On a bright blustery day last week I decided to cycle to my favourite beach. I know it well and have seen in all seasons, from sparkling summer days to dark winter ones when the north wind bites at your skin and the rain hits with such force that the sea seems to boil. It’s a couple of miles from the cottage down a back road that winds through rolling farmland. I pedalled along, avoiding the pot holes and wandering sheep, with the warm wind in my hair and a smile on my face. I left my bike by the ‘To the beach’ sign and walked the rest of the way over springy machair – the grassy plain where sand meets peat bog. Buttercups, forget-me-nots and cow pats dotted the path. A new notice told me ‘No camping. No fires. Take your dog poo away.’ Perhaps not the wild place it once was.
As I approached I saw the beach through a gap in the golden sea grass. It was as wild as ever and I had it to myself. The tide was low and the sand stretched out to meet glittering water. Arran sat dark and dramatic in a misty nest on the horizon, its jagged peaks and raw ridges clear against the sky – you could almost hear it roar. Sometimes in places like this I feel like my senses aren’t sufficient; that I can’t quite look hard or well enough. I tried to focus on the view and let it settle inside me, but it was almost too big, too exquisite, to take in. Instead, I closed my eyes and let the whisper of the grass and the lazy swish swish of the lapping waves send me into a dreamy doze. I sighed and the sea sighed back.
Yesterday I went out fishing with my neighbour in his boat. We bobbed around, dropping our lines until we felt the weight hit the seabed. A seal popped up and watched us with amused eyes. He snorted and disappeared. A porpoise slowly arched by, its body as sleek and glistening as the surface of the water it carved through. Then I felt a tug on the end of my line. I quickly reeled in to find three shimmering, shiny-eyed, fat mackerel dangling from my feathers: we’d hit a shoal. I unhooked one and it shot brown sludge over me. Next time I’ll point the tail away.
After a few hours we had plenty of mackerel and a couple of big pollock, so we took off round the coast to lay our crab pots. We found the perfect spot – near rocks, a good depth and a sandy bottom. I put a small mackerel in my pot as bait and lowered it into the depths, tying the rope to an orange buoy I’d found on the beach. Later, when we went back to check it, a fat brown crab sat inside munching on the mackerel, along with a few spider crabs and starfish. As we made our way back across the bay I sat at the stern feeling like a salty sea dog. My hands were covered in translucent scales and my jeans soaked with fish shit, but we’d landed a good catch.
That night we grilled the mackerel with a squeeze of lemon juice and a grind of black pepper and ate them in a bun, the skin crisp and the oily flesh sizzling. On the advice of friends, I boiled up the crab shells and fish bones and heads, removing the gills with pliers, to make a fish stock. A savoury smell is filling the cottage as I write. I have a feeling I might have fish coming out of my ears over the next few months, so any other fishy tips or recipes would be very welcome. Bouillabaisse anyone?