Last night I stayed at the Invercauld Arms Hotel in Braemar. Driving there, in the gathering darkness of afternoon in late autumn, I found the “passing place” signs to be like bright oases against the encroaching night.
The Invercauld is one of those ancient, fading coaching inns, a giant hotel speaking of a bygone age of glory. This one has reinvented itself as a holiday destination for English pensioners – the “grey pound”, so to speak. The bar fills with grey-headed English folk, some walking very slowly; none under 60. A range of Northern English accents can be heard, with perhaps the harsh vowels of the East Riding of Yorkshire, predominant. Strangely enough I am not ired by the presence of this parade of Daily Mail readers, but somehow oddly endeared to them.
The place is clean and does not smell of decay – always a start in a hotel of this sort. The woodwork is thick with old paint. The staff are polite and upright foreigners, as was ever likely in a place as small and remote as Braemar. From my room there is a view of the road and the mountains you could look at for hours, even on a misty day, and learn much about the nature of God and man.
Breakfast was served in a ballroom with a dance floor, and a bay window larger than most people’s living rooms. The room is deserted, almost. The dozens of pensioners of last night have all set off somewhere. Three people come in; hikers. A youth with the longest hair I’ve seen on a man in years, all down his back. His hipster buddy with a neatly trimmed but very full beard, and a dark-haired woman with quiet in her face.
The views from the windows are stunning. Fan heaters rumble to keep the place warm. In the ceiling, there is modern lighting fitted – a subtle indicator that this hotel is successful in it’s quest to be more than just another old inn.
The Linn of Dee – and the stones of Turin’s pride
At the Linn of Dee, I got out of the car and was struck immediately by the holy silence of the wilderness. Almost it is like a church; I walk with quiet tread through the woods, mindful that this is God’s front room.
At the falls there is a mighty bridge across the narrowest part of the gorge. It reminds of me of Ulmo Lord of Waters’ words to Turin in Tolkien: “throw down the stones of your pride”. For Turin would have things as he would have them, and had caused to be built across the full flood of the Narog river, a mighty bridge, the better to access the entrance of the underground fortress of Nargothrond. And Ulmo, herald-angel of the Most High, counselled Turin to cast those stones into the water. For cometh evil that would use that bridge to destroy Turin, lay waste to all that he had created, and bring hideous sack and slaughter to Nargothrond. And so it happened.
But what means this for us? The bridge at Linn of Dee allows vehicular access more easily so that walkers can get into the remote heart of the Cairngorms – one of Britain’s wildest, purest remaining places. And rightly so – this bridge should not be thrown down. But what we might throw down is dependence on stuff – idols. Technology as our master. Social media, handsets, tablets, the Cloud – all good things if they are our slaves. But if we are to hear more clearly what God has to say in the holy silence of the wilderness, then we need to put aside the clamour of our toys, and focus on what is of true value.