Of Causeways and Car Seats
Moine Mhor Nature Reserve, Argyll
How does one capture the way the wind feels as it whips around your face, as the sunrise brightens the shiftings of blue that make up the sea and the sky? The way that the green and gold strands of marram grass blend together into a smooth facade of quivering velvet? The warmth of the coffee pot steaming up on the gas stove while the morning is still dark, stepping out of the car and immediately coming face to face with the wonder of creation? You can’t really.
Dunes near Arisaig, Lochaber
Living in my car has certainly been an experience. A few mornings there was so much ice on the outside of the car that I couldn’t open my door in the morning. It took a few minutes of shoving before I could get out. On morning number four my sugar tin spilled all over my bed and I had to clean it up with wet wipes. After every hike my socks were soaking wet, and not one pair managed to dry out in the damp air. Every night before transitioning from front seat to back seat I would move them up to the dashboard and hope they would dry by the morning. They were usually frozen when I woke up.
The mountains of Glen Etive
At the same time, I woke up every morning to an incredible landscape, and got to watch it coming to life as the sun slowly appeared above the horizon. I’ve spent the past three weeks living outdoors, living with nature. Each day has been filled with incredible sights, wonderful sounds, and the explicit freedom of waking up in the morning and doing exactly what I feel like doing.
Kilmartin Glen, Argyll
Scotland is a wild place. Even though in Glasgow I live on a suburban street where every duplex looks the same, where people buy their groceries in Morrisons, or get a Tesco delivery on Sundays, within a few hours I can be totally alone on a rugged coastline, down a single track gravel road with no phone service and no trace of civilization. These past few weeks I experienced landscapes that literally took my breath away. They’re constantly changing - the rain, the clouds, the sun, the storms - each rock looks different as the light shifts, and I had the time and opportunity to take it all in.
Dawn at Buachaille Etive Mor, Glen Coe
My first night in the car there was no moon. Tucked into the cab with my pink curtains and fairy lights, I hadn’t noticed, but when I opened the door there was only blackness. In the middle of Glen Coe, in the shadow of the foreboding Buachaille Etive Mor, not a light shone for miles, and no stars lit the cloudy moonless sky. On those nights I wrapped myself in my blankets and my own little world.
Traigh Beach, Lochaber
When I woke up it was still dark, although the sky was more deep navy than solid black. I could just trace the outlines of the hills running deep into Glen Etive as I boiled water for my morning coffee. It was shortly before 8 o’clock, but we were days before the winter solstice there were just over six hours of daylight. The car was still quite tidy then, before my collection of damp socks had built up, when everything was still neatly packed into boxes. As I started the car I almost couldn’t believe I had made it through the night. The car radio, the heating vents, it all seemed so civilized compared to the wild of the mountains.
The Temple Wood Stone Circle, Kilmartin
By the time I made it to Kilmartin, two weeks later, the moon was at its fullest. I could see clearly, even without my head torch. I woke before dawn, and walked through the frosty chill to 3000-year-old standing stones, illuminated in the moonlight. One of the most beautiful things about these landscapes is their tangibility in terms of being able to feel the history. Even though I was alone in the glen, I could feel the presence of the thousands of people who had inhabited that glen in the past. I watched the sun rise over the Temple Wood Stone Circle, setting the stones ablaze as the light glinted off of their icy surfaces.
Near Arisaig, Lochaber
There’s something fascinating about being in the moment; not worrying about checking emails and due dates and deadlines and everything else which drags us down. There was nothing to do in that moment except look with my eyes and think about the beauty of the light catching the ice crystals. This trip I walked where my feet took me, I drove where the road lead, and I felt truly alive in every sense of the word.
Cliffs near Ellenabeich, Isle of Seil
The nights were chilly, but it was okay under the blankets. I knit to keep my hands warm, while the curtains helped retain some heat. If I cooked a pot of pasta for dinner, I ate with the pot directly on my blanket, and the warmth radiated through. Compact living was challenging, but there’s also something beautiful about occupying such a small space. From around 4 o’clock when it got dark, until 7 in the morning when I woke up, I sat on the mattress and did my cooking and reading and writing and eating and sleeping right there. I played guitar, and knit. After Shabbat I made Havdallah, and shared stories with my friends. During the day I drove in the front of the car, and in the evenings I lived my life in the back. I lived in a tiny box in a wide-open country.
