Hyperboreal Life

Looking east across the croft to the Torridons

Looking east across the croft to the Torridons

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The byre and snoozing sheep

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Spring lambs, yellow gorse, late afternoon sunshine and a mountain backdrop

We are perched at the edge of the Isles of Albion, facing west across the Inner Sound and Minch to the Hebrides, Inner and Outer. At our backs are the Torridon ranges of Liaitach, Beinn Alligin, Beinn Dearg and Beinn Eighe, and the smaller but nearer, and at times more imposing, Wizard’s mountain, the Baoshbeinn. When Tacitus wrote about the Highlands he called them “trackless wilds” but the reality now is that most of the forests he described have gone, and much of the landscape is blanketed in heathers, grasses and bog myrtle.
The life hyperboreal then is synonymous with the cold, remote far north but in truth for the most part life here is more akin to that of the rainforest. Where trees do remain, they are cloaked in trailing green and grey lichen, Tolkeinian beards testament to the moisture held within the lower atmosphere. We are warmed by the waters of the Gulf Stream, moistened by them too and energised as the Atlantic generates storm, wind and deluge. The landscape is primed for this, ready for flash floods in burn, torrent and rising rivers, and as water beats down on mountain and hill boulders, pebbles and gravels are resolutely directed ever downwards to the sea. Vegetation too is ready, it seems only the hardy can survive, yet among the tough and strong shrubby woodiness are aromatic leaves, iridescent foliage, flowers as jewels, spongy bog, edible berries, delicate herbs. And within the wild moor, amongst the Sphagnum, bog rosemary, tormentil and sundew are beetles whose carapaces shine in bronze, purples and virulent greens, sheltered from damaging winds by (micro) hummock and hill.
Closer to the coast where human hand has built ditch and byre, the heather moor gives way to grassland and flower meadows, rushes, brambles, whin and rowan. Here, in fields old and new, graze sheep and cattle, and there, chickens pick and gossip. And this is home.

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About Annie O'G Worsley

I'm a mum of four, gran, writer, crofter & Professor of 'Environmental Change'. I now live on a small farm (known as a croft) by the sea in a place surrounded by the ‘Great Wilderness’ mountains of the Scottish NW Highlands. I was a full-time academic, a geographer, but I decided to go feral and follow my dream of living a smaller, simpler, wilder life. I have always loved wild places. As a child I was inspired by tales of Trader Horn (my great-great-great uncle Alfred Aloysius Smith) told to me by my mother. Trader Horn spent his life wandering, mostly in Africa. I too, love stravaiging (Gaelic for wandering) and spent time in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea as a young researcher, living with tribes there. Although I spent years researching and teaching university students about environments, processes and habitats, I am discovering much, much more exploring the wilds around me. In moving away from scientific writing, I have rediscovered my wilder self and have a much deeper, truer understanding of nature than I ever had before. My work is published by Elliott & Thompson in a series of anthologies called 'Seasons' and I am currently writing a book about this extraordinary place. I continue to write academic papers with my research colleagues but I am developing new skills including landscape photography and painting. And of course, I still love to wander.
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