I was working at The Old Mill in Killin today. The community is doing a school uniform swap in conjunction with a kids clothing sale . I was there to collect the uniforms. I had a bit of paperwork to do for the shop (I run the wee Reuse shop in the village), but I had time to spare. So, seeing as I had my laptop with me, I decided to pass the remainder of my time editing my novel in progress. I couldn’t think of a better location to edit. The Old Mill is a three storey mill, once used for Tweed making and grain. It is no longer a working mill, but an important part of the village. It sits by the Falls of Dochart, a picturesque spot in the Scottish Highlands. How lucky am I to be able to work on my novel while the water rushes by outside, just me and wee Margaret, the mill ghost.
Boxing day. I was working today 7am until 11am, serving newspapers to the local villagers and generally being an all round friendly shop keeper. I still had a chunk of daylight left after I finished but sunset crept up on me like it does. I was busy getting wrapped up in winter woollies and rigging the dogs up with their walking paraphernalia, when Helen pointed out the time. So how else could mark the occasion but by taking a getting-ready-to brave-the-cold selfie.
We decided, seeing as the sky was already turning dark, to take these two beautiful beast around the park. The sky by then was grey, the fog still skimming the horizon, and the air had a sharp nip. Overall though, there weren’t many people out walking.
As we completed a full circle of the park though, a family, probably three generations, were out in their winter gear tossing a rugby ball between them. I didn’t recognise them as locals so assumed they were Christmas visitors. How wonderful it was though, to see them playing together. They were chatting amongst themselves, laughing and joking, and two small dogs bounced about in the middle having a whale of a time. It made both Helen and I wonder if this was perhaps an annual tradition. To some, tossing a rugby ball from person to person on a damp and freezing cold afternoon, when there is barely enough light left to see the park gates, may seem odd, but to that family, it may be the only time they get to share something together, that something being a rugby ball. Traditions occur for various reasons, and normally to mark an occasion or memory. Perhaps the ball belonged to someone’s Grannie who used it as a back support while she watched Coronation Street on the T.V. Maybe someone in the family played rugby but couldn’t be there because they were overseas. Maybe it started when Billy was a wee boy and annoyed everyone into playing with him and they had such a laugh that they did it year after year, even though billy is now living in San Francisco, writes for a celebrity chef, and loathes Rugby. By playing ball, they were able to share a memory and bring that memory into the circle. Who knows.
I remember a few years ago when we spent Christmas with Helen’s Mum, there was talk of a Christmas day beach picnic. Now bare in mind that we live in the U.K and December is enough to freeze off a person’s nether region’s, I thought it was a joke. But no, Boxing day arrived and we loaded a bag with Christmas leftover sandwiches, (we were in Yorkshire, if we had been at home they would have been pieces), then we headed to the beach in wellies, scarfs and woollie hats, we took the dogs of course, and they had a great time running in and out of the surf, and to my surprise, so did I. The next time we visit the in laws in Hull, we will be sure to re-enact that tradition, just like my wife did for many years before she knew me.
It certainly sparked up conversation between us and we spent some time sharing memories.
Do you have any Christmas/ boxing day family traditions that you would like to share? I would love to hear from you.
Merry Christmas everyone. It was a quiet Christmas day for us. We got up at our usual time, about 8.30am and opened our presents. Sadly the dogs never got all of their presents as Millie, my 10 year old lab, has sore tummy and we had to cut back on treats and food in general.
After preparing the veg, I had already made the vegan roast the night before, we took the dogs for a walk. I decided I wanted to take a wooden decoration from our Christmas tree to Finlarig castle and hang it on a tree in memory of my Mum. I scattered her ashes there in June, a day before we married there. It was such a lovely winters day that it felt nice to just linger in that space for a while.
By the time sunset came around we were sitting down to dinner. I asked Helen to pause and we told each other what we were grateful for. It felt fitting when there are so many troubles in the world at the moment.
My plans this afternoon were to make my way down to the river for sunset. It has been another damp and raw day and I’ve hardly been outdoors, preferring the warmth of the under floor heating. But at just short of 3.30pm, I ventured out. I took Kimber, my youngest dog, she’s great company and isn’t too bothered where we go as long as there is something interesting to sniff, lamp posts, bins, fox poo, you know the likes.
With a little time to spare we trotted off down the street. On the way, we met several people who stopped to chat. Due to the time and the fading light I would normally have waved and passed by, but the people who stopped needed an ear and, I felt, some kind words. It’s easy to assume that everyone is merry and all wrapped up in Christmas joy, but that really isn’t the case. So many people are grieving at Christmas, from the loss of a loved one, to family who can’t be close because of covid, etc, etc. And people have worries too, illness, finances, loneliness, addiction, the list goes on. Christmas for many can feel like an enormous burden, so it’s no wonder that the weight of those brief conversations stopped me in my tracks, I too feel the weight off worry and loss at Christmas.
