The Hebrides’ arc is a pummelled shield; the continent’s first and last. The ancient foundations are laid bare, three billion years’ turbulence written in mineral mosaic to release to the wind whatever frequencies might be left in it. No other rock is so beautiful, and so ugly, as the gneiss of the Hebrides; its ripples and swirls the amputation scars and viscera of the Archean earth.
Out here, it's elemental. For days, crack hit-squalls send us to ground; they pass; we come out twitching like hunted rabbits. The wind occupies the world with impossible, draining energy. Cosseted behind the glass of a car or the café, we pity the cows, our distant persecuted kindred. Birds, the living characters of the coast, are whipped off like wavespray to huddle somewhere. The charisma of the place is in the unfeeling life - of waves and clouds, sand and rocks.
The Screaming Wall at Mangurstadh is an exquisite mess, a Fauvist overspill of serpentine folds and contortions. Apt to the most ancient, the most primal; a rendering of the violence that put us here. Nurturing chaos, through which our ancestors scuttled and survived. We scuttle and survive a while, sketching lines in salty rope across the deeper inscriptions of the rock, while the ocean roars.
The Painted Wall is another lost Matisse, homage in miniature to its Black Canyon namesake. A gaudy clash of pattern and shape, desaturated by the numb grey of the day. The inlet is raised above the sea, but occasionally a wave slops a careless warning slap into the tidal pool. The wall hangs up one side of a crumpled black amphitheatre, above a giant’s staircase of slippery ledges. We came here to escape the wind, but an occasional slice whips off some face and marauds berserkly around the arena. Tethered to a spike by a strand of rope, I’m puppeted without mercy by this invisible adversary. Hunted, cornered – prone as bait, the Jurassic Park goat, of no use but to pay out the swaying line.
At Bhragair, a livid scar cuts the height of the cliff – abrupt as ceramic, and the sea has swallowed the debris like it was never there. Closer inspection, tip-toed voyeur to a carcrash, confirms – a new, white corner still weeping the insidious trickles, the thousand tiny cuts that bled into the terminal moment. The walls are capillaried and veined, a hung carcass bleeding dry in the evening sun. The absence rings like presence, an aura of some leviathan. Close by is something that could destroy me, without even waking up - as an insect to a windscreen, oblivious to the oncoming splatter.
It is a stark gesture to the fragility of things, an exhibition of impermanence. The caprice of aeons and instants mocks the mind’s feeble purchase on the diffuse rhythms beneath. My mind is revealed for what it is: an electrical flicker in the rigging, causing barely a ripple in the substrate. I cling to existence, as all I have ever known, to an illusion of sovereignty, in a body composed of the same corruptible matter as everything else.
The sun draws sweat from crystals of quartz, and fumbled chalk joins the exodus of minerals in the smitten churn of the air. The rock bulges out above and conceals the unknown, that enemy without form.
The rock is muscles and sharkskin, maws of crazy teeth.