#21 Jura, Part I

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It’s been twelve days since I returned. For that whole time I have been carrying clear, watery, scented thoughts and experience, both tranquil and strained, like casks of fresh water in a boat at sea.

Nearly every day I have felt that I must try and open the sluice on what Jura is, and how it is to be transported to a place so empty of humans, so beautiful and so full of what exists when we are not dominating. How it was to go there with the one who is more beautiful than anything, who it showed me to be, and what it showed me about how fragile life is, I am, we are.

My son’s godfather, Rob, got to Bristol on the Friday evening and we drove to Jura the following morning, Saturday, 17th August. It took us around four hours to get to Glasgow. We listened to Rob’s choices of music initially. I particularly remember liking the singing of The Dirty Projectors. I swapped the driving with J, and nodded off as we passed through the drama of the Lake district, (http://www.visitcumbria.com/m6/).

I woke in Scotland, about forty five minutes south of Glasgow, gradually getting more and more excited about returning to the city I’d spend my first year of Uni at (in 1994). The architecture of Glasgow, particularly through Ibrox, Partick to the West End is comprised of tenement blocks and grand avenues, long faded. The pubs along the main road through Partick were all of a type entirely foreign to this car full of comfortable southerners: hollow, faded dives behind peeling wooden frontings; dark, drear, almost empty grog holes that promised piss-saturated urinals and a punch in the mouth. We stopped near the University. We walked up Byers Road, and I had the uncanny experience of being in a place I both knew and did not.

It felt incredible to be on Byers Road. There was an incredible fishmonger- we had an oyster each for lunch that was like a sudden dunking in the Irish Sea; my mouth, startled by the restorative, was invigorated with the raw mineral essence of the ocean.

We bought enough fine food and wine for five days and headed out towards Loch Lomand.

From this point onwards, Scotland firmly impressed upon us its magnificence, unambiguous and awe-inspiring gravitas and beauty. It had seemed a land of broad moorland, sinuous hills and a brazen city but now deep, granite-strewn valleys, mountain after mountain, rivers and lochs of impossible strangeness were steadily revealed. We followed the road for three hours, far from Glasgow, along the northern coast of Loch Tarbert. We stopped in rain at Inverary

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then drove briskly to our ferry at Kennacraig.

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We joined the small queue of cars and watched the ferry docking. Its black maw split in two from an invisible seam, its serene demeanor altered; Rob said it looked like a transformer and proceeded to voice its actions:

Start your engines. Board me.

The voyage was gentle and mesmeric. We sailed through the middle of west Loch Tarbert, watching the occasional log cabin or laird’s castle drift by. Mistaking perspective and scale, we assumed the Isle of Gigha to be both Islay and Jura in the very distance. When Islay became apparent, it was through the fore windows of the modest cafe, and it was a fine sight. We stood on deck as the ferry turned in towards dock at Port Ellen. I hadn’t eaten properly and I was overcome by a badly timed sulk: hangry. I noticed but was unmoved by the waning sun streaming across the hills and water

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the beautiful lighthouse and the white facade of the Port Ellen Maltings. As we disembarked, a woman sounded her horn accidentally with colossal, pendulous breasts. We left most of the cars behind at Port Ellen, and drove out into a landscape of bog, moor and distant mountains. Near Islay airport, there were pool-sized trenches cut into the land, plastic bags of the harvested peat stacked alongside.

We had started out from Bristol just after eight o’clock and now, as the sun was starting to set, we arrived at Port Askaig for our five minute ferry to Feolin, Jura. It was waiting for us. We chugged out into the fast running currents of the Sound of Jura, clouds were condensing upon and coldly cascading down the slopes of Beinn a’ Chaolais

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Red deer and stags grazed the water’s edge as we drove off the tiny ferry.

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