As diluted sunlight comes streaming through the window I’m awoken by the squalling of gulls – a tangled symphony of disgruntled burbles, high-pitched cheeps and open-throated cackles from chimney top perches.
The weather in the Scottish Highlands is always a lucky dip. Some days I wake up to driving rain and moody skies. Today the sky is bright, streaked only by wispy cirrus clouds. Despite the sunshine, there’s a bracing wind skirting up over the waves and whipping them up into frothy white peaks.
A gaggle has assembled on the beach while the tide is far back. Common sandpipers hurry across the sand, weaving their way between bunches of seaweed strewn around like abandoned clothes. A handsome oystercatcher kicks up a fuss, its shrill piping call spreading far along the beach. House martins swoop like missiles over puddles left behind by the tide, their inky blue plumage gleaming in the sun.
There isn’t a soul here. On a warm, sunny day like this in the south, the beach would be clogged with sun-bathers and a garish patchwork of multi-coloured towels. Here, the beach is my solitary refuge. The water may be icy, but the views are stunning.
After weaving my way through assorted rocks worn smooth by the ocean and abandoned shells lying chipped and half-buried, I clamber up the steep dune running the length of the beach. My boots sink and sharp grass brushes my legs but I finally reach the summit and slide down the other side. The coastal wind instantly dies like a door has been slammed against it. The forest is sheltered and muffled against outside noise. Seclusion is one of the habitat’s best qualities. There is a feeling of anticipation upon entering a forest. It’s full of surprises.
The dog wanders off by herself, true to form. The forest fragrance is too hard to resist. Her light fur flashes in and out of view behind the trees, their trunks as straight as the lines on a barcode.
I know there must be red squirrels in this forest, perhaps even pine martens. So far I haven’t seen either, but that is no guarantee of absence. It’s what I love about wildlife: it can never be rushed.
We pass another dog walker and for a while the only movement in the forest is the flurry of fur in a rambunctious chase. There will be no wild sightings this morning – martens are sleeping and squirrels are out of sight in the enclosed canopy. The dogs dash around blissfully, but eventually we pull them apart and I loop back towards town. Sounds of civilisation begin to permeate through the trees; car doors slamming, human voices, a distant bus. It’s like the sensation of ears popping and I’m back in the open, leaving the forest behind me. Until tomorrow morning.