Friday, May 23, 2008

white tails

This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve walked to this year. Without saying exactly where it is, for reasons that will become obvious, the name roughly translates as ‘the grey precipice rooted in water’ (I think), and is to be found by following wild goats where they have worn a red soil path through bluebell and young bracken towards a glistering sea, its horizon hung with small islands.

Here, caves forge deep under the cliffs, laid with floors of soft damp sand that, back in daylight, you find has stained your clothes a salmon pink. Burns course from a thousand feet above you to fall through birch tangled escarpments as waterfalls, spraying dark the shoreside pavements of rock and pool where bluebells force up between white sea-rolled pebbles. There are cockles too, to collect in a handful, boil and pull with a needle in small coils from their shells, to taste the sea.

And here, last weekend, I was hypnotised by the wheeling white-tailed flight of a sea eagle, Europe's largest. Mobbed by crows, tiny in comparison, it flicked and rolled to shake them off, and creaked up and down lugubrious door-sized wings. Then there was a second, larger, one joining it in the sky, coming so low that we could see the missing ‘finger’ in its left wing, see something of its battle-scarred, tom-cat character.

We were close enough to see the female return to her nest on top of a pinnacle above us, to catch the flash of her eye and the yellow curl of her beak as she looked down, imperious. But when she launched from the cliff face above me and hung, spread-winged, finger feathers in silhouette, head low, a shadow between me and the sun, I gasped with something close to fear. A beast so large, so feather-quill close, on our own shores. And then came awe and relief as she swooped away, leaving me lying safely on the rock.

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