TAC 41 Index
Twenty four hours in Tolsta. Awake, dressed and Tearabert done in fifteen minutes, all 110 metres. I am blessed by the weather granted sometimes to the locals, and can see again the Assynt hills across the Minch. Back home for breakfast? No - I meander down to the coast cliffs - past the ruined house which must have carried the most spectacular view across that Minch (although the lighthouse at Tiumpain Head would have kept them awake), and on south into Glen Tolsta via views of the topaz blue bay of Port Bun a'Ghlinne.
Up Glen Tolsta to pass the home of Iain the Hermit. He is out and about and after his normal interrogation of passers-by he establishes who I am and thoughtfully asks after my mother and her sisters.
A walk up the track to the "main road" and breakfast thoughts - but no, Loch Ionadagro beckons. So bypassing the new fir plantation up to the loch which provides the water in the village, and across the dam to do some reconnaissance: I can see Muirneag, but not the ups and downs involved in between. I remember the easy way back to the peat road and the croft to eat the trout my uncle caught the night before and fried by grannie on the Rayburn. Cooking as only grannies can do. A little bit late, but breakfast is the one meal which has some leeway.
This place feels like the end of the earth - it is the end of the road - but the talk is of contemporary things, football, politics, football. There is the aura of relaxation; summer days are remembered. The Minch seen out of the breakfast table window. This is where I feel at home.
Muirneag then. Out the back rope-held gate beside the hen house and out through the decades-owned peat banks and into uncharted territory. I have been here before with trout-seeking uncles, but not on my own. They never wanted to go to Muirneag. They went to the lochs to get food.
So into the routine of the hill dipping out of sight and the thing taking on a frightening/spooky aspect as again and again you dip into the loch bits and convince yourself you are about to be lost. Then, trusting to map and compass, the ground starts to rise and get firmer and you are on the slope to Muirneag. I get to the top and find on the trig point a car battery. Who in the name of bloodymindedness carried such a lump over such a squelchy morass of treacherous terrain?
However: lovely views across the moor with the cliffs and the Minch beyond. It is becoming a spectacular weather day, and that means a lot in these parts. Then panic - 12:30 dinner - cannot be late for that. Fast bog trot, smug in my newly learned geography, for what seems an unending age until sidetracked by a silver tent "thing". This I approach cautiously - who would be camping out here in the middle of the bog? It turns out to be a downed meteorological balloon, all silver struts and white fabric.
Remembering the dinner deadline, off I go again. Then, whilst vaulting a burn, the bleating of a stranded sheep. Stupid thing is waist-deep in a peat burn and cannot get out. Dinner/sheep? Dinner/sheep? Wrath of family/sheep? Sheep. I pull and pull this creature for my life's worth - the sheep of course gives no reciprocation - and just when I think Sod you then, just when I'm about to go in head first, out it pops. Not even a bleat of thanks.
My mind goes back to the last time I saved a sheep - a lamb - which had fallen off the cliffs above the pier on Giordale Sands. With its broken leg I took it lovingly back to my uncle. He cursed me and it in the end: the thing took more in milk and things to get its leg right than he got when he sold it for the dinner plate.
Make it back just in time for the scotch broth, then meat, tatties and veg, then milk pudding afters. Stuffed.
Time for the beach. I ask dad (who has a fortnight out here, not my paltry twenty-four hours) to drive me to the start of the Traigh Mhor, a mile of unblemished sand with wonderful childhood memories. Along with the other two beaches in Tolsta this can be wonderful in summertime, and I suffer "childhood summer syndrome". The Traigh is even more special as it was the beach that only the locals got to: there was no obvious path off the road, and the extended family of mums, dads, uncles, aunts and cousins spent hours there having great fun, as only we knew the way down. (The Royal Engineers have cured this condition, alas).
In welly boots I start to trudge along the mile of sand, between the Minch and the machair. The three-course meal at lunchtime creates the stitch effect, and I stop from time to time on stranded bits of log to look out at the sea, entranced. I have taken in the moor, the hill, the sea, the machair - and I think on. But this is a long mile in sand in welly boots. The last third is done in bare feet.
I reach the cliffs at the end and double back - my dad said he will pick me up at the road that comes out near the end of the beach: "Just go over the start of the grass and head for the churches and you can't miss it." I vaguely knew the cemetery was at this end of the village, but I did not know that was where I was headed. It is a fantastic site overlooking the Minch, and is where all the sons and daughters of Tolsta are destined to go. So at the end of my little journey round Tolsta I end up in the cemetery and of course my granda's grave is there, and of course I see it and I stop and of course I think. Without him, maybe, I would not be the lover of the hills and the seas and the skies and the moors and the lochs I am today.
And of course we make it back in time for steak sausage, fried potatoes, eggs, beans and lashings of tea and scones and bread and jam.
TAC 41 Index