I hadn’t done much research, merely knowing the place name. I first had the notion to pay it a visit in 1990, cycling around the Highlands, but didn’t know the place name then. Today, with C off doing some of his munros, I thought I would pop over and pay my respects, see what the attraction of the place was.
Armed with a 1:25,000 OS map I parked up at the forestry track, seeing the place name on a discrete sign. A sign – as it turned out – to be the only one showing the way. Somehow it felt apt.
By the 1970s the otter population in most of the United Kingdom was in free-fall – while numbers in some Scottish counties remained healthy, for many counties in England and Wales the otter population appeared to be nil  Zero. A void. Back in the 1950s otter hunts (think fox hunting but with a different prey) were in decline, the people who led and participated in these hunts seeing for themselves the steep fall in numbers. Ultimately, at their own request, otter hunting was banned. Still the numbers declined. Later, science showed much of the problem was down to the pesticide chemicals running off the land.
Somehow the story of the otters’ fate gained the public’s attention. “Tarka The Otter” was a firm childhood favourite amongst several generations of readers. However in the 1960s a series of books were published that portrayed the otter as a wilder creature, as wild and lonely as the landscape it inhabited, in this case the islands and coastline of the west highlands of Scotland. Gavin Maxwell’s book “Ring of Bright Water” is by some nature conservationists credited as playing a key role in building public opinion, and public support, in favour of saving the otter from extinction……
A series of bends in the forestry track obscured any view of the sea, and after several junctions I got to a point just above the bay. Getting down to it was a different matter. And then I remembered C saying he had been told of a path down by the burn through the woods. After a bit of searching I found it. Scots Pine mingled with birch, gave way to bog myrtle and ferns and brambles. Finally, within twenty feet of the shoreline, I broke off the path onto the coast, the path having wended its way in a wonderful, seemingly pointless fashion down the hill. Again, the way this way had been hidden felt apt, it felt just right.
The first impression was of silence and light. No gull noise, no traffic noise, simply the poppling of the sea’s fringes. And the light. The near-white foreshore reflected light, contrasted the colours it framed, of the blue sea, the grey and black rocks, the green distant islands and mountains. I found a dry rock and sat down, soaking up the silence, alert and searching. Would I see an otter?
Time passed. A seal popped its head above the water’s surface, swimming safely some distance offshore. I moved on, exploring the small bays, crossing a low isthmus to an island, marvelling at the peacefulness, thinking what a fantastic landscape it would be for otters. Soon it was time to move on, the tide had turned and the island was soon to become an island once more, cutting me off from the mainland.
Later, after lunch, I explored some more. Saw the rundown cottage, discovered a well-trod path – signs of more traffic than this morning’s route, then the large rock denoting the final resting place of Gavin Maxwell, placed it is said on the part of the ruined house where his desk once stood. Today there is no sign of a desk here, of a house, of humans once living here. What remains are the open sea, the enclosed bays, the sparkling foreshore and a hint that this is otter land.
Ring of Bright Water tells of the taming and nurturing of Edal, Gavin Maxwell’s first otter, and the trials of living in such a remote location. The author chose to call the place in his book Camusfearna, so as not to encourage tourists, disturbing the peacefulness. After all, it is in such quiet lands that otters may be found. And it gladdened me to see the place still so well left alone, no cafe or hide or interpretative panel. Simply the landscape and seascape speaking for itself.
Today, the restoration of the otter is complete. In 2011 a survey found two otters living in the county of Kent, the final county of the United Kingdom to see a return of lutra lutra. Banning otter hunts, certain pesticides, together with improvements in water quality of rivers have all played large parts in what is one of the earliest examples of successful British conservation. And of course the otters themselves, in their own quiet and secretive ways have rediscovered rivers and burns, lochs and lakes, coastlines and islands, themselves. A fitting tribute indeed to a protector and writer of otters.
 Biological Journal of the Linneun Society ( 1989), 38: 61 -69 The changing otter population of Britain 1700-1989 D. J. JEFFERIES