The ice is melting though the wind is ferocious cold, swirling with stories from the north, enough to make my eyes water. The ground is hard as iron, water like a stone. Waterfalls are strung with icicles and the rocks coated in ice froth. Inside the car we are warm with our own stories of times long gone, the people too, characters in the theatre of our shared history. We exchange funny tales of this person and that, re-enacting the scene in our minds as we tootle our way over the switchback hill, avoiding great expanses of ice-hold. In the rear view I see the village receding, falling away into the valley, the frozen sea glinting in the lemony sunlight.
We are off to the vet. You would be forgiven for imagining we were headed for outer space because the climb is steep and our craft points skyward for miles. Peaking, we return earthwards, our vista now of outer islands settled in a different tidal flow. They look so close and yet it would take a couple of hours by boat to arrive at the nearest. The sea chops and twists as wind fights tide. I see smoke, no, not smoke, spindrift. Spectacular clouds of it lift like eerie dancers from the waves, rising into the sky. We stop to watch. Well, actually we are stopped. It isn’t a choice for there are big warm bodied highland cows all across the road. I am glad they have such thick gold and chestnut coats. They stand and stare and we stare back into big dark eyes. It seems they hold sway on this single track curl of a road. We inch forward and they pull back. There will be calves this spring, little kick-heel babes and this track will be awash with their leavings. I remember a story. On a frozen snow day many years ago when my children were young, they grabbed our old wooden toboggan and dragged it up a hill. Crowded on its back, they looked like the whole colour wheel. Faster and faster they sped, shrieking with delight, until they met a frozen cow pat. The sled exploded into a thousand splinter shards and the sky was full of flying children. I was glad of their puffy snowsuits and the soft arms of a snow landing. We had kindling for days.
Returning a different way we snake past farmhouses, cottages, empty self-catering bothies, a castle and the carved out bay with the machair now protected, erosion held at bay for a while and then the curl of silver white sand. I remember all our visits here over the last 43 years. Children, visitors, dogs, barbecues, picnics, games and swimming. I remember boats and play, football, cricket, sandcastles and moats. I remember him. He loved walking here even when he could barely move far and not without a stick for support. I wonder how he felt then, once he realised this decline was no longer to be held at bay like the erosion of this beach. He would never be drawn into such a conversation so I can only guess. His attitude was always that his life had been magical; he had nothing to complain about. I can see him down there as we round the bay. Hallo you, I whisper. You won’t see the machair wildflowers this summer. You won’t walk here again, nor lick your lips at the thought of Charlie’s ice creams or a cup and cake in the cosy cafe atop the hill. You won’t laugh at the dog biting the waves or watch grandchildren dig holes to bury each other.
It’s ok. I’ll come and remember for both of us.