Photograph by Islay McLeod
As long as the sun is shining I'm going nowhere. And since we're talking perfection here, the sun is positively beaming on this day from a flawless sky, with just a wisp of breeze making the horse chestnut leaves rustle.
From the garden I can trace the hazy hump of the Campsie Fells. A few cows are pottering around the neighbouring field. A teeny black and white wagtail lands near my chair now and then, bobbing its tail with that air of slightly frantic busyness that always makes me laugh. Behind me I can hear the contented hum of a bee and beyond that the eager bustle of the burn. This being a perfect day I expect to turn round and see our local heron standing in the water, looking, as ever, faintly foolish.
Yes, I love the sea, the islands, the mountains and the great wild moors. But give me just one (sunny) summer's day and this is the Scotland I want – a garden beside some emerald fields, with wild flowers keeking from the hedgerow and butterflies flitting among the nettles and Glasgow shimmering in the distance and the intoxicating smell of grass. And not a midge in sight.
Awake early in our house in the wilds of the Ross of Mull. The sky is already entirely blue. One of those heavenly Hebridean days is anticipated when the islands are surrounded by calm and sparkling azure seas. While the kindred sleep on, I go for one of my frequent two-hour treks across country to Shiaba, the extensive ruins of a township set in idyllic scenery on a cliff-top overlooking the Sound of Mull. It was cleared in 1847 on the orders of the Duke of Argyll. The remains of dwellings, barns, dykes and countless cultivation beds evoke feelings of melancholy, doubly so on such a perfect day.
On the way back, I spot one of the area's two resident golden eagles, hovering above in the search for prey to feed the young, born only a few weeks ago. Also in the distance are a herd of feral goats. Local tradition has it they are descended from ancestors released during the Clearances.
Do not meet another human being from the beginning to the end of the walk. By the time I reach the house C and some of the children and grand-children are already on their way to one of the three secluded Caribbean-style white sandy beaches for a barbecue lunch. Afterwards, everyone is in the sea and, despite the cold waters, having great fun – it is also a temporary relief from the burning sun above.
Basking sharks are seen in the shimmering distance. We are entirely alone. The day ends with a 30-minute drive to a very special local restaurant. Despite its apparent remoteness, the Ross boasts one of the best eateries in Scotland. It is run by a husband and wife team; he a Scottish crofter-fisherman and she a gifted Canadian chef. The perfect dinner and a post-prandial dram or two bring to an end a perfect day.
A family tradition: on the last Thursday in August we take the Waverley from Rothesay to Millport and there hire bikes and cycle anti-clockwise around Cumbrae. We eat lunch at the excellent Dancing Midge on Millport's pretty esplanade, stop to look in at the aquarium at Keppel, and against all good judgement always have tea and maybe a fruit slice at the Fintry Bay café, where we once asked for a glass of tap water and were told it was only available to customers 'having a meal'.
The views across to Bute and Arran and north towards the Arrochar peaks are magnificent, especially when the sky is blue, which happens more often than you might think. Then, the bikes returned, we stand on the old wooden pier waiting for the steamer and listening to the pipe band tuning up, because this is the Waverley's last Millport call of the season and always gets a warm send-off. On board, we might splash out and buy champagne and drink it on deck from plastic cups, looking at Largs and debating whether next year we'll get off and have a fish supper at Nardini's and come home via the last ferry back from Wemyss Bay, which we never do.
For me, a perfect day starts at the end since although perfection may look promising at dawn, it may have evaporated by noon. So I'd start with cocktails, a fine dinner and a long night at the Isle of Eriska Hotel. I might even risk starting with the drive to Eriska, one of the few journeys my husband and I can make with serenity. Timetabled travel makes me horribly anxious, so the car, with thermos coffee and picnic lunch, is a more harmonious bet. A holiday picnic can be perfect even in gloomy glen and torrential rain.
The Eriska Hotel stands alone on the island – not a true island, thank goodness, since I'd fret about missing the ferry. You just drive over a small tidal causeway. But the feeling is islandish: sky, mountains and water; old-fashioned tea; badgers in the porch; odd people to scrutinise. You don't have to speak.
A stay at Eriska is rich – just as well since it's not cheap. Nor does it stifle. Thoughts can fly off in unexpected directions: surprisingly perfect, I'd say.
Awoke on an Orkney farm: the most beautiful cattle around us, cropping the greenest grass you ever saw. Sunlight burning its way through clouds swirling over Hoy island. Hen harriers patrolling the slopes below, hunting, hunting…while lapwings, oyster catchers, fulmars and more wheel about in the wind.
Down to a splendid breakfast provided by a beautiful elderly lady – wise and loving sheet anchor of her large family. Then away to explore ruins of houses, harbours, religions…built 5,000 years ago by people who lived here long before the Vikings. Next a walk along cliffs, the sea boiling into turbulent inlets – till we seek refuge inland lest the gale lift us right off our feet. Then to Kirkwall and Saint Magnus Cathedral – awesome assertion of raw spirituality; uncluttered by decorations later added to religion by feudal high culture.
Finally an evening walk to the harbour and a splendid pub; reminding us we are among people who do things well. Stone walls so beautifully built. Fishing boats freshly painted – their decks washed clean, their ropes neatly coiled; none of the rusting junk you'll see in other harbours. The whisky, malts with names familiar worldwide. The best beef you'll ever eat. Unforgettable ice cream. What a place. What a people. What a day.
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