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  • Michael

#0050: Looking Back

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The stones spilling from the crumbling, weather-beaten wall, pale against the undergrowth, sparkle like my clammy skin under the midday sun which, reaching the apex of its late summer arc, beats relentlessly down from a tourmaline sky.

As I make my slow ascent of Buachailean, I follow the wall, overgrown with moss and heather, ferns peeping out of its dark crevices, on its arduous climb toward the trig.

The air is warm and thick with the scent of heather blossom, and sings to the tune of countless bees collecting nectar from the pink, bell shaped flowers. The vivid blooms form a heavy carpet over the hillside, speared by solitary Scots pines standing guard on the steep slope, painting a surreal landscape straight out the pages of the Dr. Seuss storybooks of my childhood.

I grew up in the shadow of the Pennines, where the fells were my playground, and where my dad would take me on short adventures to tall places.

To the summit of Pendle, to hear stories of witches.

To the eagle shaped rock on the nearby crag.

To the old millstones scattered across the hillside beyond our village.

Peaks and valleys are where I find comfort, so it’s no surprise that, when I’m feeling nostalgic, I head for the hills.

Beyond my own footsteps, the hum of the bees, and the slow whistle of the gentle breeze moving through the thinly scattered trees and breathing a chill over my damp skin, there is nothing but silence.

Making my final climb to the summit, I watch a kestrel as it takes flight from its perch atop a lone, branchless tree trunk, bleached white by the endless cycle of sun, wind and rain which tears across the hilltop. It hovers for a moment, on the lookout for prey, before making a sharp dive down the hillside. My eyes follow it, and fall onto the extraordinary view laid out before me.

During my climb, I resisted the urge to look back. Now I have, my already ragged breath is taken away.

The heavy blanket of pink and purple heather falls away toward dense native woodland and vivid green pasture. Beyond it, the pale blue waters of the Inner Seas, sparkling in the midday sun, are bisected by the fine, silvery thread of wake left by a ferry en route to Wemyss Bay. It cuts a path between the pristine white sails of tiny yachts, like children’s toys scattered across the playroom floor.

To the far south west, the southernmost tip of Bute juts out into the Firth of Clyde, its low hills providing a backdrop to the sweeps of sand which fringe the bays of Kilchattan, Kerrycroy and Ascog, as the eastern shore of the island winds its way north.

Past the ancient standing stones at Kingarth.

Beyond the architectural marvel of Mount Stewart.

Onward to the Victorian villas of Rothesay, whose rooftops glint in the golden light, mirroring the peaceful waters of Loch Fad to the west where, two years ago, Donald Campbell’s Bluebird K7 was brought roaring back to life from my boyhood dreams.

The low, green mound of Inchmarnock sits hunkered close to the water off Bute’s western shore, its softly rounded profile thrown into sharp contrast against the jagged peaks of Arran, which rise sharply from the sea beyond it. To its north, Ardlamont Point reaches out into Inchmarnock Water, marking the place where the Secret Coast meets the sparkling, crystal sea.

As my eyes track north, they climb higher, as Bute mutates from the rolling, gentle landscape of the south, to lofty, rugged hilltops of the north, a telltale sign of the Highland Boundary Fault, which rents the island in two.

On the mainland, a shadow falls over Strone Point, where the waters of severe, steep sided Loch Striven surge out from the shadow of A’ Cruach, to meet the Kyles of Bute.

Yachts pass between the coloured markers of the Burnt Islands, and head down the Kyles, under the watchful gaze of the lone radio mast, just visible amongst the the heavily wooded hillsides above Tighnabruaich.

Looking down on the scene spread out so perfectly beneath me, like the elaborate model railways my grandparents took me to see as a child, capturing in minute detail every aspect of a single moment in a make believe world, it’s difficult not to simply stand and stare.

As I finally begin my descent, two ferries cross paths out on the water. A brief meeting which paints a silver saltire on the powder blue sea.

I’ll always have the happiest memories of my childhood in the Pennines, but as I take in the view for the last time before I drop below the treeline, I smile contentedly as I recognise that this is home now.

And sometimes I need to take a look back to fully appreciate it.

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