The small winter sun shimmers low and weak. Unable to climb high into the sky, its warmth and light are quickly lost to sparkles at sea. Colour and flowers pass from the cold earth which holds her breath, waiting for Spring. Our worlds shrink in the darkness pushing in at the edges, and we too wait, paused and silent, for the suns power to return. We turn inwards looking for inner light to show us the path onwards in winters weak light. In the light of the small sun, winter grips the earth, and we all shiver with longing for heat and light.
Summer in the land of mist leaves veils scattered carelessly across the landscape. Whole mountain ranges and islands can be swept in and out of view in moments, as the mist drifts through, trailing mystery in her wake. Some days the air is so still that the mist sits cloud like, unmoving, altering the familiar landscapes into vistas previously unseen. The sea shimmers like liquid silver, and a timeless air surrounds the earth. All sorts of people and creatures can cross through time in the veiled folds of warm summer mist. A hush holds the air breathless waiting for mystery to unveil herself and reveal the present to our hungry eyes.
These photos were captured last month around Plockton and Kyle of Lochalsh, the day after a wild lightning storm.
There’s a magical isle of ancient fossil filled limestone, scattered liberally with ancient hand carved monuments of stone. It sits just east of mainland Spain washed by the turquoise blue of the Mediterranean waves and gentle tides. Baked beneath 4,000 years of hot Spanish sun, these rocks evoke a sense of the ancient people of this isle, who washed, worshiped and baked bread among these stones. At this site, ‘Torralba D’en Salord’ which translates roughly as the white stones of Salord, a bronze bull and statues of the Punic goddess Tanit were discovered still resting beside a stone altar as they might have done for thousands of years.
Here among golden grains, whispering into the sun filled breeze, this ancient Phonecian goddess was worshiped by this famous and far reaching race of sea faring merchants. Phonecian merchant ships plied their goods all across the Mediterranean Sea for thousands of years before Christ was born, even establishing routes to Britain, up the east coast of Ireland and the west coast of Britain. Beautiful jewellery, wine and glass from the warm shores of the Mediterranean are still being discovered scattered up long forgotten rich trading settlements of western Scotland. Perhaps these goods left from these very shores, after the merchant had invoked the blessing of this goddess, among these white stones. Tanit was a moon goddess of grain and fertility, a virginal mother, a heavenly goddess of war and consort of Baal. Linked with Ishtar, she originated just across the waves in Carthage, North Africa, in modern day Tunisia.
But the people who raised these hand shaped rocks were here before the name Tanit was ever whispered. Found only on Minorca, these evocative T shaped monuments are found all across the heart of the isle. They are enclosed within limestone walls to form a shrine called a Taula, which is unique to this island. As new waves of people washed through they brought their gods and added them to the already ancient holy sites. They built their homes into a village which surround the holy ground, and kept goats and sheep and threshed grains of wheat and barley. It’s not hard to imagine them going about their daily lives as you walk through the ruins they left behind.
There are also hand chiseled burial caves within the village, with some houses being built over old ancestral caves. These were communal tombs where burial rites were carried out, and bodies were laid out to decompose, before the dried bones were added to those who came before them. They feel like comfortable intimate spaces where the ancestors were loved and honoured.
The layers of history here are tangible, emerging in layers beneath your feet as you wander among the stones and bones of people whose lives were over many millennia ago, and yet who have influenced the far away, less sun washed isle of Britain. They roamed far across the ocean waves to trade, and came back here to these villages to live and love their families in ways we might find surprisingly familiar. The breeze stirs the golden sea of oats and butterflies dance upwards into the blue cloud filled sky. Sights as old as time itself.
Find these atmospheric ruins near Alaior, sign posted off the Me-1, main road between Mahon and Ciutadella, on the isle of Minorca. North of the popular beach of Son Bou, there is a 4 euro fee.
Come with me under the blossom skirts of Spring, and lie on the soft damp earth with the sound of bees busy in your ears. Sun filtered through blossom flesh takes on luminous sparkles and dazzling glints which catch the corners of your eyes. The breeze fills with the swish and swirl of waves washing through a thousand petal underskirts.
Each soft sigh of Spring plucks a million petals of confetti, grown for just this moment. Clouds of flowers swirl and dance in the rivers of the breeze, delighting the eye and heart in momentary celebrations of springs abundance. Sunlight furled petals offer to lead us fresh into the flow of summers new wild abandon. Let your heart drink in this earthy joy, refreshed and replenished each morning in fresh dew.
All across the lower slopes a soft spring breeze is playing silvery songs on the fresh green leaves of the silver birches. It’s notes fill the air, dazzling the ears with its shifting shingle waves, mingled with the scattered calls of cuckoos and excited sparrows. The woods have burst into life and Spring has spread a carpet of bluebells across the dark earthen floor.
