The river paths are a bit neglected these days; wooden bridges hang by a thread, fallen trees need to be scaled and the bracken and heather have started to encroach. But I’m drawn to that sense of decay, the knowledge that they’re slowly being reclaimed by nature.
There are no barriers, no signs, no people; just generations of history and memories.
I’ve traded superfast Wi-Fi and a reliable phone signal for a log fire, candles and a cottage door that opens onto a Highland beach.
On my first night here I fell asleep convinced that through the bed, the floor, the foundations and the sand I could feel the vibration of the waves on the shore just a hundred yards away. On a wild day I will certainly hear them smashing against the pier.
I know the tide times now; I know when to walk so the rock pools and seaweed will be uncovered. My mind and body are becoming attuned to signals that are natural rather than electronic. No bleeps.
It’s getting dark early at night and it’s quiet; I hear nothing through the thick old walls of this fisherman’s cottage so for the first time in months I slept beyond 6.30am today. And 7.30.
At 8.30 I woke slowly to tranquility I haven’t experienced for years. Is this the return of a natural body clock that isn’t disrupted by the reflex rush to check gmail, Facebook or Whatsapp before breakfast? For the next few months there will be no wakening up to read the BBC news or regular bloggers over a cup of tea. No more crumbs of toast in the keyboard.
For two days now I’ve been writing without distractions and I’m sitting tonight down by the hearth with candles burning. No music. No radio. Just the crackle of the logs and the smell of wood.
It’s what I wanted, but going cold turkey and withdrawing to a life without instant access to knowledge, friends, research and trivia is confirming just how many waking hours I’m wasting by clicking and mindlessly browsing. Random notions to price international flights I’ll never catch have to be dismissed. But will that mean I read more or write better? I guess I’ll find out.
It’s still too early for a full hibernation so in the morning I’ll walk to the library to send emails and this update and by the time you read it I’ll have returned to Internet exile. Temporarily.
But if I no longer inhabit a virtual world do friends and readers still exist? If I can’t see you, can you still see me?
I’m just wondering.
It’s one of my favourite places on earth.
The walk towards Mount Aspiring starts after 25 bone-shaking (well, in a 35 year old camper) miles up the glen from Wanaka in South Island, New Zealand. I’ve been thinking about it today with the ice still clinging to the high slopes as the first snow falls in Scotland. It’s not what I’m supposed to be thinking about, of course, but
the memories are inspiring and will lead to great things tomorrow. Maybe.
The Maōri called it Titea, which means Glistening Peak and at 3033m high it’s well beyond my vertigo tolerance or walking capabilities. But not those of Major Bernard Head, a Welsh soldier who died, like so many others, at Gallipoli a few years after being the first to climb the mountain just over 100 years ago.
There’s a plaque to his honour in the Aspiring Hut where we dried off and slept last November after the glorious but squally walk up the glen. I’ve just watched some modern videos of the mountain and discovered that many climbers now hitch a lift in a helicopter up to the last couple of steep faces, yet it’s still a stunning achievement to reach the summit. Major Head and his companions must have been hardy men.
The view from my “bed” on waking up in the Aspiring Hut has to be one of the best ever and only matched by unzipping a tent flap and peering out at lochs and hills in the wilds of Scotland. And I’ve only ever walked a couple of hours towards the mountain but I want to return and explore further up the valley past the waterfalls that create Arctic swimming pools. Even the lower ones are irresistible. For a short time at least.
The Mount Aspiring National Park is home to the famous Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s Great Walks in the Southern Alps. It takes 3-4 days to make the hike which has a series of well-spaced huts. I walked the Routeburn 27 years ago, carrying not only a pack with all my gear but also a five month foetus all the way up to the 4500ft divide. I hope he appreciated it.
The autumn migration is under way; the geese are back and filling the skies above me, wave after wave of dark wavering skeins, honking and hooting as they search out and settle in to their winter quarters around the Cromarty and Moray Firths
I’ve been on Nairn beach every morning and evening this week, powering along the sand as my new dogsitting customer, Harley-the-Golden-Retriever pounds through the waves; crazy-happy, beautiful dog
And I’m not alone in stopping to admire the synchronized flight.
“Save your energy for flying!” One woman called out as the sky grew dark and the decibel level intensified above our heads.
They sound excited to have arrived after their journeys from the Arctic Circle, Scandinavia, Greenland and Canada and use their vantage point to scope out the roosts and fields – where they’re not always welcome.
They pass over, still bickering and swerving, swapping places to avoid fatigue among the flock. Here it’s mainly Greylags but there are Pink-Foot, White-Fronted Geese and Barnacles – over 700,000 of them migrating to Scotland every autumn. Last year at this time I was wandering among flocks of Canada Geese on the shores of Lake Ontario, the water sparkling in the autumn sunshine. Great memories.
Whatever the species, they represent the most exciting time of year. October has always been the month of new beginnings; leaving home, starting university, beginning new jobs, embarking on big travel and adventures.
It’s the month when anything might happen.
Sparkling Lake Ontario