Ben Ledi. The hill of fire, hill of God. Snow falling as the mist closed in, the path melting before my eyes, walking blindly into an obscure hinterland. I lower my eyes from the cold. It is Easter Sunday, winter at the height of Spring. Easter is not kept in this pagan place. Shapes move in the fog; guardian angels protecting the slope; the fae, come to steal my shadow from beneath me.
At the summit a grave is marked by two ravens. A raven is not a raven but a link, from this world to the next, wherever that may be. They guard the cross, consulting with another, communing with bone and stone. How long have they traveled in the other kingdom, and what knowledge did they bring back?
We approach the cross, the circle of mist, and the ravens take wing. Their message is not for us. They circle, watching , never settling. We are intruders, this is a place of wilderness, for wild beasts.
We read the inscription under the cross. A man lost his life trying to save another; there is the light, the sacrifice and spring fire. I am reminded that this hill is a spiritual place. In ancient times the Beltane fires were lit against the dark hill, under a paling sky. The ashes of ancient ritual are still present in the names of the mountain – Creag Ghorn; ‘Rock of Embers’ and Creag Loisgte; ‘Burned Rock’.
Another day we took the Bealach Nan Corp, the Pass of the Dead, the former coffin road to Balquhidder. An eerie spot where the steep sides of the pass enclose you, where it seems very likely that you will meet an outlaw of Jacobite times, hidden by mist and rock, waiting for the final glimpse of a friend making the journey to the kirkyard below. His skin is translucent, his tear a mirage. You may even glimpse the ghostly funeral procession yourself, the coffin, the orb of light gliding low on the grass. The coffin has travelled a long way, but it is no distance at all compared to the one that preceded it and the one that will follow.
Bury me on the hill, lay me on the rock,
Let not the fire cool nor the blood die.
There is another story: beneath the Bealach is Lochan nan Corp, ‘the little loch of the dead’, thought to be the site of tragedy. It is supposedly named after an entire funeral party drowned in the loch below the pass. The first time I visited I did not make it above the Bealach; confronted with my own wraith my legs turned to stone, an emotional and mental wall. The shadow lengthened, won. For walking is not physical but spiritual and the ascent is not an upwards journey but inwards.
On this occasion, however, I reached the summit of the Hill of God and found mist, snow, ravens. The light was a sacred one, a wild peace. The ancient fires were burning, flames of renewal – the flames of Spring.
As we descended the mist cleared and the landscape became familiar – green grass and a loch of blue. It seemed the summit of snow and crows was nothing but an eerie dream. We met other walkers who complained about the poor visibility but they did not know how or where to look. Only fog and snow enabled me to see the true character of the hill - solemn, ritualistic, a place of death and magic. A place of healing if that is what you seek. For when traversing the inner paths the physical view from the top is nothing compared to the altered landscape of the soul. If a summit is only about looking down, looking back then it is at the expense of a deeper vision. Once you stop you are stuck, the moment you look back you are dead.