The light was changing. Not that it had been doing anything else all day… the light in the Western Isles is amazing… but it was, by this time, almost eight thirty and we were rather expecting the light to fade as the sun sank below the horizon. It would not be summer solstice for another couple of days and the coachloads of tourists had long since departed… so we headed back to the Callanish Stones.
There were just a few campervans parked close by, securing their spots for the festival that would be held at the stones for the solstice. Not a big affair, we were told, but with music and megalithophiles like us choosing to celebrate the turning of the year at this remote and magical site. One woman, cross-legged in the door of her van, smiled and acknowledged us as we entered the stones. Apart from that, we had the place to ourselves.
The light changed, moment to moment, throwing the stones into relief as dark silhouettes against the low clouds and hills… or illuminating them with a golden glow. Long shadows stretched out across the turf and the stones danced for us as the shadows shifted and played in the dying day.
Every stone came to life. They are made of the oldest bones of the earth, Lewissian gneiss, formed in the Precambrian era. Layer upon layer, compressed under intense heat and pressure at their formation hundreds of millions of years ago… twisted, folded, interspersed with quartz until they look like petrified trees or stone-frozen water. Each stone holds the memory of flame and beginnings, each bears the colours of earth, sea and blood as they reach to the stars.
We walked in wonder through a forest of living stone, where faces and forms revealed themselves in the ever-changing light. Where figures, from between time and reality, seemed to watch as we watched, in kinship and recognition. Pure magic.
Even as we tried to capture at least some of the magic on camera, a tight ball of emotion caught at my breath. The entire landscape was complicit… misty hills, the sparkling silver of the loch, iron clouds parting to reveal a clear, blue sky, impossibly green turf playing with shadows and showing strange and wonderful patterns in the earth… it was an incredible experience that words cannot contain.
We didn’t have the place to ourselves for very long, though. One by one, others arrived. Not the hordes we had seen earlier, just a few, all quietly sharing the end of day at the stones. A couple of photographers, one excitedly pointing out to me the horse-stone I had photographed that morning… a stone that reminded me of the unicorn with which we had been working over the workshop weekend just two days, and somehow a lifetime, before.
Time does strange and generous things on these adventures. There are practical reasons for that… we waste no time on mundane pursuits when we have so little to spare, but it does seem to stretch itself around our needs in some inexplicable way. And never more than here…
One thing we had not ‘wasted’ any time on was finding somewhere to stay for the night. After spending the previous night in the car, we were obviously going to need a hotel, a bathroom and a decent breakfast. Except, we hadn’t booked anywhere.
In fact, it hadn’t occurred to either of us to look for anywhere. Somehow, it went without saying that we would be spending a second night in the car. Had we booked a room, we would probably have been ensconced there by this time, missing this amazing interplay of light, stone and artistry. We would still be there at nine next morning, finishing breakfast… and wasting time we did not have. Ferry to ferry, after all, we had only twenty-six hours on the island…
We left the stones, spotting a possible outlier in someone’s back garden on our way back to the car. It was still full daylight… we had seen no sunset… but we had seen a spot a few miles away where we might be able to park for the night. It wasn’t the Fairy Rock Motel, but it seemed a quiet enough place. We headed off, little knowing how much the night still had to offer…