Colonsay might be touted as a place of quiet; peaceful and relaxing but we’ve been camping and I can testify that it is anything but.
Our tent has been pitched at the hostel, a stone lodge and a couple of bothies with the woodlands of Colonsay House to the north and sweeping views to Loch Fada over meadows of flowers to the south. At midnight, with a sky still bright enough to see, the incessant croak of the corncrake was accompanied by the ghostly kee-wick of the lapwing.
A snipe was drumming overhead, the unearthly sound made by their tail feathers beating together as they fly. It utterly evades sensible description, the closest I can get is a tremolo from a baritone goat.
After midnight everything else stilled but the corncrakes continued their incessant grating all night, a primary school percussion workshop for the Cuban Guiro (those garishly painted wooden tubes with a stick to scrape along the corrugations).
All night two of them called in duet, or probably more appropriately, duel. Their croaks moved into and out of synchrony in a repeating pattern as each called at a slightly different frequency.
At one point in the night, just before dawn, I woke and, unable to drift back to sleep, crept across the garden to the stone wall and looked out over the meadow. The sound was coming from a point only metres away. But I couldn’t see the bird.
“Don’t expect to see one” I had been told before I came. Corncrakes as a Victorian anti-child, heard and never seen.
We met the inhabitant of the only other tent the next morning. A small man with a bushy white beard, tanned face and long white hair ringing a bald head. A carpenter by trade, he had come by bus from Assynt for his holiday “twelve hours and four changes” he told me. Unsurprisingly he’d had more luck in seeing corncrakes than our family with two boisterous children. One had come out on the lawn of the hostel while he sat playing his guitar early in the morning, another had been walking along the land rover track through the woodland garden as he took an evening stroll.
In a tent, the sounds of birds are not the only noises guaranteed to keep you awake; the rain and the wind were unrelenting at night, although only one day was a total wash-out. A sound like someone blowing over the top of a glass bottle (a distant bittern perhaps….) turned out to be my daughter breathing.
On the third night something snapped. No more camping. We’re going inside. The noble urge to get back to nature, and our wild roots, had worn thin. All my socks were somewhere in a wet bundle
at the end of the tent and the toothbrushes had gone missing. You know it’s time to vacate the tent when you start wondering when the holiday is going to end….
And all it took was a quick call to the hotel and we were installed in one of the holiday cottages that had not been filled. It’s bliss of course, but I had to keep the window open last night to hear the wind and rain, it was all just a bit too silent.