#0041: A Year Of Coasts And Waters
Updated: Jun 2, 2020
Watching from under a twisted, old oak on the eastern shore of Loch Fyne, something magical happens in the moments before the setting sun touches the hilltops of Knapdale.
A band of flame surges out from the horizon.
It sets the darkening sky alight, its golden rays refracted into a million tiny rainbows by the hard frost forming on the waters edge, as the temperature drops with the sun.
Lichens, scrawled across the shore in raucous splashes of amber, green and white, glow so intensely that they seem to lift from the rocks to which they cling so tightly.
As the sun sinks lower, the loch itself seizes its moment to shine.
It dances in a shimmer of scarlet and gold, reflecting the last sparks of fiery sunlight into the ancient woodland around me, before exhausting itself and fading slowly to black, the last remnants of light sinking deep beneath the surface.
Cowal is, quite literally, defined by the waters which surround it.
To the west, Loch Fyne. To the east, the Holy Loch and the Firth of Clyde. And slashed right through the middle, like a silver claw mark, still raw, and deep, and vital, Loch Striven, Loch Riddon, and the Kyles of Bute.
Except for the towering mountain passes across the Arrochar Alps to the north, the only access to the peninsula is by water.
Even in the brooding, dangerous grey of winter, a seal pops its head above the surface, to check I'm still watching, before diving once more to explore the depths.
As he swims, the mood of the water changes with the turning seasons.
He glides through the unpredictable silver of spring, a flock of oystercatchers shrieking overhead as they fly close to the surface against the vivid pink backdrop of rhododendron blanketing the shore.
And on he goes, to the placid aquamarine of summer, fringed with golden beaches and emerald green bracken.
Otters fish near the shore whilst, further out, excited day-trippers aboard the Morag watch a porpoise break the surface, fractured shards of crystalline water glinting in the midsummer sun, an echo of the muted sparkle of sea salt drying on the sand.
The familiar noise of gigantic paddles cutting through the water heralds the return of the paddle steamer, Waverley, her red, white and black funnels reflected in the still waters of the Kyles of Bute, as her passengers disembark to explore Tighnabruaich.
Yachts at full sail race across the horizon, before finding a sheltered mooring for the night whilst, up in Loch Riddon, the crew of the Splendour, a beautiful, old trawler, now the host to intimate, luxurious cruises, set out lobster pots in the evening light.
As the summer fades into autumn, gulls swoop and wheel under a bruised sky, cracking shells open by dropping them to the rocky shoreline below. Rain lashes down in sheets on little fishing boats being rocked by the waves, whilst a flash of red tears across the water as the Tighnabruaich lifeboat crew responds to a distress call from out on the loch.
These waters shimmer with tales from Cowal's maritime past. Of ghostly horses. Of secret weapons. Of futures never to be. Stories of the water surround and define us as much as the water itself. You just have to listen.
2020 is Scotland's Year of Coasts and Waters.
This is the Secret Coast.
Let's take the dive together.