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Scotland Day Nine - Sacred

Let's start with a big inhale, and an even bigger exhale.

That's how my day 9 started too. I wanted to get up for sunrise, which is often really hard. I get up for a lot of sunrises, especially on trips, and it is never easy. That morning started with a big inhale, and a huge exhale as I threw back the covers, forcing myself up. I have to remind myself every one of these mornings that I won't remember any of the mornings that I sleep in, but I always remember the sunrises I go out for.

I got up and pulled on the jeans and sweater I'd laid out the night before, I grabbed my coat and camera and headed downstairs. Colm had recommended a walk for this morning that would hug around Loch Shiel. I slid on my boots and stepped out the front door into the freezing air. Once that cold mountain air hits my lungs, I'm instantly awake and happy I made it out of the house. It's always like this, every time I'm going for a sunrise.

I walked down the drive and across the small street and through just a few yards of tree cover to get to the water's edge. Colm had suggested I just really follow the beach until I came to a more formal trail on the northern edge of the loch. As I stepped onto the beach, I was greeted by a deer just a bit away, stopping for a drink. I sat down and just watched him for a bit. The sun had already technically risen, so I had nowhere to be quickly. It was a very overcast day though, my favorite kind of day in Scotland.

I watched the deer drink and then pause and look around, and then drink again. He looked right at me a few times, I'm guessing he knew I was there, but was not a threat to him or his morning. Eventually, he walked his way back into the woods at the edge of the beach. I rose and started on my walk.

It was a beautiful walk around the loch. The vegetation was so green along the edges of the water. The sky loomed moodily overhead, but the water remained fairly still. Loch Shiel is one of the largest lochs in Scotland, but it felt small. The mountains rose up all around me, almost like their protecting the loch, and me on its banks. The shoreline meandered along. Some lochs seem to have very distinct edges, but this one was more whimsical with smaller islands and peninsulas, coves, and rivers feeding in and out of it, its boundaries undefinable.

I walked past the Glenfinnan Monument at the northernmost point of the loch - a Jacobite monument that marked the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie formally raised his army. I continued on my way through the dense ferns and pines. It was a gentle walk and I took my time in the solitude, breathing in the crisp air, listening to the water lap against the shore, and feeling the peace of this place.

I eventually made my way back for breakfast. I did have two things on the agenda for today - the first was to see the Jacobite Steam Train arrive over the viaduct at 10am. I had breakfast at the house, packed up the car so it was ready when I returned and headed off again for the bridge.

I was amazed by how many people were there to see it. I shouldn't have been that surprised, as this is the Harry Potter train. I sat there waiting with probably two hundred other people. I wondered where they had all come from, as the town didn't really have any places to stay. There was a low murmur from everyone talking, all of us spread out over the mountainside, waiting in anticipation. Once we heard the train approaching in the distance, everyone went still and quiet. For about five minutes as the train approached and made its way around the viaduct, everyone just watched in total silence. It was quite amazing to see so many people focus on just seeing and experiencing this thing.

Once the train completed its trip, the crowd all cheered and packed up to disperse. Most people went down the way we all came, but a few of us took the trail that would continue around the mountainside to the train station. I went this way as Colm had recommended it as a beautiful hike that followed Loch Shiel on the other side. He was of course right again. Though I don't think there is a single hike in this area that wouldn't be beautiful.

Once I made it to the train station, I walked along the road back to the house. I said a quick goodbye and thank you so very much to Colm, and then was on my way. I stopped in first to walk around Ft. William and eat a wonderful lunch in a cute cafe that did actually seat me (in a prime window seat to boot!). I didn't have a far drive today to get to my next stay. I had planned that, wanting to linger in this area as long as I could. The other defined plan for my day was to hike around the base of Ben Nevis - Scotland's tallest mountain - to see Steall Waterfall.

