Mountains and the mind


At height, the world gains a dizzying lustre; light gains an otherworldly quality, at once dazzlingly pure and then fugged as though someone had drawn a blind. The taste of the air is different; sound keener; attention closer.

A steep summit engenders an intentionality it is impossible to achieve elsewhere. Valleys slicing away beneath outcrops of rock; fragile bogs trembling underfoot; deceptive distances. It is absolute necessity to focus once and for all on where you're putting your feet.


Of all the places to take you out of your own head, the mountains, the hills – these are the places your fractured, indentured mind can unbound itself. In all that space, with all that stretches before you – the hidden summits, the plateaus, the waterfalls, the stretches of near-farmland meeting rugged hill – this is where you will finally find the space just to Be. 


I keep a small block of Torridonian sandstone on my bedside table. Rare, sedimentary rock – it was formed and reformed before 'living' creatures were even thought of. I keep it there as a reminder that if I were to break it open, I would be there first living thing to have ever seen the interior of that rock in all the millennia of its existence.

The very wonderful Nan Shepherd spent a lifetime exploring a collection of remote crags; exploring this essential unknowability of nature. When the sounds of the city crunch in my ears, buildings funneling the racket, I yearn for the open spaces she described to take me out of my own head. I yearn for the peculiar roaring silence-which-is-not silence of the hills, and the knowledge that all the thoughts that rage in my screaming brain will melt away, as impermanent as the seasons.