My clutch pedal good and firm, I head back through and around the hills of North Harris where I will park up and weave for my last week on this island. After being Wi-Fried in town for more days than my system likes, I need to escape to the edge. I’m thinking of the white-lit blue spot in the dunes, but there is someone there, and when they vacate it the next morning, I am ready to appropriate a futher-away pull-in nestled between bends on the road above, and which has a burn tumbling through it.
There is a path I’ve not yet taken: Northwards to uninhabited Loch Erisort, with the island of Scarp to the West, wends a steep and roughly paved path that could almost have been built by Romans (had they ever made it here). I’ve seen a spit of sand but am unprepared for the vastness of yet another stunning beach that is surely the most remote of this remote area on this remote island. We pass a few other walkers and there are century-old cairns on the ridges but the landscape is so big and so inaccessible and so little inhabited that even so, it feels like virgin territory. It feels as if I’m on a desert island, and it is sublime.
It’s a Monday evening. I’m preparing to leave these islands for this year, and it is hard. I’m sitting in my cosily-lit but dish-piled van listening to the sound of the burn falling down the rock into this muddy, quarry-like lay-by and eating a favourite salad of puy lentils, pomegranate, feta, lemon and mint. My bleak spot is slightly hidden but the white bay and croft houses are within sight and sound. I’ve just come in from a shorter walk: the routine evening stroll along NW Harris’ Caribbean shallows.
Just above the burrl of kelpy tideline, a dead thing caught my eye. I nudged it with my toe, couldn’t identify it – a weirdy weed, strange plant, sinewy and fingered – and walked on, and stopped, and walked back, and nudged it again, and turned it over, and touched it. Fingers, metatarsals, skin a drowned grey, two hands, an arm bone.
Horror, fear, responsibility, evasion, guilt, dread, doubt.
Left brain: people die at sea, no big deal, c’est la vie. Call the police? Again? Missing person? Mystery solved? Relatives able to grieve?
Left brain: nearest signal?
Left brain: you’re imagining it. Don’t be ridiculous.
I walk back up the hill home, hesitant, still no signal. Then pick up a pace: those holiday makers did invite me to use their amenities if I needed. Freak them out with dismemberings at darkfall?
Right brain flash of lateral knowing: seal. A seal. A seal has died at sea. Seals must die at sea all the time. I have a dark writerly friend down South who is unflapped by my weird worryings:
’T, far from proper comms: please could you Google pictures of seal flipper skeletal structure ASAP and tell me it’s very similar to human hands so I don’t drive miles for a phone signal to make an erroneous report to the police of missing person body parts washed up on the beach? In particular, does a seal have a largish bone connecting flipper to shoulder? Thanks. E. x’
Sorry dear Selkie ones, but I’m hoping that it’s one of you.
And so I come to thinking about my fantastic support team: Tom, who won’t freak when I’m scared, and who offers social media help for my business; Will, who said he’d get in the car and come and find me any time I was in trouble; David, who gets in the car and travels hundreds or even thousands of miles for me and the music; my mum, who mothers me finely and who will give me a refuge in Brittany this winter; Chris N, whose address I use; Mark, rock, knight and carer of all things vehicular; Chris D, for maps, devices, podcasts, random-seeming-but-dead-relevant nuggets of solid gold, and all things expeditionary; Penny, who has taken on my beloved Horse; Nat, who keeps my beautiful yurt; Kat, who homes my old piano; Rich, who is out there too, blazing a trail, paving the way, sleeping under a tarp or not even, inspiring and encouraging; Amy, who prompted me to write and keeps egging me on; Sarah and Philippa and many others for reading and complimenting; and all of you for following, liking, buying, commenting, sharing. Thank you.