I drove through the beautiful valley, taking in the scenery and the rising mountain in front of me. The hike took a few hours and was a tad difficult at times, but so worth it. It ended by opening up into a larger glen, the waterfall sitting, magnificently, at the other end. I took my time wandering through the boggy field and eventually made my way to sit closer to the base of the waterfall where I journaled. As I gained space away from some of the struggles of the past few days, I was slipping quickly back into a state of serenity, feeling complete refuge in the natural world around me, within me. It was similar to how I'd felt a few days previously in Orkney, but ever-evolving.

"I feel this urging, nudging, towards some kind of exploration. I've got this spirit of discovery, always there under the surface, asking me to engage, seeking to uncover more depths to myself, to the world within, to the world around me. I really just want to spend all of my days witnessing more closely how everything unfolds, discovering the depths and connections between my own spirit and the earth.

I walk through these landscapes and I can't help but think this is all magic. We are magic. Magic and mystery, all mixed together. And when I say we, I don't mean just us as humans, but we as in all of us, connected here: the dirt beneath my feet, the roots interwoven though the dirt, the bugs, the birds, the mountains themselves, the sun and the moon and the rivers and the streams and the leaves gently swaying in the wind and the wind herself.

I walk amongst the sacred. That's the only way I can describe what I've been seeing and feeling here. The core essence of our own being, the breath of the earth itself, the seen, the unforeseen, all we sense and feel, it is all a sacred symphony."

This nudging towards discovering and unraveling these connections is something I've long felt, but I usually only get little moments of it, not a full week-long immersion into this state of mind. It helped to be in a place that was still so wild - unblemished by all that we've built up nearly everywhere else. A wild and natural place to allow myself to be.

I sat and looked back at the path I had come, along the base of Ben Nevis - said to be the throne of Beira, the mother of the gods and goddesses in Celtic mythology and the Queen of Winter. In Celtic beliefs, Beira is the maker of mountains, of wind and weather and tides. She pulled the landscape out of the earth itself. She was the personification of the elements and a reflection of the relationship of humankind to all of nature. This is a land where the ancient people were so strongly aware of our inherent connection with nature. They knew how to flow with and be of nature. There are so many folktales and legends, animals and symbols throughout the history of Scotland that exemplify this powerful connection. Nowadays, I keep seeing people feeling more and more removed from nature, like it is some other, a thing we can dabble in on the side, if we want, a hobby, an escape from our real world. But we are nature. We cannot be removed from it because we are made of it.

These folktales and mythologies show a deeper understanding and reverence for our place within the cycles of life and death and renewal. Those ancient people knew that they too were walking amongst the sacred.

I wish I could have sat for longer, but the midges were at it again, and eventually, I had to start walking again to keep them at bay. I made my way back, again just enjoying the leisurely walk, taking in all of the scenery, no rush, no pressure, nowhere to be but here. Just walking. My two feet meeting the earth, time and time again.

Once back at the car, I drove some of the way through Glen Nevis, stopping when I spotted, for the first time, a herd of Highland cows. One incredible thing about Scotland - they have a "Right to Roam" rule, meaning you can responsibly frolic you way through any field you want to, on private and public land. The farmers just ask that you close the gates behind you. I went through one of these gates and down to a riverside and met a few of the coos.

They are, mostly, gentle giants, but a bit intimidating too. I had one take a few warning steps toward me, and I backed off, respecting his space. This was his land, I understood. Eventually, as I wandered along the River Nevis, a cow came right up to me and wanted some forehead scratches. Of course, I obliged. It was lovely to sit and talk with him. He was very interested in my coat (it has many pockets) and my hair and the rings on my hand. He had this funny tongue he kept sticking out, trying to lick at me. I was as interested in him as he was in me.

I stayed with him for a while. It was lovely to just simply be in the presence of this other being, seeing how he interacted with his world, our wold.

Eventually, a rancher came to feed them, so I patted my friend goodbye and headed for my bed and breakfast for the night, ready to rest.


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