Lumpy heather, bog myrtle and blaeberry moorland under foot, majestic snow capped mountains before me, sparkling white against ominous deep purple-black storm clouds, I tingle with the sheer joy of being alive. Spellbound I watch as snow squalls march over mountain tops, through glens, finally engulfing me in a flurry of whirling snowflakes and battering hail. I was in snow, being snowed on! It was October 3rd. I walked on with flame-stinging cheeks and a grin.
We’d arrived in Scotland and while Robert was at his aspen conference I’d taken the opportunity to walk in the Cairngorm foothills directly outside our B&B.
The following day we drove up to Assynt, the far north-western highlands, further north than we’d ever been before. A tiny single track road took us the last nine miles to the cottage we’d rented for the week. Twisting, turning, climbing, falling it led us through breathtaking countryside. Ochre-orange gneiss moorland deeply gnarled and gouged; bleached grey rocks folded, kneaded, pummelled, tortured through millennia after that first ever cooling of the earth’s crust. Impossibly slender stems of rowan and aspen cling to high craggy outcrops, falling away to birch-clothed slopes shivering and shimmering in the dappled reds and golden-yellow green of autumn. Still, mysterious, peat-dark lochans speckle the landscape overspilling in single white threads down to churning burns. To one side of us a colossal hulk of magenta Torridonian sandstone rises up like a brooding prehistoric monster to dominate the surrounding countryside – this is Quinag, the three armed mountain. The road leading us past lochs where sea and mountain meld along ribbons of golden seaweed tossed with weathered bones of boats and the detritus of the ocean. Out to sea our eyes are led over a flotilla of small islets to a horizon of dark steel-blue peaks and headlands stretching into infinity.
We arrive at our destination on a high, euphoric. An old metal gate marked the start of a bumpy track down which we drive a couple of hundred metres to a parking spot; walking the last steep descent we turn to each other in bubbling excitement as we see in front of us, nestled on a natural rocky platform overlooking the loch, the cottage! A traditional low rectangular building built of gneiss and sandstone painted white; two windows and a small door face east looking out across the loch and moorland to the brooding, ever changing presence of Quinag. Inside all is miniature; the front door opens into a tiny passage leading to a sitting room on the right, a kitchen to the left, and a bathroom at the back; ahead of us is a miniscule stairway up to the two bedrooms in the sloping eves. Robert has a problem negotiating his height!
Almost unable to believe our luck we take in our surroundings in the late afternoon light. Sheltered from weather by hillside and trees, we slowly absorb the untamed beauty of the loch below us and the hills beyond, tasting seaweed, the damp decay of leaf litter and peat on the salt blown air. A small gaggle of sheep wander past the front door on their way to their evening grazing spot, turning to look at us with mild interest. Inside I draw a glass of spring water, deliciously cold and clear with a hint of mussels soaking in fresh water. Later that evening, snuggled under the duvet, we gaze at the stars through a large skylight, listening to the wind in a lone Scots pine mixed with the distant sound of the sea. Across the loch the primal roar of a stag in rut echoes around the mountains. We drift to sleep wrapped in a blanket of dreams.