My relationship with the Scottish Highlands stems far back from my father’s side of the family. Over the last two centuries, generations of his kin have lived in the market towns and on the farmlands of the North. When my Grandfather returned from the Second World War, having been incarcerated in a Japanese labour camp, he bought a farm in Perthshire, a beautiful piece of land, bordered by the dark swell of the River Tay.
As a child, I loved hearing about my father’s adventures growing up in that place. I could clearly picture him swimming in frigid lochs, tearing through bracken thickets and climbing the smoky foothills that overlook the farm. Many years after the land had been sold and my grandparents had retired, he took to me to visit the house. We stood and looked out across the wheat fields as the farm glimmered wanly against the onset of dusk. The building itself is silhouetted by the backdrop of Birnam Hill, where the woods of Dunsinane were said to march towards MacBeth on the eve of his death. I remember being filled with a thrilling sense of terror by that view. Towering pines, clustered densely together under folds of fog.
Now that I live abroad, I take a special pleasure in returning home and escaping to these northern pastures. During my last trip, I rose on a frosty morning and drove into the lower highlands. Despite the rays of rusty winter light leaking over the valley either side of me, the breeze carried a steady drift of snow. The Cairngorms, which stand northwest of Glen Doll, were carved 12,000 years ago by the creeping fingers of a glacier that tore the land into vertiginous ridges. On the summits of these mountains, the hard granite that originally bubbled from the centre of the earth can be found. Stamping my way up a steep, snow packed path the air had the quality of the clear mountain stream that coursed beneath me. Attempting to photograph this ancient land is unsatisfactory, for its glens and forests hold a desolate grandeur that can only be felt on the edge of an icy gust or heard in its great silence. Sometimes it is an enough to sit with a beer and a sandwich at the crest of a hill, enjoying the chucklings of old memories.
Words and photos by Robbie Lawrence