There are so many reasons to love Scotland. The wonderful pubs, castles, history, nature, whisky — not to mention the incredibly welcoming people! But if I’m forced to provide one reason for why I keep going back to Scotland and have written about it every week for 5+ years, it has to be the constant beauty that fills the eye everywhere it turns. There’s a primal quality to Scotland’s beauty that connects one to something older and forgotten, the rediscovery of which, at least in me, requires art to be expressed. That’s why I’ve written 100+ Picture This posts.
The best way to see this beauty is to rent a car and just get out there and drive. Follow small roads to random places. Seek out the mountains and the sea, the forests and the moors. Then get out of the car and walk beneath the winds along the cliffs and beneath the peaks. You will find breath-taking views wherever the compass takes you.
Today I’m continuing my Best of Scotland series with five of the most breath-taking views I’ve encountered on my travels.
The Cairngorms Mountains, Highlands
The ancient Caledonian wood swallows Nethy Bridge as we cleave south to Dalwhinnie. The gray sky dissolves in the east, revealing the Cairngorms Mountains holding court. Snow crowns the peaks and glimmers in the sudden sunshine. We pull our steed onto the roadside, and I bolt out camera in hand and firing. This view, special yet common in Scotland, pulled me into the pages of fantasy novels.
What is magic but the inexplicable, our wish to defy the laws of nature? The worlds of fantasy authors are visions of our own with one eye closed. Mount Doom? Look upon Cairn Gorm. This vision was a reminder that the line between nature and magic is thin as a veil fluttering in the wind. When it falls and the two worlds collide, there is a moment that rings upon the soul like a perfectly pitched note plucked on a celestial lyre.
St. Ninian’s Isle, Shetland Islands
The wind hisses as it passes through the tall beach grass. A golden bracelet of sand rises from the sea as the tides recede. This narrow ayre connects the claw that is mainland Shetland to St. Ninian’s Isle, a blot of land named after that enigmatic papar. Across the expanse a ramshackle 12th-century chapel moulders in its secrets: caches of ancient silver, neolithic graves. Visitors cross the divide in pairs, plodding to the deserted isle in silent pilgrimage. Two tiny, black specks against the gold.
We can only cross from what is to what will be when the time is right. The sea must pull back, the stars align, the moon rises. Our impatient tempers cannot force the issue without unwanted consequences. Perhaps St. Ninian knew this, cut off from the world, as he was, for the better part of each day. On this sunny afternoon I stumble and comb my way across the sandy umbilical, searching for its sea glass bones, and watching the sea cut the world away.
Scott’s View, Scottish Borders
The tumbling sun passes beneath the clouds and casts the Tweed valley in soft, peach light. All the lives of men have come into this span of coppery sky and lush sward and gone, as if raked away by the long, reaching shadows of oak and hawthorn. Here, from Sir Walter Scott’s View, the Scottish Borders lay bare. The secrets of its long-abandoned towers, ruined abbeys, and crumbling forts fill the air, and the Eildon Hills, where the Faery Queen stole Thomas Rhymer away, take on the profile of a colossal face pressing up from the earth to speak them.
I crouch on a stone wall above a hillside draped in yellow gorse flowers as the Kelso camera club set up their tripods. I wait for the clouds to slide east, the fingers of light to stretch forth after them. That moment arrives. The air swells and the view crosses from sight into melody and then beyond, a dagger of wonder cleaving deep into the heart of the unnumbered senses.
Lower Glencoe, Lochaber
Here at last, in the shadows of Glencoe where the Three Sisters and Aonach Dubh shoulder into the thundering heavens, mankind’s scrabble for dominion falters. The four of us are dying as we stand along the margins of Loch Achtriochtan, our selves sliding from the flesh into the embrace of the glen. The weather, as we call it, becomes a colossal Kundalini serpent twisting and writhing between the mountains. Rain pinwheels down on the skirling winds, and I huddle and shiver in my jacket. Each of us sifts through memories stranded here when youth more brightly tingled our bones.
Sheep stand around a small, white cottage beneath dark summits some might say glower with ill intent. Such ascriptions — all words etched, penned, or spoken — are moribund seedlings that fail to blossom into truths. The mountains need not speak for they possess no intent. Our own speech will not come, carried away, perhaps, by the serpentine River Coe. The sky descends and with it new perception, the wisdom of Scotland’s west highlands. In this ages-old beauty, it is in surrender not subjugation that the disquiet of modernity is bestilled.
Firth, Orkney Islands
Rain sheets off the croft’s slate roof as my breath fogs the windowpane. The blind world loses itself in hysteric gales and gusts, its reedy voice keening through stone walls and over rooftops like a bow upon a fiddle string. In the absence of light we measure the passing day in pints and drams, nestled in our watery holes like shivering voles. I watch birds streak across the sky in reckless parabolas, etching clovers of flight in my sun-starved eyes. The wind does not relent. Seafingers, cold as winter rain, rake across Orkney’s rolling, barren hills.
Then, as the Jura runs low, a line of fire burns across the belly of the sky. We knife through the elements and skid to a halt on the flagstones in the yard. A kaleidoscope of light ricochets through the rain hanging in the air. There are standing stones and burial cairns and dark age brochs gleaming in this blast of sun. Thousands of years of Orcadian tempests have failed to undo these human birthmarks, and I think I have been too quick to retreat inside when the fog descends and the light fades.