Sam Littlefair

Brushing Against Emptiness

  • photography
  • travel
Feeling the movement of time when movement itself ceases.
Walking along the moor

Time moves more slowly in an open space like Rannoch Moor. The moor sits in the cradle of Scotland's Western Highlands. In every direction away from Rannoch Moor, the highland hills roll, tower, and drop. But the moor itself stretches across a vast, flat, boggy expanse, cut off from the rest of the world by the surrounding hills that stand on guard.

Rannoch Moor is known as one of the last great wildernesses of Western Europe, but it doesn't feel like a wilderness. It feels desolate.

Claire waiting on the train platform Waiting for the train to take us onto the moor.

Ahead of our Friday departure from Scotland, Claire and I travelled to Rannoch Moor on Wednesday. A train took us across the moor into the empty heart of the highlands. We disembarked the train at Corrour Station, on the northern edge of the moor. Corrour is the highest and most remote train station in the United Kingdom. The station has a platform, a small station house, and nothing else. No roads connect Corrour to the outside world. There are just the train tracks and a single gravel path that heads east toward the hills.

Claire hiking on a gravel path uphill Starting the hike up the hillside.

The moor's boggy, sinking terrain can swallow wayward hikers, so all paths trace the hillsides around the edge of the boggy land. The first part of the hike took us upwards into the safety of the hillside above the moor. In the clear summer afternoon, the view stretched for at least 20km across the moor — to the UK's highest mountain Ben Nevis in the northwest; to the staggering peaks of Glencoe in the southwest; to the lonely hills of Breadalbane in the south; to the "fairy hill" Schiehallion in the east, which scientists used to measure the weight of the earth in the 18th century.

But here laid emptiness — the flat expanse of the bog.

Claire walking on the hillside, with an empty moor and mountains in the background Walking along the moor.

The greater part of the walk took us along the hillside, curving up and down, side to side, keeping the open moor to our right.

A portrait of Claire Claire with the moor behind her.

We measure time by change. When change comes quickly or easily, the hours feel short. When change comes slowly, the hours feel long. In a colorful city, a long walk feels short. In an open field, a short walk feels long. Walking along the emptiness of the moor, time stood still.

A photo of Claire walking downhill towards a lush glen The path curves away from the moor.

Free from time, we floated in the empty space of the highlands. The solstice sunlight stretched out for hours, filtering down through soft clouds, forgetting the time of day.

We reached the car around sunset and started the long drive home, feeling weary and peaceful. The solstice sun kept a warm light in the sky past midnight. As we drove through the interminable dusk, we passed a field of deer. The stags — there must have been ten — saw us before we saw them. With their eyes fixed on us, their antlers formed a row of overlapping inverted triangles on the horizon. "Those look like antlers," I said. "They are," said Claire. The herd turned away from the road and poured into the treeline, reminding us that time keeps moving.

© Sam Littlefair 2024