Island off-roading

All walking holidays with my husband involve diverting from the path – scrambling up a steep rock face, jumping over a fence or wading through a bog – in search of something more interesting than the path can offer.

This time we were walking across a farm on the Isle of Gigha, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides. I tried to avoid the cows that were glaring at us menacingly.

“Are you sure this is the right way?” I asked.

“Yeah, look,” he said, pointing to the hand-drawn map in our tourist pamphlet. “We can get to the beach by going through that gate.” We opened it and walked toward the sand.

We were trying to find a disused quern stone quarry, which our map said should be right here. I squinted in the sunlight, but all I could see was water and rocks.

My husband started walking along the rocky coastline. He moved quickly, without hesitation, but I was more cautious. By the time I caught up he was standing on a large rock, admiring the view of the wind farm in the distance.

“I don’t know where this quarry is, but this is nice here, isn’t it?” he said.

It was better than nice. It was hot – not proper hot but Scottish hot, which was good enough for me. There was a slight sea breeze and it smelled like seaweed and farm. I stopped to take it all in, but he was already off, scrambling over the rocks again.

“I found it!” he yelled.

I walked toward his voice and found him pointing at the cliff.

“Look,” he said. ‘The circles!”

The cliff was covered with large circular indents, stones for grinding grain that would have come free with only a few more chips at the rock. There were so many that I couldn’t shake the sense that the quarry had been abandoned suddenly. I traced the quern stones with my fingers, wishing I could extract them myself.

We walked back the same way we came. Once we were off the farm, I stopped to look back at the cows. They gathered around the electric fence and stared at us.

“What are you looking at?” I asked them.

One cow started to pee. Another followed, and another, and soon all of the cows were peeing and glaring.

My husband laughed and took a picture. We started following the road back to our cottage, but he turned and headed down a sheep-covered hill. They scattered as he walked past.

“It’s a shortcut!” he said. I didn’t know if he was right, but I followed.

K Dickerson

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