“Déjame a mi!” he cries, “Leave me to me!”. He wobbles on the swirling tide, his wide wedge of shoulders ready to topple. If he learned the technique they would be a powerful engine, but he is deaf to our instructor’s words. I imagine him swallowed by the icy ripples, his head bobbing up with the seals, his eyes bulging with the shock of northern sea. There were palm trees back in the village, but this is no Mediterranean bath. Would his sense of humour be drowned if he capsized, or would his robust laugh come ringing through the shadows of kelp?
It was a new experience, to see Scotland through the eyes of a Spaniard. We were doing a tourist tick list: castles, standing stones, distilleries, whisky-tasting, haggis-eating, kilt-trying, and general ogling at Scottish-ness that one never does when the land is home. He likes to sofa-surf and watch vistas with a cold beer, but images of Hawaii in the Hebrides had persuaded him into sea kayaking in Arisaig. I understood that details of how to rotate the torso, angle the paddle or maneouvre the boat skillfully through waves were beyond absorption when staying upright was the primary focus.
The sky yawns wide and westward, pulling my eyes out to sea, to the characterful silhouettes of The Small Isles: the basalt features of Eigg, the gentle slopes of Muck, the plummeting cliffs of Rhum. I pause and leave my kayak to glide. Thought falls away, washed into the layers of sea and sky.
“Que frio!” his voice breaks my drift, and the nose of his kayak edges alongside. His actual nose seems almost as blue as the plastic kayak he sits in, the spring air fresh and the sun very absent despite being forecast; but through wooly hat and layers of clothing, he is smiling again. “Are you enjoying it?” I dare to ask. “Es una maravilla!” he enthuses. It is a marvel I had almost forgotten: west coast watercolours, etchings of islands and fingers of land, a rare sense of calm no matter how strong the wind.
“Nueve” he announces, giving the day nine out of ten. It has been crisp grey instead of comforting blue, with hats and gloves in place of shades and cream, but the missing point is only for the lack of a pub. Warm Guiness soon replaces cold Estrella and we top things up to a ten.
We drive the road home from Arisaig via Glenfinnan, past the viaduct famed as the ‘Harry Potter bridge’, by the monument commemorating the Jacobite uprising. I feel like we’ve been to Hogwarts ourselves for the day, to a stronghold of ancient magic. A spell has been cast and my view seems clearer than before: the spring buds peek from skeletal winter trees, burning heather glows bright in the fading light, an eagle slides through the dusk. Hillsides and clouds are mirrored perfectly in the still evening loch.
The landscape whispers to me, “Déjame a mi”.