From Feolin, we drove around the southern edge of the island, eyes scouring the moors and coastline for the Jura-ness of this new place. Something dark and sinuous sprang across the road, none of us knew what it was. Young pheasants were scrutinized lest they be something more highland– ptarmigan, grouse, perhaps. We eased down the road into Craighouse as the sun finally began to fall. We had travelled around 513 miles.
Camping is free on the lawn beside the sea in front of the Jura Hotel. In the grainy light, we pitched our tents.
J had understood the depth of my hanger earlier, and had phoned ahead to have food prepared at the hotel before the kitchen closed. I love her in many ways, but when she makes food happen in times of need, the feeling becomes something religious.
Once our duvets were stowed in the tents, we entered the hotel amidst a wedding party. A live band began. We sat exhausted in a bay window and ate chicken and potatoes, lentil bake, ales and Jura whiskey. Slainte. Thank god.
Simple, nourishing food and strong drink had us soon heading back out into a soft night of gentle drizzle. We zipped ourselves into our tents and lay down. The sound of the wedding singer’s Mick Hucknell-esque vocals, and a strangely arhythmic drummer soon faded as we fell into heavy slumber.
Morning came gently, its light filtered through the opaqueness of my tent. I lay cossetted beneath a billowing white duvet, skin against J’s. I drank water and unzipped the door.
I stepped heavily on dewy grass, unsteady and unbalanced from yesterday’s journey. On the pebbled shore, I left my towel and slowly walked into the pure, cool sea of Small Isles Bay.
We breakfasted in the hotel (we were late, made do with tea and bacon butties), left the tents until later, walked out of Craighouse and onto the moor. Along the road, we passed a paradox that Rob, being a collector of odd signs, could not resist.
We passed one of the warehouses where the Jura distillery leaves its whiskey to silently mature, the angel’s share drifting out through the timbered walls, lost on the wind. The yard was stacked with hundreds of empty casks. We left the road and entered the dark margin of a small pine wood where many of the trees were toppled, unable to support themselves in the wet ground.. Moving forward was tricky, we leapt criss-crossing channels of peaty water, scampered low beneath the spiny branches. The dark, resin rich floor was strewn with red mushrooms, many of them Russula emetica, The Sickener.
A sudden rainstorm met us when we ducked out from the fringe of pines. Deer spotted us at a thousand yards and moved deftly upwards. Our initiation into true bog lay between us and the small waterfall we were heading for. In bog, each footstep must be carefully considered for potential stability and tactical advantage. Once committed, a footstep should be continually monitored in order to assess the extent to which it has sunken into the bog, and/or is becoming rapidly flooded. Should this occur, the appropriate action must be immediately taken: either leap maniacally away like a Gaelic dancer under fire, or sink heroically, ignoring the creeping ooze entering your shoe. We each opted for both of these many times.
A cross-section of bog:
The rain passed over quickly and we meandered over the moor, following the line of least saturation. We discovered bilberries to eat amongst the heather, and set to picking the hidden ripe ones that had eluded the deer. This was the view from the waterfall
I lead the way upwards on terrain that was less waterlogged and becoming springy with small, rotund accumulations of moss. As we neared the top of Brat Bhein, a sudden heavy rainstorm blew down on us, forcing us to scatter and take cover in the leeside of the hill. It was like being behind a waterfall, but cossetted in a gentle fold of the hill within waterproofs, while fierce rain struck the hillside, inches from my face. Again, it soon passed and we gathered together by the triangulation point at 309m. We weren’t bothered to reach the summit, the glinting loch below was calling.
I bounded off, plunging down into ferns and heather, soon reaching the shore of Loch a ‘Bhaile – Mhargaidh.
The Ordnance Survey map of Jura had been on my bedroom wall for over three years. The sensation of now being in it overwhelmed me many times in the course of the week. On the scant occasions where we are exactly where we want to be, the desire to inhabit the moments entirely can feel almost desperate,
Time passes. Listen. Time passes.
Rob and J joined me, we sat and picnicked there, wavelets breaking at our feet, a wind of heather scent and clarity passed over us and upwards. Something animal showed in the shallows, I took off my shoes and waded in. A deer antler under the water, one of countless shed yearly by one of Jura’s more than eight thousand red deer. I would have kept it, but there was a visceral, jellyed sinew still attached to its base. I cast it away. Rob suggested we skirt the edge of the loch, rather than climb up and around. We coastered, then, laughing, slipping, occasionally dunking our feet around the eastern edge of the water. At its far end, the loch met a man-made wall with a low channel made for letting the loch’s overflow fall downhill as a stream. We skipped across, sipped a little coffee and began our journey back.
We had tea in the Jura tea room, went back to the field in front of the hotel and took down our tents. I drove out of Craighouse onto the only road on the island towards Inverlussa.