Our visit to Silversands Arisaig in June left us thirsty for more, so just over a month later we arranged to come back, this time for three weeks. We decided to bring our car with us, travelling in convoy and taking the journey gently as we didn’t have the usual benefit of changing drivers. The remote nature of the place gives it the magical quality we love so much but it also means that without a car there is little chance of exploring further afield.
A thin place
A thin place is a term used in Celtic spirituality for a place where people feel a kind of presence or a peace that seems to draw them back time after time. To us, this is a thin place. It takes us away from our ordinary lives and somehow, almost magically it seems, everything that has been troubling or worrying us drops away and we find ourselves feeling quieter and more at peace. Just looking out over the beautiful white sands to the islands beyond brings a sense of wellbeing. It’s easier here to live simply and in the moment. For us this brings its own feeling of contentment.
It’s probably fair to say that not everyone will have the same experience. Occasionally visitors seem to find reasons to moan. Who knows, they might be just the same at home. Others just arrive, stand quietly and say a murmured “Wow!” Probably thin places are unique to individuals and this is definitely one of ours.
Old friends and new
After numerous visits over the years and our country membership of the golf club we have made friends with several people, both locals and visitors. So many customers of Silversands Caravan Site return year on year that we often find others who are in love with the place. The ladies of the golf club have kept in touch with us and we feel a real sense of belonging each time we come back.
This time, with the car at our disposal, we could easily accept an invitation to go over to Skye to visit our friend Susan where she owns a second home to be regularly close to her family. We had a great overnight stay with her, beginning with a tour of the Quiraing Pass, a spectacular mountain road with magnificent views in every direction. Susan kindly drove us around and we were grateful she did. It was surprisingly busy with all kinds of vehicles, including huge coaches and big motorhomes. The road is single track and many drivers seemed anxious about tucking into the passing places, causing others to inch forward to try to ease the congestion. Despite the slightly stressful nature of making the trip safely, we were delighted to have been given the chance to see it. We stopped in a car park at the famous Kilt rock – a cliff with a natural waterfall crashing into the sea. Once again we were amazed at the number of people from all over the world who had come to visit this beautiful island.
It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm and we ended it with a barbecue in Susan’s garden. It was idyllic, sitting outside, sheltered and warm and tucking in to good food, chatting about anything and everything.
The next morning we set off in the direction of the ferry, dropping in at the local garden centre to see John, one of Shirley’s former colleagues who settled in Skye several years ago. Working in the garden centre obviously suits him, he looked tanned and relaxed and we enjoyed our chat and meeting the small tame robin he has befriended. He feeds the little bird with biscuit crumbs and when they run out the tiny creature pops into his shed to let him know.
Our trips are never without some nonsense yet for a few days this time I was thinking that we had nothing to report other than sighs of contentment and gentle trips to lovely places. I was wrong, of course.
We were invited by the lovely ladies of the Traigh golf club to take a trip over to Skye to play a game at the Sconser golf club. Five of us would travel in convoy and have a day out, enjoying a game of golf on a course that is very different from Traigh and giving us an opportunity to get to know one another better. The only thing that potentially could get in the way of this treat was the problem of Poppy, who couldn’t be left alone in the van for that length of time. Karen and John recommended a local dog walker who might be able take her out during the day and make sure all her needs were met. Thankfully Amy was available on the day in question and we arranged to introduce Poppy to her the day before our big day out.
Around the time we were expecting her, a small car turned up at the campsite with a young woman and two dogs on board. “Here she is!” we called and dashed across with Poppy on her lead to introduce ourselves. There was something strange about the encounter. She seemed confused and was obviously uncomfortable when we went to shake hands and introduce ourselves. She quickly said that it was too hot for the dogs in the car and brought them out, allowing them to lunge straight at Poppy who began snarling and growling. Poppy is very big on good manners and she was having none of that rudeness. We began to feel even more uncomfortable. Did this young lady not know how to introduce dogs to one another? Shirley leaned across to me and whispered that she thought this wasn’t Amy the dog walker. She was right – it was an unsuspecting customer of the site who was just turning up to check in. We explained our mistake and crept away feeling foolish. She went into the office to report that she had been accosted by two strange women who had mistaken her for a dog walker.
