The Angel of Camasunary, and thereby hangs a tale.
~ From the Camban bothy book : -
11th Sept. Came from Glen Affric. I am very wet and cold, and it’s rainy and windy outside. I went wood-gathering on the other side of the river. There was a rainbow - this strange melancholy oozing wet land with a brilliant gleaming rainbow low over the hills. It was very beautiful. I am going to stay here a while, to heal my septic blisters and to think. The wood I got was very wet, and a miserable mealy-mouthed little fire it is.
12th Spasms of sunlight appearing on random hills. I’ve been for a long walk getting wood and am again soaked. Somebody left some pieces of Kendal Mint Cake. This is my 10th day without smoking and I am violently craving a cigarette. A tragic tale.
[ 14/9 . . . met a beautiful, blistered, blonde mountain girl.
R - - S - - - - - - - - - (Inverness) ]
15th It’s my 21st birthday today, and my cuts still haven’t healed., and it’s misty, rainy and cold, but I am very glad I am here.
17th I walked to Shiel Bridge for supplies. Alas no candles apart from fancy ones. The nearest are at Dornie. I ate in the café and then drank 3 pints in the Kintail Hotel (1st drink for 2 weeks) and listened to lugubrious but pleasant Gaelic ballads. The alcohol and chocolate biscuits I’d consumed did me in and I grotesquely hobbled back here. I’m now completely knackered and am going to sleep.
18th It’s been raining non-stop all night and all day. The roof’s leaking in several places and there’s no more pans to catch the drips. I’ve been singing frenzied songs of praise to the sun but it’s completely ignoring me. It’s raining hard down the chimney and all the dry wood is soaked. I have brilliant, very vivid dreams here and extraordinary memories keep coming to me. I’m going to stay here a few more days, then go to Skye. As is obvious, I like doing things slowly.
19th Heavy rain all night and all day.
20th Again very heavy rain and wind and it’s cold. What do other vegetarians do about walking boots? My gymshoes are wretched sores upon this earth.
21st Frenzied wind and rain all night and this morning. I’m off to Skye via Ratagan. It’s been a fantastic place to stay and I will be back someday.
Freya B------ (London)
Camasunary, late September, 20-odd years ago, I was staying there on and off for a week. Then as now, the bothy was well-frequented, and the second night saw the arrival a couple from the north of England on a bothying trip. In the course of the fireside craic they mentioned having met a mysterious, solitary, barefooted girl who was in residence at Camban - I, at the back of the room, then as now semi-detached, pricked up my ears at this. I wanted to ask what she was like, but feared that (a) the question would appear objectionably sexist, and (b) the answer would be that she was built like the back of a bus, thus destroying my fond imaginings, so I didn't.
I went off for a couple of nights camping at Coruisk, getting a good drubbing for my pains, then squelched back to the bothy to dry out. A half-day window of fine weather gave me a brilliant afternoon on Blaven, getting back about 5 to find sitting at the table in the window-recess a breathtakingly beautiful, slightly-built, blonde girl, in jeans and a woollen jumper - then I looked at her feet . . . "Ah, I think you are the famous Barefoot Girl from Camban, and I claim my £10." She smiled, which was more than that deserved, and I was - smitten? - more like pole-axed. I performed one or two chores for her, fetched water, and over dinner we (yes, even I ! ) chatted - she was half- Finnish, at odds with her parents, lived in a squat in London, worked for the Parks Dept., was a committed vegetarian (hence the canvas rather than leather boots when the terrain/weather demanded footwear). She had travelled in the Middle East, but this was her first trip north, and she was in awe of the scale and loneliness of the Highlands, in love with it too. Later a young chap also from the London area came in, the conversation turned to this and that, and on the pretext of wood-gathering I withdrew and went outside for a think. Could I? Would she? Should I even try? I leaden-footed and leaden-spirited, she an angel with wings, could she teach me to fly or would I drag her down to earth?
In the gathering dusk a small herd of hinds ambled down to the beach to nibble at the seaweed. Having learned already her love of these and of all beasts, I went back in to fetch her (the third party had gone to bed) and hand in hand we stood in the thin darkening drizzle watching them. Peace and stillness, the gentle rhythmic susurration of the sea, the closeness of Freya - there is a sense in which everything has gone downhill from this moment. Then we went back inside to sit around the fire till it died out. She was keeping an elaborate journal of her trip, and I diffidently asked if I might read just a page of it - she selected a page and passed it to me, and I was astonished at the quality of her writing, the style and originality of thought - the bothy book extract above gives just a faint flavour of it. Love, admiration, awe, reverence - I felt overwhelmed, while knowing I was building an edifice which my own inadequacies would undermine.
I had to fly home the next morning (a Loganair Islander from Broadford to Glasgow - those were the days). With some misgivings I extracted a promise from her that she would look me up if her eventual (hitch-hiking) return took her through the city, thus giving her the chance to avoid a meeting without breaking her word. A week or two passed, then - a phone call. She was at Central Station, could I pick her up and give her a bed for the night? One night, two nights, what we did during the day, I really can't remember, I was in a haze of turmoil, head and heart in chaos and conflict. One clear image only - Pollok Park it must have been (the sound of the police pipe band practice was drifting over on the breeze), she standing with her back to me under a golden chestnut tree, sunlight dappling her golden hair, my heart dumb and full to bursting.
I used to wonder whether if I had loved her less I might have been less punctilious about the harm I would do her; perhaps we could have worked the relationship through to its natural end, she sooner or later realising what an awful mistake she had made, I coming to accept that the pedestal I had set her on was built of sand and that instead of an angel’s wings she had feet of clay, just like the rest of us. Loving her was at once the best and worst thing I could have done. Best, need I explain? Worst, the lack of a resolution left me trapped in an emotional blind alley. There have been other women, not many, I’m not the type, subjectively or objectively, women who have shown me every comfort, one or two have even said they loved me, before they grew tired and in the end sick of the lack of conviction with which I returned their love. After all, they weren’t Freya.
I let her go, bought her a train ticket to London. We exchanged a few letters, mine via her brother's address, but I've never seen her again. Call me seventeen kinds of fool, I do myself, but I would never have been any good for her. I hope dearly that she's happy and fulfilled.
This tale seemed to grow legs of its own, and 10 years after I wrote it I was contacted by Christopher Sleight of the BBC 'Out of Doors' radio programme who wished to make a podcast of it.