This being our first ever autumn on Skye, we thought it might be a colourless affair - what with the endless moorland and sea, the cliffs and brooding skies.
We couldn’t have been more wrong.
I’ve never actually seen anything quite like it; the grasses seem to be somehow lit from within. There’s an amber glow across the hills and occasionally you’ll see a fir tree the colour of flame, shining out from the rest, illuminated. The bracken has taken on a rusty hue and the seed heads are soft, earthy shades. The whole island is quite breathtaking, particularly in the pink light of the mornings and at dusk.
The past few weeks have been really busy. Half term meant not one but two sets of visitors coming to stay, with just a day or two in between. It’s always good to have people over from back home, particularly when you’ve moved far away and don’t really know anyone that well. But to remedy this we had a party for new friends and neighbours out in the studio, and for one night the big, musty building was transformed into a magical place. We lit the stove and candles, had a pan of mulled wine on the go and piled one of the tables with food: cornbread, roasted pepper and tomato soup, pulled pork, lemon polenta cake and parkin. And beer. Twinkly fairy lights, an old standard lamp, cushions and woollen blankets. I even filled and lit the paraffin lamp, an old charity shop find, which is painted red with traditional Czech floral designs. I didn’t burn the place down, and that in itself was reason to celebrate.
The children stayed up far too late and even the cat made himself comfortable in the middle of it all.
You couldn’t actually hear the music above the noise of people talking and laughing - we’ll definitely be doing it again and probably on a regular basis (although the enthusiastic suggestions of turning the place into a pub might be a step too far)…
Once our guests had headed back down south, we spent three days on the East coast in Inverness. Jay was working there, so Joe and I went along too for a change of scene. We stayed in a hotel near the castle, and whilst Jay was out we enjoyed big breakfasts and entertained ourselves. This is no mean feat when you’re away from home in a city with a small and energetic person. I said a silent prayer of thanks to Waterstone, the god of books and free Halloween craft activities.
We discovered Inverness library and wandered about, spent a bit too much money and ate in a French place which, although lovely and cosmopolitan, served ridiculously huge portions. Joe has the appetite of a horse but he actually begged never to go back there again. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him defeated by lunch before.
On Thursday I took him on a train ride to Nairn. He misses trains, and it was only a 20 minute journey so we took a packed lunch with us. There’s a good sandy beach and it was interesting to see an old town like that; well-heeled in places and clearly historical with beautiful old churches, hotels and houses but the buildings down towards the water were late 20th century, grey and verging on the Brutalist - not pretty at all. Quite a contrast between the old town and the newer developments. Still, we had a walk along the sand and ate our lunch during a rain shower in the shelter of the cricket pavilion.
Our last morning was spent walking down past Ness Islands, along the footpaths by the river. A conservation area and beautiful neighbourhood, it’s full of mature trees and those huge stone houses with leaded windows and fancy wooden trims on the gable ends. It was a chilly day and I wished we’d brought gloves with us. We went across to the Botanic Gardens again and had a wander about (warming ourselves up and feeling zen watching the Koi carp in the Tropical House) before meeting up with Jay and heading home in a very packed car.
We were able to take things a bit easier on the way back so managed to take some photographs of the snow on the mountains. The landscape is really spectacular and even though it’s a three hour journey, it never really feels like it. There are no motorways or built-up areas to navigate; just miles of forests and water.
And because we were passing through in the afternoon for once, rather than very early or late, we stopped at the Clog and Craft shop in Invermoriston. Usually it’s closed when we pass so we stopped and dashed through the hail to take a look.
The lady in there was very friendly. She makes things - bags, belts and shoes - from leather but there’s also jewellery, crafts, sheepskins and, of course, clogs. Joe chose a little piece of antler to bring home (and very nearly lost it out of the car window).
And so we arrived home in the dark. Since then the clocks have gone back and it’s been getting colder and colder. I’m actually wearing three pairs of socks and two jumpers today.
After school we’re decorating the studio for Halloween. We have some of Joe’s friends coming for tea tomorrow and then we’re going to bob for apples and do some crafty things, so again the stove will be crackling away. This time I think I might not bother sweeping up the dried leaves or dusting away the cobwebs as they’ll add to the effect…
Wishing you a Happy Halloween!
P.S. If you’d like to read a bit more about autumn colour and the slow reveal of stems and seed heads, here’s a piece I wrote over on the Creative Countryside journal.