Thursday, April 06, 2006

Inhabiting the Uninhabitable


The wind howls, the grey clouds hang low and cold spits of rain fall. The hills are covered in rust-brown, short vegetation, peppered with emaciated trees. Snow-capped mountains sit in the distance, looming in among the clouds.

One can see why the highlands are so sparsely populated.

The wet of the ground has made it difficult for the Scottish forests. The tree cover, in the last five thousand years, through the spred of the marshes as well as human activity, have been reduced to one percent of it's orginal area. Even in densly wooded areas evidence of the damp nature of Scotland can be seen: All of the trees are covered in a shaggy, pale green moss.

Even in early April, the mountains are still covered in snow. They have low peaks, at around a thousand meters, but still look quite challenging to the day hiker. The vegetation, even at such low altitudes, seems rare. The high winds of the area must make it difficult for things to grow.

This uninviting character makes the fact that the area has be inhabited for thousands of years all the more unimaginable. The very remoteness of it all seems complete when, in the middle of Loch an Eilein on a small island, a lone castle is spotted, it's stone work falling into ruin. Yet there are few signs of civilization surrounding it.

The modern towns are inviting though, perhaps more so given the landscape. Inverness is a beautiful town situated on the Ness river. A walk along the river is great way to while a way a few hours on a sunny afternoon, even in the cool Spring weather. Small yet impressive churches line the river, owing to Inverness' past and present status as urban center of the Highlands. People still come from as far as the Isle of Skye to their shopping.

As for me, I'm making my way still farther North. I had hoped to set out early, but a slight misunderstanding caused me to miss the early train. Forteen and forty sound very similar in the thicker Scottish accent. Lesson learned for the future: err on the side of forteen, rather then the other way around.

To get to the Orkney Islands, I have to travel half again the length of Scotland, the take a bus to the port, followed by a ferry ride to the islands themselves. It will be a very long day of travelling, indeed.

1 comment:

RobD said...

"but still look quite challenging to the day hiker*" (*also known as "softies" back in America)