Findhorn is the end of the world. At low tide, a mixed colony of grey and common seals bask and sing on the sands of the north shore. Atop a small rise, amongst the dunes and marram grass, stands The Old Shack, windowless and silent. Abandoned, lonely, a brooding sentinel it has become a reassuring presence on my daily walk with the dog. It is almost a friend.
Beneath The Old Shack's black tar paper roof, once white painted planks are faded, chipped and flaked. In the silvery areas of bare wood, dark vertical cracks widen and lengthen with each passing season and rust-red tears weep from old bolts, hinges and nails. Many paths lead through grass and gorse to The Old Shack, only to meander away again, as if in disappointment. For it's door is always closed.
I have photographed The Old Shack from every angle, at most times of the day and in all weathers. I am fascinated by its ordinariness and extremely grateful for it's presence. For this landscape, of beach, sea, dunes, mountains and The Black Isle beyond the firth, is beautiful, often stunning, but so very hard to portray. Whether lending scale to big skies, a focal point in the landscape or as the subject of a graphic close-up, The Old Shack has never disappointed me.
I presume that the shack once had a use. As an ice-cream parlour perhaps, or as a shelter for a deckchair attendant or the keeper of a nearby car park. Now it is as eloquent in disuse and silent solitude as it ever could have been in its employment. And, although I would have liked to photograph it besieged by laughing children, waiting for dripping cones, I am content.
We all did something really stupid when we were young. Some friends and I stole several explosive fog signals from a railway storage shed. Later, in the street outside my house, we tried to set them off by battering them with bricks and sticks. When my mother called me in for tea I left my friends to their hammering. A few minutes later there was a loud explosion. We ran out to find a large crowd of adults ministering to several shocked and burned boys. There were no serious injuries, but two boys were scarred on their arms and hands. The police came and lectured us all, warning that: They would be watching us.
I was very lucky on that occasion, but I went on to do other, equally stupid things - it's all part of the learning curve. So I was not too surprised or too angry to discover one morning that The Old Shack had been vandalised, it's door smashed down; I presume, by some local youths. Upsetting though it was, it gave me my first opportunity to explore inside.
Stepping over the fallen door I entered a warm, dry interior full of the scent of seasoned wood. In one corner marram grass, sickly yellow from lack of light, entering through cracks in the dusty wooden floor somehow grew halfway to the ceiling on spindly stalks. Along the whole length of the long southern wall stood a solid wooden bench and above it three blackened, empty coat hooks clung to the wall.
The floor creaked pleasantly as I moved about snapping pictures with my little digital Nikon and rain began to drum steadily on the roof.
On the northern wall a large window, shuttered from the outside, the glass panes in pieces at my feet, would once have opened to the sea. Under the window a wide wooden shelf or counter gave weight to my suspicion that the Old Shack had been used for the sale of ice cream and sweets. I suddenly began to yearn for a piece of peppermint rock, possibly saying: old shack - end of the world, all the way through the middle.
I sat for a while on the bench gazing out of doorway at a thicket of yacht masts in the distance, pondering The Old Shack's fate. The dog entered and exited several times, torn between the smell of rabbits outside and her morose owner within. I was angry that my Old Shack, for I had begun to think of it as mine, had been injured. I wondered, was this the beginning of the end for The Old Shack, or just a new beginning?
It wasn't long before I had my answer.
Within a week the entire front wall of The Old Shack had disappeared. The remains began to lean, helped I'm sure, by the same local youths who broke down the door. The lean became almost gravity defying and the lopsided angle of the doorway began to resemble the mouth of a figure in pain. For a few weeks The Old Shack seemed to enter a period of limbo, trapped in a grotesque, arthritic crouch. The crouch developed a twist. Pieces of it were going missing, probably for beach fires. One day I found it flipped over, one side caved in and planks missing. Soon after that I came upon it lying in a tired heap.
As I walked up through the dunes one bright morning, camera in hand, I was possibly expecting a pile of cinders. Instead I discovered an Old-Shack-shaped empty earthen space in the grass. The local council had been and cleared away the debris, leaving what appeared to be, an unmarked gravesite. I took a few pictures and stood considering the end of the world without The Old Shack.
On the strand, dust devils danced and the seals continued to sing. Under the influence of light the weather and tides, the dunes, the beach, the sea and the Black Isle are changing constantly. The landscape is changing. Our village has been washed away twice since 1700 and will, no doubt, disappear again this century, along with many others on low-lying land around our coast. The Old Shack is gone. I will miss it and I don't think I'm the only one who will. But The Old Shack was just a small part of a beautiful, dynamic landscape. The landscape and I will survive without it. RIP The Old Shack.