Walking Through The Valleys

The Three Sisters, Glencoe

The Three Sisters in the heart of Glencoe, my favourite place in the whole wide world! Every time I visit here I feel like I’ve come home. This is my happy place, one might say this is my nirvana. These mountains and valleys are like old friends, and I’ve yet to climb even one of these three magnificent peaks. There’s a car park right where this photo is taken from with a wall for you to sit on and just gaze in wonder at these beautiful, majestic natural creations and – for me – it is like sitting in the doorway to heaven itself. So peaceful am I when I am here, you could leave me all day and I’d probably still be looking up at these wonders, admiring their beauty and vastness, along with feeling God’s presence through this remotest of places, in a very real and uplifting way. 

Glencoe was the last stop on my sabbatical, before we made our way home. We had two days in which to savour some of the delights of this glorious place. Camped at the bottom of the glen, I sat outside our motorhome on our first evening here with my OS map of the area and planned myself a wee walk up the glen.

There are many walks in Glencoe and I’d researched where I might find a relatively flat walk through the valley to the Three Sisters. On discovering a 5km stroll up the Old Road (that ran alongside the main road) sounded just perfect for little Koda and I so the next morning off we went….

It started off well. My map showed a track and here was a track so all good. 

We set off quite determinedly, delighted to be walking up the valley with mountains all around us, in the glorious sunshine and the whole day ahead of us. Dave dropped us off and went up the glen to park at our beauty spot beneath the Three Sisters, where we would meet up again with him later. At least, that was the plan….

After about half an hour of walking I started to notice the track ahead disappeared at times into a muddy part and then reappeared. ‘What harm can a bit of mud do?’ I said to myself and soldiered on. The first quagmire wasn’t too bad, only went ankle high so nothing to worry about, and we carried on. (Koda was loving every moment, skipping along without a care in the world whilst I squelched my way through the mud, hoping the path would reappear again soon). All the time I could see the road about 50 yards to my left, but impossible to reach due to marshland all around us. Then I came to a fork in the track, something that wasn’t showing on my OS map! The fork to the right was a clear path but took us further away from the road. Hmmm. The fork to the left kept us heading in the right direction but looked rather muddy for a while. Choosing to stay in line with the road we took this way and started to wade through slightly deeper mud. At this point I began to wonder if we were actually where I thought we were as the write up for this walk had rated it ‘easy, accessible and clearly marked’, not ‘challenging, dangerous in parts and not recommended for the unseasoned walker.’

I got to a part in the muddy path where I really thought we should go a bit higher and find firmer ground (my limited orienteering training from my youth was echoing in my head at this point that we may be a bit ‘off-track.’) To get to the higher ground required crossing a muddy puddle which didn’t bother me as had waded through a few of these already (ankle deep) so with Koda in one arm and the map in the other I stepped into this puddle, in order to reach the higher ground. Except that this ‘puddle’ was actually over three foot deep!!!!!

I found myself waist deep in mud, somehow holding Koda up over my head as I scrambled to get myself out of this mud pit before I fell any deeper in. To say I was a little bit scared and shaken afterwards would be an understatement. It absolutely terrified me as I realised I was not equipped to carry on along this so called ‘path’ that was looking just as muddy ahead as it was behind. 

Having reached the higher ground and a little bit of track I followed it to the brook that was running down to the road (still only 50 yards away). Again my youthful orienteering training spoke in my head ‘follow the stream’, so I did.    It looks shallow enough, doesn’t it?

Carrying Koda in my arms, we set of paddling at first, then wading as it got deeper (up to top of shins) but, thankfully, it did lead us to the road. We climbed up and breathed a sigh of relief.

All we had to do now was walk up here to find Dave and then de-mud and sip hot tea. And here was my third dilemma – this road doesn’t have any footpath and has lorries flying up and down it all the time. Looks empty here but only for a few seconds. I’d called Dave at this point to let him know we’d abandoned our ‘lovely gentle walk’ and, as I cried down the phone, said we were safely walking up the road and would be with him soon. Dave (bless him!) realised that just up from here around the corner there was actually nowhere to walk at all as was a set of very windy dangerous bends, so he (in his wisdom) decided to set off and meet me on the route.

Driving around the sharp bend in the road between me and the Three Sisters Car Park!

This was unbeknown to sad little me who was wandering up the highway, hoping for an angel to appear to rescue me. I did meet another walker coming the other way who was most amused when he saw a bedraggled middle-aged woman, clutching her puppy and smelling of cow and sheep dung! I told him I was trying to get to the Three Sisters car park, explained my trauma (very dramatically of course!) and he offered to walk back with me to his car and then run me up to meet Dave. I was very close to accepting his kind offer when our motorhome sped around the corner and Dave waved for me to come and get in (he was not impressed that I had considered wandering off with a total stranger and getting in his car!……). 

Once ‘saved’ in the van my husband promptly sent me into the bathroom to change and de-gunge and then we went to our beauty spot where we sat on the wall and sipped  some hot tea. I was quite shaken, annoyed with myself for taking the wrong path and also for not being prepared for bogs in a valley…..  Sipping tea whilst watching walkers climb the mountains in front of us I began to unwind.  

A dear childhood friend of mine, Winnie-the-Pooh, went on a lot of adventures and some of them didn’t go well. On one occasion Pooh said: 

‘I’m not lost for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost

That was how I’d felt when stuck in the mud, knowing where I was but not knowing how to get from where I was to where I needed to be.

