Thursday, August 3, 2023

Proxy Walk, Carn an Tuirc

12 May 2023, Cairngorms, day of access for someone with terminal cancer, for Juliet, landrover ascent of Càrn an Tuirc, Boar Cairn, guided by Ian, Will, and Dax, Invercauld Estate


Image description:


A woman in blue outdoor gear sitting on a mossy summit, turned to the camera, with a broad smile. Behind and below is a panorama of hills the colour of pale moorgrass, with two flecks of snow, and a glen with a pair of lochans. You cannot see she has cancer; this is her last day amongst her ‘old friends’, the mountains.



My day of access 


this is not a poem about dying
this is not a poor-me poem
writing my therapy
finding metaphors for pain
today I’ve had enough of penning my feelings 

I will not tuck myself up with words

whispered aloud as I lie in bed 

today is a reminder to live 


I am not flag-planting
emerging victorious from adventures 

survival is not an option
cancer is with me wherever I am
it is in my blood
existence requires effort 


today I celebrate this fading body of mine 

each step is a defiant act
my boots tap their leathery rhythm
in synch with the hill track 

feet fumble as I balance on rocks 

calves ache 


the lifting mist fingers my face
wind whips hair
cold nips toes
I am out there – soaking myself better 

in the cracks of scarred mountain cliffs 

in a handful of nutrient-starved soil 

in the trickle of water seeping through rough ground 

my truth is found on this high plateau
where deer watch me wary from the skyline 


I burn under a wind-chilled sun
that heals, charges, warms and nourishes 

hidden hollows and contours
my body responds 


today is a day of thanks
today I accessed the whole of me 

today is my day of access 


Juliet Robertson

With thanks to Invercauld Estate, who drove Juliet up Carn an Tuirc, Boar Cairn, on a day they were busy surveying dotterel, known in Gaelic as ‘amadan mòintich’, the moorland loony.


On 17 May, 2023, Juliet and I shared another day of access, a living act of remembrance, by the Felagie, Glen Feardar.

We sat by the wooden bridge, where she told me about her trip up Càrn an Tuirc. Even if it isn’t ‘art’, gifting her that last mountain feels like the most important artwork I could make. 


We talked as if we were resting on the mountain, in the evening of our lives, locating events in the space below us, like characters in one of John Berger’s Alpine stories, who agree, life is this, love is this, and death is that.


After ME struck our lives diverged. Juliet became a devotee of wildness and champion for outdoor learning and the wider Forest School movement that supports the right to access to wildness. Curiosity keeps her perception of cancer in check as she reckons with the final debt. I negotiated mitochondrial crashes and slowly adapted to ‘not-walking’. Fondness for wild places never left, but the wilderness remained ruthlessly punishing until I embraced a poetics of viewing. 


Thirty years on, I dreamed vulnerable people should be able to return to the wilds–perhaps secretly hoping someone will return the same.


we are



we are 


we are




it goes




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