I made it to the river at 15.45pm, but only after giving my best wishes, my ear, and to one person, the wish of laughter on Christmas day, I do hope they get that wish. I took a moment by the river bank to reflect on my short journey and concluded : It wasn’t important to be by the river at 15.42pm, I would get there eventually, I was in the exact right place at the exact right time for someone else, and that made absolute sense to me. Below is a short video of the river.
After standing for a minute or two, we headed to the park, after all, puppy time is fun time.
My sunset might not have gone to plan, but I hope by pausing at the right time, someone elses day was a little easier. Merry Christmas everyone. Peace xxx
What did you do with your extra minute of light today? Where you aware of it? Did you pause in that extra moment of light to contemplate the coming seasons? after all, spring is only a few months away.
I set an alarm on my phone for 15.40pm today, this gave me a minute to put aside what I was doing in order to pause at precisely 15.41pm for a whole minute, and although it has been a heavy dreich day, I stepped outside.
I am lucky to have a car port at my back door, meaning I don’t get soaked when its raining.
I stood for a moment but was soon drawn into the back garden. The rain hitting the car port roof behind me sounded like popping candy when it dances on your tongue. I was surprised at the abundance of bird song coming from the trees at the bottom of the garden, but then there is so much foliage for them to muster in, and the birds are fed well by my neighbour. My garden looks sad though, limp, brown and sleepy, I look forward to new shoots bursting through the earth, but first there will be snow.
As I turned to head back indoors, I passed the garden table, all wet, shiny and tinted with sky, and I felt a warmth, this table was our wedding sign and altered by a kind neighbour into a piece of furniture we will use for many years.
Not only did it bring fond memories of a wonderful day, but optimism of a first anniversary when the light will have fully arrived, the trees will be full once more and everything a little softer.
As I took my last deep breath of the cold damp air, I felt privileged to experience the moment in full presence before heading indoors to the warmth, to my wife and to a warm cup of lemon and ginger tea.
Why not set a reminder to experience a minute of sunset yourself.
The snow has melted from the mountains leaving only patches of white in the deepest crevices. The rivers are roaring and, with the constant rain fall in the last week, the river banks have burst. From the park the farmers field looks like loch Tay and the ducks have reallocated there for the day.
With an abundance of water though, comes an abundance of reflections, and I love a reflection. It’s like the water is capturing just a fragment of the world and holding it still.
Despite all of the flooding though, today was the first time this year that the warmth from the sun touched my skin. It is a wonderful feeling. I was mid walk with Helen and the dogs and I just stopped, closed my eyes, and soaked it up. Recognising this moment is an important tradition for me. I like to acknowledge that I am experiencing the cusp of change – in other words spring, and then let that feeling of newness wash over me. I know now that my little world will become greener, the garden will come to life, walks will be slower and days longer.
But returning to the now and to the reflections I spoke of earlier, I would like to leave you with a prompt.
Write a small memoir/true life story where water plays a significant part. Imagine you are viewing that moment in a puddle, what does it look like? Really delve into the details, what colours do you see, what shapes? Is there multiple faces in your puddle or just your own? How does the person you are now feel about the reflection? How does the person you where then feel about what was happening at the time? Can you compare and contrast your emotions? Has the shape of the puddle changed over time? If you could drop a pebble into your puddle and distort it or even change the reflection, what would you want it changed to? Or would you freeze it that way forever?
We had so much snow yesterday but most of it melted as it hit the ground. It did lie on the grass through. When I went out with the dogs, on a not very adventurous walk around the park, the snow was blowing sideways, big thick snow that made visibility difficult. I kept my face to the ground, hurrying my wee legs as quick as I could with the vision of a steaming mug of tea waiting for me at home, and of course my jammies.
It’s easy to take the surrounding beauty for granted when the weather isn’t to your liking, and to be honest, the above picture was taken on another day when the wind was just a wee whistle and, the snow just a wee crust on the periphery of my walk. It wasn’t until I was on my last lap of the park when a flake of snow, a giant flake of snow, landed on my lip. It was only a second before it melted, but the wee snow kiss ripped me out of my daydream and I found myself in the middle of a snow globe. There wasn’t another in sight, just me and my snow patterned dog, who looked at me wondering why I had stopped. It was a moment of absolute beauty, from the cold fizz of the melting snow on my lip, to my tongue reaching for a taste. I was utterly alive. For the remainder of my walk I kept my head up, letting the snow land on my face, my hat, but it only took.a single kiss to bring me into the present moment.
