My camp on the Sound of Arisaig was on a stretch of short grass above a curving white sand beach; it's a great spot. I was in sunshine for most of the evening and also in a breeze which kept away any midges - always a consideration in summer.
Having met with the team undertaking their Duke of Edinburgh's Award expedition I had time to spare and so after dinner climbed up above the bay to get a wider view.
From the top of a grassy hill behind the bay there's a great view across the Sound of Arisaig to Moidart and Ardnamurchan. The island in the foreground has a raised beach from when the land was much lower at the end of the last Ice Age and built onto the raised beach are the remains of a stone fort, one of several in the Arisaig area. The shape of one of the walls can still be made out, but little else remains. The name of the site is Eilean a'Ghaill (island of the foreigner (or stranger)) and it's possible that this indicates occupation by fort dwellers from outwith the area.
The plants prominent in the foreground are Bog Cotton (Eriophorum angustifolium), a member of the Sedge family and also known as Cottongrass and Hare's Tails. It's a common plant of damp, peaty soils and is pollinated by the wind, an ideal method on the west coast of Scotland! Once pollinated, the bristles of the "cotton" grow longer and really do resemble cotton wool. The seeds are eaten by a number of heathland birds and the "cotton" heads were once used as candle wicks, for stuffing bedding and for wound dressings.
Back down near the shore, with the island of Eigg as a backdrop there was a colourful display of Thrift (Armeria maritima) contrasting with the bright yellow and pale grey of lichens.......
Thrift (also called Sea Pink) is one of my favourite plants; if Primroses herald the Spring, then Thrift is the flower I most associate with early Summer. It seems to prefer the most hostile of environments and grows on salt-lashed shorelines and mountain tops equally well.
A closer look again at the boulders near the beach revealed the variety of lichens which covered them. The brown and green areas here are Map Lichens (Rhizocarpon geographicum) which thrives in cold climates with exposed rocks and only in areas of low air pollution. The lichens grow incredibly slowly and each lichen has a line of black spores on its perimeter; when lichens grow adjacent to each other the appearance of a map is created.
Biologists have used the known growth rates of map lichens to estimate the age of glacial deposits - the growth rates of each lichen were calculated by measuring examples on gravestones to get the diameter of plants of a known age, then compared to growths on glacial moraine rocks. In a more dynamic experiment, Map Lichens which were exposed to space in an open capsule for ten days were found to have suffered no ill effects when they were returned to earth - an incredibly tough plant.
Whilst I'd been wandering around looking at rocks and small plants the time had moved on, and when I climbed back to the hill behind the beach......
...a blazing sunset was lighting the clouds above Eigg.
I sat with a coffee and watched as the sun set and a delicate purple afterglow washed the sky, etching the Cuillin hills of Rum in sharp silhouette - it was another west coast sunset in which to participate rather than merely spectate.
I'd spent several hours within a hundred metres or so of my tent, just wandering around slowly and absorbing the place in which I was camped - it felt time very well spent.