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The beauty

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 04 September 2013
I bang on a great deal about the trees and the hills. When I go to the south, after about a week, I find myself missing the mountains like you would miss a person. I get quite tearful when I drive back north and pass the Welcome to Scotland sign.

All the same, when you’ve lived in a place for fifteen years, you can start to take it for granted, just a little. When I first moved here, I was so amazed and entranced that I used to get in the car and head into the wild spaces. About twenty minutes north-west of my house, the country opens up like a book, and there is nothing but hills and sheep and heather. The road spirals up above the treeline, and there is a section of thirteen miles without a human or a habitation. Old granite bothies sit, gently crumbling in the weather, abandoned by the soft moderns, who need to be nearer to a shop and an internet connection, who cannot afford to be snowed in for days at a time as the older generations were. This is the road which is the first to close in the winter. You will hear it on the national traffic reports. ‘The snow gates are shut at Cockbridge,’ the presenter will say. (The name Cockbridge always used to make Terry Wogan giggle, in the old days.)

I used to drive up there just to look at the emptiness and the wide skies. I could hardly believe that so much wilderness and beauty still existed on this crowded little island. I would drive just for the sake of driving, and look just for the sake of looking.

The empty spaces, thirty minutes from my house.The empty spaces, thirty minutes from my house.

Now, I don’t take those wild journeys any more. It’s a two hour round trip, and I have books to write and my voluntary work to do and my mare to ride. There is no time. Even so, every morning, as I speed along the valley to HorseBack UK, I pass the long line of indigo hills which rise to the south of the River Dee. In the distance, I can just catch a glimpse of the proper mountains to the west, the ones which are so high that their peaks are still white as late as May. That is my daily commute. I always look at it, but often my mind is busy with other things, all the tasks that must be done that day, the enduring lack of time. (Too many things; too few hours.) I don’t, I realise, always take in the fullness of the landscape as I should. I’m too used to it.

This morning, for some reason, I was suddenly struck by the great good fortune of having beauty, at my door. It was a couple of tiny, insignificant things that did it.

Since I went back to horses, I look at a lot of equine videos on the internet. I am interested in the new school of horsemanship, and like to see other people working their animals. I watched one such clip last night. It was a woman in a dusty, dirty round pen, with a few dilapidated buildings in the background. There were no trees, no hills, no verdant pasture. It made me rather melancholy for some reason; it was all so arid and loveless. I thought how lucky I was that I get to work my own mare in an emerald field, surrounded by Scots pines and old oak trees, with a thickly wooded hill gazing down on us, and the swifts swooping, low and joyful, over the ground.

And the hill I can see from my front doorAnd the hill I can see from my front door

And then, this morning, I heard someone on the Today programme speaking in that bland managerial jargon that a certain sort of official operative is prone to use. For some reason, it conjured up an entire office environment: with those pale neon lights and thin cheerless carpet and pages of serious documents written in that same bland prose. The first half of my working day is spent outside, in the good Scottish air. Even when I am back at my desk, as I am now, tap tap tapping away at my keyboard, and staring furiously at the computer screen, I may still gaze through the window and see a long line of beeches beyond a dry stone wall built of the lovely local granite, by craftsmen whose skill has been passed down from one generation to another. I may see the wind move in the trees and, if I am lucky, the lone heron making his stately progress over the cut hayfield.

Of course, not everyone needs natural beauty. Some find loveliness in brutalist architecture; some get their aesthetics from a magnificent cityscape. Some people perhaps do not need beauty at all. But I do. And even though there are days when I don’t quite appreciate it as keenly as I should, I remember now why I must lift my eyes to the hills. It is a crazy privilege to have them here, at my front door. They go back at the top of my list of Things Not To Take For Granted, like opposable thumbs and electricity.

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