Dropped Mum off at work. I’m in the driving seat now. Alone. Drizzling unceasingly. I fire up the wipers, flick the headlights to dip. The jangly, sparkly bliss of the Stone Roses eminates from the somewhat plastic-y speaker system and I’m ready for the road.
I turn left up the hill. I observe up and down like a good boy; determined not to slide, as the most of drivers tell me of the inevitability, into bad habits. At the roundabout I go straight ahead, taking an unwitting tour of the housing estates of Stromness before about turning and indicating left for Outertown.
Not precisely sure where I’m going on this stretch of single track, I see a sign, a brown one, whispering Warbeth.
Living in Harray, the island’s only landlocked parish, the beach would be something of a novelty as the coast is not within reasonable walking distance.
I descend and am disconcerted by the number of passing places dotted at alarmingly close intervals on my way down. I should be thankful that they’re there, but their presence seems to me only to indicate the potential volume of flow. I’m in the mood to wallow in solitude. I’d rather avoid meeting anything, or anyone.
I park beside the graveyard, taking a swig of water from an old Strathmore bottle – this driving’s a dehydrating business. Ignoramus that I am I try, not that hard mind you, to gain access to the sea of headstones that I might gain access to the sea beyond. Quickly I realise there’s a footpath branching off to the right before the kirkyard, and continue on my way.
The first I meet are two dog walkers. Thankfully their canine companion takes no interest inme whatsoever save the briefest of upward glances before burying its nose into the damp grass ahead as it trots along nonplussed.
I reach the shore, stopping momentarily to make a visual document of my adventure with my phone camera. Fog and drizzle obscure the scene and a fresh breeze wafts waves of salty sea air into my olfactory system. These are ideal climes, for there’s something detestable about a blinding sunny day when one is in the mood for brooding solitude.
Someone’s built a cairn. I negotiate over nature’s patchwork of geometry and colour in the indefatigable variety of stones and place my hand on top as if completing all four of the big red balls on Total Wipeout in record time. I then make my way to the edge of the graveyard, all across my path is strewn kelp like discarded power cables in tangled bundles and straggly loose threads. I see evidence of a barbeque of the recent past and the sad remains of a forgotten bucket and spade – their gaudy fluorescence standing out against the natural hues of the coast.
Scrambling over the rocks I come to the base of the small fringe of cliff. The layers of sediment are clearly visible, marking out years of composition. A hole has been burrowed out just below the topsoil. Who lives here?
A malimak swoops in low over my head gliding back out over the sea in cool effortlessness. These are beautiful birds with grey encrusted beaks; endowed with all the grace that seagulls lack (theirs is a clumsy flapping flight, whereas the fulmar’s rigid wings allow them to surf the air currents expertly.) I’m reminded that these seafowl are known to spit, but surely only when guarding chicks? I’m fine. I leave spittle-free.
Rocky beaches are okay, but I want sand so I make my way to the grey expanse ahead. I watch the dance of squabbling sandpipers as they follow me along the shore. I the middle of the stretch of grey grit there is a tributary. Its banks appear to be sculpted from compacted sand, like glacial névé. Oh. Not so compacted. I seem to have caused a landslide. What I love about this beach, being less frequented than such other Orkney haunts (the Broch, Skaill etc.) is that it is entirely devoid of human footprints if caught early enough. I am utterly alone.
Suddenly a woman rushes out from nowhere. She’s dark haired, wearing a pink bikini and quite beautiful in the sheer absurdity of the situation. I turn away instinctively at the sight of her, has she seen me? I don’t want to disturb the intimacy of the moment. I must look back, this is too strange to miss. My heart is pounding under my ribs.
She runs into the waves, dressed like this on a day which I have described above as blatantly inclement. I hastily carry myself away, stealing the occasional glance backward.
A thought strikes me and I’m forced to pause. What if she drowns? Gets hypothermia? What position does that put me in? Could I save her? Wild permutations of the possible outcome of such a rescue attempt scroll over my mind. I look back again. Her head is above water – she dives and I hold my breath until she comes back up again. I walk back to the car. For now I am absolved.