Sunday 28 September 2014

Over the Sea to ........

On the sea

Crossing the sea to an island is always exciting. There’s always an element of mystery, of the unknown, of leaving behind the normal. At least that’s how I always feel. I love watching the old land vanish behind me. I love watching the new land approaching. I can understand the appeal of sailing, of setting out across the ocean in search of whatever lies beyond the horizon, or perhaps just for the experience of gliding over the water itself, far from land. I’m a poor sailor though, getting seasick and nervous as soon as the sea moves much. As a teenager I did try to learn dinghy sailing, inspired by the stories of Arthur Ransome, but I never progressed very far and somehow the concrete lined and enclosed Marine Lake in Southport didn’t provide much inspiration. I found it hard to make the jump from that municipal pool to the wild, island-dotted, mountain-surrounded lakes I’d read about. 


Today, as it has been for many years, my pleasure in being on the sea is found on ferry crossings. I can gain great joy from these journeys, mundane though they are to many. Last week I took the ferry from Uig on the Isle of Skye (I drove to Uig – crossing a bridge really does make Skye feel more like part of the mainland than an island) to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris. The sailing takes just over an hour and a half, long enough for it to feel like a real journey, a real crossing of the sea to a different land. 

Leaving Uig
On this occasion the sea was calm and the sky was blue. I spent the journey wandering the decks and watching the sea and the sky and the birds – sharp-beaked white gannets flashing down in spear-like dives, flocks of dark guillemots flying low over the waves, wings beating furiously, distant unidentified ducks bobbing on the water, fulmars and gulls soaring and skimming, wings hardly beating. Then as we approached Tarbert a mighty bird appeared, flapping heavily but steadily out over the sea towards Skye. A white-tailed sea eagle, huge and magnificent. Slowly it passed by the ferry, watched by dozens of awestruck eyes. 

The Harris Hills

Just gazing at the vastness of the sea and the sky I find calming and contemplative. As they fade into the distance, merging together, they give a perspective to life. This is so much more than our daily lives, this constant surging of waves and clouds, this tremendous natural world. Does anything else really matter? It does of course but for a time it is good to forget the world beyond.

As land approaches, the mountains of Harris rising brown and black and rough into the sky, perspective shifts. Now I am thinking of going ashore, of what awaits. (I told the story of this in my last post).

Sea, sky, land

Two days later I’m back on the ferry, watching Harris grow smaller and indistinct. The sky is darker now, with hints of rain and thick clouds tearing themselves apart above. The sea is darker too, steel grey rather than blue. Distant islands – or is that the mainland? – are thin silhouettes between sea and sky, hazy and other worldly. We could be sailing into another dimension. The birds are harder to see, dark shapes appearing in and out of the big waves. Then the headland appears and Uig is in sight. Life returns to normal. 

Leaving Tarbert

1 comment:

  1. Excellent Mr T. I always remember the journey north to Caithness and the expectation of that first glimpse of Orkney beyond. Then the arrival at Scrabster and the St Ola ferry and that fantastic trip across the Pentland Firth with Petrels and Porpoises and the Old Man of Hoy, before the awesome cliffs of St. Johns Head a thousand feet above the waves. Finally the turn to Stromness and the glide past Inner Holm and into the grey harbour and Orcadian soil.