There are times in all our lives when we walk through valleys and sometimes we get lost along the way, when we find ourselves on tracks we didn’t mean to follow, roads that looked inviting and then turn out differently, or disappear completely. Some of us have had really scary times when we’ve felt like we were sinking into the quagmire around us and been shaken afterwards, making us wary of carrying on. My experience in Glencoe was literally in the valley, lost, scared and unsure how to get to safety. Help was never far away but in the moment it was hard to think straight and stay calm.

After we got out of the bog and back onto the road – hallelujah!!

Once I reached safety and re-read my notes on the route I’d taken I found the small print ‘do not start further down the glen as this part of the road is very worn, difficult to follow I places and can be treacherous….’   You don’t say!

View of Glencoe from our Campsite at the Bottom of the Glen

Even in the hardest of times I believe God is with us – the God on the mountain is still the God in the valley.  As the psalmist said: ‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[ I fear no evil; for you are with me’ (Psalm 23). I believe God guided me to the stream, God reassured me when I began to panic that the right road was not far away, he steered my husband to come and find me. I didn’t give up and phone the mountain rescue team (although the thought did cross my mind!).  Instead I hoped and prayed that I’d get back to where I should be if I stepped carefully (and didn’t jump into bogs without checking their depth first) and tried to remain calm. I felt like a silly old bear, but I was never alone. 

‘What should happen if you forget about me?’ asked Pooh. 

‘Silly old bear,  I won’t ever forget about you,’ said Christopher Robin.

So too it is with God. The God on the mountain is still the God in the valley. Take care on planning your routes through life but fear not,  for even in the valleys, God will never forget about you, you will never be alone.  

From one silly old bear, God be with you all till we meet again xx

Illuminating Our Soul…

‘Be still and know that I am God’
(Psalm 46:10)

This is one of my favourite phrases in the bible. God inviting us to be still. Still. Still….. and in the stillness we sense the presence of God. At least, that’s how I interpret these beautiful words and practicing the art of stillness is something I’d recommend to all fellow seekers of soulfulness.

Quiet Space inside Iona Abbey

There’s a beautiful song Be Still that just takes this phrase from the psalm and puts it to beautiful relaxing music. Perhaps take a moment and listen to it before reading on.

Isle of Mull, on the coast road to Fionnphort

On my quest for spirituality I have been guided towards stillness and peaceful places – physically and psychologically – as doorways to spiritual realms where I have encountered many grace-filled moments, moments where I have felt my soul illuminated by grace. In this post I explore what it means to ‘illuminate our soul’, with the aid of author John O’Donohue whose gentle words in his book ‘Anam Cara – Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World’ have been a guide on my journey and may perhaps illuminate yours too.

Author: John O’Donohue

I’ve included several excerpts from this book (all in italic type for ease of referencing) and would encourage those who wish to get your own copy to keep and annotate for your own ongoing reflections. Let us be still…..

Spirituality is our spirit life, our soul life. It is the life of our soul – not material – it is who we are, what makes us feel good, it is our true self.

John O’Donohue, ‘Anam Cara’

I wonder what we would describe to be our ‘true self’ or perhaps a better phrase is our ‘natural self’. Who we really are, not what others think we are or what the world tries to define us as being but our real, natural, authentic being. This definition above of spirituality resonates with me, our spirit life being our soul life and the life of our soul being the REAL self for each and every one of us. Sounds amazing yet really hard to be our real selves when most of the time we wear outfits of identities to fit into the world around us.

Koda and I resting after day 2’s adventures on St Cuthbert’s Way

To be natural is to be holy, but it is very difficult to be natural. To be natural is to be at home with your own nature. If you are outside your self, always reaching beyond your self, you avoid the call of your own mystery. …..

‘Do not be afraid for I Am with you’
(Isaiah 41:10)

Spirituality becomes suspect if it is merely an anaesthetic to still one’s spiritual hunger. Such a spirituality is driven by the fear of loneliness. If you bring courage to your solitude, you learn that you do not need to be afraid. The phrase ‘do not be afraid’ recurs three hundred and sixty-five times in the Bible. That’s once for every day of the year!….

There is a welcome for you at the heart of your solitude. When you realise this, most of the fear that governs your life falls away. The moment your fear is transfigured, you come into rhythm with your own self.

I wonder how much time to you spend on you, just you? Not on doing things for others or even thinking about others, but instead time spent on thinking about you, quietly, contemplatively, slowly, so the real You can be heard above the other voices in your world that constantly demand attention. The psalmist tells us in Psalm 139:14 that each of us is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made.’ Each and every one of us!

Walking along St Cuthbert’s Way

When did you last think of yourself as beautiful, really beautiful? By not doing so, are we not ignoring the wishes of our Creator? If we do not take the time to appreciate our own inner beauty that makes us ‘wonderfully made’, aren’t we missing out on the greatest gift given to us – ourselves and this one and only unique life?….

There is a deep beauty within each person. In its real sense, beauty is the illumination of your soul. There is a lantern in the soul which makes your solitude luminous…. In your solitude you are frequently nearer to the heart of belonging and kingship than you are in your social life or public world. At this level, memory is the great friend of solitude.

