Hebridean Summer

Hebridean summer
Prelude to autumn

Defining a Hebridean summer is like trying to catch sunbeams in a fishing net. In many respects it is like this post, you thought it had arrived only to discover that when you took a closer look it had mysteriously disappeared only to reappear a week later.

As a scientist I should quote meteorological statistics: means, percentiles, trends, maximums and minimums, but that would be equally futile as numbers will never explain the intoxication of the fragrance of lady’s bedstraw distilled with clover.

On a late July afternoon the grasses are tickled by the faintest breath of air as we are wrapped in the milky opaqueness of a pearly mist. There is no sense of time as the obscured sun casts no shadow and it could equally be 4.30 am or 4.30 pm. Silent brown butterflies skip amongst the blue haze of the vetch and somewhere the bees sleep replete with nectar. Low tide and the waves are suppressed into ripples, the kelp rising to the surface to undulate like the ochre tresses of mermaids. There is the distant echo of the raucous call of a herring gull, but this demented laughter will not stir the slumbering seals, it just defines the oppressive weight of silence.

It is as if summer, exhausted by the effort of evaporating the morning mist, has lapsed into the dream-time. For a while the sun blazed across the heavens and the night’s raindrops, which adorned leaves and stems with crystal, fell cool on to naked toes. An insistent clatter of squabbling, juvenile starlings, no substitute for the song of the June lark, reminds us that the northern summers are short and soon we will begin to sense a change in the air.

A shiver of cool air marks the transition to evening and the mist metamorphoses into clouds. A sliver of silver light betrays the presence of the sun and defines the horizon – once more land, sea and sky are separate kingdoms. As the tide rises the sea becomes a maze of silken flows and corrugations. A faint line of surf on the whale-backed reef is the counterpoint in the continuum of blue and grey. The distended twilight morphs into the northern night. Two ravens sit shoulder to shoulder on an erratic draped with a lichenous carpet of gold, silently taking the night air like two black-clad widows mesmerised by the song of the seals.

Dawn is announced by mewing gulls, clamoring piping oystercatchers and the sound of waves on the shore as the eastern sky is suffused with a hint of pink, a watercolour wash seeping across the landscape. The brooding somnolent shoulders of Hecla and Ben Mhor are draped in pashmina of cloud which slowly rises to obscure the peaks. Will the sun appear in a blaze of glory to evaporate the mist and herald the blue clear skies of another perfect summer’s day?

The earth turns and it is now August, conjuring visions of the long hot days of old-fashioned seaside holidays, buckets and spades, dripping ice-cream cones and sand encrusted picnics. Is this an English idyll or has nostalgia dimmed my memory? Here August is a prelude to autumn.

13 thoughts on “Hebridean Summer

  1. I enjoyed this post very much – a lovely piece of writing! I can imagine how quiet it must be when the wind is still and the mist doesn’t rise… very dreamy.

    • These are the days when you begin to believe and magic and understand the birth of myths about the islands being the border between the land of men and faerie.

  2. Fabulously evocative – just beautiful

  3. So beautifully written. I felt myself escape to that beautiful landscape in my mind. There is that feeling of autumn just around the corner here in Pembrokeshire too. To me it’s the spider webs sitting like gossamer on my plants, tells me the season is changing.

    • Autumn always seems to arrive very quickly here. There are plenty of physical signs but for me it is an indescribable change in the air.

  4. Chrissy Mae Hall

    That’s beautiful. I know what you mean by ‘a change in the air’, I can detect the scent of a new season starting……..

  5. Chris – you write so well! Your words are like magic. I have my doubts I will ever visit the Hebrides but I feel as if I am there, thanks to you.

  6. Thank you for a lovely piece of writing. We tasted your summer, and would very much like to visit the islands at other times of the year. They offer rich rewards to the senses, and your writing captures this extremely well.

  7. What a lovely post! I feel transported by your words into a hazy, breezy, relaxing warm place 🙂

  8. Is this post and all the comments going to mysteriously disappear into the bowels of the earth never to be seen again. After all, in the border between the land of men and faeries anything can happen…. 😉 Delightful imagery, Christine, but only to be expected; I particularly liked the image of the ravens.

  9. I guess just one day of your Hebridean Summer makes up for your challenging winters.

  10. I love how your words transport me. Thank you.

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