Wilderness on my doorstep…

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I am just back from a tramp around the hills above Dunoon. Exercise, I feel, is overdue.

What a lovely day- crispy frosty grass underfoot- bogs the more friendly for a creaking coat of ice. Views opening up over the distant hills and mountains.

For those who are used to walking in England- the hills of Cowal were mad busy today. I saw more people than I saw deer! (For the record- two people, one deer.)

The downside for this lack of use is that there are few if any paths, and so progress is hard and potentially fraught with wrong turnings. Today I found the summit of Bishops Seat, cold and whipped by thin clouds. But an attempt to find a trouble free and easy descent was foiled by fallen trees and areas of clear-felled forest. I emerged very muddy but satisfied, tramping through all the clean dog walkers on the path around the reservoir with pride at my obvious adventure.

I have come to love the kind of local walking that follows a known route, then extends it into the unknown- a new peak beckoning, or a clamber alongside a burn as it forces it’s way through the forest. I do not use a map for these outings- they are of little use in the forest anyway (planting and felling changes the landscape all too frequently.) A compass is useful to ensure that a firebreak is in the right direction, but beyond that- it’s about following the nose…

And today, it was wonderful.

I know myself blessed to be able to live amongst such beauty.

Today, it was good to be alive, and easy to worship God.

Advent unexpected

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A storm rattled the old house through the night, and the skirl and howl of the winter wind took away sleep. Or perhaps it was rather the swirl of stuff in my head- but either way, the grey of the dawn brought a headache and a developing awareness of the inevitable head cold gifted no doubt by William, who has been stretched out on the sofa for a few days.

But today is a Saturday, and Saturdays are special.

They offer the possibility of all sorts of meeting and greeting and adventuring. But above all, they offer time away from the worries of work and school, and I can share them with my wife and kids. There is nothing better in this life I reckon.

Having said that, perhaps because of the fallen nature of this wonderful but flawed world, things are rarely as easy as this. Saturdays are often stolen by a thousand obligations.

Michaela, bless her, will often introduce the subject of another ‘task’ obliquely. Or perhaps it just seems that way as I was not listening properly. But she knows that every second filled with tasks, no matter how blessed, I easily resent…

Today was a case in point. A day filled with DIY, trips to the tip and the collecting of kids and then a trip to fetch a Christmas tree… which turned out to be an absolute joy.

It began with a drive in the early winter dusk as the mingling air misted at the level of the lower branches.

Past Loch Eck, a glassy smooth reflector of the mountains lined with bones of snow.

And a friendly man at the Glenbranter forest station who helped us pick out a tree with humour and a genuine warmth with the kids.

Crunching over the muddy ground half concreted still by insulated ice.

Then a tea and mince pie in the ranger station, whilst the kids were drawn like iron filings to the magnet of the piles of ploughed surviving snow- too hard now to compact into balls, but magical just the same.

And I walk out on my own for a moment, in the middle of Argyll Forest in the gathering dark. Mist still hanging in the trees, but just enough light to make out the white of the mountain tops beyond.

And rejoice.

A suitable advent moment- all the better for being unexpected, in the press of a curmudgeonly day.

The Argyll forest in autumn…

Today we walked into the forest at Glenbranter.

It was a lovely autumn day, with the occasional shower serving to polish up the colours.

The trees have not yet given up the summer- some of them are still green. But others have decided to go out with a blaze of glory.

The forestry commission have worked hard to encourage people into the woods. They maintain footpaths, set up wildlife hides, and put on special events. Today there were exhibitions of birds of prey, films of ospreys and information about the experiment to re-introduce beavers to Knapdale. They have been extinct in Scotland since the 16th century, and the idea of them living in our woods again makes me happy.

So we waked past waterfalls and ate sandwiches watching the red squirrels…

And it was good to be alive.

Winter is coming. Soon the trees will be bare, and the nights cold and long. But this too will pass.