Cuillin Mountains in the Distance, Isle of Skye

I am not very good at sitting with myself and have to make myself create space to ‘be’ with me. One way of helping me to be with me is by drawing to mind good memories, pictures in my mind – thoughts – of people, places, experiences that make (or made) me feel so alive they still live on in memory and never seem to fade.

My recent journey across the Western Isles of Scotland has added to this memory bank with many fond thoughts I return to again and again as I sit and be with me.

In my favourite place with my favourite person

Gentle moments where I have found meaning, purpose, connected, loved, alive. I wonder what thoughts come to your mind of those moments, times, places, people, experiences that – for you – are so special, you an sit with them on your own and be with them.

Resting by the Coral Beach, Dunvegan, Isle of Skye

As we draw from our thoughts, from our memory, we find ourselves journeying inwards to a very special place: Meistersinger Elkhart [ME] says….’there is a place in the soul that neither space nor time nor flesh can touch. This is the eternal place within us’. It would be a lovely gift to your self to go there often – to be nourished, strengthened and renewed. The deepest things that you need are not elsewhere. They are here and now in that circle of your own soul.

‘Thoughts Are Our Inner Senses’

Meistersinger Elkhart

We know when our outer senses are impaired, this immediately diminishes the presence of the world to us… If your sight is poor the world become a blur. If your hearing is damaged a dull silence replaces what could be music or the voice of your [loved ones]. If thoughts are our inner senses, and if we allow our thoughts to be impoverished and pale, then the riches of our inner world can never come to meet us. We have to imagine more courageously, if we are to greet creation more fully.

View from Craignure campsite at dusk, Isle of Mull

[Elkhart says] ‘there is nothing in the world that resembles God so much as silence’. Silence is a great friend of the soul; it unveils the riches of solitude….. If you have a trust in and an expectation of your own solitude, everything that you need to know will be revealed to you.

The Old Man O’ Storr, Isle of Skye

We have but the one life and it is a shame to limit it by fear and false barriers.

‘The glory of God is the human person fully alive.’

Bishop Irenaus, 2nd Century

It is lovely to imagine that real divinity is the presence in which all beauty, unity, creativity, darkness and negativity is harmonized…. If you allow your nature to come alive, then everything will come into rhythm. … The shape of each soul is different….. we need to return to the solitude within, to find again the dream that lies at the hearth of the soul.

The Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye

We need to feel the dream with the wonder of a child approaching a threshold of discovery. When we rediscover our childlike nature, we enter into a world of gentle possibility. Consequently, we will find ourselves more frequently at the place of ease, delight and celebration… We come into rhythm with ourselves. Our clay shape gradually learns to walk beautifully on this magnificent earth.

Godmother with her twin goddaughters, strolling through the golden fields

Be still….. and indulge in time with the real you. And know …… sense God’s affirmation of the real you. That I am God …. Allow God’s breath to refresh and refill your soul. Be still….

Iona Abbey
John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

Glencoe – Majesty, Massacre & Mountains Galore!

I have always loved mountains! When I was 11 my school took us on an outward bound retreat at Blairvadach on the east shores of Gare Loch, near Loch Lomond. We did many fun activities, including climbing a mountain and my group had the joy of going up one Ben Lawers, the highest mountain in the southern part of the Scottish Highlands, 3983 feet. Needless to say it took us all day to get up and back down, my recollection being the going up was hard but the coming down was much harder! Stood on the top we could see for miles around and some clouds were actually below us which was breathtaking!

I recall that day as one of my most strenuous and yet thrilling day of my younger years, probably the day I fell in love with mountains – their sheer size, majesty, grandeur, awe and beauty. The air breathed from the top of a mountain is like no other, the sounds of wildlife living up here that you can never encounter down below and the sense of being a little closer to heaven, perhaps, is just wonderful to behold and be a part of.

My family loved travelling around the tourist spots of Scotland on holiday, Callander being a favourite place for basing ourselves in the summer holidays. But I remember one day we travelled through a magnificent place called Glencoe – a place I had come to be fascinated about in my History studies at school – with the gory history of Clan Macdonald and the Glencoe Massacre of 1692. As one who becomes part of any story she reads, I was of course overwhelmed with sadness at what happened here on that fateful day when the clan was set upon by government soldiers, some of whom had been offered hospitality by the clan just moments earlier. The video of the massacre in Glencoe Visitor’s Centre does not portray the English or Lowland Scots responsible in a very endearing light, and history suggests this bloodshed could have been avoided. Whatever the facts, the mystery and macabre of the Macdonald’s story lingers on in these mountains and valleys, a place that many are still drawn to today.

What is it, I wonder, that draws us to this most barren of places? I will share some thoughts with you in the days and weeks to come of why I and others continue to be drawn to these mountainous landscapes. Follow me and, who knows, perhaps you might enable the mountain to be in you too…..

Can Spirituality Be Defined?

Many have attempted to do this and we have numerous definitions which I will share with you on this blog here. I was asked at the start of my sabbatical ‘what is the question you want to answer in your studies?’ I found myself unable to come up with a question, except the one that keeps coming back to me again and again: what is spirituality and how can each of us access it for ourselves?…. Now that’s a question worth exploring.

I have found answers in so many different ways – some general definitions, some broad brush statements we can mostly relate to, and some very personal and individual. So I find myself having to suggest that perhaps we cannot define something so vast and yet so intensely personal and different to each and every one of us.

