His Ring Of Bright Water
On one recent evening satiated by a day spent outdoors..during the ensuing conversation between myself and another equally obsessed with landscape and wildlife – a past fascination with the life of Gavin Maxwell was rekindled.
I spent all that night awake – dredging my memory for every half-remembered detail. By morning I was a woman posessed. I trawled the library with little success and made plans to search further afield. Heading home I swerved into the second-hand section of the friendly and well-stocked bookshop in Kirkcudbright. I came home with four books. I was hooked.
It is well known that Maxwell spent his last years in a remote part of the west coast of Scotland, facing Skye across the water. One of the books I bought turned out to be a compilation of his own writing chosen by someone who was intent on representing all that the personality of this enigmatic and sometimes difficult man encompassed. What I didnt know until I began reading was that he was born not that far from here, in a house in Galloway he calls The House of Elrig. Thinking back to his childhood he would later say..” Elrig enshrined our whole beings, our thoughts and our happiness”.
As a child I did not know that I would one day live in the very “..wild but spectacularly beautiful part of Galloway in south-western Scotland”.. which helped form his personality – and which ultimately gave the world his unique ‘voice’ – combining the ever practical with a turn of phrase as fluid and stormy as the seas he worked and loved.
Maxwell’s account of his life with Mij the otter in “Ring of Bright Water” touched readers worldwide – and subsequently catapulted him into an uneasy alliance with celebrity. There are otters living on the fringes of Mossyard beach a few miles from Larglea. One day my path through the shallow dunes was blocked by a large animal I didnt immediately recognise in my surprise. We stared at one another for what seemed like minutes before the otter ( so large it was surely a ‘he’) continued across the rocks to where the fresh water met the salt version.
As a child, reading Ring of Bright Water was a first introduction to the indivisible beauty, cruelty and poignancy of the natural world. I was infected by Maxwell’s own passion for nature – the wilder the better. I hope I never recover.
This weekend I will make a trip to see Elrig – if it still exists – for myself. Does life get any better?