Randolph’s Leap & Letting Go

There are two worlds: the world we can measure with line and rule,

and the world that we feel with our hearts and imagination.

~Leigh Hunt, 1784 – 1859

Randolph's Leap, Scotland

Randolph’s Leap, Scotland


Randolph’s Leap in the Scottish Highlands is a locale that has inspired legends ranging from bloody clashes between clans to mystical meetings of man and spirit.

My visit to Randolphs Leap was happenstance, made on a whim after the place came up in conversation during my visit to Findhorn, a spiritual and learning community located in northeast Scotland on the Moray Firth coast.  In talking with Findhorn resident Bettina Jespers, she spoke about what made this remote stretch of Scottish countryside call to her and in doing so made mention of Randolph’s Leap.

“I come from Sao Paulo, Brazil with 17 million inhabitants, so here to drive for hours and see only a cottage here, a cottage there, is an amazing experience,” she explained. “At Randolph’s Leap, there’s a lot of lichen, which shows how pure, how clean the air is, it’s quite an unspoiled area.”

“The experience that people have at Randolphs Leap is that the veil or the edge between the seen and the unseen is very thin,” she said.  “There is a greater possibility of someone having an experience of the unseen realm, and encountering nature spirits, fairies, and elves, whatever–if they are open to that.  I personally never have. I’ve twice had inklings but not something that I could concretely describe.”

While I’m not quite sure I believe in fairies or elves, I do have an affinity for landscapes believed to be imbued with sacred possibilities. As luck would have it, after a week of travelling by train, the next day I was being picked up guides Johanna Campbell and Gilbert Summers to begin driving west across the Highlands.  They seemed a flexible and adventurous pair and readily agreed to make a detour to Randolph’s Leap before we set off westward.

After a short drive of a couple of kilometers, we turned down a country road, passing a farmer’s field where I beheld my first Highland cow with its distinctive shaggy red coat and upward-pointing horns. Gilbert recognized the pull-off for Randolph’s Leap and soon we were trudging down a well-worn path lined with birch, beech trees and evergreens, breathing in the fresh scent of pine. I noticed trees sprouting spindly branches at the base of their trunks–the growth looked like skinny arms reaching for the sky; the Germans call these stalks “Root Ghosts.” The lichen Bettina had spoken about was in abundance and we stopped to admire different varieties that flourished in the dampness—some thick and luxurious, others sparse and delicate.

“Scotland’s lichen communities are of international importance,” Johanna told me. “Lichens are good indicators of air pollution. In the 19th century, sulphur was the main air pollutant, but now nitrogen from agriculture and vehicle exhausts as well as global warming may threaten certain species of lichen in the Scotland according to Scottish Natural Heritage.”

“Lichens in Scotland were used for dyeing, first as a cottage industry and later on a larger scale,” she continued. “The tradition is still carried on by hobby crafters and some textile designers. Crottle is a member of the lichen family–the browns and fawns of the famous cloth called Harris tweed were produced from crottle. It is said these lichens are the origin of the distinctive scent of older Harris Tweed. I remember that smell from an old jacket I used to have – it did smell strange when it got damp!”

“I love knitting with various Scottish wools–and one day I may have a go at dying some wool, as I also have my great grandmother’s spinning wheel which is thought to be at least 150 years old,” she added. “I will try with onion skins and perhaps some bog myrtle but I won’t touch these fragile and beautiful lichens.”

We passed a flood stone commemorating the Moray floods of 1829 when three days and nights of rain in August caused the River Findhorn to rise by over 50 feet, with devastating results. We followed the path as it wound along a steep cliff, the sides of which were unprotected–I was both drawn and repelled by the precipice and the swollen river gushing below it. The twin sensations of fear and awe made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, proving to be as close as I got to an otherworldly encounter at Randolph’s Leap. The dark brown waters were moving fast, spilling over huge boulders into foaming pools and then raging onward. The water’s color comes from the peat in the Monadhliath Mountains from where it flows; this pure water is one of the staple ingredients in the Speyside whiskies.

Continuing on, just before a bend in the river, we reached Randolph’s Leap—a spot where the River Findhorn is squeezed through narrow rock ledges. There was a steep ladder down to the river intended for fishermen only. I had never considered the sport to come with any danger and had a newfound respect for anyone willing to brave these torrents for their catch of the day.

 A sign gave a brief sketch of how Randolph’s Leap came by its name; I later stumbled across a more colorful account in “The Pageant of Morayland” written by James B. Ritchie and published in 1938.

Near Dunphail House there stand, high above the ravine of the River Divie, the remains of an old castle. In the 14th century Dunphail Castle was held by an old warrior, Sir Alexander Cumming, who lived there with his six sons. They were a branch of the great Comyn family, which has had intimate connection with Scottish history, notably the Red Comyn, who was the rival of Robert the Bruce for the Scottish throne. With the triumph of Bruce the power of the Comyns was broken.

9 thoughts on “Randolph’s Leap & Letting Go”

  1. DearMeg,
    Your reference to “our souls laid bare” truly touched me; it was suffused with the raw and potent mother/daughter love that both fettered and freed the beautiful and indomitable brownie spirit of yours that I so value. I pray that your memories will sustain you… that you can draw strength, fire and purpose from them. With hugs and more hugs, Lisa

    1. Dear Lisa,

      You have a beautiful gift of expression, I loved getting this comment and how very true your observations are about the complexities of the mother-daughter relationship. I know from experience all our relationships continue after someone is no longer on this plane…and I also know that each and every relationship we have enriches all the others. So glad we are able to share our experiences with our mothers with each other! xoxo, Meg

  2. I love your metaphorical extrapolation of the “the veil between two souls’ …that numinous space where hearts converge!

  3. Meg, Just writing to say I so loved your Mom and her spirit. She was a rare soul! She made me laugh alot especially when she was learning a new exercise in pilates.She enjoyed every moment and wanted to try everything. She will be sorely missed.I didn’t know any other way to be in contact with you so hope this is appropriate. Sending love to you, Diana Bower

    1. Dear Diana, So wonderful to hear from you and I am so grateful you reached out! Yes, mom had a lot of spirit and gusto for life and I credit my curiousity about people and the world to her. It is a legacy and gift that has served me in good stead. I am actually back in Scotland now, a gift I gave myself to celebrate her life. Among other aspects of Scottish culture I am exploring is the rich Gaelic traditions here, something she would have loved! My very best to you, so glad we are connected through mom! Love, Meg

  4. My dearest Meg,

    What a beautiful and fitting way to share the last moments with your mother. Just as I had the honor of helping my mom as she exited this world, so now have you. That last conversation will remain etched in your memory. That connection will remain in your heart, too, as your mother made that final leap. I believe that no amount of time, nor space, will ever break it.

    I love you and wish you peace.


    1. Lisa my friend,

      Its just dawning on me as I write this that were it not for my love of travel, we would never have met! Isnt it wild to think our paths crossed in the tropics almost a decade ago! (well, not quite a decade…but getting there!)

      You and I now share two special connections…your sharing your story with me about your mother’s final days, as we traveled across southern Spain together, prepared me for losing my own mother. You continue to lead the way and for that I am grateful.

      Look forward to trudging together on the El Camino in 2014!

      Love you!


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