With many of the restrictions on Scottish travel and locations being lightened, it has become possible for the Silent Eye to resume its celebrated ‘landscape’ weekends.
Come and join us in September for a beautiful journey along the Easter Ross coastline to trace the artistic and long-lasting people we call the Picts. A race of artist-warriors who kept the Romans at bay, yet revelled in peace and connection to the cosmos.
Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.
The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.
The tallest trees in Britain are to be found in Scotland, a short distance from Inverness in a quiet valley that links the Moray Firth with the north-east shores of Loch Ness.
Centred on a local peak called ‘The Aird’, the locally- celebrated ‘Tall Trees’ have been threaded with a series of walks of varying lengths. My wife, Bernie, is an horticulturalist by training, but neither of us had heard of the Reelig tall trees. It was about forty miles from where we were staying and too good an opportunity to miss…
Upon arrival we noticed that there are a number of paths through the forest. We wanted to do several things in the day, so chose the shortest one that still included all the most famous of these venerable trees.
This most popular path has recently been extended with an elevated section that forms a ‘switch-back’ to one side of the forest. The river Moniack winds through the park. A new bridge has been added – though the remains of the old one have been beautifully incorporated into the riverbanks.
The effect of the new section of path is wonderful. The original formed an ‘S’ shape through the vast trees. The extension crosses the river and climbs, steeply, curving back on a higher level towards the start of the walk and allowing the sheer vertical scale of the forest to be seen from different perspectives.
Many of the tallest of the Reelig trees have information ‘wings’ that fold out from slots in vertical posts.
The Reelig woodlands comprise a mixture of broad leaves trees and old conifers. The main group are giant Douglas Firs, many of which are over a hundred years old, and have reached over 170 feet.
In the year 2000, the then tallest tree – named Big Douglas – was measured at just over 200 feet. It was declared the tallest tree in Britain. A different Douglas fir in the Reelig forest has now been measured at nearly 218 ft, and is confirmed as Britain’s tallest, and is also the tallest conifer in Europe.
It was late March, and the photographs show that the landscape was still a winter one. We look forward to returning in the brightness of summer.
‘Surreal’ is an often used word and does its best to convey a moment, usually quite fleeting, in which there is both a heightened sense of ‘being there’ and another feeling of strangeness. The two come together and we feel vaguely uncomfortable that something for which we have no real words envelopes us.
This state of consciousness is described in more detail in the Silent Eye’s consciousness course as being a temporary cessation of the ‘filters’ that cloud our experience of the seemingly ordinary world. A better word for the experience is ‘present’, as in present to what’s real.
In truth, nothing is ordinary, and reality is seeing that…
Our first ‘present’ moment of the day happened when we carefully bypassed Henrietta and entered the sanctuary of the Farmhouse Cafe in Balemartin. My first post in this series, last week, resulted in several offers to adopt Henrietta, the bike guardian, so I reproduce, above, the photograph of her doing her day-job. I don’t think she’s available for adoption…
The impending storm had quickened our minds, in the way that survival does, and, with the first of the rain driving at the windows, we found we had entered an establishment that had just opened. The staff – four quite young people – looked at us as though we had camped outside overnight, falling through the door, in desperation, the minute they unlocked it. I suppose we looked a bit alien in our bright cycling gear.
For a short while, we had the place to ourselves. The interior was plain but functional, as though it were half a farmhouse, which I suspect it was. The staff had the air of close family and riends, with at least three daughters on duty. Life on Tiree revolves around tourism and farming, with everyone helping out for both. Everyone we met on the island was very friendly, though you could detect a certain island manner.
The cafe owners had a proud display of rosettes for their competition cattle. We were about to ask when a group of eight or so people arrived for an early lunch, closely followed by another, even larger group! It was Saturday and restaurants are scarce on Tiree. We could see why all the family were employed, as the place went from empty to full in about five minutes.
We had planned to have a coffee and, perhaps a piece of cake to keep our strength up. But, with the rain lashing at the windows, we consoled ourselves with a longer-lasting choice of some delicious soup and local bread, and wondered if our day’s adventure had ended before it had really begun…
The downpour continued and we were forced to add some cake and a second pot of coffee to the mix before we stepped out into a dripping Balemartine. The saddles were sodden but a few minutes of emergency finger-wiping restored them to a usable condition. Ominously, the sky had not brightened, and we wondered if we were wise to leave the relative safety of the cafe.
That sense of leaving ‘for an uncertain destination’ has always seemed to be at the heart of mysticism, too. The familiar is safe, but the dark skies of the unknown landscape can just as easily brighten to the beauty of the beyond, when the possible storm is observed to be a shallow and passing thing. The ‘inner quietness’ of such a spiritual moment was mirrored in our journey as we crested the next hill.
Before us was a line of beautiful beaches, but that wasn’t what took our eye. Beyond the beaches was what looked like an old military base. We had only a basic map and no idea what the landscape offered, though we knew the island was relatively flat. The little map of the road showed we were travelling into a dead-end, so all we had to do was keep pedalling and we’d get there.
Wild flowers, some of them quite exotic, were abundant by the sea. On the little meadow in front of this beach we even found a few wild orchids.
And then the road came to a fork, with the dark cluster of buildings ahead. We decided to approach by the seaward track, leaving the bikes parked by a wall. We had been told there was no crime on Tiree, so we could leave them as we liked – even without Henrietta to guard.
Wonderful things happen when you choose an unusual path to an envisioned goal. In this case the approach we made for ourselves, along the edge of the sea, brought us to a most dramatic vista.
It was obviously a harbour, with the ability to seal off the flow of the tide so that some kind of vessel could be maintained. The sea was calm on our day, but we could envisage how violent it might be in the depths of winter. But what had been its purpose?
The ‘dark village’, apparently constructed of the same stone, and at the same time, as the dock, seemed quite deserted, yet was, or had been, very important in Tiree’s past. What was this ‘ghost town’ on our tiny island?
We climbed up onto its walls to get a glimpse of the whole complex of buildings from this perspective.
The answer would teach us as much about the city from which our flight had begun, only three hours prior, as the island of Tiree, itself… Despite the ever-threatening weather, it was becoming a very magical day.
Because we had entered from the sea, we still had no idea what the dark village was, nor why it had ever justified such a grand and robust harbour.
The answer was a lesson in Scotland’s history and a revelation of something quite astonishing in its scale and importance. It was also a lesson in how we take for granted the ‘giants’ on whose shoulders we ‘stand’ as Newton said.