Published 18th December 2020, 16:18

    THERE are days of radiant beauty, when the brilliant white sun is the lone presence in a ceiling of blue and the mountains seem to stretch forever to a distant hazy horizon.

    There are days when varying shades of grey are the only difference among contours, the secrets of the hills hidden away, the threat of rain constantly on our shoulders.

    There are days when winter blesses us with blue skies and unfaltering sheets of white, every surface glittering as though coated in diamonds and the only footprints ahead are those of birds and animals.

    There are days of incessant rain, when every step is a splash, when the rivers run high and proclaim their superiority with a deafening roar and the faces of the mountains appear to be weeping.

    There are days the wind rules the high tops and the glens, when we are pushed and pulled this way and that and progress can be reduced to a crawl, while trees bend and shake under its power in a boisterous synchronicity, an arboreal choir amplifying every sigh, every moan.

    There are days that start wild but promise something better, where menacing skies gradually surrender to a burgeoning light, a reflective sheen from the rocks of saturated slopes that laser down to ignite every droplet on every blade of grass in the glen.

    There are days that start in perfect peace, the silence palpable as ghostly wreaths of mist lovingly caress the trees and mountainsides in slow motion; these are days of even choice, when the status quo will hold its ground, or when it is just the calm before the storm. 

    There are days when it pays to be an early bird, starting off with just the moon as a walking companion, rising with the light and watching the day come alive with a full colour spectrum, having breakfast alone on a mountain summit while the rest of the world is asleep.

    There are days when it pays to stay up late, watching as the sun burns its way languidly through the skyline with a constantly changing colour palette, from yellow, to orange, red, pink, blue, purple, its last hurrah leaving just the stark black silhouettes of the mountain horizon.

    There are days when we walk exhausted, multi-peak traverses over long distances, when every step on the long walk out feels like it will be your last, limping towards a finish line that comes with relief but also a touch of regret that it is over.

    There are days when we feel like super heroes, when we can walk forever and another summit is never too much trouble, when the body feels right and we are striding out, invigorated by this magnificent obsession.

    There are days of noise, when the ears are filled with the roaring of wind and water, the groaning of the trees, the underfoot tinkle of scree like broken glass, the sliding and movement of rocks and boulders. 

    There are days of silence, although they aren't ever truly silent; the gentle sigh of the wind, the whisper of running water, the drip from overhanging branches, the echo of a footstep, the lone bird cry, the piercing shrieks of hunter and hunted. 

    There are winter days of natural soundproofing, when progress is measured only by the crunch of boot or crampon on frozen ground, or the drip of icicles hanging from every overhanging rock or tree.

    There are days spent wading through knee-deep snow while faces are lashed by spindrift, all features buried, the white absolute, all-encompassing, yet when finished there's the urge to immediately go and do it all again.

    There are days of glutinous bog and deep heather, of solid path or none at all, of boulder fields or screeds of scree, of dark forest or bright woodland.

    There are days when the navigation goes wrong, not so much lost as temporarily misplaced, when it requires a different thought process and a few extra miles to get back on track.

    There are days when we walk in a storm, the darkness that is following as much in the mind as in the atmosphere, but days that will become brighter with the outdoors antidote, when the natural world restores our passion for life.

    There are days when we cling on to hope as keenly as we would a rock face in Skye, our hand and footholds growing bolder and more reassured, until the feeling of triumph when the obstacle is overcome.

    There are days when we walk alone, there are days when we walk in company. There are days of pure joy when everything comes together and there are days of misery, of moans and groans, when everything doesn't.

    But …

    There are never days in the hills that feel wasted, or regrets over time spent outdoors at the mercy of whatever nature has to throw at us. There are never days when we wish we'd rather be at work or slumped in front of the television. Every day should be precious.