Six Hundred Miles in Search of a Sea Eagle

This is a short journal using drawing and text to document a week’s trip from London up to the Isle of Mull, in order to see the extraordinary sea eagle. Perhaps we’ll see golden eagle, otters and minke whale, too.

Here we are, then. An Englishman, an Irishwoman and a Scots boy, in a car. Plus a terrier.

On the drive up north the husband talks of an autumn spent in Dorset, when starlings would gather over Dorchester to roost, swirling about like a shoal of fish and making a right old racket.

Boy squirms in the back seat. Dog views boy with suspicion.

Leaving late-ish from London, no way would we get up there in one go, so our stop off is in Lockerbie.

In the morning, the husband comes back from his run with the dog and swears he’s just seen a goshawk in the woods.

A goshawk? What? Just like that? I mean, come on.

Take the low road past Loch Lomond. Later along Glencoe. My first time. Stupendous.

The sun streams down golden slopes onto a lost world. Across on the island, there are deer on the mountainside. Stay in a log cabin at the top of Tobermory, timber mobile home. Streets full of kids on location of a favourite TV show.

On his cabin patio a neighbour serenades the gloaming with bagpipes. In a kilt.

Off for the sea eagle. Turned out more like a fishing trip of old, hang around all day in the rain with nothing much going on.

Wet sheep.

Finally, a mile away, across a bay, the man in the Landrover spots a very young one sat on the stump of a rotten fencepost. I couldn’t make it out. Anyway, it never moved an inch, he said. Hmm.

Later, our kilted neighbour pipes under the fading sky again.

No otters, either. Not one all week, it turns out. Classic hang outs, shoreline, rocks, seaweed, gloom, but not otterly enough, says the man in the Landrover, about a hundred times. ‘Otterly botterly’, says the boy. ‘I can't believe it's not otter’, adds the husband. The dog remains silent.

In a passing-place on a single track road, the man in the Landrover doles out excellent home-made vegetable soup.

At dusk, the kilted neighbour persists with his reedy harbinger of night.

Husband and son spend day doing the Quest of Mull, an island-wide treasure hunt, which means visiting lots of attractions. Their sort of thing.

On the way back, over the water, they see by chance a big sea eagle close up. I was out shopping because I was hacked off with it all. Hmm. Came to imagine what they saw instead.

There’s a book about tartans in the log cabin. This evening I tried to work out the piper’s clan from the pattern of his kilt. Way too dim.

We go to a castle, HQ of all the Macleans in the world. Boy's surname was Mclean, middle name still is Mclean. Upon admission, he actually gets to record his visit in an exclusive guest book kept in a secret drawer at the entrance, just because he belongs. Precisely because he belongs.

Two golden eagles. The first one is a speck on the horizon above a mountain two miles away. Then another speck an hour later in the other direction.

Boy declares he must be called Mclean for rest of trip.

Returned to try and see that young sea eagle again, hopefully to scout for the nest, maybe see the parents. Invisible in the cloud and drizzle. Ah, well.

Towards evening, our kilted neighbour cranks up the old drone once more. Perhaps he’s not Scottish at all.

Minke whales today. Maybe dolphins, too. A Hebridean sea glistens under sunlight from the Point of Ardnamurchan.

No minke showing, though. Or dolphins. Guess these things don't just come when you call them. The dog looks sheepish.

‘What's the point of Ardnamurchan?’ asks Mclean.

A Danish teenager cycling too fast skids in grit on the road out to the lighthouse, messes up her face, breaks her nose and front teeth, blood everywhere. We get her to a hotel, where they phone 999.

Went to play with the dog on Sanna Sands. On the way back two hours later, we see the ambulance just arriving from Fort William.

No pipes tonight.

We’re leaving. Behind the pub on the harbour, there’s a burn with a bridge, where, as I finish the postcards, I spot a little dipper.

I report this when I get back to my family at the ferry office. Husband has never seen one before. He races over there. It’s gone.

One-nil, then. Well, one-all, I suppose.

On the Sound of Mull the small birds race the ferry.

It would still be great to see the big one right overhead, wheeling off to look for fish.

Another year, then.

Rosemarie McGoldrick - home

Mutoscope by Rosemarie McGoldrick

Biography of Rosemarie McGoldrick

Contact Rosemarie McGoldrick

Rosemarie McGoldrick on re-title

Rosemarie McGoldrick on AXIS