Languid waves tumble into the bay of Portmahomack like drunks stumbling in the dark searching for home. The tiny Oystercatcher restaurant stands quiet and dour behind me as I stare across the Dornoch Firth to another spar of the Tarbat Peninsula, to Dornoch town in the distance. All the world’s light held in a steel-gray vice of cloud and sea. The air is heavy with the unborn ocean, ready to descend on the fishing village in a million earthly drops. And with it a kind of atmospheric delirium – this place feels aligned on the axes of epochs. The rare faces that stare from windows are adrift in the surf of time.
There is no record of Saint Colmóc ever having lived in Scotland, yet this town is named for his haven. History is little more than a collage of pockmarked pages and splintered memories, like an armada of wrecked hulls and scuttled arks sunk in an amnesiac sea. This watery veil almost drowns out the foundation lines of an ancient Roman camp, the stone towers of the Iron Age, the graven stones of Pictish masters, the remains of bloody battles between Scot and Viking, between Scot and Scot. There is too much to see even in this narrow band of wan light. It is a drunken space where alchemists are born transmuting the future into the past.