The storm battered the small Hebridean port. The wind howled down from the moody cloud-clad mountains, and swept great gusts of rain through the village, bending any unfortunate soul trying to reach shelter.
No camping or cycling was possible in these gales. We sat it out in a bunkhouse in the small port, drinking whisky and swapping tales while the storm raged outside, just like the old Gaels in smoky crofting cottages and black houses.
The bunkhouse was quirky, bright and cheerful. Further down the road was a house that anything but. It stood abandoned, its concrete streaked with dirty grey, windows open to the elements. Sheep wandered in and out of the garden, using the walls and house as shelter from the wind.
The rear of the house was poor condition. Water sluiced down the walls and through a semi-collapsed roof. The floor was waterlogged and spongy with rotting detritus. Wall paper peeled away, carpets squidgy with mold and mud, plaster disintegrated. I began to feel uneasy in the sitting room and it was not just down to the wind sighing with despair through the windows. The sites I had previously explored were impersonal in their abandoned nature – factories, churches, warehouses and tunnels. This place was once someone’s home. I was intruding on something personal, intimate and domestic. In the sitting room there was a desk with a view over the hills. On the desk there were cash receipts, a bowl of pennies, newspapers and books. Someone’s boots stood neatly by a stove. Who was the child in the picture on the mantelpiece?
My unease increased as I walked through the rooms. The atmosphere was of the aftermath of a catastrophe that exploded and whose winds forever scattered the occupants. Drawers violently pulled open still full of clothes. A belt coiled on the dresser’ lying next to a hairbrush. A suitcase packed and then flung open, its content scattered across the floor including personal documents and hand-written letters. My unease turned to fear. Something seemed to crouch just beyond the corner of my eye.
I walked up the stairs and shock coursed through me. There on the railing of the stairs were some clothes, washed, neatly hung, fairly new. Someone is still here. A creature left behind, waiting for those who long fled to return. But nothing could live here in this inhabitable place. And yet…
I gathered myself and explored the final rooms. Everytime I turned a corner I expected to see something crouching in the corner, weeping and watching me through its fingers. Instead there were beds with burnt mattresses heaped with possessions that were once bought and collected by someone. There were shaving razors, soaps and toothbrushes on the sink and a load of clothes in the bath. The bathroom, the house, was full of questions. Why were there so many empty detergent bottles lying around? Who did fold those clothes so neatly on the banisters? A newspaper lay on the floor dated March 2008. Had many people entered the house since then, turning through its possessions, pilfering, burning? The denim and clothes seemed relatively new and ironed, yet parts of the house were open to the terrible weather and uninhabitable.
The Hebrides are scattered with houses and crofting cottages that may be abandoned due to certain circumstances, but still hold strong emotional ties with their owners, often to the point where they cannot bear to sell-up and will still visit on annual pilgrimages. I wondered if the owners of this house ever returned, or if indeed there were actually no questions to be answered, just a mind spooked by clothes, solitude and the wind?
I stepped back out and staggered through gales and rain.
Time to leave the house, join the others and travel north to the mountains.
The trouble was the house did not leave me…