Rosa Prosser shares glimpses of Lewis, Harris, North and South Uist, Mull, Iona and Oban.
We are sat at the Butt of Lewis, tucked away beneath the lighthouse. You are eating a bag of salt and vinegar crisps as I close my eyes and soak up the wind in my hair. We wander down to Eoropie Beach. The waves look alluring even though the sky is grey, threatening rain. I jump in, pleading with you to follow. “Don’t wait,” I yell, “the cold will hit you the same regardless of whether you take the plunge now or later.” Sea grass ensnares my naked legs. Shaking them free, I swim out to the yellow buoy. You finally join, just as I’m about to get out. “Wait,” you say, “linger in the water, stay a while longer.” It doesn’t take much to convince me. I decide to stay, noting as the sensation seeps out of my cold limbs and the numbness takes over. I tingle, feeling most alive.
The sun shines on us as we stand on the most southerly point of Harris, straining our eyes to catch a glimpse of North Uist. We think we can see land, although after hours of staring into the expansive ocean in front of us, we are unsure what is actually real. The waves look like mountains you say.
That slow mountain wave
That slow mountain swimming
Swimming free from anything at all
I think about the space between us and Uist – would it be possible to swim the distance rather than catch the ferry tomorrow? Maybe with a buoyant-enough wetsuit I could just float with the waves and let the sea decide my destination for me.
Wednesday: North Uist
The flatness scares us. Surely these islands will be underwater if the sea level even rises an inch. From Lochmaddy Marina we follow the road towards the old school. On our way we pass a series of lines of light halfway up some of the buildings. Embodying future peril, we learn that they are visualizing predicted sea-level rise on the island. I am lost for words. There is no vocabulary that can come close to describing this threat – “climate change” doesn’t seem to do it justice.
Thursday: South Uist
It is raining today so we wait in our Airbnb and talk. We share stories of past travels as we lie in bed naked, bodies entangled, but our lives so far are separate. I can’t believe I have only known you two months. We reminisce about our initial swim together back in Edinburgh, our first date, when we plunged in at Portobello Beach on a blustery April evening. I shivered so much afterwards I could hardly talk. Looking out of the window, we see the familiar windy Scottish weather and agree to brave a swim. The tide is out when we arrive at Frobost Beach, and even though the weather has softened, we have the beach completely to ourselves. We strip and skinny dip and scream and I come out shivering again, but I love it. You smile and a heron flies above us.
10pm on Mull. Our ferry was delayed, we lost our bags, and you broke your phone. Together we scream the word CHAOS into the tide, our lungs burning, we are laughing. The man dressed in a dragon costume outside Macgochan’s does not look impressed. This makes us laugh even more.
It is my first time on Iona, and I like it. I like the small beaches and the land feels familiar already. We picnic at St. Columba’s Bay – the salt and vinegar crisps make a return – and swim out to the rocks. Seals share the water with us, curious as to what these skinny humans are doing in the cold, cold water. We discuss intentionally missing the last ferry back to Mull, fanaticising about sleeping under the stars. When the ferry arrives however, we hop on, opting instead for hot baths and warm beds.
My nose is blocked. “Sexy, I know.” (You laugh at this). It is blocked with bonfire smoke and pollen particles and too many nights out dancing on different beaches, but it was worth it. Or at least that’s what I tell myself as I lie here in bed too sick to do anything else but sneeze.
Rosa is a documentary filmmaker and photographer from the Lake District. Having recently graduated from the University of Cambridge majoring in the History and Philosophy of Science, she is now developing and directing a feature documentary exploring the relationship between language and the climate crisis in the Outer Hebrides. Follow her on Instagram here.