“We’re going to journey into our inner interiors,” explains Melanie, our grounded guide, as I stand at the banks of Loch Rannoch, practicing conscious breathing with my eyes shut. It’s seven in the morning, and she’s about to take me and a group of four others across the road to start a mindful walk through the Black Wood of Rannoch.
The weather in Perthshire is notoriously temperamental, but this morning, the sun is shining. It winks at me through the trees and warms my cheeks as we navigate the ancient Caledonian forest in silence. Melanie guides us to an imposing 600-year-old birch tree she calls Great Grandmother Bones, and I contemplate that amount of time. She pulls out a fistful of ribbons and instructs us to tie them around the crooked branches, setting personal intentions. “The roots will carry it,” she enthuses, waving a flaming bundle of sage. I set an intention to trust my gut.
Ribbons of all colours decorate the branches of Great Grandmother Bones, as Melanie encourages women on her retreats to engage in this ritual. She hosts individuals and groups at her Majesteria Academy to foster positive change and encourage rejuvenation. Later in the year, she’ll hold her first retreat in partnership with Dunalastair Hotel Suites, which is why I’m deep in the woods with her. I’m spending two nights at the hotel, experiencing its thoughtful initiatives and enjoying some mindful time out.
A cooked breakfast is on the horizon at Dunalastair Hotel Suites – a 15-minute drive from the forest – and it’s on my mind. But Melanie’s morning plan is determined to keep me present. She whips out blindfolds, in the form of her partner’s T-shirt offcuts, and before I know it I’m arm-in-arm with another guest, and it’s gone dark and I’m fumbling around with my footing and laughing nervously. The trickle of a nearby stream and the snapping of branches underfoot sound sharper. I think about what I’d usually be doing at 9am on a Monday morning.
Finding a sense of calm and grounding in the present moment is at the core of mindful activities. Urban spaces aren’t void of mindful moments, but being out in the sticks certainly creates more of them. This is the thinking behind Melanie’s venture in the wilds of Scotland. So will it bring me harmony in the space of a weekend?
I get a feeling of slowing down back at Dunalastair Hotel Suites, once a Victorian sporting lodge and now a five-star boutique hotel with 32 stylish suites. Taking a moment by my window, which frames a stone bridge over the River Tummel, I feel my pulse slow as I survey a timeless scene: a gothic church from the 1800s and the mountainous landscape of Kinloch Rannoch. I can see why guests marry at the church and celebrate with an intimate reception at the hotel.
Everything is easy here. A stay begins with a 90-second checkin process and the promise of 24-hour room service; late-night munchies are sated with in-room shortbread and cookies, replenished each morning; blissing out is encouraged with luxuries such as The White Company toiletries and fluffy bathrobes.
Time to turn my focus again on the great outdoors and plug into its restorative powers. With a few shortbreads stuffed discreetly in my bag, I join the others in the group for a day of sightseeing with tour company Highland Travel, who partner with the hotel to offer a private service. Our knowledgeable guide, Andy, clad in Highland tartan, begins with tales of murders and renegade royals. I forget all about urban worries until my phone trills and I locate it, covered in shortbread crumbs.
The van glides past the freshwater body of Loch Rannoch, and alongside the River Gaur towards the vast Scottish wilderness. My gaze flits between Andy and the green expanse outside the window, before we come to a stop in the middle of nowhere. We’re at Rannoch Station Tearoom – probably the remotest in Scotland – for tea and cake.
This station is a popular tourist attraction in itself, but visitors also come here to jump on the West Highland Line, which links the Scottish Highlands to Glasgow. Meanwhile, walkers can park up and ramble a short distance in different directions to either Loch Laidon or the base of Ben Pharlagain, which boasts a summit 868m (2,848 feet) high.
The weekend of mindfulness continues to work its magic. We savour moments of stillness at beauty spots including Schiehallion (a Munro mountain known as the Fairy Hill of the Caledonians) and the Queen’s View, a vantage point that captures Loch Tummel, Schiehallion and the mountains surrounding Glencoe. The sky is as clear as the inviting body of water, with only a few clouds resting on the peaks in the distance, and we halt our chatter to fully absorb the peacefulness of our surroundings: gradients of green forest, ripples on the water surface, birds rustling in the trees.
As evening draws in and the sky softens to dusk peach, we make our way back to the hotel and gather in fine-dining restaurant the Library, raising a toast to the day with flutes of champagne. An amuse-bouche of fig jam, mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes arrives, followed by smoked trout and beetroot – and, as the evening progresses and wine glasses form a crescent moon around my plate, it dawns on me how the age-old pleasures of great food and company ground us in the present, much like rituals involving ribbons and ancient birch trees.
Trading my dress and picpoul de pinet for a bathrobe and herbal tea I sink into my Egyptian bed linen, and before I know it the sun’s up and I’m braving a cold blast in my Grohe walk-in shower. After a swift breakfast and coffee, Highland Travel runs us back to Pitlochry railway station, where it all started some 36 hours earlier.
So has it worked on me, this mindfulness weekend? As the high-speed LNER train reaches King’s Cross, in just six-and-a-half hours, and I disembark on a cloud, I think the answer’s a resounding yes. With a few ribbons in tow, I can’t wait to get back to Dunalastair and out into the woods with Melanie again. Dear old Great Grandmother Bones is due a thanks for seeding my intention and I’d like to have some fun with calling on her power once more.
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