This years Hebredian holiday was one with a difference. I have to say, I doubted Mum's sanity when she told me how many people would be joining our usually fairly relaxing, allthough physically exhausting fortnight. Would this motley crew, ranging from baby Issac to Nanny and Nigel be able to feel the Islay magic? I couldn't imagine Uncle Mark enjoying the steriotypical Scottish weather and how would Rosie cope with all that sand? Regardless of the mixed company, organising 25 people sounded like a logistical nightmare (I only live with 13 and we still cant get ourselves out of the house for a night of drinking and dancing much before 11.30pm, whatever our intentions). Yes, I had concluded Mum was mad, but that wasn't going to stop me coming along for the ride. How would the carnage unfold?
Our first day on the Island also happened to be my 21st birthday. I wasn't expecting anything really, but despite most people having only had somewhat less than the recomended 8 hours sleep the night before, they pulled together quite a feast. Jenny and Joe sneakily draped the house in fairy lights, balloons and even a banner (provided by Nanny I think), while Mum took me out for a wander down to "Seal Bay". Enough food was cooked to feed a small army, and it was a good job too as we had 16 bleary eyed guests swashed in around the dining table that night. I'm sure everybody would have really prefered to be in bed, but my enourmous glass was kept topped up by the ever vigilant Uncle Mark and we devoured one of Nanny's giant chocolate cakes which i rather tipsily chopped and distibuted. The Kerrs arrived a little too late to enjoy much of the party, after thier multiple ferry crossings, but it was great to see them all for the third time this year allready.
The rest of the holiday passed in a supprisingly disaster free manner. Everybody younger than me, I can hardly refer to the majourity of them as children, seemed to be having a fantastic time building damns, horse riding and having sleepovers at each other's houses. A large sandy dalmation was sculpted, piggy back races were held and bubbles were blown all over the place. Unfortunatly Sophie, Andy and Issac were unable to make it, but I'm sure even a baby would have had a great time. Unfortunatly I, at the grande old age of 21, elt a little to lazy to keep up with these shinanagans and after a highly inappropriate game of twister and a few piggy backs for Rosie and Ellie, I was exhausted.
Hanging out with the "adults" was usually a slightly less energetic option. Saying that, chasing Dad, Uncle Ian and Uncle Mark the whole three miles from Claggan to Proaig could hardly be called relaxing. It seems that even though I could probably give Dad a run for his money on land these days, the competition in a kayak would be a little different. It wasn't until I saw the three boats disapear around the first headland that I decided that i'd quite like to join them and imagining that they would daudle around the Islands of Ardtalla, I set off at breakneck speed, hoping to catch them up. All looked fairly hopeful as thier dots seemed to be getting bigger and bigger, until Proaig came into view. I had thought this to be a gentle amble around the coastline, but spotting the old bothy in the distance, I knew exactly what Dad was planning. Having come so far, I would have felt a little pathetic to turn back now, so I blasted out into the exposed bay and battled after them against the wind. Why wouldn't they wait? Surely somebody had seen me by now, but I guessed they wanted to land first and hang around on the beach for me. As I paddled harder and harder, they only seemed to get smaller untill all but Uncle Mark's blue boat (strangely) disapeared out of sight. By this point I was getting a tiny, but piercing, spot of fear in my chest. Last time I had been in a kayak, it was upside-down after all, and I didn't fancy my chances swimming that far. My lifesaving friends would have been less than impressed.
After what seemed like an age of plowing through the weather, I could just about spot them climbing out onto the beach. Thankfully they seemed to be waiting, so I powered on before they could vanish again. When i finally came into the beach, it transpired that they hadn't even known I was following. Uncle Ian explained how they had just been congratulating themselves on the paddle, when Dad spotted me out in the distance. All was forgiven...
Proaig is an old abandoned farmhouse which has been turned into a bothy for chilly walkers to shelter and sleep in. Looking back in the visitors book, I found our old entries and left a new one for our future selves. The way back was rather more sedate and I certainly felt we deserved a few of the 40-somthing sausages Jenny was cooking on the fire back at Claggen.
The only exception to the ludicrasly sunny weather was a day at Aunty Helen and Uncle Ian's house, which appropriatly feels somewhat like a lighthouse due to an excelent view from a living-room surrounded in windows. The Claytons were keen to show us the beach nearby, so we donned wellies, waterproofs and determination, to battle against the wind accross the fields and down the steep path to the beach. It was a fantastic place with the waves crashing in on the rocks, a waterfalls blowing off the cliffs behind and a whole heard of goats scattering around the headland. I couldn't resist clambouring onto the most exposed rock I could find and hanging on for dear life as I got splattered with spray. Soaked through but exhilerated, I spotted a kamercazi seal in the waves and discussed the possibilities of kayaking or even lifesaving in such conditions. Not a chance!
Over the couple of weeks, we showed the party many of our old favorite spots including Sanaig More, Proaig, Ardtalla, Bowmore, Singing Sands and Gorden Tui (please excuse my particually bad spelling here). Traigh Bailea Aonghais, aka Angus's beach, is one of my favorites. So flat and wide it merges with the sea, allowing you to understand that you are truely stood on one of the millions of faces which make up the earth's sphere. The sky is enourmous, emphasisning the weather conditions, so that the sight of blue sky breaking through the clouds is a cause for true excitement as it highlights the trickles of water running down the beach. For those beginning to feel the stab of insignificance which often attcks in such vast spaces, a perfect antidote lies on the edges of the beach. If you walk until you reach the piles of kelp and bladder wrack, crouch down and have a peak below the fronds. From this perspective, you will feel like a giant as you find tiny crabs, strange fish and winkles all waiting for the tide to rise and free them.
These are just a few of my favorite memories, there are so many more: there was a day so calm we could look through the surface of the water as if it was glass and from a distance Uncle Mark looked as if he was sitting in his kayak on the horizon; the curry night with endless amounts of rice; a trip over to Jura which nearly ended up in the whole family being marrooned; Federer verse Murray at the Short's house; beers on the beach, climbing rocks, building castels, deer, eagles and even the odd otter.
Arriving in Glasgow at 10pm at night and casually settling down on the floor for a two hour wait before my next mammouth leg to London, I thought to myself, maybe it wasn't Mum was was loosing her marbles after all or if she was, I was hardly one to judge.