Solitude is productive: Writing in the Highlands

Last month, I had a week booked off work, and I hadn't made any plans. So I packed a pen and paper, drove up to the Highlands, and pitched my tent in the middle of nowhere.

I'd always wanted to experience the pleasure of writing creatively in pure solitude, and this would cross one off my bucket list. Plus, I needed to make greater headway on my first short story collection, Pillow Talk for Insomniacs, and I sensed that this was the perfect opportunity.

Sat in my Corsa outside my York flat, I put PH22 1RB into my phone's sat-nav. 242 miles, it blinked. Six hours, 38 minutes. Not too bad, really. I fastened my seatbelt and pressed DRIVE on the screen. For some reason, the distance then shot up. Now it said 360 miles, seven hours. 59 minutes. Oh.

The roundabouts came and went, and I got to the Cairngorms in the end. Finally on foot, I set off in search of a flat area to pitch my tent. I must have hiked off-trail for a couple of miles, drawing entirely on the minimal camping knowledge I'd learned at scouts and music festivals. (Scouts, where, in five whole years, I'd earned only one badge - orienteering, which I kind of cheated on anyway.)

I eventually stumbled upon a bed of heather, which lay within the cocoon of a bank beside a river, and thought: this'll do. The landscape in every direction was wide and beautiful, the heat inescapable.

Apart from some ravenous midges, there were no distractions whatsoever. I wrote solidly for four days - pausing only to warm my home-made soup on the stove, or sip from a tumbler of single malt whisky (because drinking alone in the Highlands is not tragic, it's iconic).

I would sometimes catch the echo of someone's voice, look up, and spot a group of walkers a few miles away. They were about the size of these full-stops...

That was the closest I came to human contact. And, as much as I'd love to say I fought off bears and hunted down wildebeest with a spear I'd fashioned from flint, twigs and nettles, there weren't really any animals around either. Just insects.

By the end of my trip I'd written six short stories, which is about six times what I usually muster per month back home.

So solitude is productive.


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