When Amy arrived we were immediately reassured. Poppy set about trying to lick her mercilessly and they went off for a short walk to get to know one another. All the arrangements were made for the next day and we began making our packed lunch, getting the clubs in the car and preparing for the fact that we would have to get up at 6.30 a.m. It’s been several years since we needed to get up so early but we were as excited as kids going on an adventure.
The crossing from Mallaig to Armadale on Skye is about 30 minutes and from there it was approximately an hour’s drive to the golf club. Visiting the Isle of Skye in high season is verging on madness and this was our second visit on this holiday but we weren’t going to miss it. Too much fun to be had.
Traffic on the one main road through the island is heavy and, as so many locals have told us, is full of people who have rented motorhomes and turned up without booking any stop overs. The idea of a visit to this beautiful island seems to have caught the imagination of travellers from all parts of the world so many people are driving hired vehicles and are not experienced in the ways of Highland roads, seemingly finding it tricky to keep to the left side of the road and generally being unaware of the size of the vehicle. Tales are told of visitors stopping at passing places on single track roads and having picnics, completely unaware of the chaos that is building up around them.
We made our way to the golf club without any problems other than long queues of slow vehicles to patiently follow. We were in no hurry so we relaxed and enjoyed the spectacular views at every corner. Plenty of time.
This beautiful nine hole course runs along the shore of the Inner Sound – a stretch of water that runs between Skye and the Island of Raasay. Mountain and the sea views accompany you all the way around and it can be difficult to concentrate on the game when your eye is drawn to the surroundings. That’s my excuse for what followed.
At the club we were welcomed with tea and coffee by one of the lady members, Donalda, who had arrived to join our group making us an even number of six. The three better players, Linda, Donalda and Shirley teed off first leaving Marion, June and myself to negotiate the course behind them. We hadn’t got very far before a series of strange apparent trick shots caused us to convulse into laughter. Balls were flying straight then landing only to bounce randomly to the right or the left at speed, disappearing in the deep rough and evading capture. One ball was knocked off the green by another one as it was chipped on, causing more hoots of laughter. Loud groans were soon heard rising from our little band of players and we decided before the third hole that counting our scores was a pointless exercise. We had a really good time and as we relaxed our shots definitely improved. Back in the club house we tucked into our packed lunches and were presented with a dessert of carrot cake by Donalda. This was Highland hospitality at its best – we loved it. After lunch three brave souls went out on the course again to play a few more holes but June and I stayed in the club house to relax and chat. For me it was an ideal round of golf with so much laughter, along with genuine mutual encouragement and friendship.
We arrived back at the ferry port in good time and stood in the sunshine eating ice cream and chatting. Back on the ferry, we found a lounge where we could sit together at a table right beside the window. The final cherry on the cake of this special day was watching, along with people of several nationalities, the antics of a pod of dolphins swimming alongside the ship, breaching and diving as though they were doing it deliberately to entertain us.
The sad tale of the awning
After our previous visit, when we ended up exhausting ourselves and three other kind but unsuspecting women who turned up to offer help, we felt that we had mastered the art of putting the connection tunnel on our Khyam screenhub to form an awning. We soon had it in place and enjoying its extra space and shelter.
