I was on a college art trip to North Uist, with Mick Manning, Zane, and a bunch of Glasgow School of Art students. It was all a bit stark, because at first I couldn’t find anything to draw. The landscape here isn’t just windswept, it’s been scrubbed and brushed. Not a tree in sight.
This chap Zane Foster, helped me look at it another way. We were at the top of a steep hill. Nothing too challenging, but trouble enough if you lost your footing. He said to us (I think we numbered around six damp bodies), “Let’s go over there.” He was pointing past a steep gully, easily a half hour descent, and across an inlet to the next peninsula in view.
“Probably four miles, as the crow flies” someone ventured.
“Yeah,” said Zane grinning. “As the crow flies”.
He tried to convince us to do the journey in a straight line, a direct A-t0-B “Why take the easy path when there is nothing in front of you to stop you?” Well, coming straight off the bluff into what seemed like a near-vertical suicidal descent, seemed like a pretty good reason not to.
He reckoned we’d be fine, and he was off, literally.
The warning goes like this: if your friend jumps off a cliff, would you do the same? Course we did.
As soon as we went over the side, the updraft on the concave slope was massive. The wind was holding us up! Catching lumps of air as we sped down, we could see the sea approaching fast, and Zane was already in it.
Those tall enough waded, a few swam and I zombie-walked it, up to my ears at one point. Once back on dry land we had the beach and the wind to help us drip dry.
Days later, at a remote harbour a few miles from our remoter farmhouse, I was sketching until the daylight faded. I turned away from the sea & thought: which way home, is it left or right? I turned left and started walking.
But my house was a six-mile walk to the right. By turning left, I had unwittingly set out on a 30-plus mile walk, in the evening with no map, no provisions, no compass, torch or phone (we didn’t have mobiles).
About two hours in, I accepted that I had taken a wrong turn. It was a clear night though, and I had a big moon for company. I also knew there was only one road on the island, and it would eventually lead me back home. And hey, there’s nothing stopping me.
After another hour, I realised I had majorly made an arse of things. The moon had disappeared and I couldn’t see the road. I was travelling by ear.
And then a car pulled up. “Hop in, Jim”
I managed to get a good halfway round the island being picked up by locals. The best by far was a gnarly farmer, older than my grandfather.
He had a Mini Metro, converted into a makeshift van. “In the back boy”, he said softly as he pulled up. After a moment of confusion, I laughed – he was talking to his sheepdog!
A sharp collie willingly gave up the passenger seat for me. We talked while the collie listened attentively as the conversation moved back and forth… about the island, about ferry times, about the tardis-like interior of the underappreciated mini metro, and about nothing important. I’m not outgoing, but the chat was easy, and comfortable. Warm as a cheroot.
He dropped me on by dirt track side road about four miles shy of the house, and I walked the last stretch comedy-style, falling into ditches in the complete blackness of the night.
I made it to the kitchen door about 11.45pm. As I shut the door on the darkness, Zane passed by the Raeburn, checking the heat, with a smile.
despite being six hours overdue, no search party had been sent out, and more importantly no dinner had been kept for me! I had been deemed capable of getting home by myself. The chaps in charge were well aware that the only thing in my way, was myself.
Thumbs up from this hitchhiker in appreciation.
In Scotland, ‘Jim’ suffices as a default name applicable for use in any direct male conversation. Example: Hey Jim, yer break light’s oot. This default name can be administered even when the real name is known. Example: Hey Jim, are you soft in the heed.