The Fragile Islands


By the time I had heard Heather's story, drunk a cup of coffee and admired her stock of goods, the day was well advanced, and lack of sleep was catching up with me. I thought it would be a good idea to find a place to make camp soon and have a lazy ending to the day. The lovely Luskentyre beach was only a few miles further on so I decided to look for a place beside it. I had already noticed on the map that there was a spit of sand dunes which appeared ideal for a quiet camp site. It was shaped like a huge rhinoceros horn protruding out into the sandy estuary from Seilibost. Far from anywhere, at high tide it was almost surrounded by sea. The only snag with it was that there appeared to be no fresh water nearby. I filled my container at a tap which was outside a school still closed for the summer holiday, and started off along the rough track leading to the spit. Dozens of rabbits scuttled from my path in startled surprise as I caught them unawares in my silent approach. They seemed to dart reproachful looks over their shoulders as they ran for the burrow entrances; remarkably plump rabbits who looked as though no-one disturbed them overmuch.

   It was not until I was at the extreme tip of the peninsular that I found the ideal clearing among the rough hummocks of marram-bound dunes. It was like being on the prow of a tall ship, or in a lighthouse with the sea all around, except that I had a sweep of white beaches all around too, with purple mountains edging three quarters of the view. A patch of the small yellow flowers called, appropriately, ladies bedstraw, had impacted the ground sufficiently for the tent pegs to hold as long as no gales blew. The small green nylon shape transformed the unfamiliar place at once into 'home' - a covered space of less than seven feet by three. With my stove, pans, lilo, sleeping bag and various other bits and pieces I made my small island of domesticity in the wilderness, just as Abraham and all other nomads had done before me. I didn't have my flocks of goats and camels about me of course, nor was my existence dependent upon finding water and grazing for them - had it been so it I would have been nicely placed since there was so much of both and to spare on Harris. I often remember our nomadic forebears when I'm sleeping in a tent instead of in a bed, and I must have fallen asleep thinking about them on this occasion because I dreamt about them setting up their camel skin tents in the Syrian desert and imagined I was there with them because I could hear the camels stamping about and getting in a state (as camels often do because of their being so highly strung) and I knew I had to get up and deal with them before they pulled out their tethering pegs and wandered off into the trackless wastes. When I surfaced properly I found that the short rest I'd planned had extended into several hours and it wasn't camels stamping about outside but a couple of young German campers looking for a place to put up their tent, having also noted this ideal place from their maps.

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