In the end of February I was in Scotland and visited all kinds of initiatives around forest baths, foraging, Dòigh Nàdair – the path of nature and initiatives for more trees to find inspiration for a project in my own country. In this next weeks I will share a bit more about Scotland. This blog is more about my first two days… in the land of peat, bogs and a lot of icy wind.
Ever since I was a child this country has fascinated me, because it is home to so much folklore and nature. My mom was a fan of the movie Rob Roy, the historical film-epos from 1995 with Liam Neeson, and I have seen it many times. Since then I’ve read a lot about Scotland and incorporated that knowledge into some of my stories and book projects. Many acquaintances aren’t surprised that I’m a big fan of the series Outlander, but they’re surprised that I’ve only visited Scotland thousands of times in my imagination. Recently, in the light of the climate crisis, I had also seen reports that Scotland aims to plant 10,000 ha of forest a year. Since I am almost finished with my current project, I wanted to find some inspiration and seeds for my next adventure and decided to make my week holiday an inspiration trip for myself in the country that has been waiting for me for years.
Clearing of the west
Just before storm Dennis arrived, I arrived in the heart of Cairngorms. With a local guide Andy and two English people, I explored the heathlands, peat bogs and pine dense forests with its lonely rowan and juniper trees in this region, all beautiful carbon reservoirs that certainly need to be protected. Normally we planned to hike higher peaks and do snow safety skill training. I have to admit that I have some edges with especially steep snow slopes and wanted to challenge. However, the weather gods decided it was for another time. They and the guide decided that we should climb a smaller ‘hill’. I got the real Scotland experience on day 1.
One day I will tell my grandchild (Imagine me with long silver hair and bold voice with little ones sitting at my feet): “Scotland 2020. Your granny wanted to experience what Scottish nature is, so she climbed a mountain when a hurricane hit the country. When we reached the top of the hill, I could hear the wind howling like demons from the underworld…
… and yes, suddenly, at a spot where the wind even accelerated more toward 90 km/hour I got almost blown away. I got pinned. The guide returned, blocked some wind for me, by standing on my right and took my arm and helped me over the wind-crazy spot. Apart from these several minutes fighting against 90km/hour windspeed, your grandmother had a lot of fun and realised she is not so afraid to walk in snow as she used to be, probably as she realised walking in a bloody storm was more dangerous.
The descend was over this boggy side, where there were a lot of blood red moss which kids in the world war collected to sell as bandage to the nurses. You know, my children, in the bogland, time is different, so you lose your self and face the edges you need to meet that day.’
One other participant also told me about an English expression her old folks used for a storm from the west: ‘a clearing,’ so later when I sat at a pinewood fed fire I wrote my haiku of the day:
When I visit a country, I like to listen to local stories, especially those that take place in nature. Being there I also weave some threads of my story into the stories of this landscape and the landscape also weaves some threads of its stories into my story. When I go home, the stories are not only about myself. I think it’s important to keep stories about landscapes alive, and to add your own perspective, so the stories stay calibrated in the ever changing culture. At the second day, when we were mostly in the forests, I asked the guide about the kelpies living in the lochs. Kelpies are some sort of evil water spirits who lure people to their death. On surface, they appear as big white horses. When you touch it, you stick to it. That’s when the Kelpie will run back to the lock and drown you. So when you see a big white beautiful horse close to a waterbody in Scotland, do not touch it. Or you’ll become one of these buried stories.
The second day, the guide was very keen to share also his knowledge about the people living in the peatland in the older times who gave ‘black meals’ (which is the origin of the word ‘blackmail’) and the Norwegian special forces who lived in some lodges during the Second World War. I had not asked for the Norwegian history, although some of you know I am fascinated by this country too. It’s competing with Scotland for most favorite country… and the competition is very hard, because although Scotland has Jamie Fraser, Norway has Tormund. I had to admit the landscape and vegetation in Scotland really reminds me to the west coast of Norway, so I am not surprised Norwegian special force could live in these ‘arctic conditions’.
After some hours in the forest with its little logs, crossing some brooks, we arrived more the open land. Of course, the storm returned and greeted us with big squalls and gusts. We waited first behind some bushes, but then we tried to face the icy rain and wind in the next hour or so. Only when we reached the bothy, the wind disappeared. This is the first bothy I see, but I have to admit Norway gets the points for more ‘inviting mountain cabins’ than Scotland.
When Women Hike in the Bog
These two days were testing my physical limits. It was hard. No time for philosophy or to ponder about the past or to feel anxious about the future when you get free acupuncture non-stop from icy hail or have to fight against wind gusts. When I guide or participate in a forest bath, I have more time for the ‘spirituality’, but these days was all about just doing, and in some way it was also therapeutic.
Sometimes we have to go to muddy phases, travel through the bogs to retrieve what we buried there and be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Last weeks I feel I have been balancing a bit on the thin boundary between anger, madness and sadness. My PhD adventure in Japan is dragging me more down, and I feel I lost my compass and map in the dark black layers of the past months. I am still in the bogland, and I realize I might have to go back on some of the steps I took, rediscover some of my older dreams, buried too in the bog, to find my inner compass and a new vision.
Actually I wanted to face that storm and the bogland and meet myself when nature is fierce and scary, stripping me away from some of my fears and anxieties and really pushing me to be in the presence.