Instead of trying to ‘answer a question’ I didn’t want to do anyway, I will be sharing my reflections on what I’ve found spirituality is for me and how it might be more readily accessible to us, in various ways (including those of faith but not exclusively so). Let us remember that whilst around 3% of the UK population attend church, over 70% (and perhaps more) have said in various census/surveys that they see themselves as spiritual. I find myself privileged to have got a faith that enriches my quest for spirituality and deepens my understanding of soulfulness. But this is not so for all, and even some of us with faith may still wish to explore their spirituality and how we can deepen our understanding of it for ourselves.

I hope you find these pages thought provoking, challenging perhaps and – most of all – refreshing. For the most important aspect of these reflections is to discover ways we can each journey towards re-discovering our spirituality (our soul-full-ness) for ourselves.

Here is something to ponder: meaning, purpose, connectedness, sense of the sacred – these are common words and phrases included in various definitions of spirituality I have come across. And yet I wonder if our spirituality is simply ‘that which enables us to feel truly alive’….. And, whilst that does not do justice in any way to what spirituality is, it does give us space in which to explore that enables us to feel truly alive and therefore that which connects us, helps us find meaning and purpose and perhaps could expose us to the divine around and with us. You may haves your own thoughts to share on this, your own words perhaps that resonate with you when asked about spirituality.

Furthermore, how do we access/grasp/develop/deepen/celebrate our spirituality? Enjoy pondering! ………

Reflections coming soon! God Bless x

For Auld Lang Syne…..

Scottish history is packed into the music passed down over centuries. O Flower of Scotland, Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond, Skye Boat Song and Auld Lang Syne – all telling stories of the beloved land of Scotland and friendships treasured down the years. Auld Lang Syne is sung around the world on New Years Eve as Scots travelled with it from our Island to pastures new. First shared by Robert Burns, based on on ancient song he’d heard and written down, the lyrics ‘auld lang syne’ translate roughly as ‘for old time’s sake’. It’s a song about preserving friendships and past memories. We cross over our arms, hold our neighbour’s hands and, in doing so, we create a celtic circle together, entwining ourselves in heritage each New Year’s eve without realising it.

The celtic circle of protection goes back many many eons and is a centrepiece of modern day celtic spirituality – entwined together, forever, strength to those inside the circle, protecting them from those outside. Auld Lang Syne is much more than a song – it is a way of connecting with past and present as we look to the future. Used on New Year’s Eve, at the end of Weddings, even sometimes at Funerals, and many other times around the world, this song tells us to entwine our hands with those beside us, draw in together, remember, celebrate and look to the future with assurance of one another’s blessings for what may lie ahead.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne,

For old times sake echoes memories of fond friendships and good times in the past that keep us going in the present. It’s an important part of our spiritual well-being to be able to recall to mind those times, people, experiences that we treasure – those times we felt happy, content and perhaps times of glory, even if followed by times of terrible loss. Auld Lang Syne reminds us of the times gone by we should never forget that shaped who we are today. It tells us we can still share in the cup of kindness as we recall and hold onto the past. For some in Scotland though, the past is full of much loss alongside the glimpses of glory and the ‘good old days’.

Highland life has changed dramatically in the last 300 years. You only need to drive through the highlands of Scotland to see the remains of a thatched cottage or two, stark reminders of the Highland clearances in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The clearances took place after the Battle of Culloden, April 16th 1746. I did my high school years in Glasgow and took History as a main subject, so was taught all about the various battles against the English down the centuries. I enjoyed learning about intriguing characters like William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and the dear Bonnie Prince Charlie. We were taught to respect these stories and never forget them!

In the mid 1980s, over two hundred years after the Battle of Culloden put a ceasefire to the Scots chances of independence, young people were still being taught about the English versus the Scots, still studying the bloody battles between brothers on British soil, battles that would stay in the minds of the Scots for centuries to come. At the time I was an intrigued teenager who would stroll through the highlands imagining the plights of the Scots against the English, one who stood on Culloden Moor and ached for time to turn back and the Scots to have had a better chance at gaining their freedom (or at least protecting their way of life). Don’t misread me – I am not for or against Scottish independence – as I am not Scottish. But I do empathise with those whose ancestors fought and died for what they believed in, those who subsequently lost their liveliehoods and homes in the clearances and had to flee, sometimes abroad, leaving behind their Bonnie Scotland.

We left Glasgow in 1986 when I was 16 years old and after 5 years there, I was probably more Scottish in my thinking than English. To this day, I have never reconciled what happened to the Highland way of life after Culloden. Whatever the reasoning was then and whatever your views on Scottish Independence are today, the Highland clearances seemed to be another example of cultures being wiped out and replaced by what some deemed better for the economic and perhaps political future of the country. For those of us with a heart for Scotland, you can visit a small holding of highlanders cottages recreated on Skye as a museum to the old way of life, Here you can experience what it was like to live in these small communities in the remotest parts of Scotland. Here you step into history and stand in the shoes of those whose liveliehoods depended on these simple settlements working together to maintain life in the clans as best they could. It wasn’t perfect – many would say it was anything but fair! – but it was a community and a culture wiped out by the British army (note made up of both English and lowland Scots of the day), a culture that today exists only in history books and song.

