Despatched by the Out Doors Correspondent

 Ockle Head Mountain Inn
Lochaber
February

Wild Woods in the Snow

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The snug-bar fire roars from the hearth. Flames fill the room with glow. It warms and chases away the chill. The simple direct power of fire, the brightness it brings, the delicious pungency of the wood smoke, all these things lift my spirits on a snow bound winter’s day.

A storm rages without as I pen these words to you from the Ockle Head Mountain Inn, deep within the wildwood of Carrifran. I have been taking in the winter season from this cosy inn since the year turned.

At this time of year, the days barely lift their heads out of the darkness of night. The winds constantly drive along heavy skies full of snowflakes until they can be supported no more. Then softly and silently they land, piling higher and higher until there is only a landscape of whiteness.

I was late rising today, only just catching the end of the breakfast service. Afterwards I settled with pen and paper in a quiet corner of the bar by the window. The panes are thickly misted by the warmth of the fire and the breath from the bar talk. Today, because of the fierceness of the storm the bar is littered with those who prefer its comforts and the company of others who are also taking shelter.

I stare hard through the glass, trying to see past the heavy layer of vapour to the outside. I look deeper and deeper into the whiteness, into the blizzard and to the blurred shapes of the wildwood beyond.

I am enveloped by the forest. On such a day its trunks and boughs protect and shield me from the fierceness of the blizzard winds and the heavy falling snow.  There is peacefulness, interrupted only perhaps by the sound of a branch falling under snow-weight or the softness of the hoof fall of a distant unseen deer herd as they search for unburied grazing beneath the tree canopy.

In the middle of the wood I am sheltered. Not chilled or exposed but cocooned within the forest. Surrounded by almost total silence the storm is like a distance memory. Through the thickly set trees only occasional flakes of snow squeeze between the boughs to the forest floor.

I stand amongst the oaks, as they stand firm together, protecting themselves and each other from the harshness of this deep winter season. A dynasty of timber which stretches back for thousands of years; I am always humbled by these mighty oaks.

There can be no greater joy than being a part of an ancient oak wood on a snowy mid winter’s day. In the silence and the completeness of the solitude, the trees patiently endure another winter, waiting for the arrival of the still distant springtime.

Suddenly my peace is shattered, like a chainsaw ripping through the silence. There is such a ruckus above my head as a cacophony of screeching and chatter descends upon me.

The snow is suddenly disturbed from the laden boughs and begins to fall heavily in a thick white mist over me to the forest floor.

Then like ghosts, out of the landscape they appear before me and begin landing in the small clearing I see through the trees. First three, then four, then five Jays. Spectacularly coloured and surprisingly large vivid birds. They clash beautifully with the whiteness of their background. Magnificent creatures, they are completely at home in the wildwoods amongst their favoured oakwoods.

I stand motionless and watch as they pester and squabble with each other in the snow. Cursing and orating in a raucous rough and tumble. They jostle and protest as each urgently searches, I have no doubt, for a half remembered stash of acorns, food that will carry them through until spring.

Near-by a small bough breaks under its burden of snow. It falls to the floor, clattering as it does so. For only a moment I am distracted from the birds. When I look back they are gone. Back into their landscape and away on their continuous quest.

They have each other; I am alone and now overwhelmed by the unbelievable silence.

I shiver and it breaks the spell.  I turn away from the winter window toward the warmth of the fire and a dram with friends on a snowbound day at the Ockle Head Mountain Inn.

These days are waiting for you – wilderness and remote places are never far away. Seek out the solitude, remember that, and you will be rewarded with more than you can ever imagined.

Ever Yours
G.

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