Walking in Glenfinnan
From Glen Coe, I headed north to Fort William, then west along the Road to the Isles, a twisting, turning highway heading through the famous Glenfinnan to a lovely bit of coastline stretching from Arisaig to Morar. Camped out on the loveliest stretch of beach called Traigh, I quickly fell in love. From the tiny car park, a quiet bay was lined with silver sands and black rocks. Between Traigh and the next beach, a rocky headland backed onto beautiful sand dunes, covered in clumps of marram grass. I spent four mornings watching the light rise over the headland, and four evenings watching the sun set behind the Isle of Eigg. Each moment I spent there felt like a dream.
A rainbow over the Isle of Skye, viewed from north of Arisaig, Lochaber
I hiked the shores of Loch Morar, visiting the ruins of the Highland clearances that clung to the cliffs. I visited the ferry port of Mallaig, empty of its usual tourist traffic, with all of the boats docked in the harbour. One morning in the village of Bracorina I stood at the side of the muddy path while hundreds of sheep were shepherded past me. I walked for miles, across the beaches and up the dunes, through grasses and brambles and rock formations, under countless rainbows that seemed to stretch all the way across the sea, in awe at what was in front of me.
When I finally managed to pull myself away from Traigh, I headed south to Castle Tioram, on another bit of land just south of the Arisaig Peninsula. The castle is situated on its own tidal island, separated from the mainland by a thin stream, which I waded through (good thing I brought those rainboots!). It rises on its green hill like a fairytale, surrounded by the forests and islets of Loch Moidart. As I looked onto its rocky face, backed by that strange combination of simultaneous black-grey cloud and intense sunlight that I’ve only seen in Scotland, topped with a vibrant double rainbow, I felt like there was nothing and nobody else in the world apart from me in that moment.
The Glenfinnan Viaduct
I began to head east, stopping in Glenfinnan for the picturesque viaduct trail, overlooking the famous Harry Potter bridge. In Corpach a shipwreck is perched on the shores of Loch Eil, with the summit of Ben Nevis, the UK’s highest mountain, looking foreboding in the background. This was my second time in Fort William, having visited last winter. I revisited some of the places I had been before, hiking to the picturesque Steall Falls (also a Harry Potter filming location), and up the winding road of Glen Nevis.
Ben Nevis, the UK's highest mountain, near Fort William
At Ballachulish I kept south, towards Oban, stopping at castles and moorlands and picturesque seaside towns as I went. The abandoned slate quarry at Ellenabeich reminded me of Santorini, with its perfect white cottages lined up below imposing black clifftops. I explored the crumbled remains of the Aird Jetty, the curves of the Craignish Peninsula, the forests of Knapdale and the ancient history of Kilmartin. The days began to blur, endless stretches of waking up in the morning and living a life outdoors, guided by the rain and the sun and the curve of the highway.
The Isle of Easdale, viewed from the slate beaches of the Isle of Seil
And then it ended. As I pulled out of Dalmally, onto the A85 back towards Glasgow, I felt a sense of unease. I couldn’t comprehend the idea that the lengthy stretches of road travelled, the seemingly endless expanse of Scottish wild I had immersed myself in for the past three weeks was drawing to a close. It was as if three weeks were enough to wash away the conditioning of 26 years, the desire to live in a house and cook on a stove and follow the rules.
Near Arisaig, Lochaber
It was as if I had spent three weeks being able to visualize my place within the world, the immensity of my surroundings and how I fit within them. Alone in a forest, or on a rocky headland, it becomes perfectly clear how the symmetry of nature fits together, and us within that. 19th century Hassidic master Rabbi Simcha Bunim teaches that each person has two phrases they must internalize always:
Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5
בִּשְׁבִילִי נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם
For me the world was created
וְאָנֹכִ֖י עָפָ֥ר וָאֵֽפֶר
I am nothing but dust and ashes
I’ve spent three weeks tangibly living out that idea.
The shores of Loch Moidart
That was Monday. Tuesday morning I opened my laptop to the tiny boxes of remote working, lined up across my Zoom screen. It seemed bizarre to me that faces could talk through a computer, that something as huge as a living being could be portrayed through a 1-inch square, when I was used to rolling hillsides and endless water and no limitations.
The mountains of the Cruachan Horseshoe, Argyll
So that’s that. I don’t think I have an answer. I’m excited to get back on the road, to see more and do more. I’m also excited to be home, to be able to ferment my krauts and bake bread and spin wool and stretch out my legs at night, all luxuries which aren’t afforded in the backseat of my car. Life goes on I suppose. But I’m grateful for the moments I have, and the experiences I get to carry with me, wherever I find myself.
The Moine Mhor Nature Reserve, Argyll
Highland coos near Ben Cruachan, Argyll
Steall Falls, near Fort William
The Craignish Peninsula, Argyll
Castle Stalker, Argyll
Cairns near Glenuig
Sunset at Traigh Beach, near Arisaig