Long Walk, Big Thoughts

We have been getting such wonderful weather here in Scotland recently. Certainly not the seasonal wind and rain we are used to in February! Yesterday we decided to take advantage of the wide open blue skies and go for a walk. We decided on a place about 14 miles north of Calander, called Kirkton Glen. We parked the car at the kirk in Balquhidder, and had a wander around the ancient graveyard, where the Scottish folk hero Rob Roy and his family are buried.
Balquhidder Graveyard 4

Balquhidder Graveyard 3

Rob Roy's Grave 2

Rob Roy's Grave 1

Extremely old graveyards, such as this one, hold a certain morbid fascination for me. The headstones at varying degrees, the encroaching lichens, the crumbled ruins of the original kirk all speak of a history, of a tradition, of a culture which spans centuries. With thoughts concerning my own mortality, and my own insignificant position within the time line of my nation’s history, we wandered up into the hillfoot forests of the Balqhidder Braes.

Here we encountered another kind of history altogether, where time moves at a different speed from that of human lifetime. Huge trees towered over our heads, their trunks broad, and their thick roots sunk deep into the leaf carpeted forest floor. Some of these trees began their lives in a time when my great grandparents played carefree games of hopscotch and skipping, their young limbs moving with the graceful ease of youth. These trees are still reaching for the sky, while my great grandparents only exist as fond memories recounted to my children by their great grandparents.

A Long Lasting Partnership

Tall Trunks

These feelings of impermanence were then compounded when we left the path, and came across a ruined village of around 10 houses. Not one of the structures were built up passed a height of 4ft; the stones which once protected from the elements now lay strewn across the land, and the forest had moved back in to claim its own. Trees grew where once were hearths. Moss lay thick along the windowsills. Brambles with their sharp thorns entwined en masse to obscure doorways. Implements lay abandoned and rusting. And a haunting silence pervaded the scene, broken only by occasional birdsong.

Forgotten Village 3

Forgotten Village 1

Forgotten Village 2

I came away from the folk hero’s grave, the ancient trees and the dilapidated village with a renewed sense of just how brief our time on earth is, and how important it is that we try and relish every moment of our existence here. I was reminded of that Edna St Vincent Millay poem, First Fig:

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and o, my friends –
It gives a lovely light!

As we neared the end of our walk, I stopped and looked back over my shoulder, and saw a sight which has graced Kirkton Glen for millenia before it was ever known by that name, and it took my breath away.  It made me realise that my life may be brief in the large scheme of things, but if it’s filled with sights and experiences such as those I had yesterday, I know that it will have been a life well lived.

Expanse of Sky

Have you found yourself having thoughts such as these?  What inspired them and where were you at the time?

PS If you want to see more pics from the walk, you can see a Flickr Set of them here.

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February 17, 2008. Environment, Inspiration, Photography.

15 Comments

  1. nengaku replied:

    I sure hope you have a lot of readers. You always post such beautiful photos and wonderful thoughts.
    The concept of impermanence is a very strong force in my life. Buddha said “Impermanence is the nature of all things.” And this is considered one of the pillars of wisdom in Buddhism. Many people find it frightening. I find it wonderfully comforting. It really helps me to lighten up, not take myself too seriously, and just enjoy THIS!
    Peace and thank you for the inspirational post today.

  2. Penelope Anne replied:

    The photos were incredible and something that moved me immensely…I would love to have been along for that walk.
    I need that, mother nature keeps us buried in the deep snow lately that I can barely step off the porch for fear of flying down our inclined drive of icy death.
    Soon I will find the return to nature I need.
    Thanks for sharing your country with us.

  3. Damien Riley replied:

    Beautiful black and whites. The Rob Roy capture is stirring.

  4. Nicholas replied:

    Beautiful photos, all of them. And I never knew that Rob Roy was a real person!

  5. Joanna Young replied:

    Amy, your black and white photos are stunning.

    Really, you should be selling your photos – they are fantastic.

    I have to confess I love graveyards too, and cleared villages. Most of my walks in the highlands take in either a graveyard or a clearance site. The stones speak to us somehow.

