The Road to the Western Lands

Do you free yourself from fear by cowering in your physical body for all eternity?
Your body is a boat to lay aside when you reach the far shore
or sell it if you can find a fool, it’s full of holes, it’s full of holes.

William Burroughs

A funereal raindrop, a beating drum on the shelter skin in the darkness of the woods. Boum, goes the sonar ping, camped on the black isle in the black of night. Boum. These islands are unto themselves. I sleep like the dead we have visited.

We are here on some sort of hobos homage, a drunks pilgrimage. To pay our respects to the isle of graves, a visit to an island I last made on my 17th birthday, when a storm blew up and we rowed in panic back to our rented keeper's cottage. This time, we paddle after dark to the graveyard, and barely find our way back across the soft, inky blackness. This time, in the dark, no bells toll for me. It's entirely unfamiliar, not as I remember it. Ladies and Gentlemen, we are floating in space.

We make fire on our return, banishing silent, silken death for now. I realise with a shock I haven't sat around a fire since I was last on a journey with David. Six months is far too long, I need to watch for that. The excuse for a reprise this time was Bill's first packrafting trip. Turns out we all had good reasons to visit Loch Awe.

We put in as the rain stopped in the shadow of Kilchurn Castle, the lair of the Campbells of Glen Orchy, who by some not so bizarre synchronicity became the Earls of Breadalbane (whose influence extended as far as Blackmount, where I've spent a good part of the summer sniffing around). Travel, take photos, learn, repeat. It's just possible that packrafting in Scotland doesn't get any more Scottish that setting sail for a medieval castle. (Not) coming to a shortbread tin near you...

From here, west... in search of the islands of immortality... and a cup of tea on a scrubby island with it's own miniature harbour, with the light exploding in the west and making golden remarks on the uplands in the east.

We hop from isle to isle, ghosts in an ocean of raindrops, awash in memory. History is so palpable here. The loch is sprayed with crannogs and would one day have been a busy place, a place of neighbours and wooden boats and shelters, of fighting, praise, loving, hating and trading. Now, the nature of these islands is poised, singular - set alone in waiting grace. They are laden, waiting spaces, they are their own, they are their own.

We round the isle of graves, sniffing out a still better camp whilst the light lasts. The sun sets where it's supposed to. We forage for deadhang not too saturated, and find enough to keep the wolf from the door.

The next day dawns windy, then the rain comes as promised. In the boats, we turn so the wind is at our backs. We have grazed the water membrane of the underworld, and marked the passing of the season. The year leans towards it's end, and the day grows dark again.