Watchers On The Ridge

Watchers On The Ridge


I came to live here on the island of Luing to write about and paint landscape – inspired by the writings of luminaries such as Gavin Maxwell, Jim Crumley, Kathleen Jamie, Robert MacFarlane, Helen MacDonald, .. and the photography and paintings of – well – too many to mention.


With a wealth of information available at the touch of finger to button for anyone wanting to write on a subject new to them, and with many artists, writers, poets.. resident experts on a surprising number of subjects; my move to live on the Island of Luing has thrown up challenges I didn’t expect. Amongst which are:- how do you create something new, fresh, something worthy to bear comparison – in such illustrious company. You see.. I don’t want to let them down, somehow.


Life has dealt me a very good hand – I’m loving living here – it is a wonderfully wild island
and easily accessible from mainland Argyll and Bute – except on a Sunday during winter working hours, when the ferry I call the Beautiful Blue Belnahua does not run.
So we spend our week – except for Thursdays (usually) when we visit the busy little metropolis of Oban – on the island, making our own enjoyment.. and what enjoyment. We walk every ridge we can find.


On Sunday my partner unexpectedly left me at the foot of a local hill – on top of which is an ancient fort or ‘Dun’ overlooking the wonderful bay of Ardinamir. Having said I’d only be minutes and that I wouldn’t climb it ‘today’.. I could not resist its pull. Intrigued at the thought of a new view over the island – I climbed, and climbed.

The little fort grew nearer with every breathless step, and suddenly – it didn’t seem quite so little. When I got to the top, I found the fort had worked its magic elsewhere, luring my partner to the summit of the ridge on the far side where he climbed over and hailed me loudly. I nearly fell off my precarious perch aloft a piece of the remaining ingeniously guarded spiral entrance way.


Its tumbled walls, of a whiter stone than found anywhere else on the island, amongst the coppery bracken-covered hillside, lay like crushed meringue around a chocolate cake. Originally some four metres high, by five metres thick at the base tapering evenly to 3 or so mtrs at the top..give an astonishing view all around the island. Small segments of the inner and outer walls show a fine, surprisingly smooth finish..considering the apparent sole use of locally sourced, un-worked stone.


From here can be seen other ridges and folds of an island formed so very long ago. Within arms reach are stones scoured by the weight of an ice-age scree moving across them – hatch-marks drawn on the face of time. I’m moved to tears to be here – where the builders and defenders of this fort stood too..watchers on the ridge on lookout, ready at sign of invasion or attack to send warning signal to their fort – and beyond, early warning to those others strung along the Hebridean shores.


I’ll be researching the geology, geography and history of the fort at a later date. For now it’s enough to say that we are not the first watchers on the ridge here. It makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck to be on this ridge – looking out over thirty square miles of land and sea – where so many have stood, worked, lived and loved before.


Today my partner Don and I walked across many of the ridges we had seen the day before – marvelled at the lush heathers, mosses, lichens, and pastures – the latter clearly having provided food for man and beast for thousands of years, almost unchanged. I realised that there is no weight of comparison necessary that should stop a person writing. We are all here to bear witness to our own time, in our own way. We are all watchers on the ridge. It’s up to us how we tell it.


Watchers On The Ridge

Helen Thomson


About largelyhelen

Designer, photographer, writer.
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