Off to Aviemore

A Scotrail Train

I am standing on the platform waiting for my train when I notice a young lad with a mountaineering backpack out of the corner of my eye. He approaches the overhead sign announcing the next train’s arrival. He glances at me and walks in my direction.

“Is this where the train for Aviemore departs?” He asks me in an English accent that I cannot place.

“I hope so,” I reply revealing my own American twang. “Are you going to Glenmore Lodge?”

Immersed in the conversation that follows our first encounter, we fail to notice another mountaineer join our ranks. He interrupts us with a hearty, “Aye,” cutting off our conversations in a swift Scottish second. We talk about seat reservations and our journey ahead. Our new colleague, a hearty 70 year old from the suburbs of Edinburgh, traveled to the Cairngorms many times since his youth, but he is not familiar with the layout of the train and its compartments. He doesn’t know how to find his reserved seat. I assure him that it can’t be too difficult. There are only two train cars.

We learn that we are attending different courses: winter lead climbing, winter mountaineering, and winter skills. We are excited and hope we will experience a proper Scottish winter.

Our train arrives punctually. We scramble to store our bags and find our seats. The young English student is in one car of the train; the Scotsman and I sit in adjoining rows.

The girders of the Forth Rail Bridge cast shadows on my iPhone as I write a hasty email to my youngest daughter. The free and fast wireless connection on the train distracts me from the expansive view outside. I compose myself and gaze out the window at the Firth of Forth. An oil platform in the bay captures my attention. I scan the horizon searching for more rigs, but I see none.

Oil Platform in the Firth

I overhear the Scotsman dive deeper in to his conversation with his seat mate. I try to tune them out as if they are speaking a foreign language that I can’t understand. Unfortunately, I overhear more than I want. I am anxious, still tired from the previous night, and restless in the cramped seat after exploring Edinburgh all morning. I try to relax, read, or nap. My efforts fail. I stare out the window and enjoy the snow-speckled landscape in the encroaching twilight.

Snow in the Cairngorms

Snow in the Cairngorms

My introduction to the Cairngorms matches the poetic descriptions of my travel companion, The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd. The blueness of the hills in the gray of winter is memorizing. I lull myself into a comfortable suspension of travel. The diesel train continues its journey northwards. I float above the train in my thoughts suspended somewhere between awareness and forgetfulness—a meditation on composure.

The air is part of the mountain, which does not come to an end with its rock and its soil. It has its own air; and it is to the quality of its air that is due the endless diversity of its colourings. Brown for the most part in themselves, as soon as we see them clothed in air the hills become blue. Every shade of blue, from opalescent milky-white to indigo, is there … These sultry blues have more emotional effect than a dry air can produce.

Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain

An announcement for the next stop interrupts my peaceful journey. We arrive in Dalwhinnie. I stand in the doorway and take a picture of the sign at the train station. I want a dram of the local whiskey, but we are nowhere near the distillery.

A Quick Stop in Dalwhinnie

A Quick Stop in Dalwhinnie

The train leaves the station, and the Scotsman asks if I am taking the shuttle to the Lodge. In turn, I ask him if he can recommend a restaurant in town. He says he never ate in the town, but he claims the bar at the lodge has an excellent selection of single malts. My travel anxiety subsides, but I now want to get to the Lodge for another reason. It is dinner time, and I am hungry for an Angus burger and a Highland malt.

Aviemore Train Station

Aviemore Train Station

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