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Beyond The Bothy

It didn’t take long for the feeling of calm to wash over me. The car wavered occasionally in the face of blistering winds, swerving dangerously across the narrow roads. We were headed into the Cairngorms, the unruly patch of Scottish wilderness that seemed unperturbed by the restlessness that surrounded it. With lush green forests and snowy mountain peaks, it was vaguely reminiscent of a place we humans had lived before, many generations ago. You could feel it in your body, like some sort of genetic memory, tugging at your instincts like a runaway kite. 

It felt like home.

 

It had been a while since I had left Glasgow to explore my own back garden. I was feeling restless and there was nothing more appealing and captivating to me than the Highlands of Scotland. The drive was long and arduous, and intimidating rain clouds were beginning to gather in the mountains that encompassed us. My hands grasped the wheel a little tighter than usual.

I had – until very recently – been like almost everyone else. Caught in the inevitable rat race, the 9-5 life that never started at nine and never finished at five. I had worked diligently to maintain the image and appearance that society demands. To my parents, my colleagues, my friends, but most disappointingly, to myself. It had turned into dangerous cocktail of negativity that I could no longer drink.

Stress and anxiety crept up on me slowly and methodically., leaving me with little choice. I had to leave my job. All I wanted at the time was to be far away, with no distractions, in a world without reception and schedules. A few days just to focus on myself; to find out what my next step was.

But it went deeper than that. After years of self-doubt I needed to stop chasing a life that was not meant for me. It was time to spark the desire for something that I knew existed in me but could not engage with yet.

The bothy was set in a lonely and remarkably quiet woodland forest. It was so peaceful that you could hear the water trickling down the rocks into the river spey and the flutter of tiny wings as birds danced from tree to tree. 

A muddy farm road, if you could call it that, wound steeply through the surrounding hillside, ending abruptly on its doorstep. There was no entrance or hallway, just a single room with a raised mattress, a few creaking chairs, a stove, a desk, and a sink. My backpack slid off me onto the floor, where a few unaware leaves had gathered, seeking refuge from the elements.

I brought with me acrylic paints and three canvases, along with extra water and a large jumper. Painting was a very recent thing. When I moved into my partner’s leaky flat, jobless and overwhelmed, I spent some time rummaging through his endless wardrobe. It was there that I found some half-used paints and a dusty easel. As soon as the brush touched the paper, that very first time, my worries left me. In those moments, I was just me again. Time stretched tirelessly behind me and faded slowly into a distant corner of my mind, regaining its meaning only when I finally did stop.

The light disappeared soon after our arrival. Scottish winters are somber and gloomy – the wind howls, stormy grey clouds blanket the sky, and the rain drenches you within seconds. And here it was no different. Time is frozen, but passes nonetheless, like slowly melting ice on a sunny day, with each minute more precious than the one before.

It was the purest place for contemplation.

I gathered some firewood and was forced into my own thoughts, without any distractions. Later in the evening, I found myself pottering around the shelves while the last of the embers began to fade and smoulder. I came across the visitor’s book, filled with the stories of those who had come before me. They were very similar, these stories,  but they always spoke of different things. It comforted me knowing that someone could have been here for a reason that perhaps mirrored mine.

I awoke at dawn and opened the window that looked out onto the surrounding trees. The fresh air brought in the new day and I was eager to start. I clambered down the creaky ladder, away from the cosy mattress that lay cocooned under a pointy, tin roof. I chose to sit by an open window with the view to the trees. I felt protected by them, hidden away on a hilltop, shaded by woodland canopy.

With the breeze rolling in, the clouds gathering and rain falling mercilessly on the wet leaves, the scene was set. I picked colours based on the elements around me, allowing my natural surroundings to guide my brush strokes. As the trees swayed outside, rhythmically yet without routine, I embraced the freedom I had been missing for so long. The brush glided smoothly over the thick, starched paper of my sketchpad. I noticed everything: the ground’s uneven texture, the pearly shadow of the falling raindrops, and the way the light hit the trees occasionally when the clouds permitted it. It was spellbinding.

Before I knew it, three paintings had left me. I felt I was slowly regaining control of my mind.

Just as suddenly as it had begun, the rain stopped. It was still outside and the wind  had settled.

I decided to take a short break. I walked alone through the pathless woods down by the river, intrigued to see if there was anything or anyone else around. The birds and the grass whistled silently to each other, but all I could hear was the crunching of stones and leaves under my boots.  As I made my way back up the hill, the familiar smell of the green moss and woodsmoke guided me back. There was no one else, I knew that now. I was completely detached from the outside world.

As the last slivers of sunlight dipped and disappeared behind the clouds, the bothy was once more engulfed by darkness. The fire crackled quietly in the background, comforting me with its heat and presence.

Having time to think, and not just time to think about thinking, felt both strange and exhilarating. I wish I had not ignored my thoughts for so long. I had always been exposed to a certain type of pursuit,  whether it be career success or material assets, but I had never questioned it. There was always something else you could be doing, something more meaningful that, once attained, would be worth the sacrifice. All of it out-with yourself and always unforgivably and relentlessly untrue to who you really were. 

But this place taught me how to silence the seemingly unquenchable desire for more that seems engrained within us. The pursuit of these external stimuli became obsolete, and as their importance vanished so did their urgency.  I welcomed this newfound freedom and it seemed to welcome me, as if it had always been waiting for me.

I realised that I could preserve this feeling  by making art the focal point of my life. This simple, yet invaluable epiphany, has allowed me to redefine what pursuit means, and more importantly, what it means in the context of my own life.

On the morning of my departure, I stood in the empty doorway, broom in hand, and watched the early morning light dance through the foggy windows. The floorboards bent playfully under the weight of my boots and the wind whistled through small cracks in the walls. A small teardrop of condensation nestled into an opalescent pool of shiny water.

It is strange how the very pursuit of nothing led me here, to the mysterious clearing in the woods, where time stands still and trees roam like lumbering giants, forever looking for themselves.

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