Pretty as a Picture

Looking out of the window at the freezing rain you could be forgiven for thinking you’d dropped off to sleep in March and woken up in November; it’s difficult to believe that just two weeks ago it was like summer. On Saturday, it was spring; now I’m not sure what it is but that’s the nature of April, I suppose. It was March which was out of kilter. And while the rational part of my brain acknowledges that it was quite wrong – eighteen degrees in northeren Scotland this early on does not bode well for the ice caps – it was deliciously, decadently wrong, and I felt as if we deserved it after such a long, wet, depressing winter. We knew we’d suffer for it, though, and I shouldn’t have turned the heating down so soon, but we certainly made the most of it. I even put my shorts on, albeit for about an hour before realising the error of my ways.

During the two or three weeks we were gifted, I managed two outings on the kayak; one long walk; three flasks of coffee outside and one made properly- on a gas stove – on an island. Three days gardening at work, one ‘plein air’ painting and one very special, if brief, visit down the coast.

When an old friend said she’d booked a cottage in Plockton for a week with her family, and would I like to meet her somewhere in between, I thought: well, why don’t I just take the opportunity to revisit Plockton? It’s one of those places that you know is there, you know is gorgeous, but never seem to find the time, or a good enough reason, to visit. It’s not really on the way to anywhere; it’s a long detour and, well, it’s just another pretty West Coast tourist trap, isn’t it. Or is it?

I worked out when was the last time I was there. With horror and incredulity I realised it must have been 1987, when I was working at Dundonnell Hotel and I hitched round a big loop, staying in the village two nights, though I can’t imagine how I was afforded the time off. In my memory, the summer I spent at that particular establishment was a lot more work than play.

Incredibly, it seems to have changed little since my last visit, back in the mists of time. I found the pub-with-rooms at the edge of the village where they’d offered me the last available room, a tiny attic, more of a mezzanine-with-hatch, a mattress on the floor and a roof ladder by way of access. It could only be opened from below which entailed me knocking loudly when I needed to get out. I don’t remember if it had a bathroom or if I needed to wake someone up in the middle of the night. Mind you, I was young then so I probably managed to do without until morning. I am sure my memory isn’t playing tricks on me; I can’t imagine it would pass health and safety standards today.

Plockton was – and is – picture-postcard pretty. No, really. It’s one of those unique, iconic places – like Tobermory, the Cuillin, and, well, perhaps Suilven – that really do live up to the hype. Sitting outside the hotel, on the wooden benches overlooking the beach, we drank coffee in unbroken sunshine, no jackets required. The curve of whitewashed cottages along the shore formed a perfect reflection in the calm water and I wondered, in all honesty, what had taken me so long to return. We all said we could see ourselves living there, but sadly it would necessitate a lottery win; we aren’t alone in our judgement.

Next time I’ll take my kayak and sketchbook, though, and I might be tempted to stay past my welcome. One thing is certain: I can’t see me leaving it another thiry-five years!