Start as you mean to go on

I was lucky enough this year to get up to the Highlands between Christmas and New Year for a few days of serious walking. Mark and I have been talking for some months now about how we want to get in better shape and about how happy walking actually makes us. I have also been finding that walking is really conducive to active listening and creative thinking, and I want to do an awful lot more of it. We decided to kickstart 2009 with some gourmet walking in the days coming up to New Year. By Gourmet, I mean three-course-walks in 5 star settings like this:

Nothing could have prepared me for the majestic beauty of Glencoe and the area around the wondrous Bridge of Orchy Hotel where we stayed. The landscape is so massive and dramatic that it is impossible not to be awed and inspired just by being in it. We had lovely, clear, icy weather with bitterly cold winds and the sun hanging pale and low in the sky. On the first day, we climbed Ben Dorian and thus bagged our first Munro. The last few stretches of the climb were a bit hairy as what little path existed towards the summit was covered in lethally smooth sheets of solid ice, and cloud was covering everything but the 2 or 3 metres immediately adjacent to us. We tried skimming stones across the frozen lake to see if they would make the excellent ice-skimming noise previously discussed here, but the ice was far too hard and our stones merely thudded as if tossed onto concrete.

Ben Dorian.

Frozen solid lake on Ben Dorian.

On the second day of walking we attempted to take this appealing circular route around Glen Etive, but we overshot and ended up about a mile and a half on from the intended start of our walk. Cutting our losses, we surveyed our OS map and decided to investigate the by now much nearer Lost Valley. The result of one glacier interrupting another one in its flow, the Lost Valley is like a valley within a valley. At the top of a steep climb beside a waterfall, you reach a second valley. People much fitter than us actually walk up to the top of the snowy peaks that preside over this second valley, but we were happy to enjoy our view of the Lost Valley Buttress from the relative safety of the ground, knowing we had only one – and not two – steep descents to make before darkness fell.

The second valley is hidden between the top of the visible valley and the snowy peaks towards the back of the photo.

On the (long!) way back to the car, we were delighted to discover this lovely Cairn.

On the third day we decided to re-attempt the circular Glen Etive walk again and this time we found the right paths to take. The circular walk was breathtaking. At 11am we found ourselves in a valley bathed in golden light and unbelievably peaceful. We could hear walkers over 600m away talking because the air was utterly still and most of the streams were either out of earshot or frozen silent. It was very beautiful to be there in such quiet, in such light. This is where we had our morning tea:

The golden light on the frozen ground was stunning.

Later on the walk we saw deer grazing on the hillside, far away from us. And then when we got back to the car at around 2.30pm we drove home in time for an overnight stay in Reading and then to Weymouth for New Year festivities with Mark’s family. You can hear the first moment of 2009 in Wyke Square, where we were at midnight, here.

The Highlands already feel very far away; very far away and very beautiful. I loved falling asleep at night with my mind absolutely full of impressions of the landscape… of lichens and algaes and icicles and rocks and stones and skies and trees and deers and clouds and creatures and frost and grass and water. I loved rising in the dark before our walks and falling asleep with a genuinely tired body. I loved experiencing the remote quietness of the places that we visited.

My main New Year’s resolution is to have more of these things.

Happy New Year to you all; I hope for you the New Year and Christmas were also full of joy.

5 Responses to Start as you mean to go on

  1. Stephanella says:

    Magnificent settings. I absolutely love winter walks and feel totally inspired to visit Scotland these days. I don’t live that far from it (Cheshire), but organising the whole family of guy and dogs never is easy. I love your blog and visit it often. It is one of the most interesting (if not *the* most interesting) out there. I’ve started toying with the record settings on my phone in order to start sound hunting. My PhD is not so creative (cultural studies, horror, literature, super-heroes), but your posts have inspired me to start a new sort of diary. Happy new year; I hope all goes well!


  2. lara says:

    That looks amazing – truly inspiring. The walking looks very good for post-Christmas pick me up. Look forward to reading more of your walking adventures in 2009.

  3. Moggle says:

    Wow, what gorgeous photos. I’m glad you had such a good time.

  4. caro says:

    what gorgeous photos!

  5. Pingback: The Domestic Soundscape » Blog Archive » The West Highland Way

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