The Pot of Gold

Pamella Laird

© Copyright 2022 by Pamella Laird

Photo courtesy of Pexels.
 Photo courtesy of Pexels.

Myths and legends about rainbows promise strange things. It matters not, where in the world we are, we gaze in wonder at the colours arcing between earth and sky. What do they mean, what causes this magnificent spectacle? Is it really a sign from God that never again will the world be flooded?

This rainbow story enchanted my friend and me when we stumbled upon a Scottish glen over sixty years ago. After working for two years in London hospitals, we as two New Zealand nurses, decided to cycle around Scotland and England as an excellent way of ventilating our smoggy lungs. It seemed an inexpensive way of achieving ongoing doses of fresh air while we enjoyed the scenery. And, as it turned out, an excellent way to meet the locals.

An enriching Edinburgh Festival behind us, we bought bicycles on the Golden Mile and when the shop-man heard what we had in mind, he thoroughly checked every working part. He also added free of charge, Dynamo lamps for our night riding and little kits for punctures! I used mine three times while my friend achieved a flat-tyre-free holiday. In the end we covered a over 1500 miles from Edinburgh north, back to London in a little over two months.

At last, properly kitted out with canvas carrier bags (and no gears), we ferried over the Forth Bridge, then rode over a number surprisingly beautiful mornings, on to Aberdeen, Inverness, and so across the North West Highlands.

Here, the country road wove through low-growing heather that we realised had intricate little streams running beneath the foliage. It was a delight when we stopped for a packed lunch to listen to the babbling but unseen waters. After an unexpectedly long day we eventually arrived at Ullapool. This was a charming, unspoiled fishing village where we found friendly, helpful Scots and memorably delicious fresh fish and chips.

After enjoying the hospitality of the local Youth Hostel for three days, on our last night, a close study of our map prompted us in the morning, to hire the local ferryman with his open clinker boat. By crossing the mouth of the Loch, this would eliminate a thirty-mile bike ride far inland, around Loch Broome on to the Wester-Ross Road. It seemed a good idea at the time and the ferryman made no comment one way or the other at what we were shortly to encounter.

The relatively smooth trip across the salt-water inlet was veiled in drizzle so that eventually, a glance onshore showed only a rocky headland. Above us through persistent mist, we glimpsed from time to time, a mind-bending track winding through low-lying scrubby bushes all the way to the top. Our ferry-man jovially unloaded our cycles and packs onto a shingle beach and with a hearty wave, headed for home.

After minor adjustments to our packs etc., we had no option but to climb the mountain-goat track eventually having to grasp the front wheel to drag our trusty steeds behind us. The track was part-rock, part-clay and rose steeply into a zig-zag climb. That haul took us over two hours; until finally the sun broke through and from the summit, the view that lay before us was breathtaking.

Dizzy with ozone and near-exhaustion, we stood charmed by the pinks and ochres of the Ullapool’s fisher-folk’s homes alongside the wharf. On the other side, lay the green and red trawlers secured to the dock we had left earlier in the day. We finally glanced at our watches; more than time to move on. Following the road winding west down into the glen, we watched mist in the valley creep among the willows on the road, curl and cling to conifer-tops before dissolving like sherbet on a hot spoon. Below lay a perfect vale of baize-green silver birches, shimmering hawthorn, and a fairy-tale stone bridge. Brigadoon?

In the foreground, a rainbow hung, so clear it might have been painted onto the remaining mist. It arched over our intended road, a ‘corduroy’ path of logs through one peaty marsh and on to the next. While our cycles rattled and clanked down and across the unstable road to the valley floor, the perfect bow above us never moved. No matter how we twisted and turned, the ribbon of colours seemed to grow brighter until our end of the rainbow lay in a perfect circle to the left ahead of us, on the waters of an inland lagoon.

Eventually, beside the water where the colours formed a ring, it took only seconds for me to drop my bicycle, roll up my shorts and start wading. My companion watched in bewilderment, ‘What on earth are you doing?’

I called, “I’m going to find that pot of gold. This is a story for my future grand-children. Tell me when I reach the end of the rainbow.’ At each step my feet sank deeper into boggy mud until the brackish water reached my shorts.

Before long my friend called, ‘Stop!’ I turned to look back. Streamers of colour bathed me in intense colour illuminations while red, orange, yellow, green, bIue, indigo and violet rippled in a complete circle around my legs for as far out as I could reach. I groped with one foot in a wide circle through the sludge that bubbled up in peaty swirls. No pot! No gold!

The sun dipped behind a cloud and the water in the ‘mountain’ tarn clamped like bands of ice around my thighs. Time to get on to land; my feet slipped through the mud back to my disbelieving friend, both of us impatient to pedal on and warm up.

No one has ever explained why the rainbow remained stationary no matter how often we changed course. And where, when I finally reached the end of this enchanted arc, was the pot of gold that had been waiting for aeons for a seeker to claim? Had a plunderer intent on loot from the perfect world of Brigadoon found this magic cache ahead of me?

James of Scotland saw no mystery. He said, ‘You ought to know after fifty years of married life, that I’m your pot of gold!’

My six grandchildren love this story.

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