First Part: Out and About in Glen Affric
My soul has had a long, hard day
she is tired,
she is seeking her oblivion.
O, and in the world
there is no place for the soul to find her oblivion
the utter darkness of her peace, for man has killed the silence of the earth
and ravished all the peaceful oblivious places
where the angels used to alight.
(D.H. Lawrence, 'Fatigue')
Empire likes to keep its true intentions well hidden. Yet, simultaneously, it finds it necessary to announce its power and might at every possible opportunity. To do it visibly is best. Once upon a time, this was achieved through castles, palaces, mansions, and great country parks. Nowadays, in order to express its might and dominance over nature, the land, and those who live there, it has windfarms. As a sign of imperial might and power, they are up there with the best.
A small number of times every summer, I like to pick up my lightweight wild camping tent and walk. A couple of weeks ago I was in and up some of the mountains around Glen Affric, one of the celebrated places in the north-west Highlands of Scotland. I had in mind a few fairly remote peaks and ridges while, having absorbed a little of the stravaiger's attitude, reserving the right to change my mind at a moment's notice.
The Highlands of Scotland exude heart-aching beauty. At the same time, like pockmarks on the skin, they suffer an ever-spreading rash of wanton ugliness, all the result of misplaced human activity, all unnecessary and unwarranted. Abuse of this corner of our planetary home goes back centuries. Many of the glens, now barren and swampy, were once at least lightly forested, while others were converted for a simple agriculture that worked in harmony with the seasons and the land. Changes in economic, social, political and attitudinal circumstances brought this to an end. Today, ugly tracks scar more and more hillsides, bulldozed recklessly and heartlessly by owners of large estates. What a contrast they are to the skilfully constructed stalkers' paths of yore, which exist in harmony with the land they move across; products of a different mentality, I suppose. Temporary roads, pipes, mechanical diggers, and rude building sites spring up as estate owners take advatage of ridiculous government schemes to produce paltry quantities of electricity from hydro projects in remote areas. This is all the handiwork of the dark mentality of Empire, believe me, with its imperative of power, control, and dominion over people and land. But worst of all: the windfarms.
Two hours in, and I arrive at a crossing of a stream - or burn, as they are known hereabouts. Years back, I had managed to get across with ease by moving from boulder to boulder. Today, however, the water is high, and many of the rocks are submerged. These underwater rocks are, I have learnt from experience, invariably slippery and slimy; any attempt to cross the burn by jumping from one to another will be fraught with danger. I try in half a dozen places, but all end up with boulders submerged in deep water. With a sigh, I give in to the only alternative (barring turning round and going home). Off with socks and boots, roll up trousers, gingerly move across the stream bed, praying that none of the stones display a knife edge.
Sporting a mere tiny red blemish on the outside of my left foot, I am soon walking again, and climbing an excellent tiny path weaving its way up an increasingly narrow ridge. As height is gained, the power of the mountain kicks in, and I am invigorated, renewed, despite the load of tent and provisions on my back. Nearing the top of the ridge, I am met by a group of four men coming down. 'I've never known this mountain to be so wet,' pipes up the eldest, confirming my overall impression that was compounded by the high water burn crossing. Two months of cold, wet, cloud-laden air blown in by northerly winds have failed to dry out the peat at all in this chilliest of summers.
Soon I am at the summit, bathing in the magnificence of standing in the company of some of the most remote mountains in north-west Scotland. Amazingly, the mountain top is home to clusters of tiny flowers, nestled amongst the rocks. Ahead of me a long, airy crest of ups and downs, leading to the two highest peaks north of the Great Glen. It is already late afternoon, so I fit rucksack on my back and move on.
Over three-quarters of the compass, the Earth sings of its beauty, its power, its sometimes ruthless magnificence. To participate in this show, however imperfectly, is a privilege indeed. It is in the south-eastern quarter, to my left and a little behind, that Empire claims its ugly stake. Windfarm country. You need to go high to see what's really happening in and to the landscape - like one of those photos-from-the-air coffee table books. One wind factory in particularly is especially visible from my vantage point high on the mountains, its succession of gleaming metal columns marching along a hilltop that appears disturbingly close. It is located high up, so even from these relatively lofty mountains I look across at, rather than down on, the cold, robotic presences gleaming metallic in the late afternoon sun. 'We are here, we are here,' Empire screams into the wilderness. 'We shall invade every tiny corner. There will be no escape.' As if to compound the mockery, this particular piece of criminal vandalism calls itself the Millenium Windfarm. How they laugh and sneer! Yet their days shall be numbered.....
It is strange to wander in these mountain fastnesses with the peripheral awareness of the mark of Empire over your left shoulder. Never before have I witnessed, with a single sweep of the head, the contrast between authenticity and Empire, between the natural and the fabricated, between reality and falsehood, so acutely. I take note, observe the disconnect, then return to rock, water, cloud, and sun. To the world of a greater reality. It is early evening now, and long shadows are cast deep into the coires and glens. I meet a couple heading back whence I came, and we exchange a few friendly words. They have been out to a particularly isolated summit at the end of a long spur overlooking the remote head of a finger-thin loch. Then onwards I go, to the highest point north of the Great Glen. Onwards again to its nearby twin, surmounted by a large enclosure built out of stones, providing welcome shelter on days of wind, rain, or winter blizzard.
Cloud is billowing up, enveloping the highest summits. Time to head valley-ward, hopefully to a restful sleep. I am tired, but content and quietly happy......
Photos from the mountain tops