Jonathan & Denise >
The air was mild and soft, the wind had dropped, and the sun – though low above the horizon – was shining. We downed tools, gathered up boots and coats, and with Denise struggling to contain a very excited Tilly, we set off in the van for the beach near the big cemetery at Cladh Thallan, west of Daliburgh. The beaches on the west side of South Uist – the Atlantic shore – run for miles and miles and miles … about 25 miles almost entirely consisting of white shell sand. Most times – summer as well as winter – it is very windy and often the waves are too big to go anywhere near. It’s has a wild, elemental beauty.
On a still day in summer, visitors to the island are fooled into thinking they’ve arrived in paradise : A high bank of dune and marram grass cuts off entirely the world of man, and under an iridescent blue sky and burning sun, dazzling-white shell-sand stretches off in both directions as far as the eye can see, a gang of oyster-catchers scurries about where the waves break and dissolve into the sands, and the ocean carries wave after wave after wave from who-knows-where to spend their energy in the same way. On these beaches, the ineffible vastness of the natural world leaves us in awe – and how much more readily does it do so in winter, where a walk on these beaches must be snatched in what is euphemistically – or optimistically – referred to as calm, between the violence of great storms.
But for this winter walk of ours, air and sea are both truly calm : though winter days such as this are by no means exceptional, they are infrequent, certainly – and infrequent enough that when they come, it seems the whole of Uist heads for the beach. Which means that we each have to expect to share a few miles of beach with someone else!