Wintry Braeriach


Braeriach in perfect late winter conditions

Conditions on the mountains were quite stunning this week, with deep frost and the most perfect blue skies.  I love this time of year when the days are becoming longer, spring is under way down in the valley, and the mountains are at their best for snow cover.  The difference between the valley and the arctic environment of the mountains is incredible.

carn Eilrig and Braeriach from Rothiemurchus Forest
Carn Eilrig (the pyramid hill – left of the middle) and Braeriach with its deep corries (to the right), reflected in a small pool, Rothiemurchus Forest

I biked up through Rothiemurchus forest, abandoning the bike when I hit the snowline, and walked up Glen Einich into the heart of the mountains, boulder-hopping across the occasional river…

Beanaidh Burn, Braeriach
The Beanaidh Burn (pronounced ‘benn-ay’) comes tumbling down from Braeriach

Snow is the great revealer, showing the traces left behind by a surprising range of animals: abundant hares, deer, grouse, an elusive mountain fox, even tiny mice-prints – and of course human footprints, and an intrepid mountain-biker who must have had far more energy and perseverance than me to get so far in the snow.  All until the next snow fall wipes the slate clean, or just the wind blown snow – the calmness of recent days has been unusual, allowing the tracks to remain.

Suddenly I was in the shade, the magical light glowing on the hills as the line of sunset crept upwards, an arctic chill descended, and it was time to turn around.

Last light on Braeriach
Braeriach summit turns orange-pink in the last of the sunset glow

There’s an awesome sense of space in these hills, which connects me to a feeling of the Source. Space is the fifth element in the Tibetan Bon/Buddhist tradition, ‘the all pervasive, clear space that is the ground of being and is present in every moment of our lives, the space in which all phenomena arise, the space that permeates and surrounds every thought, every object, every moment’. That space is characterized by deep silence, a profound stillness.  By meditating on the element of Space, we can feel and experience the spaciousness of each moment, and realise the spaciousness of our own minds and hearts.  Read more about this meditation here.

“At bottom, mountains, like all wildernesses, challenge our complacent conviction – so easy to lapse into – that the world has been made for humans by humans. Most of us exist for most of the time in worlds which are humanly arranged, themed and controlled. One forgets that there are environments which do not respond to the flick of a switch or the twist of a dial, and which have their own rhythms and orders of existence. Mountains correct this amnesia. By speaking of greater forces than we can possibly invoke, and by confronting us with greater spans of time than we can possibly envisage, mountains refute our excessive trust in the man-made. They pose profound questions about our durability and the importance of our schemes. They induce, I suppose, a modesty in us.”

– Robert Macfarlane, ‘Mountains of the Mind’

… I sped down through the forest in the growing twilight, accompanied by the hooting of owls.

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