Roads of the Sea — Tiree to Larne

Friday morning at 9am saw me at the ferry queue in Scarinish waiting for the Tiree–Oban ferry, saying goodbye to Fiona and to Tiree as I won’t be home again for most of the next two months.  Friday is an early ferry — 5am check-in for those coming from Oban, but a more civilised time for going to the mainland and a 1pm arrival gives plenty of time to get down to Troon for the 8:20pm ferry.

I’ve never taken the Troon–Larne ferry before, always travelling to Ireland from Stranraer in the North or Holyhead in the South.  However, arriving with a full three hours to spare, I found it is a good place to wait, eating a late picnic lunch of pork pie and salad overlooking the bay with windsurfers and kite surfers along the strand, home from home.

Long distance ‘commutes’ and remote relationships have become common amongst professional workers.  I recall Richard Bentley at one stage working in Germany while his partner was in Jersey, and in the States several West-Coast East-Coast marriages.  However, this is not a recent phenomena, on Tiree there are families of trawler men or those working on the North Sea rigs, where ‘going to work’ means many weeks or months away.  The ‘Express’  Troon–Larne ferry fairly sped along compared with Calmac’s more leisurely vessels, and as I sat and watched us pass Ailsa Craig, struck up conversation with a man on his way home to his wife and family after three months away doing forestry work in Scotland.

Larne, like Crewe, is a place you pass through and rarely stop, but given the late ferry I ended up spending a night there in a small seafront guesthouse, Beach Vista.  The late arrival of the ferry was compounded by a wrong turning1, but despite the late hour Bob the proprietor was waiting with a warm welcome in a rich Northern accent. My childhood images of Northern Ireland are all from news stories of ‘The Troubles’; amidst these images of sectarian violence and bomb blasts, it is easy to forget the warmth of the people and the beauty of the countryside. So I spent a first peaceful night, hearing the sound of the waves lapping against the sea wall.

Walking along the seashore before breakfast, watching a freight ship glide quietly into port past the James Chaine memorial tower, I understood some of Bob’s love of the place.  “Sometimes when my wife and I go away on holiday”, he told me, “we sometimes just wonder why, when we have this at home”.  Despite being less than an hour from Belfast, the pace of life is clearly somewhat slower in Larne.  Bob, as well as running the B&B with his family, also has a Taxi firm, and explained that, just like on Tiree, he doesn’t worry about locking the taxi and even leaving the keys inside.

next Into the West — Larne to Westport

  1. why can’t Google maps include a scale on the printed maps![back]

Sinking beneath the waves

Thanks to Pete Bagnall @ surfaceeffect for pointing out an article in George Monbiot’s Environment blog in the Guardian “Climate change displacement has begun – but hardly anyone has noticed“.  Evidently the whole population of the Carteret Islands (Google map, Wikipedia) near Papua New Guinea have had to abandon the islands due to rising sea levels.

The inundation beguns.

sun on the sea

Today is raining and overcast, but the last two days utterly glorious.  Yesterday the sun on the sea took my breath away, the waves turned to quicksilver.


One of those mornings when Iona and the Ross of Mull peep over the horizon, islands floating above a sea of light.  Then the sun breaks, itself fluid, a drop of steel from the furness, burning gold flowing like mercury.

toes in the mediterranean

I am in Tirrenia, one of the resorts on the Mediterranean outside Pisa. February is not the normal tourist month and the palm trees are all wrapped in sacking or plastic to protect them from the rain.

It was overcast when I arrived and yesterday was bleak with heavy rain, but this morning the sky was open from edge to edge, the unfettered wind blowing the waves clear from the coasts of Spain.

Dabbling my toes in the waters edge, or wading deeper having to run as the larger waves threatened to wash me clear to my waist. Icy feeling, but I’m sure still just the chill of cool water, air thrown through the night, no Arctic currents penetrate here.

To my back are the shuttered beach buildings, and tall rectangular pillars of plywood I assume enclosing the summer showers. Also sprinklers along the beach edges. I’d wondered at these when I’d walked at dusk when I’d first arrived, but not realised they were along every beach side – presumably to dampen the sand and keep it from blowing and burying the resort.

The sand slopes steeply towards the sea, and on the water’s edge a huge driftwood log, like a seat deliberately placed to watch the sea, but now periodically half covered then left stranded by the flow of waves.

On the map it is an contained sea, the Mediterranean, but here I see open sea – if there are boundaries they are far away and the waves long enough to build and be as terrible and awesome as those that had crossed the whole atlantic a few months ago when I was in Brazil. These waves though are less uniform, not the slowly growing and breaking of surf beaches, but more a tumbling boiling ferment.

To the north the jagged edges of snow flecked mountains mirror the wave crests, sharp edged against the clear morning sky. Further north they will become the marble-shot mountains of Carrera from which the best stone in the world is quarried. Marble not unlike the frozen surface of these surf flecked seas.

The sun just breaks over the land. It must be a marvelous place for sunsets over the sea. Slowly as the orange edge rises over the beach buildings the first rays touch the white wave crests, shining above the grey troughs between, then gradually the grey surface turns slate green.

I retrieve my sandals from under the pile of flotsam where I’d left them earlier, then reluctantly turn my back to the sea.