One of my favourite ditties I picked up whilst in Scotland is the Skye Boat Song , first written in 1880 and most famously sang by the Corries. It is a beautiful medley that puts the Jacobite rebellion of 1746 and the failed Battle of Culloden into poetic verse, romanticising the rescueing of the Prince by our beloved Flora.  Here is the chorus:

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing
Onward, the sailors cry!
Carry the lad that’s born to be King
Over the sea to Skye.

Flora Macdonald came from South Uist originally , was later educated in Edinburgh and was a practicing Presbyterian, who was taken in the care of MacDonald of Clanranald when her father died and her mother was abducted to Skye. Years later, when the Prince and his companions were living as fugitives on South Uist, Lewis and Benbecula, Lady Clanranald was a key player in organising the Prince’s escape to Skye. She did this by organising passes for Flora, an Irish maid called Betty Burke and the boat crew to sail over to Skye. The Prince then left Skye from Portree on 20th September 1746 for France and never returned to Great Britain.

Flora was arrested and held briefly in the Tower of London. She is said to have told the Duke of Cumberland ‘that she acted from charity and would have helped him also if he had been defeated and in distress.’ Her bravery and loyalty gained her much sympathy, along with her good manner and gentle demeanour. Dr Johnson said of her that she was ‘a woman of soft features, gentle manners, kind soul and elegant presence.’

She married an army captain and emigrated to North Carolina in 1774, returning to Scotland in 1779 and to Skye in 1787, died in Kingsburgh 4th March 1790.  One legend says her shroud was a sheet that had once been slept in by Bonnie Prince Charlie.  She is buried at Kilmuir cemetery on Skye, her funeral attended by over 3000 people.

Dr Johnson’s tribute is carved on her tomb, A ‘name that will be mentioned in history, and if courage and fidelity be virtues, mentioned with honour.’ She is a national treasure for the Scots and also for women who see in her virtues we all strive for.

Years after I’d left school I went to seek out Loch Nan Uamh where the Prince sailed from to Skye, where you can look out across the waters and whistfully consider how all the dreams of a free Scotland sailed away with the demoralised Prince that day.

What was it that I fell in love with about this story? After all, it was a failed rebellion that led to the highland clearances and destroyed the clans with a Prince who fled and was never seen again. One might say it’s a story best forgotten. Yet it’s still told with passion in Scotland today. If you visit Culloden moor you can stand on the ground where the battle took place, walk past the many stones in memory of each of the clans. It makes one consider the whys of the story and saddens me as an English lass that we were so at odds with our Scottish neighbours and fellow countrymen. Perhaps I fell in love with the dream of what could have been, perhaps I fell in love with the passion and determination that drove the Highlanders to battle against all odds, perhaps I fell in love with the image of a Prince whom the Scots hoped would save them from the English. Perhaps it was, for me, about defending a way of life that was threatened by it’s stronger neighbour. Or perhaps I am just a romantic and fell in love with the story….

In our history class we were also taught about a most important even 400 years before Culloden, where another historic hero – Robert the Bruce – famously won the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Needless to say, the Scots have proudly erected a great monument in his honour to celebrate the victory of that great day and all that followed – albeit for a brief few years.

Following Bannockburn, the Declaration of Arbroath was agreed in 1320, closely followed by the Treaty of Edinburgh in 1328, which gave Scotland independence from England with their own King Robert on the throne.

Whilst this did not last too long before there was more fighting between Scot and Englishman, the Declaration itself is one of the most significant documents of Scottish history, treasured for what it stood for and the hope it still offers today for those yearning for independence. 700 years on, a memorial has been published and can be accessed here: declaration-of-arbroath

Memorial to Battle of Bannockburn

Legend has it Bruce got his inspiration for Bannockburn from a courageous determined spider in a cave who showed courage and determination which he took as a sign for his own need to soldier on with strength. Remarkable to think that, 700 years later, there is still some tensions between the English and the Scots when it comes to issues around independence, Europe and what is Scottish and what is British.

History has most definitely not gone away from the hearts and minds of many proud Scots who hold into the hope that, one day, they will be an independent realm from their age-old adversary and neighbour. The national anthem is a constant reminder for proud Scots, aching for a time gone by, 700 years of history resounding around every sports stadium where Scotland plays and sings their hearts out for the Bruce and for Scotland. You can’t get a much deeper sense of nationality and connection to one’s heritage and history in the ordinary man or woman than that.

O Flower of Scotland,
When will we see Your like again,
That fought and died for, Your wee bit Hill and Glen,
And stood against him (against who?), Proud Edward’s Army,
And sent him homeward, to think again.

Stirling Castle

Meanwhile, we continue to enjoy our time with our fellow countrymen in the Highlands, appreciating their fine countryside, culture and hospitality shown to friend and stranger. I, for one, will never tire of visiting the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. I can never claim Scottish heritage, but I can claim affiliation, as one who went from child to adult whilst there, growing up believing we should stand up for what we believe in, protect the weak from the powerful and treasure our past and present, in order to preserve the future. That doesn’t mean I am not an advocate for change if it is needed for the preservation of life, but change needs to be done compassionately, respectfully and care-fully.

The chorus of Auld Lang Syne echoes through my head – ‘we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.’ #bekind has become a modern day motto to encourage us to care for one another during the pandemic, to be considerate of others and – whilst there is no entwining of hands – to remember we are all in this together. There’s a different bond forming, one that tells us to to remember our shared humanity, our shared wellbeing, will be what wins this battle, not any one side trying to thwart the other. Battlefields of the past lend their way to lessons learnt for the future.  