This is a working telephone box yet I’ve never seen anyone use it. We used to have one at the top of our scheme. It was red too, but a bit on the grubby side and with peeling paint. I remember the inside of it, the cigarette burns in the perspex windows, that kind of melted brown tear shape. I remember the ground was always wet and smelled of piss. I remember the air reeking of cigarettes and stale beer. We used to call the operator for a laugh. Pretend we were trying to get the number for Mr C Fax or Mrs C Saw. I rarely used it to make an actual phone call, but when I did, it was a hungry wee machine, eating up my silver and leaving me to say my goodbyes during the pip pip pip’s.
Do you have a telephone box in your town? What is it used for? Can you remember using them before telephones were in the house ?
This isn’t quite a prompt, but a request…
Imagine you you passing a telephone box and it begins to ring. You pick up the phone and I say. Hi, I’m Eilidh from Killin in Scotland. How would you greet me in your language?
I’ve had people visit me from 40 countries this year so far and don’t know who is from Scotland, Hong Kong, India, Vietnam and so on.
I’ve listed all of the countries that have visited my blog below.
Imagine stumbling across an old grave yard. Imagine wandering amongst the dilapidated weather worn grave stones. Imagine a cold chill wrapping around your neck while a black crow squawks from a stone wall. Imagine the iron gate creaking as it swings to and fro on rusty hinges. Now imagine a shadow, small at first, but growing longer as a figure appears below the orange light on the old kirk building. Suddenly, you see a face.
Write a story or poem about the face that appeared in the old cemetery. Who is it, what do they want? How do you feel and do you stay to talk or run as fast as you can? You decide.
One of the best things about living in the Scottish Highlands in the wee detached village of Killin, is the night sky. It’s pretty dark at night, with little light pollution and the brightest moon I’ve ever seen. When there is a scattering of clouds, however, the sky puts on the most spectacular show of patterns and shapes, it’s like art. When the days are clear and the rain is at bay, we have a new exhibition to indulge in every night, and often with twinkling stars dotted in between. That’s not to say it’s not freezing, wrapping up is essential for sky gazing. The picture that accompanies this post was taken in December 2020. It was taken on my phone and zoomed in. I couldn’t help but notice a genie smoking his pipe and pondering what’s to become of this bloody pandemic.
What do you see?
The night sky is a great place to start for writing inspiration. Perhaps on a clear night, get yourself wrapped up and venture out into the dark.
Listen Look Smell Feel
By tuning into the senses, you might be surprised at what the night has to offer. For me, on a night like the one in December, I would hear the hoo-hoo of the owl, the swishing of the trees on the old railway, the creaking of the car port roof, possibly a car in the distance bit mostly not.
The sky can be anything from a yellow oil slick, to a blue fox stretching lazily between the seven sisters and the plough.
There’s usually a smell of a burning wood in the air, the smell of wet grass, sweet frost or mulch. Sometimes even the smell of laundry from someone’s tumble dryer.
I will feel the sharpness of the air as it reaches my lungs, the sting of cold on my cheeks, my feet on the ground, my heart beating, the clothes on my skin.
This is present moment awareness, a moment of mindful contemplation. All of it relevant as I stand completely alive, sharing the sky with those brave enough to be out too.
Today the temperature has remained below zero, the lowest being -4°, but the sky was the deepest blue I’ve seen in a while, and with only a slither of cloud on the horizon. Me and my two chocolate Labradors walked along the river bank, the river was flowing so slowly that the opposite bank was reflected clearly on its surface, apart from the odd random ripple and patches of grey ice around the bank that is. My dogs love the water, but they also love chasing the ducks, and there are an abundance of ducks on the river at the moment. So they remained safely on lead while I took lovely photographs. Here’s one of them in a little sandy cove.
Once we moved away from the river and into the field, the dogs relaxed a bit and I was able to settle comfortably into my surroundings. The mountains seem to have gathered more snow overnight and looked particularly dramatic. One in particular, Ben Lawers, looks to me like its twisting away from the other. There are parts of Lawers that are so incredibly steep and its a wonder that so many people climb it. And even though I view it with that sense of fear, I can see the draw because it is overwhelmingly stunning. This sensation reminded me of an English Literature lecture about the feeling one gets when confronted with the beauty and the terrifying in nature – I believe it was described at the sublime.
Edmund Burke identified the sublime as the experience of the infinite, which is terrifying and thrilling because it threatens to overpower the perceived importance of human enterprise in the universe.
