I have been blessed with a vivid imagination which enables me to transverse between the ‘real’ day-to-day world and the possible or the extra-ordinary or even the fantastical world. Stories full of vivid description of mystical places become so real to me as I venture into whatever magical places the author chooses to take me.
A favourite childhood movie was The Never Ending Story, set in the world created by our dreams, coloured by human imagination. Then my teenage years I discovered Tolkien’s book The Lord of the Rings with Tolkien’s Middle Earth creating a fantastic world where places such as Hobbiton, Rivendell and Mordor fascinated me. One summer amidst those fractious years we went to Skye on a family holiday and I remember being drawn to the mountains of Skye as, to my vivid imagination, they echoed the mountains of Mordor and drew me in.
Skye is full of mountainous places, so much so that film makers have also been drawn to these mysterious rugged landscapes such as the Quiraing with it’s eerie other-worldliness that made wonderful sets for many films including Stardust, Snow White and the Huntsman, 47 Ronin, Macbeth, the BFG, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, Transformers: the Last Knight. Described by travel writer Charles Tait as ‘one of the most dramatic and wild landscapes in Britain,’ I couldn’t miss a visit to this mysterious and eerie place where the ‘fantastical rock formations loom in the gloom and it would not be a surprise to meet a Hobbit, an Orc, or a dragon.’
As I stood at the bottom of the steep path, a calm lake before me and the Quiraing looming up ahead, I stepped into my own world where the fantastical became possible, the supernatural entwined the natural and one’s imagination was allowed a moment to dwell in story land adventures that had stimulated my formative years.
Whether you share my vivid imagination or not, none could come here and not be impressed by the stunning landscape that surrounded me. One can wonder here – if not about the fantastical, then at least about the majestic and awesome way these landscapes present themselves to us mere humans – a place where we have no power, where we can only step into their domain briefly, humbly, carefully and then leave again when the elements choose to make these paths treacherous to the human step.
From the Quiraing we ventured onto the Old Man of Storr and found yet more stunning landscapes with paths inviting us up up into their wild domain. This 50m pinnacle points upwards like a jagged finger, visible from miles away, the Old Man is 12m in diameter as part of a group of basalt spires. There are up to 30 different layers of volcanic rock to be seen here, this place is nature at it’s wildest (Tait).
It was made all the more mysterious by the low clouds that kept rolling across the Storr as we made our way up the steep path. There are legends surrounding this natural phenomena, as often found in these parts. The Storr is said to have been carved by a Broonie (extremely small ugly creature who lived in the sea) in memory of his friend, or perhaps it is the remains of a giant’s finger who once lived in this land?……
The Storr, for me, echoed the volcanic barrages of Tolkien’s Mordor, it’s rugged eeriness warning us to keep away, yet a sense of curiousity, perhaps, drawing us closer with each step. I could imagine the Hobbits Frodo and Sam scrabbling up this gravelly rough terrain, terrified yet determined to complete their quest to save Middle Earth. Whilst it was quiet here I could hear in my head the sounds Tolkien so eloquently described in his books – sounds of eeriness, danger and a sense of a power beyond any human control or measure.
It wasn’t a place for a puppy to get too close to as the paths beyond this point got very rugged indeed and many were crouched by the wayside above, struggling to go on. Koda and I decided we had got close enough to this beauty and settled here for a while, chatting with other walkers from around the globe who too had been drawn to this place of awe and mystery.
Thin places are not just those of calm serene beauty. We can also encounter the ‘other-worldliness’ or sense of the supernatural, perhaps even sacred, in rugged landscapes too. For me, I find feelings of excitement, awe, joy and anticipation along with those of fear, nervousness and caution all mix together to make this path one I would want to revisit again and again.
Paths with wonder and fear are not dissimilar to many paths we tread through life, a little bit of risk often needed to reach the place we seek. This path took me into a realm that is beyond us and yet able to be appreciated by us, drawing us in yet warning us to tread carefully as we go….
These ‘beyond -us’ experiences and places are those one might connect with our search for connecting to some thing beyond ‘us’ that stirs something inside ‘us’. Call it spirituality, call it soulfulness, call it supernatural – call it what you want! For each of us it is that sense of something extra-ordinary made accessible to the ordinary, wrapped in awe, wonder and a sense of appreciation (or joy) to be able to share in it. Come, savour the moment, step into the mystery and allow your imagination to guide you deeper into connection with whatever is beyond….