‘clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord[b] has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.’ (Colossians 3: 12-13)

Let’s raise a glass to those highlanders who gave their lives for what they believed in down the centuries. May their bravery and courage live on in the hearts and minds of those who enjoy being in their mountains and valleys today, may the spirit of Scotland live on, the strong Celtic spirit. May we share in the spirit of friendship, fellowship, forever encircling what we hold most dear.

For auld lang syne, my dear (jo), for Auld Lang Syne

Isle of Skye – For the Love of Fairies!

A wise man once said: ‘Skye is not a place but an intoxication’. None more so than it’s fascination with fairies and their place in the legends of the island. I have spent hours and hours reading the legends and stories of the Celtic folk and never found anyone to explain the origins of fairies to the Isle of Skye. And then I came across a wonderful book, written just after WW2, by Otta Swire Skye: the Island and it’s Legends, a collection of the stories and legends of the old island stories that she gathered in her many years of visiting and later living on the island.

 In her book she describes two possible origins for the fairies so abundant in the historic stories of Skye.

‘In highland superstition there seems to be two quite different and distinct theories about the fairies – one is more Scandinavian than Celtic and suggests they fell from heaven as fallen angels [and hid from God’s sight in woods and mounds….] The Celtic theory is of a people who lived side by side with their human neighbours, wore the same clothes, had the same possessions but they had no iron and they feared it. They showed great kindness but would also take revenge on any who offended them. They were, in Skye, small and dark and spoke both Gaelic and a strange ‘fairy’ tongue. Flint arrow heads were ‘fairy -arrows’. In fact they were the old inhabitants of the island – the little dark Neolithic people, Iberians or older, who were here before the Celts and who, as the fairies or ‘little people’ show all the traits you would expect in the conquered. They lived underground in the ‘Picts’ houses’ or ‘fairy mounds’, feared the iron they had never owned and took every chance to annoy those of their conquerors who had not become their friends. It would be interesting to know whether the belief that it is lucky to be ‘first-footed’ at New Year by a dark man goes back to the time when those who made friends with the little dark people did not lose beasts or gear. ‘

Whatever your take on the existence of fairies and what magical abilities they did or did not possess, the Scottish islanders historically grew up with these stories as part of their own and their beliefs in these mystical creatures enabled them to make sense of their world in their time. Fairies feature everywhere across Skye. There’s a Fairy Bridge, Fairy Flag, Fairy Glen and Fairy pools.

Fairy Pools illustrated in ‘Countryfile’ Jan 2020

I wasn’t able to visit the fairy pools which are described in an article on medievalists.net as ‘naturally occurring pools typically under waterfalls, usually with very clear water, unique rock formations and surrounded in vivid colour. ….. These pools are graced with an abundance of minerals and decorated with blue-green algae which give them a reputation as places of healing’. I located this beautiful artwork (above) that paints the picture vividly for us lose ourselves in for a moment, from a Countryfile article, Jan 2020.

Another artists impressions enables us to easily imagine fairies living by these turquoise pools, fed by a string of small waterfalls, near Glen Brittle, at the foot of the Black Cuillin mountains. It is also said that these pools attracted selkies, mythological creatures disguised as large seals during the day, would come to the beach where they would shed their skins and change into human form for the night, to bathe in the pools under the light of a full moon.

We did, however, manage a delightful visit to the Fairy Glen – a place said to have been built by the fairies themselves and – to one who grew up with Tinkerbell, The Faraway Tree and fairytales of Hans Christian Andersen – this Fairy Glen met all my childhood expectations of where fairies would dwell. My imagination went into overdrive as I imagined stories in my head that I will perhaps, one day, share. Most of us with children will have introduced them to the tooth fairy when they were young and my two were also blessed with regular visits, letters and gifts from a garden fairy who was always there for them when they needed a bit of cheering up.

We all need a bit of magic and wonder in our lives, something we sadly lose as we are introduced to ‘adulthood’ and we forget to play, dream and imagine. Well this Fairy Glen most definitely allows one’s thoughts to wander back into childhood stories where the fairies cared for the vulnerable, were kind to the weak, fought off dangers at their own risk and had delightful magical powers, and their wings glowed in the moonlight.

Fairytales and folklore entwine in many Celtic legends and are a lovely enrichment to the history of these enchanting places we are so fortunate to have on our doorstep. What was your favourite fairytale as a child I wonder? Could you still retell it today? What stories do your children or grandchildren enjoy reading about? Do we still encourage our imaginations to explore possibilities through stories? Or are we told (subconsciously perhaps) to resist ‘this nonsense’ and focus on facts, rather than fiction?……

I am reminded that Jesus told stories, his parables were often fictional in content but with factual messages in their telling. He used stories to create images his listeners could visualise and understand, in the hope they would be able to grasp his message easier than if he just told them the practical fact or message. Stories such as the Good Samaritan or the Lost Coin, Lost Sheep, the Great Pearl are all with fictional characters to illustrate a factual point to his listeners. We still tell these stories and find insight in them as children and adults alike. We allow our imagination to picture the scene and imagine what was going on in the story.

