A Journey Through The Past

January 1, 2010

Glen Affric! A place to stir up a mixture of emotions in people. To me, at it’s mention, a thousand images cascade before my mind’s eye as I think on that tranquil place. Glen Affric, one of the remotest and certainly the most picturesque glens situated in the very heart of north west Scotland. A place of outstanding beauty.

It was in that very place that I found myself in the middle of November as the club had booked Ratigan Youth Hostel for a weekend trip. Here was I alone in Glen Affric seeking answers to all sorts of questions. In my current circumstances I needed time to be on my own, to reflect.

Glen Affric! Running east to west for almost 40 miles it was one of the main routeways for this part of Scotland in days gone by and a particular favourite of the drovers who moved their cattle from the west to the markets at Crieff and Falkirk. It’s colours and moods change with each day of every season and I have been fortunate to experience many of them.

Having started out from Morvich Outdoor Centre I was soon under the shoulder of Beinn Fhadda heading to the bealach that barred entry to the west end of Glen Affric. I was on the very road that the drovers of old had used. As I walked I could imagine the cries and shouts as they herded their cattle toward the pass always keeping a lookout for marauding thieves and vagabonds ready for the opportunity to set upon them and steal their precious charges. A time for reflection and analysis. “At times of crisis the easiest person to blame is yourself”, I remembered the words of The Shadow and although I agreed with their sentiment, I had to examine what had lead me here.

Glen Affric! How many people drive down the outer reaches of its eastern end from Cannich and go no further than the car park. They fail to appreciate its full splendour and experience the feeling of remoteness. One needs to spend time exploring its inner depths to fully understand its sense of history and appreciate the peace and solitude that the glen can offer.

As I crossed the bealach and headed down into the glen itself, I thought about recent events. Was I merely looking through rose tinted spectacles? Maybe, but only in that unspoilt place did I start to unravel the mystery and get answers to my questions. As I passed the loch side I looked down to Glen Elchaig, it was time for a moment of reflection. Inspired by the deep rich golden colours all around I started feeling a sense of inner calm.

Glen Affric! In this modern world of the Electronic Super Highway, mobile phones and instant communication people fear being out of touch for no matter how short a period - a failing of modern society. As a result they are loosing touch with the past. The world is constantly evolving but by looking back an insight can often be obtained of the future. Glen Affric should be visited.

With this growing sense of inner calm I started upwards toward the summit of Sgorr Gaorsaic. As I climbed the ever steepening slopes, I was taken in by the panoramic views unfolding all around. I remembered my last time in the glen when I had been here - happier times in June. Then the countryside was green and lush with flowers adding their vibrant colours to an already rich landscape. The air was alive with the sound of singing birds. A feeling of contentment and optimism all around. How things had changed. Now the place had a deep golden tint and was empty as if its life was slowly running out, a forewarning of the winter hardship waiting. All I could hear was the lonely roar of a stag reverberating round the glen. It’s forlorn cry echoing in my head. I wanted to answer its call, reach out and offer the hope of company and better times ahead.

Glen Affric! It has been written that the hills are alive with the sound of music. The hills have been here since the time began and there is no doubt that if they could speak, tales of heroic acts and treacherous deeds would be recounted. These adventures have long since passed from living memory as successive generations moved on and passed away.

Upward now, walking in snow, I could see other summits coming into view and I wondered about my friends on the hills around and of what experiences they would tell. I thought I had a different perspective on life this time as a result of events. What was the secret? . What had happened? My friend the stag roared again, I felt in tune with this inhabitant of the glen. He was searching for his companions just as I was searching for answers.

Glen Affric! Bonnie Prince Charlie once roamed these hills. Sleeping in cave, seeking to avoid capture following Culloden. How Scottish history changed as a result of this disastrous campaign. An era romanticised by succeeding generations, turning their backs on the truth. What did he care what happened following his escape as he wandered the streets of Rome in his drunken state.

Now the slopes eased as I reached the snowy summit plateau, flat like a table covered with a white cloth as if in readiness for some farewell banquet. I walked through the crusty snow seeking the cairn that marked the top. Had there been an unseen hand guiding the course of events and actions that had brought about this outcome to events? Had it just been two actors playing out scenes in a pre-destined drama, with an ending that could not be changed?

Glen Affric! How many people had been killed or forced to leave their homes where they had lived for generations. Landowners/Clan Chiefs turning their backs on the very people that had supported them in that doomed campaign to restore a romantic dreamer to the throne. These people were repaid for that loyalty by an act of unspeakable betrayal.

As I walked on, I finally came to the summit, no cairn, just the highest outcrop on the plateau. I sat down. What would have happened had things been done differently? Scenes were re-enacted looking for alternative solutions. It was impossible, the results could not be predicted. How would the players have reacted to those different circumstances? New paths would have been followed, the endings of which could not be foreseen.

Glen Affric! Its hills standing like silent sentinels to that bloody past. The glen, now empty and desolate, a place haunted by the spectre of broken promises and unfulfilled dreams. Once it had been alive to the sound of life but now only the wind blows through, it’s howl like the skirl of a piper’s lament to a long forgotten past.

It was time to head back; I packed up and set off. Perhaps it was simply not meant to be. It was nobodies’ fault. Experiences had been shared and it was time to move on, the curtain had fallen on the final scene. I recalled that well-known wise sage, Old Niche has a saying, “I climb to forget”, but surely one is unable to forget. The past cannot be ignored; experiences shape our views of the future. Like the events in this glen all those years ago, they cannot be forgotten. I walked back in silence; my friend the stag had moved on, as I heard no sound of his calling. Had he found his companions? As I headed over the bealach I met my friends and we chatted. They then headed off up another hill and I continued down with the sun streaming out of a blue sky reflecting off the sea and snow covered mountain tops. As I went I recalled the words of Scarlett O’Hara at the end of Gone With The Wind, “After all, tomorrow is another day!” I reached the car feeling fulfilled, questions answered and ready to face whatever tomorrow would bring.

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