Once a year I lose myself in the Western Isles to walk and

West of Sligachan, the Black Cuillins rise – icebound in the winter and shrouded in cloud. I begin my walk beneath their sentry, Sgùrr nan Gillean, the peak that heralds the start of the dark serrated ridge that coils around the most mysterious of all Scotland’s lochs – Loch Coruisk, whose name means “cauldron of the waters”.

This is the Isle of Skye, where you will find all seasons in a single day – blinding snow, pelting rain, snatching wind and sudden, inexplicable sun. And it’s here I like to come to forget myself and to remember who I am.

My parents tell me that I was conceived in the Western Isles – a place they have always loved. They were married young – 22 and 21 – and I was born 11 months later. My first holidays were here. I would sit like an infant king in my high chair – reversed in the front seat of the old Austin Cambridge in which we would sleep, frost on the inside of the windows when we were awoken by the first light. We would drive through the pass of Glen Coe and then follow the road to the Isles, in search of remote glens and unexpected waterfalls, heading always for the coast where we would collect mussels on certain semi-secret beaches sheltered from the rocky shoreline. At the end of the day, the grey clouds would be underlit in every shade of gold and pink and pale vermilion.

After my siblings began to be born, we would stay in cottages and then houses. At the age of 21, I began to visit Skye and Mull and Knoydart with a group of my friends – to walk in the day and play cards at night. Now I go three times a year: in autumn with these same friends; at Christmas with my mother and father (now in their 70s) and my own children and whichever of my six siblings can make the trip. And once a year I go alone – to write, to think, to be.

But not to think or to be as I am in the rest of my life. Not to think busy, hurried, tangled. Not distracted or caught up or diverted or waylaid. Not as a husband, nor as a father, nor as a son, nor as a friend. But I go to think and to be in a different way. In a deeper way. Meditatively, perhaps. But not quite. More like thinking and being in the way of becoming just another human being again – and all the commonplace and miraculous that comprises.

I often stay in the same crofter’s cottage directly beneath the Cuillins. I have never been able to sleep late. And so I write all morning – drinking too much tea and overbrewed coffee. The place is remote and I see nothing out of the window above the desk save for weather and the mountains and the occasional bird of prey that I wish I had the wit to distinguish as either eagle or buzzard. I hate going to the shops so I bring everything with me and cook for myself. Many writers are reclusive and like being alone. But I am not one of them. I have lived in London all my adult life and I come from a large family; kinship and friendship have always been the best of my life’s experience. So I always find this sudden solitude shocking and precipitous. Two nights in and I miss everyone and everything. But this is a good thing, because behind the loneliness I can feel my appreciation of the people I love stirring and becoming conscious again. And I welcome this feeling, this re-realising of the great worth of the people in whose company I delight.

I am wary of the word healing – my sister lost her baby daughter, my niece; my neighbour lost her daughter; one friend killed themselves; another was in a Covid coma for long months; my cousins were killed in a car accident when I was on nearby Mull years ago – and I know it is fatuous to talk of recovery in the company of such annihilating losses. Meanwhile, tragedy seems to attend every day of human history. So, no, it’s not healing that the Western Isles offer. But it is, perhaps, this feeling of renewed awareness and perspective.

In the afternoons when I walk, for example, I sometimes think about the two sides of our nature. The urge to destroy and its associate, contempt. The urge to create and its associate, compassion. And I wonder – 300,000 years from now – which of these natures will prevail. And this leads me to think about the two Earths: the indifferent Earth and the magnanimous Earth – the place of volcanoes and tsunamis and drought and earthquakes, and the place of fruit trees and harvests and clean air to breathe and fresh water to drink. And that in turn leads me to think about our blue ball spinning in space – how incredible the Earth seems, how we can’t seem to keep that in mind as we blunder through history. And all these thoughts are what I mean when I say I have forgotten myself.

But I also remember myself. My grandfather was born in Edinburgh Castle in the barracks, the son of an officer in the British army. His mother, Jesse, my great-grandmother, was later committed to the Edinburgh insane asylum 17 miles away at Bangour Village Hospital. The place is eerie – terrifying to the modern eye – with foreboding gothic buildings loosely copied from the Alt-Scherbitz asylum in Germany. Some “patients” were kept here against their will. There were “treatments”, such as electroconvulsive therapy and lobotomy. I think about Jesse when people talk of their mental health. And here, too, is where questions of identity start to germinate.

My great-grandfather had affairs. One such affair was with a woman, a ballet dancer, originally from Sochi in Georgia – at that time in the Soviet Union. My mother believes this woman may have been her birth mother. But her “real” mother, my grandmother, was an Indian woman born in Hyderabad who met my grandfather during the war. She changed her surname to Begum and they eloped. And this is only my mother’s side of the story. For my father’s side, I must go back to Europe – another war, another exile, another beginning.

Only recently did I realise how the Western Isles work on me. Their secret is simple. The landscape is a time machine. I am walking in the ancient world and the world that is yet to come. Nothing that I think or feel has been nullified or even changed by being here. Rather, it is that my capacity to acknowledge – to encompass – seems somehow to have been widened or deepened. As if, by entering the time machine, my perspective is momentarily stretched to millions of years. So that, even when it snaps back and contracts, it does not shrink quite as tight and constraining as it was before.

Up on the Black Cuillin ridge, I can see many of the isles of the Inner Hebrides to the south and away to the east Ben Nevis. My perspective widens again. The final climb to the jagged peaks – Sgùrr nan Gillean and Am Basteir (The Executioner) – at this end of the ridge are too dangerous to complete alone. So, instead, I sit. I make some notes. In time, these notes become a passage in the children’s book that I am co-writing in which the two protagonists must climb a mountain through a blizzard away from whatever is tracking them until they can break clear above the storm on the ridge and face their pursuer. And making these notes pulls me back into the world below.

I’m ready to return to my life – to my children, my family, my friends and all the people who I love.

Edward Docx’s children’s book Swift and Hawk: Cyberspies is published by Walker Books at £7.99. Buy it from guardianbookshop.com for £7.43