebells. The blossom in the trees hummed with insects. I caught the rich ripe smell of seaweed on the breeze. As the sun sank into the sea and the evening slowly softened, we wrapped up warm and cooked and drank and chatted. The familiar sounds – the clatter of tin plates, the strike of matches, the hiss of gas, the low murmur of other campers – enfolded me in a glow of happiness. The next morning I woke to birdsong, sunrise warming the tent and the smell of bacon frying. Someone was up early.

View of sea from the campsite

The lovely view from the campsite.

The jaggedy tip of Ardnamurchan, the most westerly point of the British mainland, is just around the coast. Stand here with the salty Atlantic wind in your face and you could be at the edge of the world. Beyond the blue and the scatter of Hebridean islands that float on the horizon, there’s nothing but ocean, vast and swelling, for thousands of miles. This expanse, this almost incomprehensible immensity, fires my heart. The emerald waves roll in, surging through narrows and rushing up the sand. They pound the rocks, angry and unforgiving. Loch Fyne seems meek in comparison. There waters are untamed and they rage through my blood. My mind soars across the waves, the cold green deep, to faraway lands.

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The slide show

A few weeks ago I was up at my mum’s and we decided to get the slides out. I dragged the old projector and wooden slide box down from the attic. With a bit of fiddling, the initial blur of colour sharpened and there in the sunshine was my brother with a blonde pudding-bowl haircut and hand-knitted jumper, me with rosy cheeks and an enormous nappy, and Pip, the chocolate-coloured dog, tripping around in the flower bed.

Me and my brother

One of my favourite slides: me and my brother, sunshine, dungarees, flowers, camping.

Snapshots from the past sparkled back at us from the living room wall – beaches, birthdays, mountains, buckets, spades and westcoasting weekends. The slides have got muddled over the years, but that adds to the magic, the surprise of what you might see: a fire on the beach at dusk, aunties in shorts, brown-legged and bare-footed, grannies on deck chairs, kids skittering around; mum sitting on a rock, smiling, with me, just a toddler, in her arms; my brother in flowery dungarees and a sailor’s hat; my papa in his bunnet, trousers rolled up, holding my hand as we paddle in the burn; the Good Companion – the trusty orange tent – pitched by the sea, glowing in the evening sunshine; mum, heavy fringed, and dad, with a drooping moustache, camping, climbing and exploring, looking young, carefree and slightly reckless.

The  slide show is a bit of a family tradition, and I’ve always loved it. It captures a period and saves it, unchanging. By the time I was two, mum had upgraded to a normal camera. But the slides, to me, are more vivid and more alive, than photos. Shared, they prompt memories and tales and laughter. They tap into something I can’t put into words. A feeling, a warmth, the comfort of childhood, a time that’s passed, homespun and homemade, a history, a simplicity, a romance, a freedom, an ease of life. The slides wrap me in their arms, whispering stories from the past.

I was listening to Richard Holloway on Radio 4 the other Saturday talking about his inheritance tracks. He said: ‘I’m a happy person, but I’ve a touch of melancholy. I love the autumn, the falling of leaves, the passing of things. This wee song captures for me the loss of Scotland as well as the beauty of Scotland.’ That’s what the slides do for me. They’re tinged with sadness, a sense of lost youth, but mostly they’re a reminder of where I come from, my inheritance, and there’s great beauty in that.

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