To be honest, I don’t want to write this blog. My wife is forcing me to because, she says, I have a “unique insight” into the contrast between our home – in the Cairngorms – and my place of work in London.
She’s working with Visit Cairngorms, you see, to help more people, especially city dwellers, uncover the “hidden gem” that is the National Park here. But – no offence, I’m sure you’re a perfectly nice person – but I’d rather keep it a secret, if it’s all the same to you.
I get the Caledonian Sleeper every Monday night from Kingussie at 9.45pm. I hate it. Not the train; that’s surprisingly luxurious and I often sleep better than at home (which could have something to do with the nightcap dram in the bar and the lack of small children climbing on me in the middle of the night).
No, the reason I hate it is that overnight I seamlessly, sleepily, slip from the beauty and freedom of the Scottish Highlands to the constraint and concrete of the capital. It is not a fair trade.
The noise, smell and hemmed-in feeling of London hits me as soon as I disembark, the atmosphere is all the more oppressive because of where I’ve just left. As I hustle and bustle through the shoving shoulders of my fellow commuters, the comfort and warmth of my Highland neighbours seems a world away.
Like many other city commuters I trudge through the week, head down, focused on work, focused on the weekend. I miss the green. I miss the clean. I miss the view-on-every-turn. I miss blowing my nose without blackening my handkerchief. All the time, I can feel my body and my mind yearning for the space, serenity and sociability yet solitude of my Cairngorm home.
I grit my teeth through to Thursday when I get the train back home. This time my stomach is not lurching with dread; I’ve got butterflies in anticipation.
I look at the weather forecast. If it’s fair, I start fantasising about taking a kayak out on Loch Insh or Morlich with my children, followed by a beachside beer or BBQ. Or a hike or bike with the obligatory café stop at the end.
If it’s snow forecast, that’s when I get really excited; there is no better way to recharge and blow away the cobwebs than skiing and getting out onto the awe-inspiring mountains. If you’re lucky, you’ll bump into herds of reindeer roadside, too. I recommend topping off the day with an all-the-works hot chocolate. Or a local brew from Cairngorm Brewery (Trade Winds is my personal favourite).
The point is – there is no more waiting for life to happen here; treasured family memories are just naturally made as a matter of course with so much to do and see on our doorstep.
Whatever the weather, I love the Cairngorms. No kidding. While the unpredictable weather puts some off, I love it up here precisely because of the changeable climate: it makes the landscapes even more dramatic because one minute it’s sunny, the next it’s snowing, and with each change you get a new perspective. It gives you a jolt that reminds you that you’re alive and that the point of your life is not to trudge but to “be” – that’s real mindfulness and ‘living in the moment’ for you; whatever these trendy gurus of calm say. And, while I’m ranting, the midges are over-rated, so is the cold. Get some bug spray and some good all-weather gear and you won’t even notice them.
I don’t think I ever realised – before living in the Cairngorms – how much the city zaps the energy from me and how much the mountainscape revitalises me. And, if you’re in London, you can recharge in the same way as I do, over just a weekend, if you get the Caledonian Sleeper. But please don’t tell your friends. The Cairngorms is our little secret; deal?