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You’re on vacation and you spot a house that stirs you imagination. A detached, cosy looking, ‘what if I’d live here’ kind of place with a gate that opens to the beach. If you actually want to try such a remote house with daylight streaming through the large windows and the wind slamming the outside walls, then steer to Haunn. A few cottages thrown together, surrounded by the machair, sweeping to the edge of the rough sea. The weather promises four seasons in one day, which alters the views constantly. Blackface sheep, gliding seagulls, even a sea eagle with its magnificent wingspan, the sun reflected on its white tail feathers. Here you are doing without human noises. The singing wind and scattered baaing. Your own thoughts are your company, or maybe here you manage to switch them off.
Cross the doorstep of your temporary cottage, a former shepherd’s house, and you are on one of the most alluring walks on Mull. You start to walk, cross a few fields and go downhill beside a cliff wall until you reach the edge of the coast. The path slowly peters out and you just continue with the sea always on your right. You walk on grass, across cliff plateaus. You feel small in the wide open space. The light is phenomenal, come rain or shine. You can see the Treshnish Islands, a few miles away, famous for its puffin colony. When you absorb the views and breathe in the crisp, fresh air, gloomy thoughts evaporate.
You cross a burn and follow the remains of a faint, natural sea dyke. When on the left the higher hills make space for a lower one, you seek out the path that zigzags up, no wider than two feet. It’s muddy and sometimes you grab hold of a rock or a prickly bush to stop yourself from sliding down. Don’t look behind you if you have no head for heights. At the top you wade through a patch of bracken and then you reach old, roofless houses with walls as thick as an outstretched arm: the settlements of Crackaig and, a bit further, Glac Gugairdich. Wedged in the moor and rocks. A landscape that once held the lives of the people who lived here. Two hundred men, women and children were kicked out during the 1867 clearances. One man refused the degrading trek across the island to one of the internment camps in Tobermory, where they would be shipped off to unknown destinations. Randomly, for the price of many lives. Anything but that. He refused the laird’s injunction, but put his fate into his own hands. He hanged himself from the only tree that grew here, a large ash. The tree is bent. Old but powerful it leans forward, burdened by its history perhaps, but far from dead.
One such story, told, but often forgotten. The hiatuses where once there was life, it leaves you moved. Everywhere in the landscape on Mull these fragments are scattered in the shapes of deserted houses and empty, man-built elements. While you eat your sandwiches and rest your legs, sheltered by the still protective walls, you feel connected to what was, even though you hardly know anything about it. A visitor from distant parts in a universal past.
You walk on, finding your way across the heather. You keep your eye on a house with a fence and a garden where, with the exception of whin and daffodils, nothing prospers. Then you reach the single track road that skirts round the coast. Due to lack of motorised traffic, you walk widely on the tarmac, feeling free as a child. You move with the ripples of the road until you see the cattle grid on your left and via the farmhouse and sheep fank you return back to Haunn.
Inside the cottage you warm up with a cup of tea and settle on the sofa. Surrounded by the last sheep, you watch where you started walking and you enjoy the afterglow of the day.