I have been on a peak.
On my usual walk through the forest on Skye, where I live, I branched off up Armadale Hill and onto a long, lonely rough track over the kind of “countryside” I don’t like: dead, denuded, with a silence more accusing than soothing.
There are places like this all over Scotland, domains that have lost their natural tree-cover and remain barren, with barely any bird song. There’s another place like it near here, a forest recently blootered in its entirety. The feeling is … disturbing.
But I persevered. I passed a pool that seemed dead though I daresay that, beneath the surface, it teemed with its own sinister life, and I fancied it might be home to a kelpie or a relative of the Watcher in the Water which, as you know, lives in the dark, still lake near the Mines of Moria in The Lord of the Rings.
Still I blundered on, feeling vaguely guilty that I’d be exceeding my daily allotted hour of exercise. But it’s rare to see anyone around here at the best of times, barely another soul through all the months of winter, and there are currently no tourists, though they wouldn’t venture this far up the beaten track anyway.
At last, the beaten track diverged, and I followed it round to the right and up a hillock, on top of which I stopped and felt a sense of awe. For, here, I could see … the whole world. Well, the whole of my world, a 360 degree vista, from mainland Scotland to the Outer Hebrides.
It was a clear, sunny day, and the whole experience was quite spectacular. The only sounds were the wind and a cuckoo. Back in the village recently, the racket has been unbearable, at times on all four sides of the house: drills, high-pitched stone-cutters, excavators and petrol-driven mowers that sound like racing cars.
But this was bliss. For the first time in my life, I thought I might fancy mountaineering. Generally, I eschew any activity that requires “equipment”, and I don’t like using nature for “leisure-amenity”, by which I mean having some purpose other than just being there.
But I liked it here, alone and nearer the sky, above the fray and the petty concerns. On the ground, there was some orange peel and a dropped tissue, so it was hardly unexplored territory. I stayed on, trying to avoid doing that weird human thing, whereby we tell ourselves: “This is one of the best things I’ve ever experienced, but I’d better get home now as I fancy a Hobnob.”
As I left the hill I encountered … a jogger. Jings, they get everywhere! I saw her again when I was further back among the civilised forest paths and had stopped to admire a massive tree, which also would not have been out of place in Middle Earth.
JRR Tolkien used to speak about “long ago, in the quiet of the world”, and I think I’ve always been searching to find that again. But there is quiet and quiet. The walk to the peak through the dead lands had been unpleasantly silent, different from quietness as such, which might feature a bird or a breeze.
It’s the occasional tweet, cheep or woosh of wind that underscores the quietness and emphasises the peace.