Tuesday 24 September
It’s my last night here. I can’t say my few days on Canna have been as fulfilling as I’d hoped, but that is partly down to my own demons. I came here with images of eagles flying along the shore as I crouched in wait for them in my bag hide. Here I would find the real wild nature. This morning I went to a place I had identified as a good hide-out and draped the bag hide – camouflage-printed mesh – over me with the camera on the monopod poking out of the lens hole at the front. It seemed to work.
The small flock of geese just below me dozing on the beach carried on dozing. I waited for half an hour but then got uncomfortable and stood up. The geese flew off and I gave up.
Of course I was disappointed. In September the birds don’t teem. There are few mammals. This is a farmed landscape and the tracks smell of cow-shit, but this is not even remotely intensive farming. This is a landscape that has been farmed for thousands of years, and the grassland is rich with a huge variety of small plants and insects. Twentieth century stone walls merge with medieval Sheilings and neolithic remains like the enigmatic “souterrains” yesterday.
This afternoon I walked in glorious sunshine out along that smelly track westwards, watched by the Highland cattle panting under their heavy coats. After an hour walking I come to a Tarbert. The name means a place where the viking-like Birlin galleys of the ancient lords (woops – forgot to go back and check dates, and can’t find on the internet!) were hauled out and portaged to the other coast.A gentle walk through old stone-walled fields leads me easily to the north coast where I sit and drink some water and eat a biscuit. My camera is beside me, but this afternoon I have decided not to keep it slung at my side, constantly bumping at my hip, but to have only the binoculars on my harness and the camera in the rucksack. The enjoyment of the walk must take precedence, and it is after all the work of a few moments to unsling the bag and get the camera out to catch these fabulous landscapes.
My snack finished I watch for a while and then stow the camera ready to move on.
That is when it happens: the moment I had almost given up on. The bird appears to my left. Instantly my binoculars are on it. Microseconds later I know I should have reached first for the camera. I catch a brief glimpse of its bright yellow fiercely curved beak, it’s angry looking eye and the gleam of its dark golden feathers and I know it is a Golden Eagle. It is moving casually past me but angling away towards the sea. By the time I have the camera ready what would have been a great picture is a very ordinary one – an eagle from behind.I laugh. Yes, really, I laugh at myself. I have, I hope, turned a corner. I am in a very special place on a beautiful afternoon and have just seen close by one of the most iconic birds in its natural environment. Does it really matter that I missed the shot?
Walking back I find these curious tracks. Just before I get to the caravan is the Rangers’ house cum office where Mike and Gillian do a job-share. They get out their books and compare the prints. It seems they are hedgehog – a species introduced to the islands in the 30s they tell me.
The sea water in the loch is slowly seeping away as the sun sets and the tide goes out. There is no wind and it’s warm – very warm for late September in the Small Isles. The only sounds are the rippling calls of the curlews and the plangent cries of the geese coming in to roost. I’m sitting here in my T shirt watching the curlews and oyster catchers feeding on the steadily emerging mudflat opposite. Across the inlet are a scattered group of old and new houses and a herd of Belted Galloway cattle. Gulls drift slowly across. My makeshift meal of baked beans and frozen veg on toast with grated cheese and left-over barbecue sauce is finished and I bring out some rough but real coffee and a square of chocolate. Now the midges are getting irritating so I turn to domestic chores in the flimsy caravan. One of the drawers has broken its runners, but there is plenty of hot water and once the dishes are clean I do something I never do at home: lie down with a book. The book too is special. Certainly not one I would chose, but I love it. It’s “The Citadel” by AJ Cronin, a reminder of a simpler time when the gentle doings of a Scottish doctor became a much loved TV series: “Dr. Finlay’s Casebook”
Now, to round off the day, the sun sets in true splendour.