How could I have forgotten what proper cold feels like? It pulls you up short as you realise that just breathing in the sub zero air is going to chill you, no matter how well wrapped up you are. And the dark, the days that don’t begin until half way through the morning and seem to end at 3 in the afternoon. This is the truth of December in Scotland. Even when there is only a tiny amount of snow.
I complain (this was especially evident during the five hour power cut we had last week), but I love it. It’s a time of hibernation, of books and log fires, and writing, writing, writing; no hot sun to distract and lure, only the occasional frosty bright sunrise. And that little bit of snow.
I’m also enjoying all the Christmas cookies and hot chocolate of the season, sparkly tree lights, nostalgia made real.
It’ll all be over soon. The Solstice will herald the lightening of the nights, that’s always noticeable quite quickly. But for now I appreciate the views of winter: the loch is frozen and my neighbour forgot to take in his boat, now also frozen.
And the field makes me think of chocolate cake dusted with icing sugar…
Above is a picture taken from the top of the Cairngorm Mountain, which in no way captures how windy it is up there. Loch Morlich can just be made out in the distance.
Gales aside, the mountain is always grounding. It is so huge and so solid and high. Worries recede. Ridiculous dramas can be seen for the trivial nothings that they are. And I was wearing my new, very cheerful dress:
There’s a scene with Russian dolls in my book, so I love this. Admittedly, it wasn’t the most appropriate clothing for hill walking, but I did wear sensible boots and a good coat and felt great solidarity with the man who had teamed shorts and plimsolls with a furry hat. We both attracted what I like to think were admiring looks.
Everything was serene down below by the loch, amid the sand and the trees.
It was warm enough to paddle before heading to the stone circle at Aviemore:
This circle is rather unusually situated in the middle of a housing estate, but a peaceful and energising place nonetheless. *enters tour guide mode* There are over 150 stone circles in the Grampian region, more than the rest of Britain put together, but this is the most urban one I’ve encountered. They’re more commonly nestled on the brows of hills, sometimes surrounded by trees, sometimes overlooking open countryside. *reverts to ‘woman wearing a silly dress’ mode* I have a definite ‘thing’ for them; I write about them, I kiss them, I dance round them.
Yesterday I needed to soak up the calm, to absorb it from the stones and carry it with me into the week to come. However: I’ve already made one critique partner cry; I’ve got myself into a horrible manuscript formatting tangle and I have eaten too much chocolate. And it’s only Monday…
I recently explored Tarlair open air swimming pool with my husband and children. Despite having fallen into serious disrepair over the years, it retains a certain beauty, and is evocative – for me anyway – of times past.
It was the scene of many halcyon days one summer; I was fifteen, and due to head off to college that September. I recall lying on the grass in the sun, messing around in the boating pool, buying sweets from the shop and chatting with friends. The hazy, golden hue of these bright points in memory is augmented by the nature of other events from that time.
There was a face off with the girl who used to beat me up in primary school. There was an abusive incident with an older family member, he was much respected and I didn’t feel able to tell anyone. An older boy grabbed me on a bus and kissed and bit my neck; actually that’s not a dark memory; non-consensual and unexpected as it was, I found it rather exciting at the time… There were other daily disappointments, but it can be bitter to dwell too deeply; some things are over when they’re finally over, and they are now.
But Tarlair remains bright, both as it is now, and as it appears in my nostalgic image of the past. Three girls on the brink of being women laughed together and talked of their hopes for the future. We swam in the water of the North Sea with all our clothes on and got changed in the only one of our homes that was free from adult disapproval. We ate chocolate in an abandoned campervan. We drank White Russians in a local nightclub where no one questioned our age; hangovers were revelled in the next day by the pool.
None of our lives turned out quite how we hoped, we trailed far off those teenage maps we drew for ourselves that summer. We’ve all tasted despair but known great joy too. Maybe we couldn’t have had one without the other.
Strong emotion increases our capacity to feel and to live and to love, surely the greatest experience of all.
Below: looking out to the wider ocean through The Needle’s Eye, a rock formation beside Tarlair.
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Set in a fictional castle in Aberdeenshire, Ailish Sinclair’s debut novel, THE MERMAID AND THE BEAR, blends an often overlooked period of history, the Scottish witchcraft accusations, in particular the 1597 Aberdeen witchcraft panic, with a love story.
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