Thursday, 3 February 2011

The Exhilaration of Standing Still

There are very few people who won’t be familiar with the saying that ‘time and tide wait for no-one’ or the fact that time never stands still. However, that’s just what we attempted to make happen during our recent walk to the Bronze Age setting of standing stones at Baliscate, on the outskirts of Tobermory. The two upright and one recumbent stones have dominated their surroundings for (perhaps) thousands of years and their watchful gaze has encountered a whole lot of local history down through the ages. Most notable has been the coming of Christianity to a previously pagan land, with the arrival of the Irish missionary monk, St Columba, to the shores of the Isle of Mull and Iona in the 6th Century A.D.

Aided by the detective work of two members of the Mull Archaeological and Historical Society, Channel 4’s ‘Time Team’ has recently unearthed a chapel and the human remains of a ‘Tobermory Saint’ in nearby woodland, dating back to the time of St Columba, some 1,400 years ago. As we paused a while to review the astro-archaeological significance of these Mull megaliths, we were made acutely aware of our place in the island’s history of time and space. From the ancient settlement of Baliscate, where an earlier community had raised these great hulks of rock, we now overlooked colourful and picturesque Tobermory, a mere infant in history’s eyes at a little over 200 years old. The Isle of Mull continues to evolve and new houses, both private and rented, are being erected that will change the island’s landscape further. Today, the Baliscate Stones provided us with a very instructive lesson on Mull’s social history: past, present and future!

The air around the Stones, during the warmer days of Summer, can be filled with the delicate aroma of coconut, as the breeze blows the scent from nearby gorse bushes. Not so on the chill days of Winter, however, and we had to make do with what our memories reminded us of the smell on this occasion! The cold of a Mull Winter soon dispelled any thoughts of Malibu drinks and Caribbean beaches, but we were pleased to note that our local gorse bushes were still in flower. It is an old adage that is not exclusive to the Isle of Mull or, indeed, Scotland, that whenever the gorse is not in flower, kissing will be out of fashion. Needless to say, we are a passionate lot on Mull and the romance of kissing will never die (gorse being in bloom or not!)

Primitive ‘plants’, like lichens, are all-too-often overlooked and thought of as unimportant in the great scheme of human life and existence. Few give their colour, shape and texture a second glance or thought, which is a shame because they bring a fascinating natural art to our everyday lives. It is not necessary or important to have to attach a name to something for it to convey its beauty. Being an island, off the West coast of Scotland, bestows an importance on the Isle of Mull as far as lichens are concerned. Mull’s pure, damp air is home to several species that thrive in the island’s oceanic climate. To acknowledge the existence of lichens, like those that have been growing for centuries on the Baliscate Stones is the first step in appreciating the role they play in the bigger picture. Those initial steps may not lead you to become a lichenologist, but they will ensure that you have a better understanding of the overall biodiversity that is life on Mull. Some people get a buzz out of driving fast cars, but at Mull Magic we find that simply standing still can be quite exhilarating!

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