We’re in the town of Cromarty, in the north-east Highlands of Scotland. We’re on the old quayside, looking across the Cromarty Firth at the land known as Ross – as in the county name ‘Ross and Cromarty’.
The quayside is the oldest section of the town, and represents well the evolution of this lovely community. Cromarty is one of the gems of this peninsula; known as ‘The Black Isle’. Named because of the difficultly of reaching it across the turbulent waters of the Moray Firth.
But the town of Cromarty, whilst appearing quite idyllic and prosperous, offers a strange contrast of landscapes…
The thriving metropolis of Inverness, gateway to this part of the Scottish Highlands, lies only thirty minutes south of Cromarty. It’s all very different from the days when the ‘Kings Ferry’ connected travellers by ferry across this waterway to continue their northwards journey on the ‘Kings Road’ to the farthest reaches of north-east Scotland, and possibly beyond, to Orkney.
Today there are vast, and award-winning bridges, but back then it was a long detour around the head of Loch Ness, or more likely, a boat ride from Inverness.
The view in front of us is divided; the huge oil platform ahead is ‘resting’. It’s been retired from active service in the North Sea, pending a rise in the wholesale price of oil. At a certain price point, it becomes viable to operate it again, and giant tugs will pull it out into active use in the seas off North-East Scotland.
We counted ten such platforms, all ‘resting’ or being maintained. It requires a skeleton crew onboard at all times, so it’s also expensive to park them in this way.
Beyond the array of the oil platforms lies a ring of beautiful mountains, many of them still snow-capped in this extraordinarily cold spring, where there is still frost in May.
We’re having a week’s break on the Black Isle, one of our favourite resting spots. It was originally booked a year ago, but due to Covid, we were offered a choice of refund or a year’s postponement. We choose the latter. It’s lovely to be back in this gentle part of the Scottish Highlands.
The other reason for being back in Cromarty is to scout out a possible location for one of our Silent Eye landscape weekends, which we hope to resume, soon. This part of Scotland was host to our ‘Pictish Trail’ workshop, last September and before the recent lockdowns.
Stuart and I will take turns to host the new series of ‘Landscape Workshop’, and other close friends of the School have offered to guest-host others in their areas, such as the sacred wells of the Malvern hills.
This time, I’m looking for something different, something that contrasts the ancient landscape with the harsh results of modern living and its associated technologies. It’s a topical consideration, and Cromarty is a fitting location…
The clash of unchecked technology and sustainable living is a central consideration, given the global warming background to all our lives.
There are few landscapes that bring nature together with the harsh sides of mankind’s struggle for survival and prosperity. Cromarty has both, and I want my mind (and emotions) to work on the potential this location offers.
There’s a conscience here in Cromarty. There’s also a rich seam of intelligence and consciousness. The locals work together to support each other with projects, craft workshops, theatre and books. You can feel that it’s not only peaceful but involved. It’s the kind of mindfulness that is productive and harmonious.
I asked the lady owner of the local bookshop about the contradiction of the presence of the giant rigs, just offshore, She smiled and said, “You just don’t see them after a while. They’re a part of the landscape.”
I think here’s a lesson there, positive and negative.
That sentiment of the ‘changed normal’ was what first made me think of Cromarty as a basis for a weekend, perhaps one that would contrast human ego and human soul; held, necessarily, in balance between the perceived ‘higher and lower’, where the stage for the drama is human nature.
With Sue’s sad death, Stuart and I are examining how we take the Silent Eye forwards, particularly in terms of workshops. The teaching system is well-established and we plan to extend this with online events. Covid under Covid has taught us much, and the powers of ‘Zoom’ to reach across the world and host a virtual discussion, or even short workshop, have been established.
We also feel it’s time to be open to new ideas for the workshops.
The Cromarty weekend would have a residential base in the local B&Bs, but the workshop would be held as a series of walks and talks in the landscape, never far from the contrasts of beautiful loch, mountain and the ever-present giant rigs of Cromarty Firth.
The more I think about it, the more I like it…
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.