    I included a fair few walks to graveyards in my book of short walks on skye, and had in mind to write a book of walks to Scottish graveyards sometime, but it’s on the backburner just now. As is the book of clearance walks I just *have* to write sometime…

    Hope you enjoy walking in Stirling today, I look forward to seeing more of your photos.

    Joanna

  6. Angie Hurst replied:

    WOW! Looking at your photos I felt a longing to know what the people that lived and died there were like, as I do every time I visit a cemetary or ruins. Makes you wonder if anyone will remember who you were.

    The black and white choice for these was fantastic! It gave it that feeling of age, as well it should!

    You have great talent! Glad I stumbled upon your blog!

  7. Robert Hruzek replied:

    Amy, these are wonderful photos, and thoughts to go with them. I experience similar thoughts and emotions every time I’m confronted with broad vistas of God’s creation.

  8. amypalko replied:

    Thank you, Nengaku, for such a lovely comment. I’m so glad you found it inspirational 🙂

    I’m sure the snow will melt soon, Penelope Anne, and you will be able to reconnect with nature in a way that brings you joy and lightness of heart. Until then I’ll keep posting my photos so you can enjoy the Scottish scenery vicariously.

    The Rob Roy grave is actually quite affecting when you visit it, Damien. Well, I found it was anyway!

    Oh, Nicholas, you never knew Rob Roy was a real person!? We’ll need to get your Scottish history brushed up 😉

    Thank you, Joanna, for your lovely words. I may do something with my photos in the future. At the moment I’m still very much just an enthusiastic beginner. I look forward to the time when I can develop it further. As for your books – I can’t wait to hear more about them! Maybe at another blogger’s meetup?

    I’m glad you stumbled here too, Angie! Hope you come back again soon 🙂
    One of the things that I love about certain old Scottish graveyards is that I can find whole generations of my ancestors, and I know some of how they lived their lives through family stories. V. special.

    I’m so pleased you like them, Robert. And you’re right – when you find yourself confronted with those breath-taking views you can’t help but marvel at your own place in the grad scheme of things.

  9. nouveaufauves replied:

    I’m reminded of one of my father’s favorite poems and in particular this section.

    “Beneath those ruggeded elms, that yew-tree’s shade
    Where heaves the turf in many a moldering heap,
    Each in his narrow cell forever laid,
    The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

    (skipping verses)

    Perhaps in this neglected spot is laid
    Some heart once pregnant with celestial fire.
    Hands, that the rod of empire might have swayed,
    Or waked to ecstacy the living lyer.

    But knowledge to their eyes her ample page,
    Rich with the spoils of time, did ne’re unroll,
    Chill punery repressed their noble rage,
    And froze the genial current of the soul.

    Full many a gem of purest ray serene
    The dark unfathomed caves of ocean bear:
    Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
    And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”

    Thomas Gray’s Elgy Written in a Country Churchyard

  10. In Love With My Home « Lives Less Ordinary replied:

    […] townhouses, and cemeteries where the quality of light stops you in your tracks, I was struck once again about my relationship to all this national history. Because not only did I take note of these […]

  11. amypalko replied:

    Thank you so much for the verses, Nouveau Fauves! They are so apt for the post, aren’t they? Just lovely 🙂

  12. The Flooded Loch « Lives Less Ordinary replied:

    […] Loch Achray, which is located near Brig ‘O Turk: a village above Callander but south of Balquhidder. Now, it’s not a loch that I’m particularly familiar with, but you didn’t have to […]

  13. The Gift of Genealogy « Lives Less Ordinary replied:

    […] I posted it on this blog along with a number of others that I took in and around the small Scottish village of Balquhidder, a couple of weeks ago.  Well, the reason that I’m posting it again, is that I received such an interesting comment regarding it today over at Flickr, by fellow Scot, Eddie: […]

  14. Prize Draw - Poetry « Lives Less Ordinary replied:

    […] First Fig […]

  15. captain stardust replied:

    you have an exceptionally good eye for photography…! and you seem to have gone a-wandering on just the right day, with just the right light. the story here is lovely but made all the lovelier through the illustrative images. thank you for sharing.

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