On Monday Annie and I took a trip over to the west coast to visit Sandaig Bay. This was the location of Gavin Maxwell’s house Camusfearna (bay of the alders) and where we wrote his bestselling book Ring of Bright Water. The approach is made by walking through a forestry plantation, then taking a steep, narrow path beside the waterfalls to emerge beside the river behind the bay. Maxwell wrote of how there was once a bridge over this burn, but it was swept away by the winter torrents. And it remains so. There is a precarious-looking rope bridge which we hesitated to attempt, choosing instead to cross the flow where it met the upper part of the beach. The water appeared only inches deep – deceptively, as I was wet to the knees by the time I reached the other side, and Annie sensibly stayed where she was. Once over I was able to view the flat, grassy area where Camusfearna once stood. Nothing remains now except a large boulder marking the last resting place of Maxwell, decorated with shells and pieces of driftwood by his admirers, and a stone construction housing a memorial plate to his famous pet otter Edal (1958-1968).
Crossing back over the river, we walked around the headland where the white shell-sand was exposed by the falling tide and I found a spot to sit and paint the long view over the bay, the rocky islands and the open sea. Eigg was just visible on the horizon. A typical west coast spring day gave us hot sunshine and heavy showers in quick succession, the approaching waves of rain pulling the grey rain clouds down to meet the horizon. Hiding my drawing board with its stretched paper in a black bin-bag during the downpours I was able to paint the receding tide as it exposed the seaweed-strewn rocks and the glistening sand. The vegetation showed bright, fresh green from the emerging leaves of willow and birch on the rocky outcrops, the seaweed red-brown and the rocks on the waterline almost blue-black with algae.
The walk back to the car was a long uphill slog, my rucksack and large drawing board heavy on my back, but the view from the top, with the sun lighting up the ruffled surface of the Sound of Sleat, the peaks of Rum and the Cuillins of Skye silhouetted beyond, reminded us of what a spectacular place this was.