Where was I? While I was having these wonderful emotions, and keeping one eye on the dogs, who sounded like little piglets sniffle out truffles, except it wasn’t truffles, it was frozen rabbit poo, I wandered into some frozen flood water.
We had an incredible amount of rain in December and the field, which is normally filled with sheep, was flooded. The sheep were replaced by ducks, but with this new cold snap, even the ducks are warming their bums in the river rather than the solid ice.
So, as I stood in this mini ice rink wondering how I’d got there, I realised there was an opportunity to walk mindfully, to bring myself back into the present moment, all because of a crunch…
What does it mean to walk mindfully?
Mindful walking is about intention and paying attention. Let me explain. When I found myself on the ice, the first thing I noticed was the sound, the satisfying crunch as my wellington boot broke through. It was a familiar sound, something that drew me back to my childhood and I found myself smiling. This is when I decided to walk mindfully, in other words, I made an intention. The dogs were sniffing around, eating poo and were in no hurry to move on, so I stopped, and I took three long deep breaths, (this is kind of like the Bell or the Gong in my previous post as the breath allows you to arrive into a moment, to be present). I then took a moment to check in on how my body felt, to relax any muscles that had become tense, to feel my feel on the ground, or in the ice for that matter, and that’s when I noticed, for the first time that day, the cold on my face. In fact, I was so surprised to feel the sting on my cheeks and neck that I raised my hand and touched it. Then I began to move. Mindful walking is walking intentionally, walking slow and feeling the range of motions while experiencing all the sensory pleasures available to us. That’s not to say that this exercise is exclusive to able bodied people, it can be adapted to wheelchair users too, although I wouldn’t recommend wheeling into a frozen flooded field, but the exercise can be adapted on less dangerous terrain. As I began to walk, I concentrated on each movement, the weight of my legs as I lifted my feet, the feeling of my feet landing on the ice, that moment of resistance before my foot broke through the ice and then landed on the sticky earth below. Then there was the sucking sound, and a moment of fear which I noticed landed between my shoulder blades and high in my stomach. It felt like a screech, if a screech were a feeling, and for a moment my breath became tight as I lifted my foot. I suddenly felt my face flush with warmth and my hair filled with prickles, and I breathed a long sigh when I discovered my wellington was still attached to my foot. I continued to walk like this, observing each movement, each emotion, watching the ice crack and crumble as I punctured a path of size fives through the middle. It was the crunch that kept me right there though, the brief squeal before the coosh sound, (I think it sounds more like a coosh than a crack). I could smell the frost, that sharp almost sweet smell, followed by a rush of mulch and sulphuric bog smell. I only walked like this for about two minutes, but managed to collect so much information as well as becoming more aware and feeling relaxed.
How can Mindful Walking help with my writing?
It’s all about the experience.
What did I notice?
How did it feel?
When we walk mindfully, we begin to notice a range of things, such as the temperature of the air, the ground beneath our feel, textures and smells, our surroundings, the soundscape. Have another read at my experience and see if you can identify these things. There is definitely many benefits for a writer to practice mindful walking, although it is easier to plan the mindful walk than to decide halfway through a walk that you are going to do it. By planning a walk, you can pick a place that may resemble a setting in your story, then you can experience the setting in the same way your character will. This will enhance your description. Remember the old phrase,
Write what you know.
It might be relevant to disclose to you at this time that I am writing a novel set in this very village and partly in this very field, so all of this is wonderful research for my book. But I will conclude today by saying, thanks for reading, and also, of you would like any more advice on mindful walking or how this could be adapted to a wheelchair, please comment and we can chat. In the meantime, here’s a photo of my side of the mountain.
I struggled to find the motivation to walk the dogs today. I had a busy morning delivering an emergency package to my partner, Helen, who is currently in hospital, and returned home tired and with a headache. But those pretty brown eyes kept pleading for their walks, and who could resist the eyes of a Labrador (never mind two). So, I got them rigged up and we tottered off to the field at the back of the house. It has been a lovely clear day here in Killin and the sky at 3pm had barely a cloud. We wandered into the farmers field, along by the river and with one of the best views of the mountains. That’s when little patches of red began to appear on the furthest mountain, then slowly, as the light dimmed, it spread right over the mountains in front. Of course, I had to stop and capture the moment on my phone. I even took a video for Helen. But for a moment, the smallest moment, because the dogs can’t stay still for long, I stopped, put my phone on my pocket, and just looked. I felt the cold air in my lungs, the nip of icy wind on my face and my heart filled with the sight before me. I felt alive.