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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.
An extraordinary week to be away. An extraordinary week to be without any of our normal communications; no phone, no broadband, no telly, just a crackly old boom box which tunes into radio 4 with a protesting hiss and fart, fading out in an explosion of excruciating white noise at the pertinent point… “Global meltdown!” “Financial Armageddon…” “A day so black it’s impossible…” “No one has seen the like since 1920…” “The chancellor has just announced…” “Now we are going to our correspondent in Reykjavik for the latest on the collapse…” the rest frustratingly disintegrates in a furious high pitched whine.
Yes, I have savings in an Icelandic bank; researched carefully on such sites as moneysupermarket.com, make-your-money-work, what-to- know-about-investing-your-savings and how-to-get-the-best-out-of-your-money. Before we left for Scotland I seriously toyed with the idea of moving my money out amid the panic and mayhem – but where to put it? Nothing seemed secure. In the end I decided it was probably best to leave it alone, after all it was FSI backed.
Through last weekend the panic and collapse of the financial system worsened. We gleaned snippets in the foothills of the Cairngorms of the drama being played out across the world; stock markets crumbling, banks folding. And in the car driving to Robert’s aspen conference dinner we heard of the American 700 billion dollar bail out being thrown out, and then succeeding in an enlightened form. Arriving at our destination high in the remote north-west highlands, we learnt of the lack of positive response in world markets, which continued to plummet in chaos and turmoil.
Surreal, and strangely bizarre. On the one hand my eyes and mind were hungrily drinking in the remote ancient wild beauty of a landscape that feeds my very essence and on the other there was the banal, yet very real, material worry that I could lose my hard earned savings.
It would probably be better not to have even a radio. Not a thing I can do about it. I now inhabit a part of the world that is clothed in rocks three billion years old. Today, in a wild isolated hanging valley, I stood at the head of the highest waterfall in Britain, watching a rainbow caught in the fall’s spangled spray which played on quivering, golden leaved aspens; around me a curtain of blown mist parted to reveal scenery that made me ache with its beauty. Billions lost? The fall on Wall Street? The crumbling City? The crazy machinations of bankers? Armageddon? Standing there in the wind and the rain I felt rich beyond words and extraordinarily fortunate.
We’re away to Scotland first thing tomorrow. Robert has an Aspen conference up near Aviemore, we then go high, high up to the north western highlands to stay in a little bothy for a week of walking. Snow is forecast for this weekend! I can’t wait!
Till I’m back…bye bye!