For 6 weeks at the start of 2019 I travelled to Scotland. Courtesy of a friend I was able to stay for the first month of my trip in a small town on the Moray Firth, Cullen, in a small old house in the Seatown area, right on the coast. Only a wide, barely used road and a low wall separated the front door from the sea which varied between a noisy, raging grey and white foam and a tranquil, reflective bluey green sheet of glass. Six years on from the Sabbatical that had given birth to The Divine Heart of Darkness I had decided not to return to Svalbard but to take a less ambitious journey, albeit still in search of the prolonged darkness and shorter daylight hours. I had invited various friends and family to join me for a few days during the month, thinking I might bet bored or lonely. Most had declined the offer – the appeal of a long journey to a cold, dark and possibly snowbound place being limited to all but the most stoic. A few left the decision to the last minute and to my surprise, a week or so into my stay, I found myself hoping that they wouldn’t come. Worse that that, I felt I would resent the intrusion into the space I had created around and within myself. [Had they come it would of course have been fine, a different experience, but fine. They didn’t come.] The following was written at around the time I made this realisation.
Some thoughts on an evening winter walk in the North of Scotland………..
I seem to be able to live without conversation these days.
To be in the company of others, to feel life and to hear heartbeats talking. This is necessary.
And even here, on the edge of the land, there is an abundance of presence.
Yet I do not need to add my voice.
Even the music that I am finding myself choosing and which speaks to me, is wordless. Sounds of nature. Sounds of transcendence. The soundtrack, I imagine, of transitioning from this life to another.
To be at ease with one’s own company; I had always considered this to be something born of necessity. Yet right now, I find myself choosing to be with me and only me. As I walk over the disused railway viaduct, away from the small town of Cullen I am surprised to realise this. I am focussed on the deepening twilight and I think that what I am feeling is deep joy. I have chosen to be here and I have chosen to be here alone. Just for a while I do not wish anyone to intrude.
I could choose to continue along the path to the nearby hamlet of Portknockie, where lights are bidding me welcome. Yet there is no specific welcome to be had there, I know that. I pass by the big hotel overlooking the sweeping bay and notice another lone figure, in shadow, at an upstairs window; just a silhouette, but it is enough to make me wonder about the life which it encompasses. In the other direction I spot a single surfer emerging from the waves. I marvel. We are three lives, happening to be in this place at this time – for one, the sea, for one, the view, for one, the encroaching darkness – each life holding multiple connections, yet, at this moment each of us, alone. I hope the other two are as content in their aloneness as I am.
I cut down onto the golf course, heading back in the direction from whence I have come, and walk across a putting green, up a sharp bank and onto another pathway which cuts along the top of a dune bank. The tide is coming in, but there is still time to walk along the sand before it is consumed, and I notice that that is what I want to do. I want to be on the beach but the drop on the other side of the bank is sheer, if not high. I try to see a way to descend safely but cannot find one. Eventually I reach a rough path which leads down on to the beach. There are some people walking in the same direction that I intend to go, although at this point I am 100 metres or so ahead of them. Their presence comforts me and their distance reassures me. The darkness get richer the closer I get to home. I cut back up onto the rough promenade and as I pass along the base of the viaduct over which I had walked a short while ago I pause to take some pictures of the illuminated arches.
The moon is a day short of being full, intermittently shrouded in clouds. It is not fully night but I can tell that at this point on the coast the tide is still someway out and that on the beach there is a light. I am drawn back down onto the sand and begin to make my way towards the light, which is of course only visible to me because it is by now beyond twilight. Just as I pass the point where I am aware that my house is above me on the promenade I realise that the light is in fact a small fire; the embers of something more powerful, lit and abandoned earlier in the afternoon. I am grateful for its glow and warmth, it feels like a companion, and I kneel down to nurture it with a slight rearrangement of the sticks and stones and sand. Remembering the last vestiges of a bottle of red wine sitting in my kitchen, I climb the few steps away from the beach and return home, pour the wine into a glass and return to my fire, where I crouch as long as my knees will allow and feel the darkness, the moonshadow, the warmth, the seasound and the wine wash over and through me. I feel totally safe, and stay just until I can no longer feel the warmth of the flames.