Ben Nevis

As I sit gazing into my back garden reflecting on this past weekend, part of me wishes I had never left the Highlands. There is a certain magic in the wildness of the Scottish Highlands that I will not easily be able to forget. While it may be my impressionable imagination and fondness for folklore talking, I can’t help but think of the ancient peoples and beasts that were as part of these lands as the pine glens or enigmatic lochs. I still like to think that those creatures and heroes of lore still exist somehow, merely hidden behind a craggy cairn or peeking out from a tree hollow. Having the chance to visit these places teeming with magic is something very special to me, as it reawakens my imagination and reinvigorates my soul.

Spending the weekend in a place such as Ben Nevis with some wonderful company has definitely done just that after a very strenuous semester. I do not think I have ever worked as hard as I have this semester, really pushing myself to excel to prove my worthiness for the honors modules in the latter half of my university career. Combined with the inevitable end of the semester homesickness, I have been struggling a bit as of late. Yet I was able to let some of this go over the weekend, reminding myself exactly what I love about being abroad: the adventure. Ben Nevis is the highest mountain in the British Isles and in just over four hours we hiked to the summit, something I have never done before. While there were points I did not think I could keep going, the warrior poet (as my mother likes to call me) within drove me ever onwards, tackling each new obstacle with vigor. Climbing to the top has thus far been one of the hardest things physically I have ever done.

What really struck me on our venture was the absolute silence. After an entire semester of the hustle and bustle of Logie’s Lane, it was nice to escape the human condition of business to simply be. Again, not helping my overwhelming desire to pack up everything and abandon civilization for a solitary cabin. Time, as well as noise, was simply not a factor as we climbed. It did not matter how long it took, nor did I really care; we could simply move along at our leisure, enjoying uncharacteristic sunshine, wind in our faces, and the company of kindred spirits. Like a puppy that needs an hour or so outside to wind down, this hike was just what I needed to quell my Walden urges to settle back into a few more weeks of hard work during revision and exams.

Another aspect of this climb worth mentioning is the conquering of fear. While I love bounding up mountains and hills, exulting in the liberation of it all, descending is a whole different scenario. As a child I had no qualms about jumping from tall trees or play structures and I willingly hung over railings of lighthouses to see the insignificant world below. Somehow in my age I have lost this fearlessness, much to my disappointment. Picking our way down Ben Nevis was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. Perhaps it was the fear of falling or the sheer plummet that turned my stomach, but suddenly I found myself alone, clinging to the side of a mountain suppressing the urge to cry. Or perhaps I was more upset at my complete and utter reserve, the loss of adventurous bravado I often attribute to myself. Me, the stouthearted and intrepid explorer, was afraid of a little danger. I wanted one of the boys in our group to come rescue me. I wanted to stay sitting on the side of the sheer rock face forever.

Yet it dawned on me that this is one more foe I had to vanquish alone. If I could routinely travel 3,000 miles from home on my own, I could certainly traverse down a mountain. While the going was slow, and the looming crevasse to my right turned my stomach, I made it down to the rest of my group. Though I was embarrassed at my palpable panic, I allowed myself to be proud of what I had accomplished. Somehow in the course of my twenty years I have become afraid. Afraid of other people’s cruelty, afraid of a world without the security of my parents, and afraid of whether I would accomplish all that I dreamed of or not. This realization of mine saddens me: how did I become so timid? As a child I was known for my fearlessness and fierce independence, keen to prove myself invincible under any circumstance, yet twenty years later I was trembling in the face of a small obstacle. Who was it that had made me think I was so small, so helpless? Moving to Scotland two years ago was one step in reclaiming this stoutheartedness, and as I reunited with my group after the initial descent, I felt as though I had regained another part. I had done yet another frightening task unaided, swallowing my trepidation and relying on myself to get the job done. While none of my companions knew it, bounding excitedly off in all directions after the lengthy delay, I had made another small step towards becoming the fearless and independent young woman I so want to be.

The rest of the weekend was filled with wonderful memories and even more wonderful company. A nice meal shared at the Lochy Inn, telephone pictionary, and a morning run in a logging forest all did wonders for the thirteen of us. On our drive back we also had the chance to ride through Glencoe. If I were to ask any of my American friends how they pictured Scotland to be, more often than not images of Glencoe would flash through their minds. This area has also been on my “Scottish Bucket List” for many a year due to its stark and majestic beauty.

All in all, this was probably one of the most amazing weekends of my life. I have already waxed poetic on here about how much I love the cross country team, but the feeling is genuine. I have found that in my time at St Andrews I have acquired two groups of friends: the cross country team and my main group. The latter can often be found at my house at any hour of the day, and while I am fond of them, I do see them constantly, whereas sightings of my cross country friends are really limited to training and long runs, where conversation is often reduced due to trying to conserve breath. Even our Saturday races seem too short, as everyone is keen to get home after a long day of racing. So I really treasure these long weekends where we can truly bond. Also, getting to do so in such a beautiful location did wonders for my semester worn soul.

Originally written 29 April 2014

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