It was a hard grind to get here, but the lone cuckoo calling out cross the valley made it all feel worthwhile. I felt validated. People judged me for driving some seven hours all alone. I was called crazy, lost, stupid, brave, even confusing, but I think those that did were only more confused than I. None of that mattered anyway. What mattered was this moment, this singular point of fresh clarity and new beginning.
It’s funny how gazing over a Scottish Loch on a crisp June day can make you feel full and wholesome. It was as if the last three years never existed, like the last 21 years never did. This to me felt like the beginning of it all and what was it come. The start of a new life.
It was early into the dawn hours, maybe 6am, and I was at the summit of Ben A’am looking over Lomond as the sun crept up the horizon across the Loch, bringing with it the life of the day. The mountains in the distance were still snow-capped and standing cold and tall.
The wind was fierce and cut across my face in all directions as if to warn me of this powerful and torrenting landscape. I listened and accepted the signs that said that this was not my home.
As I stood I aged, my joints sealing in one spot, internally fighting the harsh winds and doing all they could to keep warm. I breathed deep and long, getting high on mountain air and feeling silly with myself. The majesty of Scotland had grabbed me and was refusing to let go, letting me take all I could but knowing that this would all be over soon.
I laughed to myself, unable to contain my newfound happiness and freedom. This world was mine to control, it was mine to make better, it was mine to do good with.
As I stood, the cold settled on my body and I shivered. I zipped my jacket and put my hands in my pockets and turned to continue my long walk down and around the back of the mountain, tucking my cold chin into my coat and breathing heavily into the fabric to bring life back to my face.
I followed the path for half an hour without seeing another soul, without even a thought on my mind, until I heard the startled voice of someone in front of me.
I looked up and re-joined reality. A couple stood opposite.
‘Hello,’ I replied.
‘Are you photographer?’ His accent was German, and they both stood in front of me, piled high in hiking gear. From walking sticks to backpacks with protective covers on, these folks knew what they were doing.
‘Not really,’ I responded, realising that they had caught sight of my Olympus OM 20 tucked under my arm.
‘Oh? Can you make picture of us?’
‘Sure,’ I replied, ‘but you can’t have it.’
‘Oh…’ The woman looked confused and stared.
‘It’s a film camera… uhh…’ I looked around for the right words. ‘It’s old!’ I said.
‘Ah, I see,’ she replied with a smile. ‘Take one for you to have, yes?’
They automatically got into a readied pose, linking arms with one another and smiling. The woman leaned her head on her partner’s shoulder.
‘Say cheese’ I said, raising the camera to my eye and squinting hard through the viewfinder. The shutter snapped and clanked shut and the pose instantly broke. Real life had returned.
‘Where are you from? Where are you going?’ I asked.
‘We’re from Cologne. We fly here to hike from Fort William to Edinburgh,’ the man explained.
‘That’s quite the hike.’
‘We’re here for 2 weeks. After, we fly home.’
‘Well I hope you enjoy the rest of it.’ I was done making small talk and ready for breakfast.
‘Thank you, your country is beautiful,’ they responded as they walked on. I turned and watched them go, knowing too well that this wasn’t mine to call my own.
I continued down and off the mountain, thinking back over that brief encounter and how that couple seemed genuine, in love. They were head over heals, clearly. I shrugged the thought off and glanced up, seeing that across the car park was a little cafe that had just opened for the day. The door swung open as a customer walked through and I stared, almost smelling the fresh coffee that awaited me inside.