Wonder of Wonders

Group walk over stone bridge under trees in autumn foliage

Last week I described my first outing with the Health Walk Group in Glen Tanar. As Writer in Residence for the Cairngorms National Park, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many kinds of people of all ages right across this vast and varied landscape. Some of them have eagerly signed up to attend a writing workshop; others, like school classes, are just lumbered with me. (Though with sometimes surprising results.) And then there are the folk like the Glen Tanar ones, who already have a deep and joyous relationship with their natural environment and no need to write about it. They did, however, graciously welcome me to come along.

My walk with them the first week was cloaked in mist and the swirling stories of the Glen’s history – natural and human. We shared delight in the place and one another’s company, both outdoors and in the warmth of the Boat Inn; and though we didn’t write anything down, the conversations were rich. It’s always been an important principle of the project that we encourage responses to the Cairngorms environment in both spoken and written form. As a local friend observed to me, talking rapturously about this landscape in which he grew up, “I don’t write, Merryn, but I can talk for Scotland!”

Group in trees pointing out nature features


Talking is definitely welcome. Which is why I was very happy at the end of my first meeting with the Glen Tanar group. Even though they’d been clear they didn’t want to write, they had been generous in sharing their stories of this beautiful place. I was very much looking forward to seeing them the following week.

I’d barely got home, however, when an email dropped into my inbox from one of the group: Anna. Using several Scots nature words, she’d crafted a Cairngorms Lyric!

Glen Tanar walked in muggle
Autumn 🍂 colours, heron.
Injured puddock walked safely to linky edge.

muggle = drizzling rain; puddock = frog; linky = flat & grassy

I was delighted. Then the next day, another email arrived from Margaret:

“Thanks for joining us on the walk yesterday. I really enjoyed the session afterwards at The Boat Inn.

I’ve always loved reading but have never felt the urge to write for pleasure. However, as we were walking round the loch I felt that I should, perhaps, make the effort to come up with something short and simple and produced this.

Yellow, gold, rust and brown
Autumn’s leaves drift down, heralding Winter’s chill.

Group walk throug autumn foliage


This morning, I decided to have a go at a Cairngorms Lyric. This is the result.

Like a sentinel, tall and still,
the silent heron waits by the lochan’s glassy waters.

I’ve just looked online and found that an old Scots name for the heron is “Lang Sandy” so another version could be:

Like a sentinel, tall and still,
Lang Sandy waits silently by the lochan’s glassy waters.

I doubt I’ll set the heather on fire with these but I’ve enjoyed doing it. Feel free to discard or share as you see fit.”

Lochan at Glen Tanar
Glen Tanar Loch

Let me tell, you, these beautiful offerings definitely set my heather on fire! I couldn’t stop grinning – and definitely couldn’t wait to get back to them all. “What are you like?” I said, as we gathered in the car park the next Friday. “The group that doesn’t want to write sends me wonderful poems straight away!” We all laughed.

Our walk that day, this time with Ranger Eric, was bathed in autumn sun, every leaf and frosted twig shining. As we went, we stopped at different points to focus on one sense at a time, smelling the earthy leaf mould underfoot and listening to the rushing Tanar and the high piping of birds. At an old bridge, we pulled off our gloves to explore the textures around us: rusting metal, granite, tree bark, slick wet ice, moss that is normally spongy but now frozen hard as rock.

Giant beech tree beside river in autumn


At the high point of the trail where the view opens towards Mount Keen, we stood in brilliant light, taking in all we could see. Fragile drifts of mist rose from the dark forests, echoing the strands of cloud in the sky, where the blue shifted from intense on the horizon to pale above.

“Look!” said Donald, pointing with his stick. All around us, the long grasses were rimed with sparkling frost, and on each blade, droplets of melting ice glowed like jewels. “See the colours!” He said. And it was true, the longer we looked, the more we noticed flashes of rainbow hues as tiny beads of water caught the sun. “There’s a red one!” someone cried. “Oh look at the brightness of that green!”

When we stop to pay attention, there is no end to the world’s miracles.

Dew on pink rowan berries
Rowan berries, Glen Tanar gardens

Back at the Boat Inn, Anna and Margaret succumbed to my persuasion and shared their poems, to great appreciation from the group. And then – wonder of wonders! – Aileen pulled a scrap of paper from her pocket and confessed she’d scribbled some Cairngorms Lyrics, too. (And for those who don’t know Doric, the translation is below.)

It’s nae the pine I’ll min’
Bit the flash o’ the dipper in the burn.

(It’s not the pine I’ll remember
But the flash of the dipper in the stream.)

I kent the mannie fa’s grannie
planted the linden tree.
That’s foo aul’ I am.

(I knew the man whose grannie
planted the linden tree.
That’s how old I am.)

Well, as you can imagine, I was thrilled. The non-writers of Glen Tanar had penned some beautiful poems and, I’ll wager, were as surprised and delighted as I was. Long may they wander, wonder and – now and again – even write.

Group standing at viewpoint on frosty autumn day

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