Stories are ever so important to hold onto, and stories that are fictional or fantasy are not necessarily nonsense – they can have something in them for us to discover about ourselves or the world around us. Fairies and folklore are stories that enriched the history of the celtic people and helped them make sense of matters they did not understand. The intoxication of Skye is, in part, due to the folklore and mystery around such places as this Fairy Glen.

I, for one, will allow myself to revisit these places in my mind, where the little people may very well have inhabited once upon a time. Perhaps they still do!…. I feel happy here, content, magical, alive. Is that not a good place to be? Is that not where happy ever afters begin…… step back into your childhood and retell the fairytales of your youth. I recall they all began with once upon a time….. Can you imagine?

Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (Gospel of Mark chapter 10 verse 15)

Isle of Skye – where Fantastic meets Phenomena!

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).

The Old Man of Storr

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 path up to the Storr

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….


Isle of Skye – To the Western Shores!

Neist Point Lighthouse

I’ve always loved lighthouses. They are a good thing in often treacherous places, they bring light to those who are at risk and they stand tall and sleek against the headland, their residents dedicated lighthouse men and women who, for years, lived in these remote places to keep the lights shining when needed most. Today most lighthouses are not staffed anymore as they can be managed remotely. Whilst this is probably good for those who did not enjoy the hermit lifestyle, I feel we lost something when we de-humanised this vital role on around our beautiful yet dangerous coastline. Something quite wonderful about someone sat out there, guiding ships safely away from dangers ahead. There’s a relatively modern Christian song ‘My Lighthouse’ by Rend Collective (https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=my+lighthouse&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en-gb&client=safari) which I find great joy in singing and dancing to – reminding me that Jesus can be a light to guide us safely away from the rocks and storms to calmer waters and shores.

We visited this lighthouse at Neist Point, the most western point on the Isle of Skye. It was built in 1909 and someone staffed it until and became fully automated in 1990. It stands 62 feet high, 142 feet above sea-level. The light form the tower is equivalent to 480,000 candles and can be seen from 24 miles away (wiki). To get to the lighthouse there is quite a fun (and a bit steep!) walk around the cliffs, as shown below:

Once at the lighthouse, people were walking on to the rocks beyond where dolphins, porpoises and seals were playing in the still waters.

I saw a lot but captured only snippets on my phone camera. Stunning to see such calm waters where these beautiful sea creatures were free to enjoy the ocean, perhaps aware of their captive audience nearby.

In the far distance a boat sails by, with views over the Minch to the Western Isles on the horizon. I’m reminded of the end of Lord of the Rings when the white ship sails off into the distance to far shores of peace and tranquility.

On my way back I was able to see Neist Point more clearly for myself, it’s rock formations akin to those found on Staffa and on the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.

Neist Point (spot the person on top!)

Rugged cliffs remind us of the magnificence to be found in creation and the majestic way they lord over the seas, causing harm to any who come too close, yet remaining an awesome sight to behold from a safe distance.

Whilst some enjoy the challenge of climbing these rock faces, I am content to appreciate them from a distance, marvelling at their shape, their sheer size and pondering over their history. What stories they could tell of shipwrecks, smuggling and ocean capers between the western isles tempting us in the distance.

Getting back to the motorhome, my little fluff ball was delighted to see me (having decided not to take him down the perilous steps to the cliff edge!).

Neist Point behind Koda

We sat a while to savour the view one last time …

before heading home on the fun roads Dave so loves driving on….

We passed the MacLeod’s Tables (Healabhal Mhor in the foreground) on the way home, these two magnificent hilltops that seem to have had their tops levelled off.

MacLeod’s Tables

Legend tells us the flat summits were created after the visit of Saint Columba to the island. He was not well received by the Chief, who at this time lived in a Dun on the shores of Loch Bracadale, and was refused any hospitality. St. Columba was invited to preach a sermon in the local church and chose as his theme: “The rabbits have their warrens, the birds have their nests but the messenger of the Lord has nowhere to lay his head”. During the sermon, the skies blackened and the ground shook, culminating in an almighty crash. On leaving the church, the congregation discovered that the tops of the two local mountains had been struck off, creating a bed for St. Columba to sleep on and a table for him to dine at.

Another legend is when Alastair MacLeod visited the court of King James V in Edinburgh. The king snubbed MacLeod, and challenged him to admit that nothing in his remote Highland estate could compare to the grandeur of the court. MacLeod replied that he could set a finer table, and light it with better candlesticks. When James visited Skye, MacLeod prepared a banquet for him on the top of MacLeod’s Table (Healabhal Mhor), overlooking his castle at Dunvegan. The scene was lit by MacLeod’s nobles, dressed in their finest, each holding aloft a burning torch. The king admitted defeat. It must have been a most magnificent site indeed!

Dunvegan Castle in the distance from across the bay

Onwards home we go down the windy highland roads of Skye. Heading inland we leave the breathtaking shoreline and the legendary Macleod’s tables behind. Back at our campsite, it’s time to refuel our mobile hotel with water and let my wonderful chauffeur companion enjoy a well-earned cold beer.

What adventures will await us in the morning? Who knows…..

As the night closes in I revisit the scenes by the cliffs in my mind. I fondly recall reliving my childhood adventures by the lighthouse and having the privilege of glimpsing briefing a porpoise and some cheeky seals. Nature is truly amazing.

