• Michael

#0053: A Line Of Beauty

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The ground beneath my feet rattles and clinks as, squinting into the sun as it dips ever closer to the Knapdale hills, I make my way toward the shore of Loch Fyne.

Below the black strand line of seaweed, glistening under a crust of crackling salt, the beach at Otter Ferry is a soft undulation of small pebbles worn smooth by the rolling sea. They catch the golden light like gemstones, and throw it off in refractions of amber, green and red, punctuated by the deep blue and pearlescent white of mussel shells which litter the ground.

The sunlight snags on an intricate filigree of worm casts completely encasing a small stone in a delicate lattice of calcium, shimmering on the damp sand, the centrepiece of an elaborate display of jewels washed up from the deep.

Behind me, the brittle remains of a squat, concrete building hunker down like a small fortress at the edge of the beach. It gazes wistfully out over a line of concrete blocks as they silently wade out into the pale copper water, and slip beneath the surface.

Like a row of fractured teeth biting through the soft beach, these decaying outliers once carried the steel rails of the Loch Fyne boom, glinting brightly in the evening light, toward the rocky shore. Hung low in the water, the boom acted as the final defence of the upper reaches of the loch against intrusion of enemy submarines into these peaceful waters.

Now though, the last sea pinks of the year cling to pale, crumbling concrete, cracked and strained under the pressure of time, whilst the retreating tide leaves a bounty of sand and driftwood washed over the forgotten remnants of once formidable walls.

I lift my eyes to a riot of noise overhead, and catch a trailing V of geese as they head due west, their long necks reaching out toward the setting sun, and mirroring the line drawn by the vast arm of sand which cradles the little bay like the protective embrace of a doting parent.

You won't find otters at Otter Ferry. This place takes its name from oitir, Gaelic for spit.

Small rocks clatter up the beach as, repeatedly dragged out to sea and washed back to shore, they are slowly carried westward on a parade of endless ripples, whilst the tide, reaching its lowest ebb, rolls back a luminous carpet of water to reveal a kilometre and a half long bar of wet, rippled sand, draped with fronds of thick, wet wrack, its edges dipped in the gold of the evening light.

Small waves gently lap against the spit under a hazy, pale gold sky. Off its southern flank, the loch holds up a mirror of tarnished bronze splashed with vivid pink whilst, in the north, the breeze and tide conspire to create a kaleidoscope of shimmering ripples on the surface, scattering shards of rose gold across a sheet of pale turquoise.

Empty cockles and razor clams crunch beneath my feet as I make my way out onto the tapering spit, the water closing in on me from both sides as land gives way to sea in a delicate curve of gravel, shingle and sand, the spoils of an endless war between winds.

It twists away from me in a fragile ogee.

A line of beauty at the end of the world.

And, at its tip, marking the westernmost reach of the Secret Coast, the green beacon rises up through salty air, towering over the water it was sworn to protect, drifting on the glittering wash of the setting sun.

Beyond it, a flock of oystercatchers fly low to the water, the sky above them burning a deep, dusky orange whilst, beneath them, the glassy surface is pummelled into a tessellation of fractured light where the calm of the bay admits defeat to the tides and currents of the open water.

In a single movement, the birds change direction, heading over the round, red beacon marking the western margin of safe passage, and toward the hazy, blue mountains of the north.

I take a deep breath of sea air as the copper sky turns silver, the crystal waters grow dark, and the last of the golden light fades from the towering beacon. My action is echoed out on the loch by a puff of salty spray rising into the gathering dusk as a flat, grey head breaches the surface.

At this place where the land and sea lock so closely together, the seal and I gaze at one another for a moment, letting the dusk deepen around us.

And then I turn back, and follow the line of the spit to the shore.

Toward the dim lights of yachts moored in the bay.

Toward the familiar stand of poplar trees fringing the beach.

Toward the silvery thread of smoke unravelling from the chimney of The Oystercatcher, its windows alight with the warm promise of a cosy evening ahead.

As I step off the clattering pebbles and into the soft silence of salty grass, the rising tide and falling darkness slowly erase the thinning black line scrawled out across the loch until it fades beneath the surface, disappearing into the night.

I glance back and smile into the gloom, in the knowledge that tomorrow, the line of beauty will be drawn anew.

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