Hill and Heather and Sky Beyond
The trip to find Elrig, Gavin Maxwell’s childhood home – and the origins of the man.
‘A grass- grown track leading high over the moors.. A steep incline – at the lower end a clump of elm trees holding a rookery ..and at the higher end, with only hill and heather and sky beyond, they built the house they planned, four-square to the winds of heaven’.
“The road runs straight and flat across a mile of peat-bog before losing itself in the creases of the hill…in spring and summer the deep drainage ditches at its sides are choked with meadow-sweet and cow-parsley, and the big flat bog, ‘The Moss” is sweet with the haunting trilling of curlews and the wild notes of tumbling lapwings.”
Try as I might I could not find words any more accurate, or evocative, of the ‘treasure-hunt’ to search out his origins..than Maxwells own, quoted above.
Scouting a wave-hewn rock-perch from which to eat lunch and view Monreith Beach under the watchful gaze of a bronze otter on the cliff above, and two seals out at sea. I looked down at my bare feet in the water and was moved to imagine his feet there too. Gathering stones and shells as Maxwell did in childhood, before setting out on the quest to find the House, Elrig, where he was born in 1914.
Nature provided one of the last glorious days of a wonderful summer for the trip. A perfect prelude for an autumn of writing ahead.
As happy as a sand-boy with a tummy full of bread and chorizo.. first a crocodile to subdue – and then the world!
To Maxwell for the last word:-
The dedication at the beginning of his book “The House of Elrig” speaks for me too..
This book is for The House
And all I kissed;
But greatly more than those
For children like I was,
If they exist.