‘God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.’ (Genesis 1:21)

God bless x

Isle of Skye (day 2) – Gardens for the Soul

Those of you who know me quite well also know I am a useless gardener! I love being in the garden and enjoy lots of different colours and scents of flowers and shrubs, but I have no idea what any of them are. I still get my geraniums and chrysanthemums mixed up!

But, despite my ignorance on the names of the these beauties, I get immense joy from being around beautiful gardens. Something quite ethereal to walk amongst the diverse colours, smells, sounds of bees buzzing, watching butterflies flit from petal to petal and birds on carried in the breeze.

What is it, I wonder, that attracts – indeeds lures – me in to sit amongst some of nature’s finest creations? Is it my curiousity to learn more about them? Doubtful as still no wiser on any of their names, though did enjoy discovering flowers called ‘Honesty’ (Lunaria annua) and ‘Dignity’ (Erigeron) amongst the more familiar garden gems.

Is it perhaps the quietness offered by benches carefully placed amongst the centrally placed rose gardens where senses of sound, sight and smell all unite in celebrating these wonders around us? Perhaps.

Is it the awe and wonder about the beauty these creations are illuminating to me? Each one different, unique, perfectly created yet vulnerable to the rest of creation surrounding them.

There is something deeply spiritual about creation, something of awe about how all aspects work in sync when allowed to prosper and encouraged in the right environment.

We visited Dunvegan Castle Gardens (https://www.dunvegancastle.com/gardens/gardens/) on Skye.

In the gallery at the end of this blog are some of the wonderful creations we discovered. I wonder which is your favourite and why? Do share in the comments at the bottom of the page.

Sadly, I remain ignorant in many ways about the technicalities of caring for these beauties but, despite my lack of understanding, I can still discover joy, peace and a sense of contentment from being in their midst. I am thankful for their diversity, their colours, aromas and the sounds of nature engaging with them; I am humbled to realise how vast and amazing creation is and how small a part I am within that big picture, and yet still precious in God’s sight.

My soul is replenished, filled up with good things whilst in this garden. A still, calm, beautiful gem hidden behind protective walls to conserve and encourage these beauties to go on bringing life and joy to all creatures who venture in.

I have found myself yet another thin place in which to encounter the Divine.

I find myself smiling as I sing in my head the hymn which usually drives me mad in church but here, the lyrics make sense and become somehow very real. ‘Each little flower that opens, each little bird that sings, He made their glowing colours, He made their tiny wings. All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful the Lord God made them all.’ Amen!

Isle of Skye: A Touch of Heaven on Earth

Coral Beach, Claigan (Isle of Skye)

I have heard talk of  ‘thin spaces’ on earth – places  where people have felt closer to the Divine (be that Heaven, God or whatever spiritual beliefs they have). By the seashore is one of my thin places, any seashore, but especially when it is really stormy or really calm waters. I find the sea and the shores around it very spiritual places – places I find rest, peace, calm, strength, places I can sense the Divine. As I look out to sea I am reminded of the vast history our waters have – so many millions of years before and beyond us – and still here, so close as I walk along the beaches or cliffs and appreciate the oceans and the creativity within them. Nature is full of thin spaces – places one can find food for their soul…..

The Celts were surrounded by nature and nature shaped their understanding about life (and death). It is therefore not surprising that their literature, poems, prayers and songs connected them intrinsically to the world around them. Their entire existence was within the natural thin places of planet earth. Nature shaped their days, nature informed their decision making, nature was powerful and to be respected, nature provided rest, refreshment and strength for one’s soul. We, as humans, are a part of nature – a brilliant, beautiful, complex, gifted part of nature – here as God’s stewards of this naturally beautiful and fragile world. Celtic spirituality illuminates this inter-connectedness humanity has with nature and encourages us to re-discover how nature can feed our soul, strengthen our will and guide our way.

In search of some beautiful shoreline on Skye, I ventured out to find a beach created from coral, near Claigan. The coral is created from coralline algae which form large beds offshore and in life they are a dark pink colour. The currents of the waters break up the skeletons of dead maerl which are washed ashore and bleached by the sun. You can see the beach appear in the distance, from the path and it is so bright it is like a beacon, inviting you to come and encounter it’s beauty. As I approached the beach I could feel myself getting excited and transfixed by the brightness of the sands ahead.

Once on the beach I realised that the ‘sand’ was actually made up of tiny bits of the coral itself, interspersed with masses of beautiful shells (and the odd colourful jelly-fish too!).

The waters were emerald green and so clear and calm. In between stopping Koda from eating everything he could see, I was able to capture on video the glistening calm waters before me.

It really was the most beautiful beach and waters I have ever seen – a touch of heaven on earth. And to think this coral had once been alive in the sea and now, even in death, was a blessing and a beauty to behold. Life, death and life beyond death is all here – a motif Christianity promotes and encourages us to think of the beauty beyond us….. Well, I discovered it here. This thin place was a much needed blessing for me, a space to be at one with such beauty, such creativity, such brightness and clear waters. A space where one’s soul can indeed be refreshed, restored, reassured of the divine nature within us all and beyond us, connecting us to the everlasting and reminding us we are part of what makes this world beautiful.

Yes, I’ll sing the wondrous story of the Christ Who died for me,
Sing it with the saints in glory, gathered by the crystal sea.’
  (Francis H. Rowley)

In the gallery below are some glimpses of this touch of heaven on earth for you to savour and enjoy. God bless x