For days on end, we learn to walk. Then we taste rubber on tarmac and we lose purpose of our feet. Too long I aimed to lace my boots and reconvene with wild peatlands.
I just did that yesterday with a friend who made me trek through a palette of earth colours. For this, I crossed the “wild haired sea” in between 9 and 10 a.m. to find the island man calls Yell.
Very few folk inhabit it, but it harbours both hearts and dreams – a plethora of hidden gems that await you on either side of fenced tarmac.
So we gathered off Ulsta Pier and headed north for a wander. Yell first looks so desolate from its west side, way past West Sandwick. A uniformed titanium sky (though still deprived from steekit mist – or summer fog) let us admire this enormous blanket of peat.
Friday belonged to the heather, cotton grass, yarrow, tormentil, as we wandered west to the sea. In this corner of wilderness, each burn (stream) meanders to a loch.
To my surprise, late violets still flourish with bog asphodel – red throated divers display all their love in a spirit of true courtship, and we watch them though our child’s eyes.
All around us, meadow pipits and skylarks sing. The odd curlew calls from afar.
As we followed the first loch’s edge, my ears are distracted by calls I had not heard for quite a while: a pair of Merlins hunt on the edge of skyline. My heart sings wild! For a moment, we paused and watched.
So many nests through hillside grass, I always dread to flush feathers… By the edge of the second loch, a gang of bonxies (great skuas) – bachelors – desalt in style, as they come to splash in numbers. They must keep feathers in pristine conditions to ensure their own survival.
And then, the gorge.
Its entrance show first sight of fence. For a minute, I thought it blocked, but my friend smile. “They try to grow trees once again,” he smiled. Young sycamore and hazelnut? Soil is lush inside the narrow carved bedrock.
So we followed the gentle stream that would lead us straight to the sea. I never cease to be amazed by the power of elements. Ice carved the whole of those islands, water erodes with time and wind, and yet we walked and hopped across that burn and imagined a gigantic glacier above! A summer breeze carries the sounds of passing birds – wrens or tirricks (arctic terns) echo against ledges of rock.
We nominate a high level rock by The Bend for a much deserved spot of lunch. The view is clearly breath taking! My last souvenir of a gorge (except for Ardèche & Verdon, which obey to a huger scale!) takes me back to Upper Provence off the hamlet of Opédette.
Strangely, my heart retraced memories of lavender & wild thyme!
We continued till dumped boulders override its magic lushness. Two hours of wild trek through peat bogs, mires and wild grass! We sat and marvelled at the sea. We shared dark chocolate and apples, caught our own breath in this ocean of silence, only distracted by the breeze, two inquisitive seals and wrens. Idyllic “now”!
Whilst I attempt to capture a wren through the lens, my friend dips his line in the sea. The tide flows in…
Yet soon we must wander back to tarmac. As we opted to walk along the South edge of the second loch, we would return by its opposite side. I must confess walking through the peatlands is hard work. My hiking pole is a true friend!
But first, as we ascended parts of the gorge, I enjoyed a Birdseye view of the place. We stepped back on stones to cross water. It feels the land Tolkien imagined for Frodo – it feels the desert from Giono’s southern alpine wonders.
Every footstep feels a little heavier as time eludes us in heather. On the approach of the second loch, I see a house, and my friend slows his pace a little more. We hopped on secluded beaches, paused for a while to catch our breath, and continued till we steeple chased that first fence.
My eyes, riveted to flowers, dare not look back. That house grows bigger as we tread through the mires (marshy patches of land) that feels like a mattress under your foot.
Tarmac’s in sight, with my friend’s car.
Above our heads, blue overrode titanium grey. We smiled at the final gate. We have made it – four hours of some wild stravaig (wandering) through a corner of remote wilderness. “By 6,” he said, “we shall be home where we can enjoy dinner!” He did not lie.
The evening flew like a skylark, and far too soon, we parted from each other at Ulsta Pier. On the way out, I caught the sunset on Yell Sound, in a true blue Simmerdim style.
This day is tattooed in my heart.
And, oh, as for my birds’ list: