A Stretch to Solitude

One can never be alone enough to write. To see better.’ Susan Sontag

Sometimes I long to wake up in a quiet house. To have the morning entirely to myself. A break from the daily shouting up the stairs ‘bus is waiting’, watching morning stumblings, hearing the ‘where are my shoes? A clean shirt?’ Noticing that, fuck, they’ve forgotten their breakfast again. Those breakfast paper bags - little bodies abandoned on top of the washing machine, loo, by the sink, on the floor where the shoes are flung - break my grumpy morning heart over and over. 

So I’ve got three days alone. Days in the diary, a Christmas present, to stay in Glen Kinglass, this remote place I’ve apprenticed myself to over the past year. At the last minute my daughter’s come back from Glasgow for the weekend. I postponed my trip for a day and we spent an evening together - all five of us at home. I am love-struck by the grown and growing size of us around that table. All adults now. Poker chips and cards came out and I saw their brain’s fast-fire, their wit, was thrilled by the flare of their impulses. I felt torn, really torn - to have this opportunity to be alone, but to leave my family when it was together like this was hard. 

It’s late now and I’m driving up Glen Kinglass to the house at the top. My friend's coming for tea, so it’s already not the real solitary deal. Perhaps that's why I indulge in imagining scary things like breaking down, the weather coming in, shadows touching me. I turn the headlights off and feel how fast and high the black river flows beside me. 

I consider myself a loner, a lover of wild places, but when I look carefully I realise that I am rarely alone. Yes, I’m often in wild places, but I’m usually with a companion. I love being on the hill with somebody who is happy to stop, look, catch their breath in awe. Somebody who is at ease with my tree-touching, note-taking, photography, propensity to naps, reverie and frequent tears. Not everybody’s cup of tea, but when you have a good companion it can make for a double rainbow. Nan Shepherd says ‘the known grows with the knowing’, my experience is that when you’re in well-fitting company the shared experience intensifies the knowing. When there is that three-way relationship, between two people and place, then magic can happen. Triangulation articulates in surprising ways. 

So I’m here for three days. That first night my fears lift down off the hillsides like March-dark deer. I hear footfalls on the landing, the wind moves the hips of the house until it groans. Outside heavenly bodies are doing hand-brake turns. The next night is quieter, and I have borrowed a lovely dog. Then suddenly I am acutely comfortable. I sit and look out of the window at The Mare’s Tail waterfall and couldn’t be happier. I ache when I leave. Next time I come here I’ll be on a work trip with a sculptor and a photographer. I hope my place in a collaborative three will be stronger for having taken these steps towards solitude. 


The Mare’s Tail on Beinn nan Aighean


The Mare’s Tail

felting rock to

true whale-blue


The Mare’s Tail

fated love 

on the move


The Mare’s Tail

culmination of



The Mare’s Tail

stealing granite’s



The Mare’s Tail 

lowering me



The Mare’s Tail

bump starting

breach of tears


The Mare’s Tail 

carrying on



The Mare’s Tail 

winnowing spilt



The Mare’s Tail

staunching guilt


The Mare’s Tail 

gauging gravitas


The Mare’s Tail

a true story