AIt seems like midwinter madness, to take a canoe to a Highland Loch in the darkest, coldest hour of the year. We came here to celebrate the summer solstice so it makes sense to return. We are the Swallow and we are ready for adventure. The moon is full, but muted and veiled by thick mist. The black water turns into grey cloud as we move across the loch. All the familiar landmarks along the shore dissolve as the grey cloud fades without seam. The silence is broken by the creak of boats and the slaps of paddles until the unseeable geese become startled. Their rising hullabaloo explodes in a storm of wingbeats until they circle above, splashing until finally they settle down again, their squawks fade.
We set out for the dark island, feeling like Dawn Treader on a brink of nightmares. After that, we judder along a skirt made of ice, which cracks and splinters underneath us. Now we are Endurance at the end of the earth. After mooring our vessel on the frosted shore we move to a clearing at foot of giant beeches. We sweep away leaves and create a circle of turf to make a fire. Flasks appear, hot custard on cakes, and mugs with hot chocolate.
We make our beds in bivy bags, and I spend hours trussing ourselves in ever more layers, down, and discomfort. My body is becoming colder. On this longest winter night, I feel as if the moon has filled the fog with a strange light.
It is now morning, and it is time to get up and move. Clearing camp, we find hair ice pluming from a broken branch, shiny white, and soft to the touch. We leave the forbidden islandle after an owl lets loose a wild, demonic shriek deep in the trees.
The canoe first scrapes across the newly-frozen ice ring, before breaking through into water that is the colour of mercury. The reed beds, which are furred with hoarfrost, crackle as we pass. Clouds hover around, hiding horizons, obscuring forest and land, blurring borders. We slip back to civilisation quietly, fugitives in another world.