Friday 20 March 2020

A spring equinox walk in the woods, thoughts on a dark time

A beautiful sunny spring equinox, the air sharp and crisp after a deep frost. I went to see how spring is faring in some favourite local woods. It's barely noticeable. Only clusters of hazel catkins show any change from winter. There are no flowers on the forest floor, not even any green shoots. Leaf buds are tight and brown. But this will all change soon. Despite the chill east wind the sun felt warm on the skin. Every day its power grows.  Far across the trees the Cairngorms rose, shining white. More snow now than at any time this winter. Curlews called from a meadow, back from the coast to nest. They know the seasons are changing.

Alone in the woods I could forget for a while the deep crisis affecting the human world. Whilst I was in the trees the government ordered all bars, restaurants, cafes, clubs, gyms and more closed, to try and halt the spread of coronavirus. The world in turmoil. Social distancing, self-isolation. I'm used to solitude and can probably cope more easily than most. I saw no-one all day and was quite happy with this.

Everybody is affected in some way though. For the outdoor world - my world - it means a closure of facilities from outdoor centres to walkers pubs. Many people are self-employed and working as much for love as for money. What now when the work ceases? I know guides, instructors, cafe owners and others who are seriously worried about the future. No-one knows what support will be available. Even the experts can't say how long it will last. Three months? A year? Too long, for certain.

I've only lost a little work so far. Books and magazines are still for sale. For those far from the hills this could be a time to catch up with outdoor reading and support the many self-employed outdoor writers. 

Nature brings solace, for those of us within easy reach. I am thankful I live here, on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park. Is it responsible to go out? I think so, as long as little contact is made with others. Advice from Mountain Rescue, Mountaineering Scotland, the British Mountaineering Council and others is that going to the hills is healthy and good but risks should be avoided. Sticking to familiar places and safe routes is wise.

I hadn't meant to write about the coronavirus crisis but I've found it's all-pervasive at present. We will have to live with it for quite a while. Once restrictions are eased supporting people and businesses will be important. Outdoor guides, cafes, pubs, campsites, accommodation will all need lots of customers.

I wish everyone as easy a journey as possible as we move through this dark time.


  1. Dark times, indeed. Chris, given that you have the ears of some politicians, can you please please get our MSPs to act now before an ecological disaster, let alone a human disaster, hits the Highlands. It is almost certain that come the summer travel restrictions will still be in place. We're already seeing an exodus of campervans to the Highlands. In the summer, many, many people will want to travel to the Highlands, car-camping on a massive scale. The situation nr Loch Lomond and Loch Earn will be multiplied across all glens and lochs, with people disposing of human waste on a massive scale, from campervan and car-camping. Public toilets will be closed, it will be horrendous. I can think of many secluded places that I won't name where hordes of car-campers would do huge damage to rivers and meadows, dunes, you name it. We need new by-laws now to make it an offence to car-camp. As we heard from Kate Forbes, the Highlands could not possibly cope with the additional strain on NHS resources were the virus to hit them hard as a result of visitors from down South. The hit on the natural resources would be just as bad. They must act now.

  2. I agree with you. I'm sharing masses of posts on this. The politicians are acting now. Ferries are now for locals and essential services only. Campsites and car parks are closing. Everything is happening very fast. I've contacted MSPs to give support, though I don't think I have any more influence than anyone else.

  3. I was preparing for a long distance hike in the USA this year but that is obviously not going to happen now. Then I was thinking about a long hike in Scotland, but even that could become a bit of a challenge now with resupply and stuff... Places where i would normally send a package (campsites, lodges) maybe closed and I'm not too sure about small shops either. And nobody is going to give a ride into town to a hitcher because of the required social distancing.

    1. A long walk in Scotland isn't a good idea at present. Campsites and lodges are closing down, small shops are likely to only have enough for locals. And Mountain Rescue are advising staying close to home. I was planning a two-week walk in May. It's on hold now. I'm only doing walks from home.