Western Highlands, Scotland, UK – 12 years after my first attempt to reach the secret bay of Camusfeàrna, I finally succeeded.
Respecting Maxwell’s desire, and as a last tribute to his memory and to the wilderness of the place, I won’t reveal the bay’s true name. As he had foreseen, the place it’s fairly easy to discover; yet, it still remains remote enough to discourage mass tourism.
From the narrow and steep coastal highlands road, it is only a couple of miles walk on an old military track; the track climbs over the hills through what was once a vast forest of spruces – now almost completely cut down – crosses a little river of unexpected dark-red waters, and then finally rises to reach the coast.
There, with our hearts suspended, we had the first glimpse of the Ring of Bright Water from above. Blinded by the turquoise reflections of the sea, mesmerised by the tiny islands appearing in front of us through the ferns – we fell silent. We were completely alone – as it should have been. Only the sound of the wind with us, and the memories of a place imagined and cherished for a very long time.
a very long time.
Old images and text from “Ring of Bright Water” are published with kind permission of Gavin Maxwell Enterprises Ltd
"In writing this book about my home i have not given to the house its true name. This is from no desire to create a mystery – indeed it will be easy enough for the curious to dicover where i live – but because identification in print would seem in some sense a sacrifice, a betrayal of its remoteness and isolation, as if by doing so i were to bring nearer its enemies of industry and urban life."
"Camusfeàrna, i have called it, the Bay of Alders, from the trees that grow along the burn side; but the name is of little consequence, for such bays and houses, empty and long disused, are scattered throughout the wild sea lochs of the Western Highlands and the Hebrides, and in the description of one the reader may perhaps find the likeness of others of which he has himself been fond, for these places are symbols."
"Symbols, for me and for many, of freedom, whether it be from the prison of over–dense communities and the close confines of human relationships, from the less complex incarceration of office walls and hours, or simply freedom from the prison of adult life and an escape into the forgotten world of childhood, of the individual or the race."
"For i am convinced that man has suffered in his separation from the soil and from the other creatures of the world; the evolution of his intellect has outrun his needs as an animal, and yet he must still, for security, look long at some portion of the earth as it was before he tampered with it."
"This book, then, is about my life in a lonely cottage on the north-west coast of Scotland, about animals that have shared it with me, and about others who are only immediate neighbours in a landscape of rock and sea."
Gavin Maxwell, Ring of Bright Water (1960)
"He has married me with a ring, a ring of bright water
Whose ripples travel from the heart of the sea,
He has married me with a ring of light, the glitter
Broadcast on the swift river.
He has married me with the sun’s circle
Too dazzling to see, traced in summer sky.
He has crowned me with the wreath of white cloud
That gathers on the snowy summit of the mountain,
Ringed me round with the world-circling wind,
Bound me to the whirlwind’s centre.
He has married me with the orbit of the moon
And with the boundless circle of stars,
With the orbits that measure years, months, days, and nights,
Set the tides flowing,
Command the winds to travel or be at rest.
At the ring’s centre,
Spirit, or angel troubling the pool,
Causality not in nature,
Finger’s touch that summons at a point, a moment
Stars and planets, life and light
Or gathers cloud about an apex of cold,
Transcendent touch of love summons my world into being."
Kathleen Raine, “The Marriage of Psyche” (1952)