It was a cold, clear November day in the Highlands. I woke up that morning in a hotel in Ballachulish, delighted to see that snow had fallen on the hilltops overnight. I didn't know what I wanted to do that day. I considered climbing Ben Nevis, as this was the first clear day I had seen in weeks. My lazy start to the morning however, paired with the fact that weather could move in quickly and more snow was in the forecast, curbed that plan. So I set my sights on Glenfinnan, to see the Viaduct and the Highlander monument on the shores of Loch Shiel where Prince Charles Edward Stuart first raised his standard.
On my way out of Ballachulish, just over the bridge, I stopped for gas and the friendly attendant suggested I take the Corran ferry across the narrows of Loch Linnhe and connect with the A861 instead of driving all the way to Fort William and around. "You'll get views of Ben Nevis across the loch that way," he said, remarking on the rare fortune I had of seeing the full mountain. (Even on the seemingly clearest of days, Ben Nevis can find a cloud to moodily shroud itself in.) In true small town fashion, his precision directions to the ferry included "you can't miss it," and "its just around a corner," and "its not too far." Luckily I speak small town directions fluently and set off to find the wee ferry. Well, wee it truly was! It was boarding as I pulled into the line behind a small truck with a trailer attached. I assumed I would need to wait for the next ferry. "Oh ye of little faith," the ferry man clearly thought as he gestured for me to drive aboard. If you've never driven on a ferry before, here's the key - watch the ferryman's finger. You won't believe you can possibly go any closer, your foot will stomp the breaks prematurely a couple times, you'll look up to check that the man still looks to be in possession of his senses, you'll follow that impatient finger again and then in a flash, his hand will go up when you are a hair's breadth away from the next vehicle. Trust the ferryman. This was my third ferry ride in Scotland, the first two being large, enclosed, multilevel Cal-Mac ferries to and from the Outer Hebrides. This tiny little ferry was open air and quick - it was under 10 minutes from boarding to deboarding. After the mini voyage is under way, they collect your toll (£7 I believe it was) and before you know it you're driving off the other side to the village of Ardgour. (Side note - this is one of the reasons it is always good to have some cash on you. Cards are accepted most everywhere but you never know when something might pop up.)
The day was so crisp. The air was so clean. As had been the theme of that first visit to Scotland, I felt incredibly free. As I drove off the ferry, I didn't notice the little beach at first, but I had pulled over next to it to find a snack in the car. As I ate I took in the muted orange of the hills around me, displaying their full autumn glory. I surveyed the road ahead for my next move. My eyes found the beach in front of me and I was surprised to see a piece of sea glass. So I found myself walking along the narrow rocky beach, eyes peeled for more. Really it is loch glass, to be technical....But the same weathering principle applies - discarded bits of glass, tumbling around in the water for decades, becoming beautiful, frosted treasures with an inner glow that calls to collectors like me.
I find sea glass hunting to be an incredibly soothing, calming endeavor. If you've been following me for awhile you know its a bit of an obsession of mine to collect it, and I have about 20 pounds of it scattered around with various friend's in Scotland. No sense in bringing all that extra weight back, it can wait for me in the care of friends until the day my goal of moving permanently to Scotland (instead of 6 months a year) comes true. I stayed so absorbed in what was directly in front of me that I didn't even notice the old, wrecked boat until I was staring at the ground in front of it. But that is how I tend to be when glass hunting - my eyes are trained on the sand, the patterns of the rocks, the potential sweet spots, a flash of color peaking out from under a pile of pebbles.
As I stumbled upon the old vessel, my glass hunting trance was broken and I quickly seized the photo op. I left the boat and the lovely beach behind, and did end of having a lovely drive with views back to Ben Nevis and Fort William.
But as I drove I thought about the boat. I don't know how long the poor trawler had been sitting there. It's dilapidated presence invoked pity - funny how we feel sympathy toward inanimate objects. Abandoned things pull at our souls. Who had owned the boat? Why was it abandoned? What adventures had it seen in life? In decline it ebbed and flowed with the waters of the loch, watching the ferry boat come and go. If a boat could have feelings, I thought it surely must have been sad in its crippled state. Like the old boat, one day I will be unable to move about, work, adventure. I will age and watch the younger, more able bodied run about with freedom. It reminded me to be thankful for the precious gift I was enjoying - adventure. I'll bet that little boat was someone's pride, someone's livelihood. And I bet it navigated the loch nimbly, its bright blue paint reflecting in the water.
But if a boat could have feelings it also feels happy I bet. Spending its days looking at the place that brought it so many memories, watching others continue to pass through. What better way to grow old then gazing upon the place you love ❤️
Sail on little boat, in the pages of history, in someone's heart that loved you, and in travellers' hearts that pass you by. And you dear readers, should you find yourselves on the shores of Loch Linnhe, say hello to the old boat, this guardian of the narrows, and spare a thought for the hard working history of Scotland's waters.
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