Craig Phadrig rises in the wooded, western outskirts of Inverness, Scotland’s northernmost city. I am winding my way up the hill, through sparse, moss-flecked forest as drizzle sings upon birch leaves and pine needles. The firths blow cold air through the trees that makes me long for a warming dram. My dad makes this hike through history with me. We are alone, save for a forestry commission truck, as we seek the crown of Craig Phadrig where once stood the hillfort of the Pictish king Bridei. St. Columba allegedly walked this same path 1,500 years ago on his mission to spread Christianity to the Picts.
I pass what looks like the spine of some monstrous robot rusting in last summer’s leaves. It could be the tread from an all-terrain vehicle, a centipede’s exoskeleton, the rib bones of an iron golem. The earth is swallowing it, just as it did to the vitrified remains of Bridei’s fort. Surmounting Craig Phadrig is an unremarkable experience – it is an elevated field of grass. I walk along an upraised ridge and look across the sullen Beauly Firth. I know I am standing on more bones. We could cut away the earth and look inside, and it would be akin to staring upon a graveyard. Every moment of every life: where have they gone? Are they the winds? I think the world is too full of memories.