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  • Mike

Rainy Days and Sunny Days

Updated: Dec 3, 2021

‘If you don’t like rain, then don’t live in Scotland and more to the point don’t live in the Western Highlands’. He said, sagely as I sat drinking my coffee at the Ardgay shop and cafe looking out over Dornoch Firth, towards Bonar Bridge. 'You’ll never get away from that wet feeling for most of the year', he continued.

I was having a light hearted conversation about moving to Scotland from Devon and had mentioned we liked the idea of Wester Ross as a place to settle and/or retire to. This was four years ago and we were doing the “500” in a motor home, as we did every year which meant we were beginning to know Scotland generally and some parts quite intimately. We had stopped to let the dog stretch her legs which is always a good excuse for a coffee. ‘We come from Devon’ I replied, ‘and there’s a reason its called damp Devon as well. It has more than its fair share of rain’.

‘Not as often and or as heavy as over there’, he added in a tone of voice which suggested the Western Highlands were on another planet or at least another continent.

In turn that conversation took me back to one I’d had a couple of months before it with a young lady walking her dog in Victoria Park in Ivybridge, South Dartmoor. I was walking my dog too and as she passed me she called to her animal in a rich Aberdeenshire lick which meant I had to say something. I’m always aware of my Scottishness as both my grandfathers were Scots, one of which I never knew as he was killed in 1928 in the then country of Abyssinia whilst serving in the RAF. Which I suppose in turn means that both my parents were Scots, not that you’d realise that if you’d known them.

As she passed I said’ ‘where in Scotland do you come from'? with a smile trying not to look too threatening or pervy.

‘Banchory’, she replied quickly, ‘actually just outside on the way to Aberdeen’, she continued to walk but at least smiled back.

On holiday’, I asked again? Still trying not to sound as if it were a pick up line.

‘No I work here, I’m a nurse at Derriford hospital” she replied.

Why down here’ I asked again? ‘ Its nice up there we’re off on holiday up there in six weeks”, as if that had anything to do with preventing her from working wherever she wanted. I may have even puffed my chest out when making the statement like an errant school kid. By this time she’d stopped walking and from what I could tell regarded me as harmless.

'The rains warmer down here’, she said smiling again.

Ben Fada from Inverinate burial ground, Kintail.

All this blether is my way of leading into my point, because we have moved to the Western Highlands, to Lochaber in fact. Every day as I walk the dog I gaze across to the Sleat peninsula or over Glenelg bay or Kyle Rhea at the Isle of Skye or over Loch Hourn to Knoydart or from Bealach Mam Ratagan across to Kintail or down into Glen Garry and Loch Garry from the A87 and as I do I gaze in awe. Even after fourteen months I still don’t quite believe I am where I am.

The thing is though is my constant amazement at the Scottish Highlands capacity to deal with the amount of water that falls from the skies on a regular basis. The man at Ardgay was right rainy days are a frequent even a constant companion and there’s no point in wailing, complaining or crying about it, all that can be done is to accept it and embrace it. My trouser bottoms are nearly always wet and frequently muddy as I walk across squishy slippy ground just like so many generations before me have done (maybe a reason for the kilt). I like to go high whenever I get the chance and I walk over yielding ground most of the time. But it only yields so far for which I am grateful. It is unlike the Dartmoor landscape which I have left behind.

On Dartmoor after heavy winter rain, blanket bogs occur, soft rippling water beds with a thin, turf covered top looking every bit like normal ground waiting to trap the unwary walker and to which I have lost more than one good pair of walking shoes over the years sinking the two or three feet into the goo beneath. They are rarely deeper but on occasion have the unpleasant habit of bubbling the carcass of a dead sheep to the surface as your feet sink below it. These Devilish things are hidden in plain sight and you are often unaware of their existence until you step onto them. I haven’t come across anything so unpleasant in the Scottish hills yet.

The rain saturated turf I walk on now has a special resilience, because I can be walking over really sodden ground for days, little spits of water being squashed out by my bodyweight as I walk the sound it makes almost saying “I can’t hold any more moisture'. But, when the rain stops and even as the ubiquitous wind continues to blow, something remarkable happens. Within a day sometimes even within hours especially if we get that rare winter beast a sunny day the ground drains and dries with amazing speed, my pathways become solid once more which brings to the last of my chance meetings.

Because of Covid 19 when we moved here with our belongings there was a complication. which meant we had to hold all our furniture and other stuff in storage in a lock up in Inverness. We had to travel back and forth bringing van loads at a time. On one trip while we were loading up I was talking, mask on 2 metres apart, to the owner of the units we were using. Her name was and I guess still is, Wendy. I was saying how much water there was cascading down the hillsides, frothing white water plummeting downwards and filling the streams, the rivers and the lochs. ‘I’m not sure how much more the land can take’, I said as I regaled her with the my version of the sights on our 180 mile round trips.

‘Och! you don’t need to worry about that', she said earnestly, ‘Scotlands built for it”.

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