21st June


It is the time of year when you can walk all night and not need a torch, never stumble. A quarter to midnight but it could be an hour after dawn. This is as dark as it gets, the north’s reward for the long black tunnel of winter. He looks from the bathroom window and everything is laid out in the sky, a vast painting of land and water. Clouds are headlands, hills descending to shores; the sky is sea lochs, bays. He calls to her. ‘Come and look at this.’ They’re getting ready for bed and this will be the last thing they see tonight. It’s important to him that they see it together.

But also he is thinking of another time, and further north. With his first wife’s brother, years before, he walked across country at this season. Altnaharra to the coast, forty miles or not far short, a two-day hike. And it rained, and the sun came out, and sometimes there was a breeze and when it dropped the midges rose and feasted on them. He remembers eating breakfast on the move, frenzied mouthfuls of muesli and midges beside a peaty burn where they’d pitched the tent for a few hours. He remembers the smell of tent, conversations, long silences, blistered feet, the rub of rucksack straps. They kept walking into the evening, a long haul up from a loch deep in the hills, over the high ground, a river below and nobody contained in that whole landscape but themselves. They walked till midnight, beyond it, because it seemed wasteful of the light to stop, and eventually only their aching weariness stopped them, and they camped.

More than anything of that time he remembers the light: kind, constant, hardly diminished by sunset. It made the black loch glow, the brown moor shine. When they came to the coast next day, the light passed over the shore and the sea like a gentle hand over the back of an animal. And here it is again, the land and water, and the light. ‘Come and look at this,’ he says, and she comes. Hand in hand they stand at the window, taking it in.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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