Stilled life with moving trees. I arrived during a week of gales. The Cairngorms are windy at the best of times, yet I’m accustomed to being on the brittle granite plateau where the combination of altitude and the persistence of the wind creates a sub arctic landscape, a place where plants hug the land tightly. However because of the wind’s excessive force and unpredictable cloud level, the snow covered plateau became, in essence, out of bounds.
I found myself walking in the lower areas of the Cairngorms, along the passes, up into the more modest hills adjacent to the plateau, to hidden lochans, and into the forests – Inshriach and Rothiemurchus, generally less familiar territory for me since I usually seek out high places.
The trees became the most dominant part of my experience. Sat in an elevated hollow, surrounded by a wood of silver birch interspersed with dwarf juniper, the bothy is quite protected and sheltered. Unless you know it’s there, or happen to walk close along the trail, you’d probably be oblivious to its very existence. I spent a good deal of time watching the trees and their movement, and listening to their sound, mixed in with the white noise of the River Spey which flowed in spate and flood nearby.
I came with a loose idea of some work I could make, thinking that a plan would be wise, but soon abandoned it, and learned to leave preconceived notions well alone, and simply be with the place. Nan Shepherd’s short text, the living mountain guided me well in this sense, (and, struck by it’s notable absence on the bothy’s bookshelves, I popped out to Aviemore to buy a copy to leave as a gift).
The work didn’t come, but the time to think, and reassess aspects of my life and practice did, and I felt the repercussions of the trip perhaps more clearly once I returned home. I needed the time away, the space to be undisturbed by modern distractions such as the compulsion to check email. Technology has become particularly invasive and guilty of imposing a syncopated rhythm to lives that could be led more simply.
As someone who has always loved solitude, I don’t think I’d appreciated how difficult complete solitude really is however, (thank goodness for a battery powered radio playing Radio 4!). Inshriach can be a quiet place, but on reading the bothy book, it’s clear that for most people, residencies here are anything but solitary, and spur on collaboration.
But the motion of walking is an antidote to too much solitary sitting and thinking, and a journey to the Lochan Uaine, an outrageously bright green lochan nestled amongst the Caledonian pine trees of the Ryvoan Pass, became like a visit to an old, dear friend. Onwards to Ryvoan, and some shelter from the wind for lunch, I made a spur of the moment decision to climb Meall a’ Bhuachaille, and despite ferocious winds which made standing near the summit difficult, the addictive lure of a vista, of expansiveness, and of physical exertion made it worth while.
Back in the environs of the bothy, life settles into a regular rhythm.
Wake up, go to the loo (a composting loo a hundred yards from the bothy), light wood stove, place large urn of water on stove to heat, go back to bed and read or listen to radio until bothy warms up, put the kettle on the trangia (I cheated and cooked on a combination of the wood stove and my trusty Trangia 27), have breakfast, shower (deliciously) outside with the water previously heated on the stove, dress, collect wood from the bottom of the hill in rucksack, re-fill the tea urn with water from the Spey, rest of day is for leisure – reading, writing, drawing, walking, eating,.. At nightfall, light candles, last wood on the stove at 6pm(ish) so that the bed platform isn’t too warm later, retire to bed around 9 or 10, …etc.
On my last morning, I wake up to snow, the landscape again transformed. After a hot outdoor shower, with the snow still falling, I pack my things, then make the couple of trips back to the car parked almost a mile down the trail, food supplies diminished, and my load lighter than when I arrived. The weight of the city had also been lifted, and I’m reminded (if I ever really need such a thing) that part of me needs to be in the wild. I anticipate being reunited with my 3 year old son, so the departure isn’t unwelcome in the way it would have been years ago, but the bothy, a perfectly formed small space packed with all the essentials for good living, sends me on my way, nourished, and replete.