|  E N C O U N T E R I N G    P L A C E

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I am surrounded by moss covered rocks - I haven’t spoken or seen another person in a couple of days. I am very aware of my aloneness, which feels terrifying and liberating in equal measure. The reason I set out on this journey was to embed myself as fully as possible in nature and the environment, without boundaries or barriers. 

 

I feel a deep connection to place, and a happiness and a true sense of ‘self’ when I am in the natural world, yet I often forget the full picture. When the only person you can see within the horizon is yourself, there begins to be an appreciation of the vulnerability and fragility of human existence in this vast landscape. In this moment I do feel alone, disconnected from normality, and yet more fully connected with myself and the space I occupy in this wild corner of Scotland. 

 

When I began this walk there was no real sense of where I was heading and the route I would take. No concrete plan of the tracks I would make over the peaty bogs, through the dense forests or up the heather sprayed mountain sides. 

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The distant white of the north is up ahead, a reminder that it is, despite the illusion of the sun, still winter. The river guides me at first, a leaf mulch around my feet where autumn has left its trace. Up on the moorland the grass lies flat, punctuated by tufts bleached by wind and sun, a contrast to the deep purple heather. Few trees are present on this stretch, with those that there are, having been accosted by the elements - angled branches set in position by the perpetual wind.

I notice that I become more sensitive to the wild space that surrounds me as the sun disappears or the weather worsens. The sun seems to shield and distract me from the feelings of exposure and apprehension associated with planting myself at this interface. The grey clouds intensify the landscape, adding mystery and melancholy, and a depth that lends stoicism to the geography. 

 

I do feel fear. It is not a fear that paralyses, but rather a fear that demands active engagement. It is no longer sufficient for me to be a passive observer - instead reaction is obligatory. The day closes and the light is lost.

 

Night is under my synthetic shelter, where my only partner is the muted chatter of the river. I have woken with a better appreciation of light and lack of light, of noise and lack of noise. The dark of night made me acutely aware of my infinitesimal smallness and the landscape’s enormity, despite being blinded by blackness - a quiet freedom. I felt very alone in the expansive darkness of the sky and the wild land, yet the reality of my emotions was not what was anticipated. I thought I would feel a sense of panic in my core, but instead I felt a stillness, a connectedness, an intimacy. Dawn is barely visible as I emerge to see the frozen ground all around, and an ice-clad canopy - it was a cold night.

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I am a wanderer, navigating a landscape – a wilderness. The north stretches out in front of me, a remoteness, yet with a familiarity that welcomes. Scotland will always be home, I have a relationship with this land, her rivers, her mountains and forests, her rugged vistas - she has a rawness and volatility that mirrors my internal topography. Some of her landscapes are immediately striking, while others have less urgency, visually stark yet beautiful; the sort that slowly creeps into your bones. This land has a treasurable silence, impelling me to confront my own thoughts and feelings. An awareness of the visceral connection emerges from this silence, a recognition and respect for the environment I am in.

 

Craving something wilder, I have to ascend. There is very little visible vegetation, the contours of the earth disguised by the late winter wrappings. As I walk, the white of the snow-covered ground consumes me - I am an insignificant speck, I am ill prepared. Like any relationship, this vulnerability comes from contrast -  trust and amity conflicting with fear and the unknown.  

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I stand on the edge, the icy water reflecting the delicious hue of the sky - the frozen surface distorting reality. Time is still. I am alone. Each minute stretches in perpetuity, with only my own thoughts, feelings and surroundings. The contrast with modern life is stark. There, minutes depart, often without being greeted. Walking has made me conscious of time once again, my steps, a steady metronome, as I map my way and make my marks on this ground. I wonder, if I were to just keep walking or continue being within this space for months, would time become faster? 

 

Memory is rooted in the language of the land, and so, as I inhabit this space, my own narrative becomes imprinted. Experiences shared, sensed and stored. Connections forged with the fabric of the landscape.

An ongoing story I have taken up residence in, where words are mountains yet to be climbed and moorlands yet to be trodden.

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