The sights of the West coast

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I am not long back home from what will probably be our last sail of the season on the West coast. The forecast was favouring us for a few days and so we headed off. Remarkably, after one day of absolutely torrential rain, for the next two days the sun shone constantly although it was cool, the sky was blue and the winds good on the first day and almost non-existent on the second.

We spent the first night at the top of Loch Ridden, sitting out in the evening sun for a while casually observing two young herons mucking about chasing one another along the shore and watching the lazy seals hauled up on the rocks, determined not to move until the incoming tide actually lifted them off the rocks. As the water level rose, they curved themselves into even more of an extreme crescent moon shape, until eventually either it rose up their sides so much that they had to swim off, or it became high enough that they were physically lifted off their perches.

From high up in the rocky crags, ravens croaking calls came to us in the still air. I like ravens, their black tarry plumage, heavily feathered necks, powerful beaks and grey, glassy eyes give them a slightly manic demon look. With this appearance and them favouring high craggy places where their coarse calls echo around the hills, it is no wonder that in the past they have been associated with both evil and good; norse mythology has Odin, informer to the gods, with two familiars in the form of ravens Huginn and Munnin (thought and memory); Native Americans think he is a trickster god; Celts associate the raven with darkness and death and superstitiously believe that a raven calling over a house is bad news; Irish Celts consider them clever birds with prophetic and supernatural powers - to “have a raven’s knowledge” means to have these powers. Despite their bad press, they are intelligent birds and I really love their powerful looks. Watching them “playing” with obvious pleasure on the winds above sea cliffs or hills, I find it hard to believe anything evil of them.

When we retired below on the boat that evening, where we have only small windows to see out, my husband saw an owl fly past between us and the shore - from his description, I think that it may have been a short eared, which struck me as a bit strange. I could not believe that it passed exactly across his very limited view and not mine - I am the one that is interested and I was facing the wrong way!

We arose in the morning to absolute silence on a mirror-like loch, with a band of mist hanging halfway up the surrounding hills. It was spine-tinglingly beautiful and peaceful. Despite the lack of wind on the second day, we resisted starting the engine, but set both sails to gull wing on the tiny breeze that arisen. We were barely moving, but this was not about getting anywhere, but just the sheer pleasure of being on the water. As we rounded Ardnamurchan Point, we saw the fin of a dolphin circling around a marker buoy. As we drifted closer, it disappeared and the next thing we were aware of was a loud “blow” behind us. We turned around just to see a common dolphin disappear below the boat. Soon he re-appeared off our starboard side and gently swam alongside us, matching our pace, almost touching the boat. He drifted along effortlessly, occasionally rolling over a little to glance up at us as we peered over the side of the boat. It was such a privilege to be so close to this lovely creature, that I felt close to tears. There is just something so emotional about whales and dolphins. He stayed with us for quite a while, content it seemed, to just drift along as we were. He seemed relaxed and curious. I watched, absolutely entranced as he blew large bubbles that rose and broke on the surface, then he himself broke the surface and exhaled, that distinctive sound the only one apart from a few seabird calls. With the water being so calm, we could see him clearly under the water, his light sides showing up well as he gently rolled and twisted - goosebumps rose on my arms and neck as I watched. What a moment and the feeling of calm and contentment stayed with me nearly all day.

After our cetacean companion left us, the next sound to reach my ears was that of the young guillemots, clearly visible in the sea all around. Gradually from scattered individuals and pairs, they located each other and formed into larger groups, forming rafts on the glassy surface as more and more birds paddled frantically towards them. I suppose on such a day, there is more chance of both seeing and hearing other birds and so they were taking advantage of the conditions to get together - safety in numbers!

There were still gannets around and again, because of the lack of wind, we could see them diving great distances away. It was odd, as I watched them plunge into the water from a great height sending up a tall funnel of white spray, then there was a delay before the thump and splash sound reached us.

To top our magical day off, a rainbow halo formed around the sun. Now, I have seen this before and my “sensible, logical, side” knows that this is caused by the sunlight passing though thin, high-drifting, cirrus clouds, full of ice crystals, but it had been such a perfect day that my “airy-fairy side”, as my husband so lovingly puts it, made me feel that it was just the natural world showing off for us and piling yet another glorious and special spectacle on top of a day already full of them.

The sunset wasn’t half bad either - I was so grateful for the whole day’s experiences. There are some days you know will remain in your mind forever and this had been one of those.