North of the Border by Julian Southern.
Imagine, if you will, a country steeped in history, bloody history, full of violence and animosity, where unspeakable horrors were committed against its peoples.
And imagine, at the same time, a country of breathtaking beauty, where eagles soar on cold north winds; where the monarch of the glen stands proud every year, his great antlers held high as he surveys this his land; where the wild salmon, oh those mighty travelers, return again and again, to the birthplace of their ancestors....
This land, this country some dare to call home. This is Scotland.
The Lowlands, or the borders, a place of contrast.
Great hills rise all over, giving tell of their taller cousins who live further North, and either side, hidden valleys, with ancient forests, magical, mystical....alive.
Sweeping rivers, whose journeys started many miles away, wind their way through this borderland, carving canyons through the hills and tracing unknown routes through the forests. Alive and pulsing like an artery feeding the land it wends its way until it meets the sea where it gives up its tales of sights seen and places visited.
In a time long ago magic reigned here.
Merlin lived here.
Greatest of all mystics, advisor to King Arthur the Great, some tales do say that his spirit lives on in this land....but that my friend is another story in itself....
And so we move on, past the lowlands with their pleasant glades and trees, past their warm valleys alive with birdsong and rustlings of small animals content with life....
And we reach an area that is very old now, a place that makes even this lands oldest human history feel like a young babe taking their first steps.....
Like great monoliths from another time, another world, great mountains stretch throughout this land, making you feel unwelcome, an outsider. This is a harsh land, but, if you are patient, you will see many hidden things, hear many hidden tales....if you know where to look, and if you can read the magic....
Oh yes, there is magic here also, but a deeper, rougher magic....as old as the earth itself. It is dormant on the whole, but once in a while it awakens and stirs through the land, bringing remembrance to its denizens, invigorating all it passes...giving life.
One feels very small here. It is an interesting journey to make, not for the faint hearted, for the spirit of this land will ask much of you and demand your attention.
To the East lies a small part of what was once the oldest forest in the whole of the Kingdom. The great Caledonian forest. Here was the birthplace of all woods and trees of the land. A great magic of mirth and gaiety walked here, indeed the word Elfish springs to mind.....for in these woods and small islands that remain of a better age now gone, one can step back in time, for just a moment, and you can catch the odd glimpse here and there; Be it the look of that startled rabbit as you turn the corner, to the hearty song of the blackbird on those long summers evenings; From the haunting cry of the fox as it leaves a trail across the snow, hearkening back to an age when the Wolf also shared this countries bounty and when wild boar was the prize; to the constant buzzing of that greatest of parasites and companions, the Midge.
Here you can lose track of time, if you give it time, for one must breath the air and walk the same paths of those that live under these great boughs if you are to experience a small taste of another age........
As we head West we reach the servants of the mountains, the Lochs.
These enclosed stretches of water hold many secrets themselves. Centuries old, some say as old as the mountains themselves, they lie as a mirror, giving nothing away, no secrets, no tales, only legend and.....beauty.
To experience a Loch, you must have a clear bright day, an autumns morning preferably, and you must see the loch from every angle possible, before you can even begin to judge its true self.
Start from afar, and gradually come in closer, until you are at its shore. Dip your hand in, feel the texture of the water. Close your eyes and let the Loch speak to you.....listen carefully for it may only last for the briefest of an instant.....
Sadly, some Lochs are asleep. Some now also have forgotten their past and lie dormant....but others, others are alive and their solemnity will hit you like a salmons tail...if it wants you to, for no-one can control these watchers of the mountains...only the mountains themselves....
And so we at last reach a plateau, and we can almost reach up and touch the heavens....but not quite, for now we are truly in "the Highlands".
Mountains. Old. Cold. Dead. Barren. But always there.
The Highland mountains are a sad place. Sad, for once, not so long ago, they shared their lives with trees and with animals of all walks, but alas, now they are bare, and silent on the whole. Man and sheep the culprit. In a few centuries, the magic has been driven from these giant guardians and replaced with coldness and sadness, driven deep underground, where it hides within the heart of these huge colossus`.
Take a moment when you visit. Pause and reflect. Listen as the wind rushes across the vast expanse of rock and granite, for it is here you will hear the deep sighings of these giants as they long to ages past and hope for the future.....
But these mountains also hide some of the greatest secrets any traveler will see....
For every mountain top, there is a bottom, and at the bottom lies the Glen.
Each one is different. Each one is like an island, different in every detail from the last, but all sharing one common goal...the mountains that overlook them.
These glens are the mountains children, the place where a hidden world lies, and where the mountians magic comes out to play.
Here also lives the monarch of the glen.
Proud and untamed, the king stag carries the magic of these mountains on his back...from glen to glen, tree to tree, hill to hill and down into the lowlands. From generation to generation, the deer pass the story of the glen down, so that the magic lives on, so that life can be remembered and the old ways can be carried onwards. This is their land and this is his kingdom.
Finally we reach the sea, and yet within this age old rival to land, we see pockets of magic living in the isles and islands. Here another history can be told. Seagulls give tell of other lands with their whining cries, tempting the traveller to seek further, to lead on....
But it is here that one feels that the end of their journey is come, where the sky meets the sea, and that there is no more.
And so dear friend, this is Scotland, but yet there is more.
It is a land that can be whatever you want it to be. A land of magic, a land of sadness, but yet a land of pride and history full of discovery by you, the traveller.
And who knows what stories it will share with you as you wander........
"North of the Border"