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A winter stroll in a haunted Highland Forest

The light whispers today. Softly filtering through the forest, illuminating the deepest greens and the most delicate raindrops. It is the work of a moment as the light moves continuously through this habitat. This light guides me through the forest. Its brightness hinting at more open spaces as the trees thin. Then gradually stripping this light from trees so only the memory remains. Every footstep awakens another moment. The shadows play tricks on me so that I am suddenly confronted by my own self. My shadow reflected back at me from the trees. As if I am part of them. Which of course I am.

It is a day for bullfinches. Their gentle voices do not disturb this slow weekend morning but instead gently caress your ears. As winter has arrived, birds begin to flock together. Summertime rivalries are forgotten as they focus on the important task of sharing food and warmth. Highland winters are harsh. This flocking means that shyer species become more visible. Bullfinches are never showy, despite their impressive colouring. They leave that to the dominant robins, chatty house sparrows and posing blackbirds. Even their pace is slower as they delicately hop between heather buds, having a nibble whilst exchanging a word with its companions. I love winter bird-watching. It is always a spectacle.

This forest holds stories. There is an undercurrent within the earth. A tale from a long ago battle as soldiers fought for the British throne. This forest surrounds the Culloden Battlefield where history has been marked. The forest itself played a role, as the famous Prisoner's stone is at its centre where where Jacobite prisoners (Scottish soldiers) were shot, save one who legend states lived to tell the tale. The human stories go back further still. Within the heart of the forest, shrouded in shadows, I find St Mary's well. Its history is unclear but it is clearly a holy site. Tributes continue to be left in the form of fabric, hanging from the trees. Although beautiful within this setting, this well awakens a shiver on my skin. Warning me that this place holds power. I move away and find comfort in the familiarity of nature filling my senses. I am soothed by the sound of water. It adds movement to this forest as it cleanses away past human violence and unknown stories.

St Mary's well

This is a place rich in nature and human history. Although respectful of this human history, it cannot capture me like nature. On this crisp winter morning, I am drawn to the frosty leaves and eagerly scan the trees with my binoculars. I take a multitude of photos, overwhelmed with the beauty of it all. A winter's backdrop is the most striking of all the seasons. Allowing colours to pop and textures to deepen. The Scottish Highlands just does winter so well. The air has a stinging crispness as I breathe deeply. There is a crunch to the ground and everything glitters.

My thoughts are softened as I take the lead from nature's light. I observe and take note of my thoughts in my trusty notebook. Fingers stiffening with the cold. Forest bathing is something I try an incorporate in my life as much as possible. This is traditionally a Japanese concept, and is a practise of relaxation by being quiet amongst the trees. All the best ideas come from Japan. My pace slows as I stop every time a colour captures my imagination. Which is often. I ignore the puzzled looks from fellow walkers as I squat down to take a photo of a seemingly uninteresting tree stump. I am used to these looks by this point in my life. I'm often in weird and wonderful positions in my attempt to observe and photograph wildlife. Or perhaps indulging in some impromptu yoga. Truly a hippy soul.

The days are short now so even more precious. I am eager to enjoy these daylight moments whilst I can but equally enjoy these longer evenings. I am more rested now. Unlike some, the cold draws me out rather than me keep inside. I have an aversion to central heating and am regularly throwing open my caravan windows in the depths of winter. Allowing the cool air to refresh my soul.

In the challenging year of 2020, I gain immense comfort from the changing seasons. The sense of familiarity and inevitability. Humanity may become absorbed in its own world, be it battles or pandemics, it all fades in the face of nature. We must preserve these precious places so that generations to come can learn of our history, or perhaps even more importantly, be comforted by the ever-reliable embrace of mother nature. Truly a blessing.


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