It is not often the Atlantic ocean on the west side of Lewis is calm. So when it is, we better make the most of it!!! Going down from the Butt of Lewis we entered Loch Roag. We want to explore the loch and visit the Carloway Broch and Callanish circle. Landing on a rather stony beach which was just good enough for lunch and a quick run-up to the broch in the afternoon light. We changed in our regular clothes and draped our kayak gear on the kayaks to dry.
Alexander walked up the hill to see if there was a path to the broch.
On his way up, he met an old man with a young dog. Surprised by the sudden appearance of Alexander, he asked: ‘How did you get here?’ Alexander told him how we paddled in with our kayaks. The old man looked at Alex rather puzzled, he did not know what kayaks were. After a quick explanation he said; ‘Well, this I got to see.’
Together they walked down the hill. The old man demanded his dog firmly to stay where he was. Immediately the dog obeyed and lay down in the grass but the wagging of the tail promised some mischief.
‘No, this cannot be, you went around the Butt of Lewis in this?’ He looked at me with wide eyes in amazement and a hint of pity. Like he wanted to say ‘That is no place for a woman’. These unsaid words made me put my hands in my side and take that don’t-underestimate-me pose.
We gave him the grand tour around our kayaks. He was very interested. I was a bit embarrassed because my bra hung on the tip of the boat to dry in plain sight.
Out of the blue, he asked ‘ You are married, aren’t you?
And as a matter of fact, we just got married earlier that year. So we could confirm that we were.
‘Good’, he said, ‘I cannot agree with all those people just living together…..’
Stunned, Alex and I looked at each other. Were we staring in a generation gap? Or a cultural gap? I don’t know.
The dog crept secretly down the hill. Wanting to join his master and eager to smell all our interesting smelly stuff. He was allowed.
The tide was coming in and we had to put our boat higher on the beach and clear away our stuff before walking up the hill to visit the broch. The old man sat down on a rock and said, ‘That is fine, I have time.’ Isn’t that a wonderful statement? Who has time nowadays, to just sit on a rock and watch the weather, the tide coming in, people doing something with a kayak, and petting your dog with a slow stroke. No phone, no appointment, no message to react to. Just totally be in the moment, connected with what’s there.
Together with the old man and his dog, we walked up the hill and through the field. With his stick, he points out who’s croft we are walking on. Where he lives and used to live as a lad. To whom the derelict houses used to belong. We pass a field with some sheep in it. And he asks if we wanted to see what his dog could do. He trained and worked with dogs all his life. The only time he ever left the island was to compete in a sheep trial competition on Skye just one short ferry trip away.
He pulls out his whistle and commanded the dog with a certain tune. The dog reacted to each tune. It was amazing to see how the dog and man understood each other perfectly.
‘Each dog listens to its own set of whistle commands.’ He tells us. ‘That is how to command two working dogs.’
There is a twinkle in his eyes as he tells about his working life with the dogs.
But there is also a sense of melancholy in his voice and gestures. Trying to adjust to this rapidly changing world while holding on to the values of his generation. Losing friends and family to illness or death, leaving the island to be closer to their children. Remaining on the island but getting more lonely with every goodbye. Seeing the landscape change, houses being abandoned, changing faces, changing language, changing culture. But dogs are dogs, they remain the same.
If he could have stopped the time I think he would have.