The tiny car park at the end of the road is jammed, and we only get a space because someone is leaving. Skye in summer is transformed by tourism, the single track roads jammed by four by fours and the verges buckling under badly parked cars and camper vans. But the landscape still feels wild and raw and still has the power to stun.
We walk to the beach along a clear downwards track, looking out to the steely water for seals from the nearby seal colony at Dunvegan. We see the beach, a long sweep of creamy sand rising up to a low knobbly hill in the distance. The beach is backed with saturated green and two tents have been set up. Most people are walking away, back to their cars.
There are lumps of dark seaweed on the shore and a defined step down between earth and sand, land and beach. Green-topped islands sit on the horizon, breaking up the solid line where sea meets sky. They are empty, uninhabited, little more than grass and mud and rock, but home to birds and wildlife and beautiful, dormant shapes bringing to mind holy places, wild bits of land to settle into and breathe in.
The sand crunches underfoot. Gathering a handful, tiny pieces of broken, white-bleached coral seem to sit on my palm. Intricate lacework holes spatter their edges and, tiny as they are, they fork and branch just as you expect coral to do. It is not coral, instead it is fossilised and sun-bleached algae, and it is beautiful. It makes the sand here thick and loud. I think, as I stare at the rocking sea, the low lying hills, the scattered islands, how grateful I am to have the chance to marvel at all this bleak beauty.
The water feels salty, caressing, almost slimy. Tangles of bladderwrack wave in the wash of the tide. I swim outwards – always I am drawn out, to stretch toward the horizon and open ocean, to swim forever and aim only at openness. The steadily lowering sun glints silver on the dapping water as I swim. Sounds from back at the beach are muted. My hands rock and glide, the only sound that of the water parting and re-sealing about me.
I’m raising money for the Alzheimer’s Society. Please sponsor me at http://www.justgiving.com/swimbonnieswim