Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Les: Reflections on Still Water

As quite a young man I realised that there were two practical activities which made me feel more vividly alive. As the years have flashed by, conducting fine music and sailing a fine yacht have continued to have that power over me and for me. Both can be demanding; both have the power to make me feel I have truly lived a day of my life rather than simply watching it go by.

And here I am, back on board Alexandria in Gairloch, what seems like just a few hours (it's really about thirty hours) after conducting two performances of Mark Browse's deeply moving and beautifully scored opera 'Margaret of Antioch'. Baton to boat, Sussex village to Scottish Highlands, bows to bowlines, in a day.

I am speechless at the beauty of the Highlands, where, to my loss, I have set neither foot nor course for thirty years. Driving from Inverness airport to Gairloch, so breathtaking was the afternoon sun-path on the loch, seen through a stand of tall pines, that I had to stop the car and simply gawp. A kind young Scot, seeing the stationary car in an unlikely spot, pulled up in case help was needed. Blessings upon him.

Alongside the pier the blue fishing boat sits above its reflection, one mast up, one mast down.

I reach Gairloch like a small child full of glee and delight, and step into sunshine still hot enough to sting at 6:00 in the evening; I step into a place of my dreams - a small working harbour, with one or two houses built to gaze timelessly upon the harbour and the loch, and just two places on a pontoon for visiting yachts; and I step into a silence so total that it shocks me and I have stop walking and breathe it in - a generous, nourishing silence which without waiting to be asked instantly begins to nourish and refresh my soul. 

And here, moored alongside the pontoon, proud and gleaming clean, with bonhomie and chilled Sauvignon blanc in the cockpit, basks Alexandria, waiting for our next call upon her.

And so to The Minches, this network of broad and narrow channels between the islands and the sea-lochs, guarded by velvet green slopes in the foreground, dotted with low islets and the sudden teeth of isolated rocks, and the misted grey peaks behind, rising abruptly, august and awe-inspiring, layer behind layer like the vision of a terrestrial stage-designer, touching and breaking through the clouds.

Today The Minches are kind. We put to sea bound towards Kinlochbervie, and The Minches are kind. In fact, everybody is kind, and Martin and Vincent do all the work while I have a holiday and make tea and then make tea and then make more tea. Caledonian MacBrayne steams his tireless trail out of Ullapool and passes us two miles ahead. Vincent thinks he has seen a submarine and Martin takes off almost all his clothes before disappearing into the starboard engine compartment. All is well.

And now comes the cry of "Dolphins! A large school of dolphins off to starboard." I must go.

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