Saturday, 10 March 2012

Take a break: get a new perspective

I’ve just had the most wonderful experience walking with a friend in Torridon, North West Scotland. Only a week ago, we were taking in the beauty of the Cairngorm valley from the window of the Caledonian Sleeper: snow-capped mountains in the distance, stations built like Victorian hunting lodges, silver birch and Dulux white snowdrops growing by the line. Despite the inspiring view, I was worrying about work. Was there anything I had not done that I should have done? Were there things I had done that I should not have done? Even though I slept soundly on the train, I could still feel the ties that bind me to work.

The power of time, distance and novelty 
Removing myself from a situation and waking up in a totally different environment can help to reduce my killer sense of responsibility for everything. After a cooked breakfast at the station hotel, I felt the ties weakening. Maybe it was admiring the grand hotel staircase that is the original of the one in The Titanic. Probably it was the black pudding that helped most. Meeting the owl from the Harry Potter films outside Inverness M & S was magical. With one eye closed and one eye open, she turned her head from side to side like a clockwork toy. I couldn’t help noticing that the owl’s keeper looked very like an owl himself, with his owlish glasses and long snowy white hair. Time, distance and novelty all helped to make me feel less responsible for everything.

Take a SMART challenge

Walking in Torridon for the first time helped me to focus on a practical and immediate goal: getting to Coire Mhic Fhearchair and back safely. Unlike my never ending ‘to do’ list at work, a guided hill walk is a SMART challenge. You know where you are going (specific) and how far you will have to walk (measurable). By turning up you agree (agreed) to the route.  Your guide has assessed your fitness for the walk (realistic) and you know roughly how long the walk will take (timebound). Ryan, our guide, showed us the remains of a Lancaster bomber that crashed in Coire Mhic Fhearchair in 1951. He had recently taken part in a ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of the crash. Someone had cut the wreath from the skeletal wing of the plane.

The Importance of Treats

When you have walked to one of the most beautiful places in the world, it’s quite all right to stop for tea and scones. A gin martini can add value to the view from the hotel of the loch and the mountains. It would be impolite not to drink local beer and eat haggis with 2 GPs, an anaethetist, and an accountant in the bar. Talking nonsense to strangers is a good way to see how far you can reinvent yourself. Losing (respectably) at the pub quiz is part of the fun.

Cathedrals in the sky

The hills of Torridon look as if Andy Goldsworthy has arranged them. They guard the entrances to valleys like sphinxes. They change colour in the evening sun. Scottish hills are a bit of a tease. Sometimes they hide in the clouds. Just when you have forgotten about his existence, Ben Eighe will reappear. Several walkers in our group said that being in the mountains gives them a sense of humility. Ryan McLean, our mountain guide, has lived in Torridon all his life. When challenged by the local minister to come to church, Ryan told him that walking in the mountains is his equivalent of going to church. Seeing the mountains through Ryan’s eyes made me question why I live in London. If you want a different perspective, try going for a walk in the hills of Torridon.