This coast can be wonderfully gentle and the weather kind but in no time at all it can become stormy with fierce winds and heavy rain. The connection tunnel had blown off twice in our first few days so we carefully took it down, leaving the tent in place for storage and a wee sitooterie. The night after our golf trip I was woken by Shirley sitting up and peering out of the window. I asked sleepily what was wrong and she said the tent was blowing in all directions and looked like it might fall down. She looked at me sadly and said, “My fishing stuff is in there”. Shirley’s fishing gear has been gathered over many years and includes all kinds of things she would hate to lose. Flies that she has made herself, various items that once belonged to her Dad and a beautiful, expensive rod that she bought with her retirement gift from work. And so it was that I put on joggers and a huge rain cape and went out into the driving wind and rain to rescue the gear along with a box of shoes. Next I tried my best to zip up the doors that the howling wind had managed to unzip. I was no match for the wind so I dripped back into the van, stripped off and got back into bed. The next morning we looked out and thought for a moment that the whole tent was ruined. With a closer look we realised that one leg joint had broken, bringing the whole thing down into a jumbled heap. With assistance from the ever helpful and kind Karen we managed to get it packed away and decided to work out what to do about it another time. While all this drama was happening during the night we had felt worried about the other vans with awnings and those sleeping in tents. Looking around it seemed that ours was the only one that had fallen over. A bit of self doubt crept in – did we do something wrong when we set it up? Who knows?
Poppy is well known as a champion golf ball finder. All this started when we first moved to Melrose. Out on walks early in the morning on the golf course she began finding balls that we had lost, presumably by picking up the scent from our hands. We were so delighted to have our lost balls returned to us that we gave her treats every time she found one. This led to her finding other lost balls, handing them over in exchange for a small treat. Since then we have been able to donate hundreds of balls to the club members, including the juniors who seem to be even better at losing them than we are. Up here at our ‘other’ golf club she went straight into ball finding mode and has kept us well stocked with balls, necessary as the course here is dotted with massive gorse bushes with ball drawing qualities. We don’t know what scent she has managed to pick up to find them, presumably her clever little nose has generalised from the scent of our hands to the ball itself.
Poppy is the offspring of a working cocker and a miniature poodle. The cocker was a farmer’s working dog and the poodle belonged to his daughter. The mother’s great ability for scenting and retrieving made her a good worker and she was described by the farmer as a ‘very steady dog’. He assured us that Poppy would definitely be as steady as her mother.
For two years we were often heard to say, “What have we done?” There was no sign of steadiness, just crazy high spirits and joie de vivre, which is great in small doses but exhausting by the end of the day. We have had several dogs over the years and had no difficulty training them to come back when called. Poppy was willing but if she caught the scent of something interesting she was off. I can’t remember how many times we lost her. We had our phone number on her collar and we would be called by strangers who would say that she looked so bedraggled that she had obviously been lost for days. Actually it was usually less than an hour – such was the mayhem she had caused whilst crashing through undergrowth.
Finally, after coming to a point when we had come to our wit’s end we called in a dog trainer. She looked very young and we felt a bit dubious until, in the time it took for us to make her a cup of tea, she had both our dogs walking up and down the lounge to heel with no leads. They looked up at her with obvious admiration and then sat quietly waiting for the next order. How did she do that? After three sessions she pronounced her verdict on Poppy. ‘She is a working dog and needs to scent. We’ll work out ways to satisfy that urge and she will settle.’ It was clear to us that she was training us not Poppy, who knew perfectly well how to scent. Our task was to make ourselves interesting enough for her to want to come back. We did this with her other great love, small meaty treats only given when she returned promptly. We learned scenting games around the house and garden and found an altogether more biddable little dog inside the tearaway we thought she was.
Now she is approaching her tenth birthday and she is indeed very steady. She is also still fit and agile. Her youthful exuberance remains, seen in her over friendly greeting of most humans and the big grins she gives after darting around looking for golf balls. There are two things she hasn’t learned yet: 1) Golf balls will not be in deep rough grass anywhere except on the course and 2) Not everyone wants a big kiss and a rapturous welcome.
… and this is where our final tale leads us. Yesterday we walked around the deserted golf course before heading for the beach. Before we realised what was happening, she had found a man lying peacefully on the beach enjoying, no doubt, the solitude and the rest. His eyes were closed and he looked thoroughly relaxed. Poppy shot in his direction, came to a careering stop in the sand and gave his face a hearty lick. He leapt with fright and we quickly apologised but there was no doubt she had ruined his afternoon.