Sunday, 18 October 2015

Arrival on Cara - diligence, deference and the Brownie's blessing

We were pleased to see first the skerries of Sgeir Gigalum, then the rocky shape of Gigalum Island appear through the mist.  Such is the distorting effect of mist on the eye that what I originally took to be a large island with trees on it turned out to be a small skerry; the "trees" actually Cormorants standing on the rock!  Although we'd been diligent in our navigation, it's always good to gain a positive confirmation of position in the form of solid objects when paddling in thick fog.  We again spoke to MV Loch Ranza on VHF to advise him that we were safely on the Gigha side of the Sound, and wouldn't be crossing back that day.

There was a clearance in the visibility as we crossed from Gigalum Island to the southern tip of Gigha and we were hopeful that the sun would burn away the mist, but it soon closed back in and we were plunged back into a ghostly world.

We had one more short crossing to make in order to reach our planned campsite, less than 1.5 kilometres but there was just a grey wall to be seen.  A line of skerries provided a useful handrail as we approached...

...a sandy beach with a ruined croft on the island of Cara.  It was clear that the late afternoon sun wouldn't be burning off the mist as we picked our way carefully through skerries and rocks towards the beach.......

...which was occupied by some of Cara's resident goats.  They seemed somewhat startled to see us emerge from the mist!

Goats aren't the only residents of Cara though.  Cara House is occasionally occupied by the island's human owners and permanently occupied by a mischievous spirit - The Brownie of Cara.  Said to be the ghost of a murdered MacDonald (naturally, the story claims that the perpetrator was a Campbell!), the Brownie is well established in folklore and occupies an attic room in Cara House from where strange goings-on are often reported.  By turns helpful and destructive, the Brownie deals fairly with those who show him proper respect.

Tradition has it that the Laird and the Minister have always doffed their hats to the Brownie when stepping ashore, and so should everyone else.  We're both traditionalists and observed this deference not once but twice; as our keels touched the sand and as we stepped ashore.  We both said in clear voices "Good evening Mr Brownie" and asked for his hospitality - you can't be too careful, tales are legion of disappearing boats, equipment and even the odd bottle of whisky on Cara if the greeting is deemed inappropriate!

We camped on short turf above the shore and then moved down to the beach itself to light our camp fire, for which we'd brought some seasoned logs - in late summer and autumn most of the driftwood has already been collected.  It was disappointing to see a fire ring burned into the sandy turf nearby; unnecessary damage when a fire can be lit just as easily below the high water mark - we feel sure that the Brownie would have taken a view on this damage to his island!

During the evening colder air dissipated the mist and a stunning sky full of stars emerged, a swathe of the Milky Way arching over Cara. We had our Sweet Potatoes just about ready from the embers and were enjoying a container of frothing sports recovery drink.  We felt that life was pretty good.....

...when the moon rose over the Kintyre peninsula in one of the most beautiful moonrises either of us have witnessed.  Huge due to atmospheric refraction and a striking, vivid orange colour - this was no ordinary moonrise and we turned our chairs from the fire to watch as it progressed higher.  A path of orange, then golden light spread across the glassy water of the Sound of Gigha as the moon gained altitude, dimming the stars as its light intensified - what a sight!

"Red moons" are occasionally seen as the effect of lunar eclipse or smoke in the atmosphere to our neolithic and later forbears could be seen as good or bad omens.  We felt that this was indeed a good omen, and maybe just the blessing of the Brownie....


  1. Proper respect for the proper spirits - which can be interpreted in a couple of ways. :-)

    1. Indeed so Dan, and we felt it only proper to toast one with the other! :o)