Caught by the River

Shadows and Reflections: Anna Fleming

Anna Fleming | 8th January 2020

It’s time once again for the annual series of postings we like to call Shadows and Reflections, in which our contributors and friends look back on the past twelve months. From Anna Fleming:

When I was a child, minutes were long. The clock moved slowly. Summer holidays stretched into the far distance and a year was beyond reckoning. People say that as you get older, time compresses. Seconds vanish. Minutes disappear. Weeks race by – and suddenly it is Christmas again – and here’s a whole new year to plan for, another year to try to grasp before it slips away, running like sand through your fingers. 

2019 was not one of those years. I was incredibly busy, but somehow the year still moved slowly. Like a childhood year, 2019 was full of twists, turns and surprises, and with all of this, time expanded. 

My relationship with the Cairngorms grew and deepened. People gave me new approaches and perspectives to view this incredible place. In May, I was privileged to be part of Into the Mountain project, led by artist and choreographer Simone Kenyon. Kenyon worked closely with a company of six female dancers to explore women’s experiences in the mountains. Responding to The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd, the dancers and a female choir (using a score composed by Hanna Tuulikki) delivered an intense, strange and beautiful performance in the Cairngorms. Through wind, mist and rain, women’s bodies and voices appeared and vanished, mingling with mountain. 

When I first came to the Cairngorms, I became fascinated with the place names. Discovering the meanings of Gaelic, Doric, Scots and Norse place names gave me a whole new perspective on the land. The names can tell us the history of particular areas: the ways that people lived and worked; the ecology of a place; the cultures of song, story and poetry that are embedded in place. I worked with the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park Authorities to translate all of this into an education resource. Literary Landscapes (a booklet and online map) now exists to help people interpret and creatively respond to the rich language of landscape. 

I also managed a creative writing project, supporting Merryn Glover, the first-ever Cairngorms National Park Writer in Residence, to engage with people through creative writing workshops. Using work created during this project, I produced an anthology. Editing the submissions and directing the design while working to tight deadlines was hard – but it was wonderful to see the book progress into a beautiful finished product within such a short space of time. (More on this book in a future article!)

Carrying me over into 2020 is a new project, my debut book, Time on Rock: A Climber’s Route in to the Mountains (Canongate, 2022). For the past 10 years, I have developed that slightly unhealthy obsession with rock that is endemic to all climbers. Where once hanging off a gritstone edge seemed like a truly unpleasant way to spend a day, now I jump at the chance to heave myself up a rock face. Time on Rock charts that journey, revealing how one can become comfortable in such exposed and vulnerable places. My hope is to inspire more people – especially women – to climb outdoors. 

While many climbing books revel in adventure, listing daring deeds and near-misses, Time on Rock will also explore the way that climbing transforms my relationship with the environment. When climbing, the movement between mind, body and stone is everything. No longer a detached being pacing across a landscape, I am rhythm, breath and muscle; I balance carefully within gravity, space and time; I become rock and flesh. Over 2020, I hope to keep my balance while I climb, write and research this book for future readers and climbers.