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From the Manse in February 2011

From the Manse

‘Remoteness revisited’

As someone who grew up in a Highland Glen, and who now finds himself living in a mountainous rural setting 50 miles distant from the nearest big town, I suppose I, more than most, ought to have a clear understanding of the concept of  remoteness. But even as I sit in the silence of my study, in a solitary old Manse overlooking the upper reaches of the River Dee, I am conscious of the fact that remoteness is not what it used to be.

I may be writing these words in as rural and remote a setting as one can possibly imagine, but by the wonders of modern technology I have, so I am told, the whole world at my fingertips.  And in a sense, it is true. I have within my immediate reach, (literally within arm’s-length), two telephones (landline and mobile); a radio; two computers (one of them a lap-top); and a broadband router – in short, all the gadgetry required to ensure that remoteness, in the geographical sense, need no longer separate us as completely as it once did.

There is a down-side to such technological developments of course – being bombarded by brotherly bloggers is for me a bothersome business, and the only tweeters I am prepared to listen to these days are of the avian variety – but there is also a well-documented upside.  In the last 24 hours alone, from the relative isolation of Crathie Manse, where I have been left home alone, I have managed to make direct contact with old friends and erstwhile colleagues in places as far apart as Budapest (Hungary) and Burlingame (California).  Though separated by oceans and time-zones we are in one sense just a click away from each other, and it has been really great to go online and find out what is happening in real time in faraway places like Bidwell Presbyterian Church, Chico, or indeed in places not so far away, such as Braemar Castle, now Community-run and open once more to the public.

Here on this re-developed site, and through its links with other community groups and organisations, you should be able to take an on-line tour of this beautiful part of rural Scotland.  We hope that you will enjoy that virtual visit – and that it might inspire you to visit us again, and not just in the virtual sense.

The Parish of Braemar and Crathie, for all its apparent remoteness, has in fact always attracted numerous visitors – and having practised hospitality for many generations its people are always ready to offer a genuine welcome.

Part of the attraction of this world renowned Gathering Place has to do with its location.  We may have always been somewhat remote – certainly more than a mere click away – but we have never been completely isolated.  Our extensive parish includes much of the Cairngorm Mountain Range, and it also straddles three or four of Scotland’s most clearly defined mountain passes.  As a result, the ‘Braes of Mar’ has, for centuries, been considered an important meeting place for athletes and clansmen, for kings and nobles, for kith and kin, for strangers and pilgrims.  They came back then to do business, to share stories, to herd cattle, to hunt, to sign treaties, to raise standards, to demonstrate athletic prowess, to reach out the hand of friendship, and to enjoy God’s creation.  This was, for visitors and welcomers alike, a place of engagement and encounter – it still is.

‘Remoteness’, it seems to me, needs to be revisited – and not simply because of the recent development of the world-wide web and the resultant ease of communication.  Historically and biblically, remote locations – up on the mountain-top or down by the riverside – have often been the meeting places of choice for people of faith and vision. 

In such places they have taken time to rest and to reflect. In such places they have taken time to confess and to commit. In such places they have taken time to ponder and to pray.  And in such places they have also, almost invariably, encountered God in a new and perhaps more meaningful way.

So why not ditch the key-board and the cell-phone for a bit, and take yourself off to a remote spot – for what it is worth, that is what I am about to do.

Now where did I leave that GPS hiking watch!

Ken MacKenzie