The deep vibrant blue of the bells shimmers in the sunlight, offering a stream of petals through the trees. Dancing delicately in the breeze they lure you onwards, ever deeper into the spring enchanted woods. The sweet soporific honey scent of the flowers invites you to rest and linger a while among these fairy flowers. But if you stray too far from the path into a bluebell ring you are bound to fall asleep for 100 years, stolen away to fairyland to dance and sing till your shoes wear out. You have been warned, but the lure of these blue beauties is strong, and the songs of Spring tinkle like fairybells confusing and entrancing the senses here among the silver birch.
If we lie down for just a little while, the sweet scent of the bells and the silvery songs of the birch will soothe our busy minds, opening our hearts and breath out into the abundant beauty of Spring on earth. The sunlight glints lime green through the sparse newly burst canopy of leaves and the whole of the kingdom of the birds has flown here to entertain us as we rest among the busy drone of the bees. The song of Spring has sprung across these low slopes of the Scottish Highlands and a smile slides slow and unbidden across our lips, we’ve been enchanted for sure. Lost to fairyland among the bluebell rings.
But wait, we’re saved by our faithful hound, who pulls us back into this time and space. Her wet nose a gentle reminder that tea time fast approaches and all the supplies are back at the house. Time to head back out of the magical birch woods and the bluebells and into normal life again.
True British Bluebells are a protected species and it’s illegal to gather any parts of the plants, but in the past the sticky sap of the stems was used to fletch arrows, to bind books and even to starch the stiff frilly Elizabethen collars of old.
The British variety with its vivid deep blue, it’s wonderful honey scent and its narrow curled flowers is under threat from the non-native Spanish Bluebells, which people often plant in their gardens. These hybridise with the native species and threaten its survival. Choose the native stock if you plant to plant bluebells, and you might even get some fairies into the bargain!
Summer has opened her long light filled arms wide, and she was spilling soft kisses all along the West coast of the British Isles yesterday evening. Not a whisper of a breeze stirred the air, and the birds sang their tiny hearts out in thanks. The hillside buzzed with the contented drone of bees among the orchids and heather, and the seals swam in for and evening song among the gold fringed waves of the shore. She has come early with her gifts of long warm sun filled days, and she is drawing fresh life from earths dark folds, with her steady brightness.
We walked the other day, between ancient trees, draped in fine clothes of moss and lichen. The air was as pure in the mouth as spring water, and the sounds of the outside world were muffled and absorbed by the soft green cloaks of moss. Only birdsong and the gentle breeze moved the air, and the beauty of stillness filled our souls. In dappled pools of sunlight, the moist air softened our skin, and the perfect co-operative balance of life unfolded around us. We were walking in the magic of a Celtic Rainforest, unchanged for thousands of years.
The lichen drapes itself in generous layers over branches and trunks, the perfect partnership between the form and shape of a fungus, and the photosynthetic energy production of an algae. This partnership produces a wild array of shapes and colours, all living examples of successful co-operation between species. And what a beautiful display is produced by this symbiosis. In Spring , long before the fresh leaves of the season open to cover the branches, the trees proudly display their winter coats of lichen. These Celtic Rainforests stay green right through the heart of winter, with their beautifully textured and coloured lichen leaves.
With names like old mans beard, gold dust, great shield, moonglow, silverskin, sunburst, greater whip wort, witches hair and lungwort their fairytale enchantment casts a timeless spell. When examined closely they become little forests of trees within large forests of trees, weaving a greening spell across the earth. The lichen draw their food, nutrients and water, from the air itself. This magic is supported by the carpets of moss and liverwort which absorb and release the mist and rain, in just the right amounts to sustain a wonderfully moist air. This soft green velvet sponge is the climate control of these rainforests, and it coats every stone, climbing up around the bases of the trees, and perhaps if we stood still long enough it would flow over our feet too.
The mosses and liverworts grows in thick lush mounds as soft as a sponge, and covering the whole landscape. It gives the feeling of eternity, as though nothing has disturbed this ancient landscape for millennia. Among the native hazels, oaks and birch a whole unseen layer of life is rolling on unaided, and untouched by human hand. Some of the Atlantic hazelwoods around Skye, Lochalsh, Argyll and the Western Isles are thought to be over 9,000 years old, which is pretty close to eternal in my mind. Nothing needs to be done here, life just needs to be left to carry on as it has in the ever-rolling seasonal cycles.
Forests of lichen and moss filter the air to produce the freshest sweetest breath of green air I have ever breathed. Silence rings like tiny silver bells in my ears, and I am transported somewhere far from everyday jangles and tangles, into the soft green lichen woods of Scotland’s West Coast, and the land of fairy enchantments. There is nothing to do but rest and breathe and listen, and let your imagination run wild and free.
You can read more about the incredible nature of Scottish lichens here.
Look here to learn more about the rare Atlantic Hazelwoods of Scotland
And this is a lovely link to information and a map of sites of the Celtic Rainforests of Scotland.
Lichens, mosses and liverworts have long been used for dye and for medicinal properties. Many have antibacterial and antiseptic properties, and were used for centuries for packing the sword wounds of clan warriors.