In the deep darkness waves of rain sweep down the glen, battering the hills, bouncing pebbles off the tracks and swelling the engorged river to bursting point. It is dark November in the Highlands and on this night, as a blanket of storm clouds sweep across the hills, the moonless sky sucks the light into itself leaving nothing but a wall of solid black. Down in the glen one tiny flickering light struggles against the night like a small voice crying out in the sodden vastness. The rain pounds on the corrugated bothy roof and, every now and again, its partner in crime, wind, tugs at the metal looking for a way to rip the sheets apart.
Inside the bothy, hunched over a meagre fire and muttering to himself, a dishevelled figure sits. A woollen hat crammed on his head, a matted beard, encrusted with porridge and baked beans, protruding beneath. “Publishers, publishers,” the man mumbles, taking a gulp from the bottle of amber liquid in his hand, he is heard only by the small mouse nibbling an oatcake the man had saved for breakfast and watched only by the thousand eyes of spiders in the rafters.
He is silent for a while save for the odd grunt and perhaps a moment of stifled laughter, suddenly, “Bastards, bastards!” he explodes, taking a huge swig of the cheap whisky. The fiery liquid catches in the back of his throat and, fighting for breath, he spits the mouthful into the fire. The alcohol ignites and a flash of flame forces the man to leap up and backwards cracking his head hard on the stone mantelshelf as he does so. He slumps back into his chair, nursing his throbbing cranium, sobbing quietly to himself. Weakly he consoles himself, “Ah well at least I’m dry.”
A that moment, outside the bothy, the banks of the river finally give up the fight to contain the swelling torrent and the water, free of constraint, pools for an instant before stealing silently toward the gap beneath the bothy door.
That, my friends, is a self-portrait, not of me as I am now, but of how I will become in a few years’ time.
Like Ebenezer Scrooge’s glimpses of Christmas’s yet to come, it is my vision of the future. After spending the whole of August at the Edinburgh Fringe, pressing the flesh of thousands and strutting on stage like the fool I am, I badly need a solitude fix and at last it happens, I’ve escaped! I’m free to experience nothing at all. Nothing is all around me. I look south west and watch the light beginning to fade on the Kintail hills as evening approaches and the colours of the landscape begin to fade. I’m drinking tea outside Camban bothy and the path that links Glen Lichd and Glen Affric runs right past the door. Despite being situated on the hill goer’s highway between Glen Affric and Glen Lichd, I’m delighted to say no one has passed by all day.
I always enjoy evenings in the hills, it’s a time when the hills seem to unwind and the place settles down for the night, this is one of the great pleasures of staying in bothies. I watch the colours fade as the light diminishes until, at last, the mountain ridges become dark sweeping outlines and it’s time to light the bothy candles, watch the fire for a while, enjoy a dram, and finally settle into the warmth of a down encased night.
I spend the following day reading, dozing, drinking tea, watching the rain showers, and cultivate the ability to do nothing at all. For thirty six hours no human being enters my vision. The frenetic bustle of the Edinburgh Fringe begins to fade, I have a time to breath, life slows and silence surrounds the land. Gradually, I begin to find some kind of balance.