Do you have a special place that you return to time and again? A place where the landscape, the elements and the atmosphere merge to create magic and move you deep inside? My special place is an old ruin high on Rannoch Moor and it was there that I welcomed in the new year.
Bart and I had spent Christmas in the campervan, parked up near Blair Atholl. The weather was cold and grey with a ceiling of low cloud that the sun failed to penetrate. We wandered the winter woods of Glen Tilt and walked high above the village into a black and white landscape of bare trees and scattered flocks. We cooked a Christmas dinner in the campervan of venison followed by Christmas pudding. And in the evenings we walked through the dark woods into the village for a tipple at the hotel in front of the roaring peat fire. When I'm in Blair Atholl at this time, I love stopping by the village Christmas tree. A long string of multi coloured globes is wrapped round one of the big conifers on the village green and when you walk out of the mountains on a night of inky blackness, they emanate charm and a cosy glow.
We spent the days following Christmas battling Arctic conditions on the mountains in storms and gales and turned back from an attempt to climb Bynack More when we couldn’t stand up in the winds that battered its upper reaches.
But our efforts were rewarded when one day we enjoyed spectacular picture postcard scenes on the tops above Newtonmore. Although we set out in low cloud and mist, by the time we were on our second Munro the sun broke through, its low winter light picking out every detail and contour and making the surface of the snow sparkle like diamonds. The walk was hard work in snow that was deep and soft in places so we really enjoyed our hot tea and Christmas cake when we got back to the van. We have a favourite spot for parking up the van near Newtonmore. You might know the place at the road end in Glen Banchor.
It was Bart’s idea to head to the ruin on Rannoch Moor to see in the new year. Since meeting me, he’d heard me talk so much about the place. Of course, when you show somebody a place that you love there is always the danger that another person sees it differently and might be disappointed by the reality of it. Nonetheless, in early morning darkness we jumped on the first southbound train at Tulloch. The train found its way in the half light through deep gorges and snow-covered mountains before trundling alongside Loch Treig and climbing up to the remote station at Corrour on Rannoch Moor. We stepped off into a freezing, grey morning as the place was battered by another storm front. We searched for a spot for our base camp and set up the tent in sheltered pines on the shores of Loch Ossian at a spot that enjoyed views up the loch to the snow-covered peak of Leum Uilleim. Bart has lived for many years in the Canary Islands and his tradition there was to see in the new year down on the beach. Our base camp did have its own small, sandy beach but as it was battered by wind, waves, rain and sleet, it seemed unlikely that we would be sipping champagne there at the bells.
During the days at Corrour we climbed up the mountain above the loch in a blinding blizzard that drove stinging spindrift into our faces and plastered snow onto the windward side of our clothes and rucsacks. We turned back just before the top and left the place to the mountain hares and ptarmigan, creatures more suited to the Arctic conditions. We wandered through Strath Ossian, crossing banks of snow that every now and then swallowed us up to our thighs, and enjoyed brief moments between weather fronts when we gleaned a hint of the grandeur of this snowy, rocky place in winter.
And on the afternoon of Hogmanay we walked to the old ruin high on Rannoch Moor. The little track meandered across the moor, at times passing over little streams and, at other moments, under drifts of snow. It skirted the partially frozen waters of Loch na Sgeallaig before turning west below the slopes of Leum Uilleim to head for the dark outline of the ruin. As we approached, the gunmetal grey clouds that filled the big skies broke apart and shafts of cold winter sun burst through, illuminating the old stone walls of the house. Bart has a real inquisitive mind and busied himself checking out the ruin, how it was built, what was left and pondering what it might once have looked like. I stood, quiet and still, soaking up the scene and choking back some tears. I don’t know why I felt so emotional. It’s just that this old place with its homely atmosphere, its sense of space and its corral of dramatic, encompassing mountains pulls at my heart strings and moves me deeply inside.
We walked back to the tent in the last light of the day and as the sun set on the year, a group of stags gathered on a knoll above the trail. For several quiet minutes, we watched them and they watched us, then Bart and I turned our backs on the stags and the auld year, and walked on into the new.
For all the photos click here or on the Flickr logo to the right.