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When the water is calm, the bridge is a point of rest. Almost no one – postman, neighbour, priest, Jehovah’s Witnesses (they come to us regularly, despite every sign that we might be spoken for) – crosses the bridge without stopping in the middle, even for a second and looking up and down stream. There is a sense of boundary there, of moving from one realm into another. Sometimes they’ll pause longer to watch the solitary Muscovy drake (predictably known as Francis) at his elaborate ablutions, which call for wing thrashings and random flights across the surface, surrounded by his own rainbow.

Something else we’ve noticed is that if a van approaches and we run down to greet a courier and grab Amazon parcels of books or treats, he’ll almost always pause hesitantly on the step and come no further, as if our stance at the bridge’s opposite end represents challenge. Or maybe we just look greedy and crazed. Either way, one becomes for a moment a country Horatius.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses keep coming, despite the presence, below the house and just over the bridge, of a lifesize Calvary. The monks left it behind. They claimed it was from a recusant house in Suffolk, just as they claimed the oratory door came from a monastery in France, though whether these places were being decommissioned or were the victims of niche robbery we don’t know. (Round here, quad bikes and chainsaws are the favoured prey.)

The crucifix has the slightly battered look of those routinely encountered by poets and diarists behind the lines in Flanders. There is a slipping pile of pebbles round the base of the cross, placed there each and every time we leave the house for town or beyond. The parish priest acknowledges it with a bobbing nod as he rushes up the path. Others eye it with suspicion.

The Witnesses – either a pair of older men who look like twins but aren’t related, or a pretty black girl with complex braids and elaborately painted nails who comes with her decorator husband, colour-spattered more randomly – seem to find the cross alarming. They chide us for using the ‘wrong’ name of God, but assure us that Jesus came into His kingdom in 1914, which fits the Western Front feel. When we first arrived, we found Watchtowers wedged in four of our doors, as if we were a rural condominium. Or needed salvation more than most.

Columba and the Irish saints landed just a mile or so away, in the year 563, and rested in caves at the foot of the glen where our burn makes a strange, almost right angle curve parallel to the shore before joining the sea with every sign of unwillingness. Sea trout nudge up into the lagoon and can be taken with a fly, or a feather if you’re lucky.

The Antrim coast is only twelve miles away, but Columba sailed from near Derry, passing Rathlin Island before making the final crossing in his wicker curragh. His footprints – ‘improved’ by a Victorian stonemason, and misdated by a year – are on a pulpit-shaped rock that stands over the caves. It’s thought to be a coronation stone of some kind, though the association with

Columba gains little as a result, for Columba later anointed Áedán mac Gabráin as first king of Dalriada, the first British monarch to be so sanctified and the beginning of an unbroken line to James VI/I. Whatever drove Columba from Ireland – disgrace, exile for complicity in war, missionary zeal – he would not remain within sight of his native land but moved away and away until Rathlin disappeared below the horizon. For me, it’s the opposite. This is as close as I now choose to come to my ancestral coast. On muggy, lensing days before rain, it comes near enough almost to touch. A day later, it has vanished utterly, smoothed away by sea mist. I like them equally and need them both.

It’s pleasing to imagine Columba and his party making their early way toward Iona through our glen. A polished porcellanite axehead, definitely of Irish manufacture, was found on the hill just above the house, when foresters were trenching for trees. But overland travel is a modern aberration in the West of Scotland. The coastline of Argyll is longer than the coastline of France, and it can take three hours to drive to a place that could be rowed to in twenty minutes. It’s likely that the saints explored the hinterland and that some settled there. The frequency of ‘Kil-’ prefixes attests to the presence of monastic cells. Celtic Christianity overlaid older beliefs and practices. In one direction from the house is a standing stone, though strictly now ‘recumbent’ after the farmer skittled it over with his tractor. He has had no luck since. A mile in the other is a chambered cairn, now almost swallowed by forestry, for this is, when all is said and done, an industrial rather than a bucolic landscape, soft timber its only manufacture.

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The forestry is, if not biologically dead, then certainly close to it. Penetrate deep enough and light and sound are excluded. There are cup-and-ring marked stones, if you know where to find them without GPS. Deer move nervously away and we sometimes disturb a fox or early-rising/late-rising badger. Crossbills tolerate the very treetops where there are cones to open with their Swiss Army beaks. The local eagles avoid the trees, preferring the high tops without cover or sometimes a felled area where unwary roe deer fawns might be available. Hen harriers also have a stronghold here, mainly because there are no shooting estates, and thus no gamekeepers. The ghostly males or ‘blues’ make stealthy passes over the fields and clear-fell in the morning and at dusk; the females and juveniles, ‘ringtails’ collectively, are regularly sighted, too.

Our familiar bird is less impressive but more confiding. In the Boke of Seynt Albans the merlin is said to be a meet hunting bird for a lady. Ours is a flirt. It sits on the handrail of the bridge until either a camera lens appears at a window or a door opens. But it only flies away a little and sits and watches the chaffinches that come down to pick at any leftover hen food. It makes occasional dashes for them, but enjoys fewer success than the local sparrowhawk, who’s rarely seen as anything but a blur. Where he relies on speed, the merlin has gone for subterfuge instead. As it closes on a finch, it alters its wingbeats to look like a harmless mistle thrush. We’ve never seen the ruse actually work, but it clearly isn’t starving.

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