Sandwood Beach, Scotland (Part III)

sandwood bay dinner

This is a written account of my trip to Sandwood Bay, Scotland in August 2014. Be sure to catch up with parts I and II if you haven’t read them already!

Part III

I didn’t write again whilst on the trip; my days were too consumed with staring at waves, but the rest of our time in Scotland was awesome.

Fortunately, after I made my break from the tent-prison which was closely guarded by hundreds of midges, the breeze settled back in, and we were all able to return to camp sans bug invaders. We made a delicious dinner, drank Scottish whiskey and even had a little dance party on the beach. We were blessed with one beautifully clear night, so the dancing naturally turned to star gazing. And as crooked necks settled in, one by one, we laid on the sand, sardined together for warmth, marveling at the sky beyond. With each shooting star spotted, fingers would blast up and delighted whoops raised. I saw 7.

One of my favourite parts of wild camping is that you get to return to a natural routine. There are no clocks and no schedules. You get up when you are ready to. You eat when you feel like it. You lay on the beach or take a run or draw a picture. If you want to eat again, you do. If you want to take a nap, you can. If you want to talk to someone, someone is always keen. If you’d rather be alone, you can find a cliff to perch on. If it feels like what you really want to do is just sit in cold sand and stare at the sea, you will. As the busyness and task lists of regular life melt away, you are left with a kind of nourishing nothingness, an openness to just being. And then beautiful shit happens, like drawing a spontaneous art gallery into wet sand, seeing a seal or catching a fish, or watching the sky build into an broody, dark storm, only to watch it roll away without setting loose.

Life admin is boring. Cooking, cleaning, paying bills, going to the store, it’s all such a chore. But out there, life admin becomes something else. Cooking is something you look forward to. Yes, you are hungry, but it’s more than that. It’s an opportunity to help the tribe survive, to contribute, to collaborate, to care for those around you, like a trip to the loch to filter water or prepping camp for windy nights.

In the city, we live in small, disconnected groups which doesn’t lend itself to this kind of community. You don’t have to survive as much in the city; you don’t depend on one another. It was refreshing to experience the kind of community that naturally forms when you need other people. But the beach wasn’t the only place we saw the magic of interdependence in action.

I cannot believe I haven’t told you about this experience yet. It was one of the happiest moments of my recent life and I would be remiss indeed to leave it out of this whole tale.

We made two over-night stops on our drive up to Scotland. The first at Will’s childhood home, where I got to indulge is seeing delightfully embarrassing photos of him at all stages of development, and a second at Christian’s aunt and uncle’s place near Dumfries. They live on an honest-to-goodness commune, started in the 70’s called Laurieston Hall.

From the moment Will announced that Laurieston Hall would be the rendez-vous point to meet Christian, Esther, and Hans, I was excited. I had no idea what to expect though. Down windy roads and beyond the reach of sat nav, we drove past the entrance once. It was well-covered in trees and bushes framing a dirt road. Driving down the tunnel of a driveway you are treated to a slow-reveal of an epic Edwardian mansion.

The founders bought it in the 70’s, pooling money from a few families to buy the mansion and its 125 acres. They spent the next 40 years restructuring the house for 25 permanent residents and rotating visitors, as well as doing awesome engineering projects like their own hydro-electric generator, bridges, a dock, and a truly Eden-esque garden.

Upon arrival, Christian had us down a path through the mossy forest to the loch where Hans and Esther were fishing. It was cold, but the sun promised to come out so we could not resist going for a dip. After hours in the car, driving through rain and playing hours of word games, a swim all together was just what we needed. The water was cool, but tolerable. The kind that you just jump right into and warm up later. I’ve never been baptized, but I imagine that’s what it’s supposed to feel like.

Despite good humour and intentions, all our teeth eventually set to chattering. We returned to the house through the woods, stopping in a few particularly picturesque places for photos. I waited, poised with my camera for a unicorn once or twice. Although I did not see one, I’m sure they were there.

While the others set about tent erection and van packing, Esther and I opted for a garden tour and picking session. We were tasked with finding a short list of produce to supplement our dinner findings. I have never seen such a garden as this. It was at least an acre, maybe two, of well planned vegetables, fruit, and flowers. In the middle was a ring for herbs and in each quadrant, more harvest-ready plants of all varieties. A greenhouse stood at one end that held great strings of creeping plants like tomatoes, mini cucumbers, and grapes.

gates of heaven laurieston hall

Esther and I made quick work of collecting onions, nasturtium, lettuce, kale, and herbs. We took our haul back to the kitchen. While the others began food prep, I returned to the garden in search of the blueberry patch. I found it just beyond a set of wrought-iron white gates. It was further protected by a netting. I let myself in and went right to my task. The sun came out and warmed me as I wound my way around the bushes, searching for the ripest berries. It had just rained, so crystalline rain drops were hung from every other leaf and sparkled in the light.

I soon could not resist the urge to eat what I was picking and began a one-for-the-bowl-one-for-me scheme. Picking blueberries right from the bush in Scottish sunlight – I could not have been happier. I picked over the bushes twice and headed in, knowing dinner was brewing.

blueberry picking at laurieston hall

Indeed when I returned to the kitchen the dal was in full swing and I jumped in with salad prep.

It was a lovely dinner with the 6 of us and Christian’s aunt and uncle. They told us a bit about the early days and the surprises they met getting it all started. Their deep belief in lifestyle change was inspiring and I left the dinner feeling like they were some of the “coolest old people” I’d ever met. I was ready to move in.

Sadly I didn’t (yet?). I’m back in London now. But Scotland really charmed me. The trip was filled with high highs and low lows and lots of eye-spy filled hours in the car. Its epic, craggy landscape speaks directly to the heart and its broody storms makes a romantic feel right at home. Scotland feels like a good place to write a novel or find a love, and I can’t wait to go back.

This was the third installment in a three part series about my trip to Sandwood Bay, Scotland. Catch up with Part I and Part II here if you missed them. Thank you to Will for the photos in this post!