The Kylesmorar effect

I’ve delayed writing about our stay in a cottage on Kylesmorar, Loch Nevis, since our return at the weekend. I’ve needed time to reflect.

Many will identify with that feeling of isolation when they make tracks to the hills, but our week on this Kyeslmorar offered more. Yes, the ‘Kyles’ are remote, but they’re not devoid of people.

Staying on a on a working estate, our lodgings were free from the paraphernalia of modern living (mobiles, radio, television).

Here, the passage of time is marked by other events: the evening grazing of a stag, the early morning call of a buzzard, the solitary hoot of hello from the Western Isles ferry as she steams the eastern end of the loch, the comings and goings of the estate staff, their conversations over vhf radio.

Just for a short time at least, we felt part of this community.

And quickly, we became attuned to events and slipped into their agreeable rhythm: Why am I getting up? To feed the pigs, of course… and they’re waiting.

The day’s activities are governed by the weather and the tides. If it’s blowing a ‘hoolie’, then we’re going nowhere. Does it matter? No. Read books, watch fast weather or, better still, get outside and feel its elemental forces. Our woollies will soon dry on top of the oil-burning stove.

It’s lunchtime and the sun has shown itself. Low tide and no breeze: time to hit the beach and collect mussels. Some quick work with the knife, plenty of rinsing to rid them of grit and it’s moules mariniere for lunch, washed down with a bottle of crisp white perhaps.

Evening and the tide is turning. An accompanying breeze keeps the midges at bay and I’m sitting outside watching the sun set with a ‘wee dram’, perched on the table top of a picnic bench, my feet on the seat. I’ve been there a while and I’m totally absorbed by the scene unfolding before me. The long evening light plays on crags of rough mountains wrapped around the reddening loch. A cormorant works the shore, an otter barrel rolls in the shallows.

A deep sense of tranquillity descends. My mind empties – the closest I can get to a meditative state, maybe.

My perspective is changing and it feels good.

The fear lifts: worries about work, the straightjacket of a mortgage, anxiety over the future… all gone. In their place, possibility.

Next day and I’m clambering up steep slopes, my boots disappearing between boulders, trousers and gaiters soaked as I break trail through lush beds of heather. I fall as I toil, but laugh rather than curse.

I find a stile over a deer fence and continue dragging the high horizon towards my feet, the dew of effort soaking the headband of my hat.

On easier ground, I’m looking for lochans and maybe the odd rise, a fly rod optimistically strapped to the side of my pack. The trout don’t seem active, but I try a few exploratory casts with a team of traditional ‘wets’ before moving to the next body of water. ‘If nothing’s at home, move on,’ the advice goes.

My concentration is broken by a solitary grunt. I glance around at nothing. Eyes back on the water, and I hear a bark. I look to the ridge crest and see the majestic head of a stag, maybe a ‘ten-pointer’, although it’s difficult to make out the branches of his antlers.

He takes a stride forward and stands proud against the skyline. Deer herds have a ‘watcher’ and sure enough a dozen or so heads appear over the crest, more coy that the alpha male. I motion towards them and they’re gone, another significant moment passes with a turn of hoof, another memory that will resonate….

A favourite author once wrote that if you are able to genuinely remove yourself from the frenetic pace of the modern world, its distractions and deadlines, you suddenly have more time than you think. Time collects: A day can seem like a week, a week can seem like a month.

I’ve struggled with this contention in the past, as time for leisure seemed to pass just as quickly as time for labour. Now I see why. My recreation is governed by goals: to catch a fish; to climb that hill, to ride a certain distance by bicycle.

During the week at Kylesmorar, there were no goals and time was elastic.

Plus: see more on the fishing opportunities while staying at Kylesmorar, and an excellent walk in Knoydart to Inverie.

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6 thoughts on “The Kylesmorar effect

  1. Glad you had such a good week. My boss Tim Ingold uses the term 'temporality' to talk about time as it emerges from activity. It's a bit like the distinction between clock time and musical time, which is time that the musician generates through playing. It's time we're in control of rather than beholden to. Life and landscape create a temporality, or at least should do.

  2. Four of us are shortly to spend a week at Kylesmorar and after reading the recollections of your experiences there, we can only wait in anticipation for us to also come under its spell.

    Four Northumbrians!

  3. Hi Eric,

    It’s a wonderful place and the guys there are great, too. I hope you have a few days of decent weather so you can explore. If you are walkers, be aware that the hills immediately around the cottages are quite committing and largely pathless. Great for spotting dear and eagles though. Past Tarbet, the terrain between Loch Morar and Loch Nevis is a little more forgiving but still largely pathless. Map and compass or other navigation device are essential.

    If you don’t walk or fish, though, it is still a fantastic place to stay: read, paint, take pictures, cook, think… whatever takes your fancy! We are due to go again next year… one day I hope to take a canoe as that would open up even more opportunities.

    Enjoy!

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