Alan Dix, Friday 4th April 2003
Leaping from rock to rock, like a mountain goat, running upward. Then nimbly stepping from tussock to tussock where the peat lies boggy between the granite outcrops. As I learnt as a child, speed is the essence - the tussocks hold your weight for a moment before sinking, so quickly onward. And which would be more embarrassing to return with a twisted ankle slipping when jumping between rocks, or to return muddy-bottomed from slipping on a tussock. Some mountain goat.
I take a line that is almost a grass paved road between a rocky avenue, a street sized fissure, and as I climb I can see at the top a building. Someone's house there at the very summit? Like an interloper, square cut stones amongst the rounded weathered hillside. As I get closer I see the stones are squared but not dressed, tiny slivers of granite fit between the larger pieces. But it is not a house, just a tiny room hardly big enough for two people to stand. The power and effort to cut the granite for what? A windowless room. Too high for a sheep shelter, too close to Fionnphort for a shepherd's shelter. If there were even slit windows it might be a pill-box left over from the times when German U-boats might move silently between the islands. But no windows just a door and walls that rise to a long lost roof.
I climb up towards the highest point, a smooth rocked hillock. The grey granite is smooth, not shiny like gravestones, but a matte smoothness formed by rain, wind and the tread of sheep. But the pink granite gives the better grip, more like hardened gravel, between the pink crystals the matrix has eroded, some softer rock deposited as the rock cooled deep down miles beneath the surface millions of years ago.
What is this strange desire to always reach the highest point. A spiritual yearning for the sky? Perhaps simply masculine one-up-manship.
It is only looking down from the top that I see it, behind the highest point a tangle of rusting machinery, but still working, a quarry cutting stone for the islanders. It was here that diesel and internal combustion engine cut the stone. And the room on the hill top? The explosive shed. Far enough away for safety. Shielded partly by the natural rock around. Strong wall to contain a blast and a weak roof, now lost, that would blow out to let the force safely upwards. Strange how weakness can be strength. Like a prison, designed to keep danger in, not to keep the elements out.
As I climb down, the pink granite is patched with grey lichen and blood-orange moss. Gripping against the salt wind in the gaps between the quartz crystals. And it is often this way, life holding on and growing in the interstice. The eroded matrix, the weakness of the pink granite makes it home for new life. Across the water Iona lies. Birthplace of the Celtic church in Scotland. Caught between land and sea, between Ireland and Scotland. In the point of weakness between nations and faiths, in the interstice a new life could flourish.
Down by the waters edge a boulder, only just above the height of my head, is the highest thing. Of course I must climb it. No grips just a huge rounded pebble the size of a small van. I clamber to the top and stand to look out to the abbey framed in the nearby pillared cliff edge. Then what? Only one way to go from the top. Strange that it is easier to climb without help than to get back down.