Articles and non-fiction
In summer 2012 Earthlines published my short piece on landscapes and longing called Taker of my Breath. Jay Griffiths said of Earthlines, 'It is a deeply intelligent publication, sensitive to nature and culture...'
The Guardian 1st August 2007
As a result of an increasing disillusionment with working in the public sector I wrote an article outlining the difficulties of providing care to vulnerable people in an affluent Western society. To read the article please click here.
And a year later I resigned! I wrote another article detailing the reasons for my resignation and the profoundly damaging effects of budget cuts in social services. To read the article please click here.
In 1990 I was living in London and working in a hostel for homeless men. I wrote this piece having heard, some years later, of the death of one of the residents. To read this article please click here.
I wrote this in a (perhaps at times misplaced) frenzy of angry nationalism. The incidents are true but with hindsight the interpretation I offer is less complex than the situation warrents. To read this article click here.
This story - on page 11 in the link above - was written as a submission to the 2007 Wild Writing competition run by the John Muir Trust in conjunction with the Fort William Mountain Festival. Judges were Margaret Elphinstone and Jim Perrin, the piece was awarded a prize and I dedicate it to my niece Franny. The text of this piece can be read by scrolling down:
THE EXPLORER’S GUIDE TO GEODHA MEIRIL
by ALISON NAPIER
THE FADING, LICHEN-COVERED, and admittedly half-hearted ‘No Unauthorised Access’ sign nailed to the gate was begging us to ignore it. So we did. ‘What does “un-otherised”mean?’ asks my companion, a voracious reader. A good question. I will never lose my fear of involuntary trespass so I walk briskly, but, I suspect, guiltily, until we are round the first corner and out of sight of both the road and the ‘big house’. My companion is eight year old Franny and she has no such anxieties. We are off to see the seals at Whiten Head and she has packed her new and ‘to be grown into’ rucksack with seal-spotting equipment. This consists of her small but effective binoculars, a bottle of Lucozade, four egg and tomato sandwiches, a Cadbury’s crème egg, an apple, twelve (counted by her mother) Pringles and her doll Kirsty, also eight but less intact. Other than a Kirsty and some water for health my own pack is worryingly similar.
We stride on, River Hope surging seawards on our left. We are on a land-rover track. Franny leaps down to the river’s edge to measure herself against the salmon-fishers’ rod stand, and then darts along their narrow path, as swift and colourful as a kingfisher in her multi-striped scarf. She has already covered twice as much ground as I. The track rises and falls and the river opens its arms to embrace the sea. Ahead of us the incoming
tide from the Arctic collides with the unstoppable river in an orchestral clash of cymbals, throwing shimmering rainbow sprays up into the icy blues of the skies and seas.
And Hope springs eternal.
It is nearly time to leave the land-rover track which is now doubling back on itself in the interests of fishing but not before we reach the ice house that pokes its head out of the hillside. Franny races inside fearlessly, Kirsty peeping anxiously from a side pocket of the rucksack, and I hover at the entrance, already smelling dampness and decomposing animal matter and wondering how many diseases a child can catch simultaneously.
‘It’s cool! Can we have our picnic here?’ I remind her that we are joining the seals for lunch and we agree to perhaps take afternoon tea in the icehouse instead. And so we pick our way across a stream and find the footpath through the woods for the next stage of our journey.
Franny leaps ahead, skipping and dancing her way through the sunlit tunnel of overhanging rowans and silver birches, stopping only to collect treasures or to balance her way over the rivulets that cross our path. It is only a few hundred yards long, this part of the walk, but it is a magical and secret world, the sea is sparkling mica glimpsed through the golden and ruby autumn colours, the rush of the river and the roar of the tide.
Too soon we emerge again into waist-high bracken, head-high if you are eight, and after acknowledging the bothy at Inverhope we edge down a steep sheep-track to the shore. From here I can see the line of our next route
at the end of the beach heading back uphill and tempting as it is to simply sit down on a huge bleached beached log to watch the oyster-catchers and gulls scuttling backwards and forwards on the sand we have seals to meet. Franny, who has mercifully not yet attended a time-management seminar sits anyway and tugs her binoculars from her pack. ‘Look! Look, see the penguins!’ I look, already knowing that life has few such perfect moments. I explain reluctantly that the penguins perched like gowned pedagogues on a rocky outcrop are in fact cormorants but that they are surely related.
We break into the Pringles to celebrate, ceremonially leaving one (of mine) as an offering. Simple rituals such as this my atheism leaves mercifully unchallenged. After many minutes we set off again, and at the end of the beach I locate our next path, barely worthy of the name, a parting of the heather, a dark, springy route that climbs high above the beach and leads us to the seals. Far far ahead I can see Whiten Head, many miles beyond our destination today. Contentment today will be following this tentative little track as it climbs and dips, vanishes on a vast expanse of rock and reappears in the distance, worn down like cathedral steps by two centuries of cheviots and the boots of intrepid seal spotters.
Suddenly I hear them, those eerily mournful yet magnificent moans and callings, echoing and re-echoing around their vaulted chamber, an unworldly sound that ricochets and reverberates down through the ages while tugging us forward like the lure of the sirens. We are utterly alone in this landscape of empty moors and pounding seas, and the sound of the seals mingles with the crashing crescendo of the waves against the rocks beneath us. ‘Are we there?’ whispers my companion, still and watchful now. I take her hand and we creep along the thin path until it widens into a natural peat-covered ledge high high above the tiny bay. Silently, holding our breath, we find our binoculars and scan the world below. Dozens of grey seals, females and pups, flopped on the shingle, nestled up against the cliff, or sheltering at the entrances to miniature caves, are spread out a hundred feet below us. Others, perhaps the males, are resting on the off-shore rocks and being washed by the tide.
I have visited this spot many autumns in succession and it never loses its mystery. To have stumbled upon a lost civilisation would not inspire greater awe. And the seals call and the gulls circle, we are border-dwellers between land and sea, and Franny simply gazes and gazes in wonder.
We stayed for almost an hour, though many more would have passed unnoticed, and we ate our lunch. We spoke in whispers and often did not watch the bay at all, instead lying back in the deep heather, arms and legs outstretched like two St Andrew’s Crosses. We moulded into the soft peaty ground and the heather wrapped us in its rough tweedy blanket. We stared up at the clouds as they drifted by, cumuli the shapes of seals and
sailors and ships, of rocks and waves and caves, drifting wisps of weed and weather.
There is no offering magnificent enough for this occasion I think but as if reading my thoughts my companion asks if she can leave her apple core. For the seals and the clouds and the cormorants. Of course, I reply, of course.
I would leave them my world and everything I own and it would never be enough.
‘The Explorer’s Guide to Geodha Meiril’ won second place in the ‘Wild Journeys Wild Places’ writing competition held by the Trust as part of the Fort William Mountain Festival 2007.