Sailing By

Coming up with ideas for blog posts, month after month, can be a challenge. Ironically, since becoming self-employed, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to set aside time for landscape photography and other adventures in the outdoors. One of the most exciting developments lately has been writing my first article for the Walkhighlands website (check it out if you haven’t already done so; Walkhighlands is a fantastic resource if you’re planning on getting out and about in Scotland). Hopefully the added pressure will force me outdoors more often in search of inspiration! As well as making time for new experiences, I’ve spotted an opportunity to reflect on existing photographs.

For me, the greatest sense of freedom comes from standing on the deck of a ferry on Scotland’s west coast, setting sail for a long-awaited holiday or even just a day trip in beautiful surroundings. I’ve explored numerous islands over the years; many of them well off the ‘beaten track’ and relatively difficult to access, such as the Shiant Isles and St Kilda. A much more accessible island had been a glaring omission for too long. Lismore is a narrow, low-lying fertile island, only 9.1 square miles in area, lying between the picturesque coastal resort of Oban, the mountainous Isle of Mull, and the remote mainland peninsula of Morvern. It can be reached in under an hour by catching the vehicle ferry in Oban or the passenger ferry in Port Appin, and so there’s no logical reason as to why Lismore eluded me until a few months ago.

In autumn, my parents were gradually re-building their lives after my dad’s devastating cancer diagnosis and subsequent chemotherapy treatment. Aware that our family was living on borrowed time, I was conscious of the need to make the most of my dad’s cancer being in remission. At the end of a busy week clocking up the miles all over Scotland from Inverness to Edinburgh and Fort William to Strathcarron, I resisted the temptation to stay at home and relax. Instead, I joined my parents on the first leg of their mini-break to Oban and Mull. I booked a last-minute deal on a room in the same hotel as my mum and dad and rendezvoused with them after a three hour drive south west through the Great Glen.

Dad and I in Oban, July 1998
Dad and I in Oban, July 1998

It was incredibly therapeutic to take time off work, and it was magical to re-visit old haunts including McCaig’s Tower and Pulpit Hill, two of Oban’s most notable landmarks, in the company of my parents, recalling happy memories from years gone by. We enjoyed great food; views of the myriad of ferries going back and forth across Oban Bay; short walks in scenic locations; and card games played in the comfort of the hotel. However, there was also a darker undercurrent to the weekend. It was in Oban that I first fully registered the extent to which the brain tumour and resulting Parkinson’s traits had decimated my dad’s mobility and stamina, and how our lives had irreversibly changed.

Dad and I on the ferry to Lismore, October 2017
Dad and I on the ferry to Lismore, October 2017

One of my most peaceful moments was standing alone on the deck of the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry after an enjoyable afternoon exploring Lismore. Juggling photography and family is a challenge at the best of times, but I managed to extract my DSLR from its case for the duration of the ferry crossing and used a long lens to pick out nearby silhouetted islets and storm clouds illuminated by the setting sun. It’s impossible to do justice to any island in only a few hours and I’m sure that Lismore is a place that I’ll return to in the not-too-distant future.

Eilean na Cloiche, Lismore, Lynn of Lorne
Eilean na Cloiche, Lismore, Lynn of Lorne

It’s taken a few months but I’m now able to recall memories from that weekend with a growing sense of acceptance, although it will take years to truly adjust to the new way of life that is unfolding. One of the most comforting lessons I’ve learned on this journey so far is that, no matter what cards I am dealt in life, the lure of the islands will forever draw me to the west coast and I will always find solace on the windswept deck of a ferry.

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4 thoughts

  1. What a beautiful story and testament to your bond with your dad/parents. It seems that you were right to resist the lure of staying home… who knows what tomorrow may bring? Plus, your ethereal photo of the setting sun hovering just beyond the clouds says it all: even in change and suffering, and even if we don’t actually see it, there’s comfort in knowing that the light remains. Thanks for digging deep and sharing!

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I’m reminded of Pablo Picasso’s quote, ‘Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.’ The light is gradually returning here as I take my first steps towards accepting this situation.

  2. Two pleasures in one. Your article is beautifully constructed and you do the Black Isle proud. Is it easy to get around without a vehicle? The photos make want to visit badly. And then there’s your blog post – information and feeling, both. That “darker undercurrent” is sadly ongoing. Best wishes to you all.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed both pieces. There’s a good bus service on the south side of the Black Isle but not on the north side where I live. There are lots of lovely walks which I’m sure you would enjoy. Do let me know if you end up visiting as it would be great to meet up. Thank you for your good wishes. 🙂

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