We have left Soyea Island, to guard the entrance to Lochinver until we next return, and cross Enard Bay and pass Rubha Coigeach Point. To port, the great wide entrance to Loch Broom and Ullapool opens up, and there among the beautiful Summer Isles, are the Russian Klondykers, their dirty rusting red hulls standing out against the green of the Islands. In the distance, on my port beam, I can see Gruinard Island, supposedly cleared of Anthrax after chemical warfare experiments over fifty years ago.
On now, past Greenstone Point and there, the mouth of Loch Ewe. If Loch Ewe could talk what tales would she tell? Of apprehensive men, warships to protect them and convoys dark and grey. Of midget submarines and deeds of 'daring do'. In the village of Aultbea, men danced and sang in the village hall - for many it was to be their last.
On on we go, our way point fixed for an offing off Rubha Reigh point light house - the wind holds good and we see the light atop its cliff, and to the south, the Islands of Rona and Raasay. We now turn a few points east of south and set our way point for an offing on the Crowlin Islands. We pass the mouth of Loch Gairloch, and inland I can see the great forests of Shieldaig, Torridon and to the south, Applecross, their massive peaks building clouds, the whole panorama reminding me of the prayer, ending:
'as it was, and as it ever shall be, world without end, Amen'
We are soon entering the wide channel between the Islands of Rona and Raasay, and the Applecross forest. Raasay was an island that suffered at the hands of its laird during the clearances. Its laird, one George Rainy, decided to convert as much arable land as he could to more profitable sheep runs. An autocratic proprietor, he practised a simple but effective form of population control - he forbade young people to marry. If they wished to breed they must leave. By 1852 two boatloads had been sent to America and twelve townships had been cleared. In 1865, another 125 Raasay men and woman took a last look at their island home, and boarded ships bound for Australia.
We should contrast all this suffering, with the account of a visitor to the laird a hundred years before. On the 8th September 1773 he writes:
'We found here coffee and tea in genteel order upon the table, as it was past six when we arrived; diet loaf, marmalade of oranges, currant jelly, some elegantly bound books on a large table, in short all the marks of an improved life. We had a dram of excellent brandy, according to the highland custom, filled round. They call it a 'scalck'. On a sideboard was served up directly, for us who had come off the sea, mutton chops and tarts, with porter, claret, and punch. Then we took coffee and tea. In a little while a fiddler appeared and a ball began'.
Now, with the wind turning onto our forward quarter, I harden the sails to maintain speed, and we're soon abreast the village of Applecross, two miles on our port beam. The Crowlin Islands, with their light house lie ahead, and beyond the great mountain ranges of Skye, the Cuillin's, and dead ahead Bla Bheinn, 3046 feet.
Its getting late now, so I decide to enter the narrow channel, Caolas Mor, between the Crowlins and the Applecross Forest. This will shorten the journey by some three miles. Soon we're free and I swing east towards Loch Carron and head for An Dubh-aird. Lazy Beaver loves the calm waters of the Loch and we soon round the point and into the anchorage at Plockton.
I stand on the foredeck, a warm evening, over whelmed by the perfume from the shore - rhododendrons and peat smoke - entranced as always at the sight before me. Plockton, a little village, is in essence a single street of white painted houses with black slate roofs, built at the water's edge. Today, it's mostly populated by 'white settlers', but in the past it was a crofting village. Need I say more. It was emptied of crofters during the Clearances, but instead of the houses being burnt to the ground, they were given to shepherds imported from the Borders and the north of England. The village has never really recovered from this time, and today it's still populated by 'imports', from afar.
However, this in no way detracts from its charm, and as I look over to where the railway line passes by on its way to the Kyle of Lochalsh, I can see cows standing on the beach among the seaweed, their hoofs covered by the sea.
It is late and I am hungry, so down below for food. As I still have half the minced beef and Ragu sauce, bought in Stornoway, I shall repeat the meal I ate there on the night of the gale, but the sweet will be tinned black treacle pudding.
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