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Unto The Hills
Golden Gairloch

(To D. in memory of happy days)

WE wandered barefoot along the seashore, and the soft sand came up warmly between our toes. Little waves rippled round us like grey silk edged with pearls. Tiny pink and yellow shells lay in delicate drifts among sun-bleached stones; and lichen-crusted clams and scallops poked sharp edges above the sand.

The sunlight danced and flickered over the calm sea. Two little boats, lifted by the incoming tide, bobbed unevenly in the shallows. The small islands were bright with yellow lichen, rosy with sea-pinks, slippery with long strands of green and brown weed. Off the northern point of Strath Bay, the low hills of Longa took on a misty blue-green tinge under the shimmering sun.

Presently, we put on our shoes and meandered inland, along the shady lane towards Shieldaig. Now the scene had, indeed, changed. All about us, the pineforest waved and whispered, its fragrance heavy on the warm air. Grotesque shadows fell from the trees and spread across the carpet of moss and pine-needles underneath. Before us, the steep hills of Flowerdale Forest were sombrely blue, softened by veils of floating cloud. We could see Creag an Fhithich and the long ridge of Baosbheinn to the south. Beyond the trees, the striped pyramid of Meall Aundrary leaned against a watery sky. On the lower, nearer slopes, ling and bell-heather were painting streaks and patches of purple over the quiet green.

Down the road towards Loch Shieldaig, we were caught in a brief shower, and the hills disappeared behind a wall of moving mist. Then the sun came out again, and there before us lay the little blue loch with its grey hotel, green islands and the rotting skeletons of old ships lying desolate off the weedy shore. There was silence save for the lap of water on the rocks-the hiss of its slow withdrawal through wet weed.

We walked on through the woods, and overgrown foxgloves nodded purple heads among the bracken as we passed. From the white village of Badachro, we looked right across the blue bay to Strath, resting the while on the machair, inhaling the salty air with its tang of shellfish, tar and drying nets.

In the declining light of the evening, we turned back along the way we had come. Back to the singing river and the dark pines. Back to the enchanted vista of Flowerdale, where the clustered hills, alive in a rainbow sunset, looked out over frith and moorland to Gairloch of the Golden Sands.

The Flowerdale Hills, Gairloch, Wester Ross

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