WHEN I LAST WROTE WORDS TO YOU HERE we were packing the van in preparation for a long trip north, in the bright days of July, during that long ago, all too short summer that tickled our shores so briefly. Since then many adventures have been had, and ways wended, many stories told and born and sold and worn. We have been so extremely busy that I've really not had a spare minute to check emails and keep up with the daily necessaries, let alone keep this log woven with new colours.
It's not raining yet, so we set up the kitchen on the green riverbank.
And they come over to listen.
But here, we have a dressing room! With lights around the mirror! Suddenly we imagine that we are doing an am-dram tour of provincial seaside theatres, and the hilarity combines with our now quite overwhelming nerves, and we look at each other in the mirror, listening to the sound of the audience arriving through the door to the foyer, and wonder why we do these things...
Between breathing and trying to keep the energy up and the terror at bay with some yoga on the dressing room floor, I manage to take a couple of photographs in the light-edged mirror.
Here we are just before "the call". And on the right: my great grandparents on my father's side who were Music Hall Artistes and travelled far and wide with their performance. Their act was called the 'Hellman Cousins' or 'Helm & Cousins' - nobody's very sure. I know they toured America and other countries as well as the UK around the turn of the century. By all accounts, they spent most of their earnings on drink. Though I lack my great grandmother's obvious stage confidence, I liked comparing us for that brief moment in the dressing room mirror of a small theatre.
The performance goes well after all, though the audience is small. We hadn't realised it coincided with the opening night of the Olympics. A couple of neighbours from my old village in South Lanarkshire come along after having seen the poster in town. I sell a few prints in the foyer afterwards, and we go home exhausted and relieved that the 'first night' is over.
Then, all too soon, it is time to leave... We must head to Glasgow through yet more rain to our next stop: The Galgael Trust. An organisation with probably my favourite logo ever, and who cannot cheer for premises on an industrial estate stating established 9th Century?!
We are brought tea and biscuits and water for Macha and sit there drying off and taking in the beauty and craft around us in this refuge-on-an-industrial-estate.
An old local woman has popped in to have a Victorian Whipping Top mended, and sits drinking tea there too whilst it is done. We feel at home.
A portrait on the wall celebrates Colin McLeod, beloved departed founder of the Galgael.
Beyond the reception room is a cavernous workshop. High ceilinged and bedecked all around with interesting carvings and boats and friendly folk.
Soon enough the scene is becoming cosier and seats are laid out. As the nerves make their unwelcome yet unavoidable appearance, Gehan and Ian show us the boats.
The sun glints on us as we walk by root and river...
...and find hidden there: Ossian's Cave.
In the haze of the advancing afternoon, we come across an iridescent lizard, trampled into the path, no less beautiful for its death.
The highlands are indescribably beautiful. We reach the road to Ullapool as the dusk is coming in. Already there is a carpet of midge corpses smearing the windscreen.
We park up by old travelling friends Andy and Mel (whom some of you may remember from back then). Andy was away visiting his mum, who had broken her leg, so we spent the evening with Mel and several million midges.
Andy and Mel have lived off grid on this spot for a few years now, but have plans to head further north horse-drawn when the winter has passed, after having given up driving altogether recently.
Steak is cooked on the stove, a tune or two is played, news of the past years is exchanged. All around us the hills tower magnificent and silent.
But we cannot stand the terrible midge-biting for long: they are in our hair and eyes and mouths and ears and will not leave off biting, despite the layer of horrible deterrent we've slathered over our skin. So we retreat into our respective vehicles and sleep a dream-filled sleep.
Sun greets the next morning, golden and awake. We bid farewell to Mel and head to the Atlantic ocean.
Gradually we leave the jagged blue skyline and the archipelago of islands behind. I am stunned with the beauty of this edge of our land. I have never been here before, never crossed over this northern sea to the Outer Hebrides. I had expected lashing grey Scottish mizzle, but instead this topsy-turvy summer gifts us with a topaz theatre, filling my vision, shimmering with a beauty that is starting to pull at my soul.
We stand up on deck and the sea blows blue through our hair, whisks out any stagnation we had festering in us and flings it overboard.
Every so often, people get up and rush to one side of the ferry or another. Killer whales and dolphins are spotted far off, leaping through the water! All I manage by way of a photo (above) is some sea with a hint of what could be the Loch Ness Monster or the shadow of a gull. But we see them, and it makes us happy.
We stop at the spectacular Callanais (pronounced Callanish) stone circle. A group of megaliths erected over 4000 years ago on the west of the island.
And on we drive, further west, further and further away from the busy mainland.
There are terraces cut into the peat all over the island. Often we see a little wheelbarrow and bag and spade left on someone's peat patch.
We cannot stop gasping at the beauty and intensity of the landscape we are moving through. The rock is powerful.
By chance we see a large wooden carving of one of the Lewis Chessmen, sitting kingly over the spot where the hoard is said to have been discovered.
We're nearly there, but the late afternoon sun and this wide sandy inland beach calls to us; and our sea-bronzed cheeks and our road-weary eyelids will let us fight no more. We lie here on this soft sand on this far flung island, and sleep.
The rock underneath us and all around us speaks.
They look out on a point of land that borders the Atlantic ocean, and there is nothing and everything all around their house.
I am very moved by the feeling in this rock. It is Lewisian Gneiss, we learn - the oldest rock in Britain. I become more and more fascinated as David explains incursions and other long-ago geological magics.
There are bog plants, too: small and hardy, plants you could imagine growing across the Arctic tundra, so different from those tall greenings we find in southern hedgerows. Cotton grass flits above the peat in deft little wefts.
By the next day, the clear sunny skies have been replaced with Hebridean cloud, and a different kind of quietness. We go out exploring again.
One way is sea. The other way are bare mountains. The rock still calls me with its ancient old voice. It has aeons and footprints of time etched into its bone. It knows things.
We find a hole, not unlike the entrance to the Underworld our hero Ivan will have to venture down again later today when we tell our story to the folk of Lewis.
Just looking at it gives us vertigo. You can hear the sea at the bottom, though you cannot see it. Bold little plants grow on the sheer edge.
On the last day there, I wander out to the point with Macha and clamber amongst the rocks and crashing silence.
We park up overnight high up in the Harris peaks. Cloud is all around us, water below.
We look happy and alive in the photograph we take of ourselves on the top of this hill. The journey has scuffed and rounded us, it has stretched us and led us, and we are bigger because of it.
Morning coffee is made early; our ferry leaves soon.
We keep imagining what this land was once like when covered in Caledonian forest.
Further on and the sun creeps back again...
...dancing a cloud-chase over these fissured ancient mountains that surround us.
As we hurtle on southward, the clouds move back further, and a whole rainbow perches beautifully over the moors.
By evening we still have not reached England. We park up just a few miles from where I used to live in the South Lanarkshire hills...
And meet the next morning a little green riddle hiding in the grass:
And so, home.
We made the rest of the journey in one day and collapsed into bed, filthy and brimming and tireder than we knew was possible.
I notice that I have begun and ended this post with photos of motorways, which is unlike me. I like all my doings to be bedecked with aesthetic delight, devoid of cars or industrial inorganic trappings. But on this journey we passed through both exquisite beauty and exquisite ugliness. This sacred greengrey land of ours is heavy with a human-made mantle it did not want. Widening ribbons of tarmac and retail distribution centres choke it.
And in all the nooks of Britain, thrive good people striving to re-weave the old songs, rekindle the old tribes into marching. They are there, and our journey stitched a few together, binding them as pages into our new book of the road.
Thanks and love to all the folk we met along the way for feeding and housing us, for telling us stories and for listening to ours.