Caught by the River

The Path

14th April 2021

An extract from Iain Stewart‘s ‘Inner Sound’, published by the ever-excellent Another Place Press. In the artist’s own words, ‘These pictures are notes from a journey; making some sense of order from carefully gathered half-fragments. Small memories and words map a short section of the route, a way through. Footholds in the mist, into tomorrow…’

The path may be vague and indistinct at points

Arriving late in the day and seeking some familiarity, I struck out towards a bothy I’d slept in once before, rumoured (of course) to be haunted. Daylight was already starting to fade – but something made me go on, pass the bothy, cross the footbridge, into the unknown. A beach was on the horizon, tantalising. It was a long way off. But I’d come this far.

It was late autumn, early winter, a year now since my Father had passed away. Voices has quietened to silence, there was just a gap where a person had once been. Drifting, missing him, I had made a wandering road-trip to the Highlands and landed up in a remote corner of Wester Ross. I vaguely remembered this jaggy peninsula from a couple of wild camping trips, though I’d had to dig out my old notes on the walk out. No real timetable, just me, a tent, a camera, the standard escape plan.

The light was starting to go. Clear sky but the sun was slipping away. Regardless, I stopped from time to time to scribble thoughts in my notebook. Half sentences and haikus. Halt, write, forwards. Slow progress. Scuffing along the rough path, speaking thoughts out loud, senses open. No clear destination other than that alluring white strip of sand in the distance. Surely only a couple more miles. I had been struggling to make my way for over an hour since the bothy, though it hadn’t got me any closer. The notebook says ’mirage’. A mirror.

And then the penny dropped; I knew that place in the distance – that shimmering beach was from my childhood. Decades earlier, in another century, I’d raced through summer wildflowers and cotton-grass to those same sands with my parents – losing a shoe, sticking in the peat bog – but here I was forty years later, alone, in a different season, travelling North, not South, seeing it from reverse. Jolted by memory, a timeslip, and tripping through the heather in the dusk, I saw a face and it shocked my senses. Was it my Father? No! How could it be? I kept walking, racing to catch up, following the figure. I had no fear. I chased the figure to the beach – where it vanished – but as I collapsed exhausted at the shoreline I found myself overwhelmed by a massive feeling of calm and peace. The late low sun finally dipped down and touched the sea. I lay back. Clouds passed. And I put my Father to rest.


‘Inner Sound’ is out now and available here, both with and without special edition prints.

Iain Stewart is a landscape photographer based in Edinburgh, where he studied and taught photography at Edinburgh College of Art. His land & seascapes have featured in exhibitions at The Photographers’ Gallery in London, the International Center of Photography in New York and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Publications include ‘SEA CHANGE: The Seascape in Contemporary Photography’, ‘LAND’S END/CAPE WRATH’ and ‘INNER SOUND’. Visit his website here, and follow him on Instagram here.