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Wednesday, 5 August 2009


Lulu gazes towards Brin Rock
Victorian aristocracy including Queen Victoria embraced the Scottish landscape. Dr Johnson was more critical. But he and Boswell travelled to the Hebrides before Romanticism trained our eye to delight in highland scenery and railways made them easy to visit from the cities of the south. It was depicted as a wild heather-strewn wilderness. In fact it's an enormous park, stocked with ornamental fauna to shoot, paint or photograph; and now every track that doesn't pass under Forestry Commission plantations can be viewed from the air via Google maps. Does this make me love it less?
I'm not an explorer here, more a traveller, even a life-long tourist, inheriting the safety of the land's long habitation by people who made roads and place markers for centuries before the Victorians, let alone me, coming first to the Highlands in 1949 on the sleeper from King's Cross to spend Easter with my aunt at Fasnakyle, her home beyond Cannich, in Glen Affric, and later to celebrate a magical Christmas (in this photo I found at Am Baile, Bay and I are in the middle row, left and right of the tree - Bay just in front of Father Christmas).
The human past is part of the area's character - kingdoms, invasions, depravity and civilisation, even where the rigour of the landscape suggests wilderness, anyone with a little thought can see there's more wilderness in the blighted estates of our population-diminished cities than in this sublimely landscaped garden for the enjoyment of those with time to spare, good raincoats and midge repellent. It's true that in the depth of raw winter you're sensible, if stuck somewhere on a drifted road, to have a care to stay in your car and phone the rescue services.
I've been walking with the terriers out along the forest paths, up the rutted terrain of cleared plantations, beside the eskers left by the glacier that shaped this lovely valley hardly fourteen thousand years ago, through tunnels of dark sitka, on the green sphagnum shamrock wood bed below ranks of Caledonian pines and beside the summer ripple of the Farnack amid sheep, cattle and the occasional roe deer enjoying the greenery that grows so richly on the alluvial meadows of the strath. Wild flowers abound. Birds, bees, flies and butterflies too. The wind rushes through it shaking the high fallow grown grass, waving the trees to varied tunes and now and then the area's buzzards mew to one another. My knees and thighs ache with the walking and the dogs are tireless.
A tunnel in the woods

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Simon Baddeley