In May 2019, Quee met up with Fiddler, Charlie Grey and piano and accordion player, Joseph Peach to walk from Lochinver to Clachtoll. Later, they used their memories of the dramatic landscape of Assynt as inspiration to record improvisations based on different sections of the walk and were joined by percussionist Dave Martin in further improvisations. The recordings have been arranged to describe a musical journey through the landscape to release in bandcamp. https://queemacarthur.bandcamp.com/album/memory-path
The start of the path
I thought it would be good to describe some parts of our walk in May 2019 that inspired the music:
We started our walk on the far side of the loch from the town of Lochinver, walking up the road through the woods and then on through the birch trees as the track rose steeply until it came out onto high moorland.
We could look back towards Lochinver and see Suliven in the distance. Our path rose again above a lochan and evened out for a while. The exposed rocks had extraordinary patterns with greys, pinks and white quartz mingled in a twisted seam. As we continued, we came across a a caterpillar crossing our path. Yellow ochre and brown with bright orange patches shining in the sunlight, there was something very cheering and comical in its appearance. We descended a little through more young birch trees, filled with small birds singing and twittering, and as we approached the ridge we could see two lochs stretched out before us. On our way down the hill, a couple of old crofts came into view and a byre with a rusted corrugated roof and a circular walled garden. Although overgrown, many of the plants and herbs were still visible amongst the grass and wild plants and the blossom of an apple tree was just emerging. An abandoned bike and an old shoe added a curious poignancy to this garden and old byre, its walls carefully constructed with huge blocks of stone.
The beach at Achmelvich
When I was in sixth year at school ,I travelled with other friends and teachers from Forres Academy Rucksack Club to stay in the Elphin outdoor centre and go walking in Assynt and Coigach. This left me with some lasting memories of the area and in particular the walk from near Lochinver to Clachtoll which I repeated in 2019 to inspire some new music. My friend Ken Sutherland was the one who suggested we walk to Clachtoll as he knew it well. Our arrival in Clachtoll was the strongest memory I have of the Easter holidays in 1983. The sun shone brightly over the sea illuminating the red sandstone rocks at the beach in Clachtoll. I don't think either of us took any photos of that walk in 1983 but our friend Tom Worthington took a lot of excellent pictures during our stay in Elphin. This is one of Tom's shots of me near the summit of Stac Pollaidh with Ben Mor Coigach in the background.
We left the byre and walked on, stopping at the edge of Loch Dubh.
Clinging to the loch’s steep banks, birch and rowan trees framed the dark waters in green. By the edge of a tiny field, the walls of a carefully constructed storehouse remained, wedged between giant boulders. The path soon widened into a Land Rover track and we spotted a wooden box floating on a pool. Peering closer, we could just make out the words 'mink trap’ on a small label. A larger notice on the fence explained “American mink are an invasive predator. They are trapped and humanely put down to protect the indigenous wildlife”. The track descended gently until we stood on a bridge looking out towards a sunlit Loch Roe. When we turned to look inland, we could see the rusty railings of an older bridge, holding up the crumbling beams and planks.
Walking towards the beach at Achmelvich brings a wide open view of the sea. Waves glinted in the light. The white sand was soft underfoot and the beach was covered in tree like rivulets of the retreating tide. As we crossed the beach Charlie remembered a structure he had seen years before that is known as the Hermit’s castle. It was built by a local man who had returned from the first world war. Charlie ran ahead and disappeared from sight. He soon reappeared over the ridge of the hill waving us on. As the castle came into view it first appeared to be a large fortified structure, but as we got nearer we realised the scale was deceptive and inside there was just enough room for a single person to lie down with a fireplace at their feet with little glass brick windows to illuminate the interior.
Outside the waves crashed against the rocks resonating inside the tiny room.
Our route led us away from the sea, winding up the hill out of Achmelvich and on, past some roofless cottages with sheep peering out the empty windows.
We walked in silence for a few minutes, listening out for sounds other than our own feet on the path. Stopping for a moment, we looked down on a circular drystone building with old millstones tumbling out of the gap in walls which straddled a burn.
There was a notice board on the far side of this old water mill describing how the builders had cut the first millstones from the slopes of Suliven and transported them to this site.
Having recently seen a reconstructed Norse mill in Shawbost on the Isle of Lewis, it was not too difficult to imagine the wooden floor which would have held the millstones above the water as it rushed against the paddles.
The path rose steeply up the rocky gully with carefully placed stepping stones over the burn. At the top of the gully, we found ourselves standing on the single track road to Clachtoll.
Only an occasional car passed as we walked on until our destination revealed itself below.
Charlie and I said goodbye to Joe who went to stay with his folks. We sat on the beach looking at the split rock along the coast, heating some pasta on a stove and drinking a beer. We had pitched our tents earlier in the day and returned to the campsite to dispose of empty cans and wash the pan. There was still a bit of light left so we headed off to have a look at the broch as the light faded.