change of season, farm bunkhouse, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Uvie Farm

Today I walked a mountain gold and cold

Summoning crags

Summoning crags

The pump in the basement is old:
it has run dry and burned a few times,
smoking and blowing capacitors.
Still works though – just not strongly
enough to charge the water pressure.

My entire water supply is dependant:
my guests too, my business-
on this old pump’s enduring.
It develops quirks as its power fades
allowing the pressure to run low
as if too tired to chase
only heaving itself into action
when the stream has all but dried.

The one outlet that dries altogether
is the highest: my shower.
In the morning I stand under the flow
wait for it to dribble and die,
and then stretch out a long and trembling arm
to turn the hot tap at the basin
that spurts and sings encouragement
to its lofty wall-mounted companion
which then releases warm liquid joy
onto my chilling head and shoulders.

For three days now the sun has shone brilliantly;
I have the choice to sit at my papers
and wait the slow onset of early dark
and creeping cold
or seize the sunlight on the hill.
The Nog approves my choice.
I will not lose myself this time,
just to crest Creag Dhubh
gigantic companion to the farm round
clear to view
besides many false summits.

Sunlight on the rockface summons:
the grass glows gold.

golden grassland

golden grassland


This gradient demands new pressure
from the old pump driving my legs
upwards to where space narrows
between rock and sky.

Crag Dhubu crest

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Animal stories, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, wildlife

Quiet in the evening sun

We use the same path most nights, the Nog and I: he has come to expect it.
We leave the yard by the blacksmith’s gate behind the sheds.
Passing along the old highway dominated by Tom na Cruachan, where the hanging tree stood, use broken down field dykes to negotiate the wet ground , ending at the little lift stile that, sluicelike, permits me over and the Nog beneath.
He sits waiting for the evening traffic to clear when we can cross the road into the braes and birches of the overgrown granite workings.
The tracks that used to carry carts and slow sledges loaded with stone, now trace a single thin line though chesthigh bracken. The Nog precedes me on the path, branching onto invisible scent trails between concealing fronds that tremble and sway as markers of his busyness.

Yesterday’s evening sun lay gently on the thickets of thin trees scrambling up grey rockfaces.

It was pleasant to amble with my face turned upwards-

so I tripped over the Nog rigid on the path, intent on something higher up.

After a time I saw his immobility mirrored by a doe, plain to view but indistinct against a background of branches, leaves and lichens. The Nog  looked in my direction, moving his eyes only, questioning:

as clearly as I could I signalled:
‘You go for it if you like but you know you don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of catching a full grown roe deer so if I were you don’t even think of it, but if you want make an idiot of yourself &c &c-‘
-or thoughts to that effect.
And he listened!
– and trotted comfortably off down the path;
while the doe gathered herself to vault a fallen trunk

and eased herself

silently from sight.

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farm bunkhouse, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

Cloudy Days

There are times the cloud seems to drag along the braes, catching in the birches so that I half expect fluffy white deposits like sheepswool on barbed wire.
Other times the hilltops are axed flat, bandaged in dense vapour like fabric, impenetrable and mysterious: a time to avoid walking the high tops for fear of disorientation, however familiar the terrain.
On a good day with a breeze and broken sun, the patterns of shadow pass over hillsides and pastures like fast moving geology, picking out grey rock, a flash of green upland pasture, a blaze of bracken, the gleam of water.
Today the wind has turned from the north (where the weather lurks unseen behind the dark mass of Creag Dhubh) to south east: warm but threatening the unaccustomed.

I haul the mountain bike from the pick-up and drop it over the gate to the hill-road on Catlodge. A Blue-Grey heifer is watching, head-up, ears pricked. As I wobble off down the rocky track the rest of the herd take flight and stampede down the track ahead of me, as if on a strange new steamrailway with me the monstrous locomotive. I curse under my breath, ashamed at the disruption as if a dog was running loose

Finally, the animals turn up the hill and slow, watching me pass.

When the road turns to grass, I prop the bike against the derelict fence of some forgotten environmental scheme, pull my whistlestick from the bungey holding it to my pack, and start the foot climb. I follow the half seen road used by the old peat cutters toward the green saddle that gives onto the far valley with long views to the west.

The first drops hit smartly, and turning I see cloud lowering over Drumochter Hills. Testing the wind I am forced to acknowledge the bank of rain heading for me like vengeance.
I look for the bright broken elements that presage showers, and the chance of drying off between downpours.
This I have learned to be comfortable with. but there is no relief in prospect.

I climb on-
until suddenly-
as I walk the wild-
my mind calls up an image of bedsheets left on the line.
That does it!
The Nog obediently turns with me as I head for home –
and a world of duty.

No No - I'm talking about all those black clouds!

No No – I’m talking about all those black clouds!

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Animal stories, Farm Accommodation, Farm Life, farm visitors, Highland cattle, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

Highland Spring

The drama is in the day.
Mild and easy when I put out the feed this morning, the wind starts up mid morning, It is strong but not a storm – a sailors wind, sending vessels scudding.
I have no vessel to scud – so this squall is merely inconvenient, blowing the cement from my shovel before I can fill the mixer-
but not threatening like so many that shake the buildings of a winter night like some nordic ogre.
I am inside when the rain hits the window sliding down half melted. It puts paid to the long walk I have promised the Nog today.
When it stops we leave the house.
At the entrance to the yard, two hundred yards away, the starving half -calf stops on the road and looks back at us as if beckoning. I feed him as efficiently as I can and pen him for the night with mother. She is laden with milk, inaccessible to him through some esoteric interdict of his own choosing.
Colours are clear in the water laden air, distance inviting. On the small summit I watch broken cloud driven across blue sky. To the west the sun is splintered by ragged cloud profiles sending shafts of light earthwards. There is rain coming in, lit with diffused radiance that conceals the shapes of the hills as much as illuminates so that they appear in silhoutte like two dimensional cut outs arranged in series, receding towards unseen summits.
A bird of prey holds itself up in the wind- a crisp profile like a keyhole in space. I run up the brace to stand on the fencepost squinting into the wind in an attempt to identify the bird. My eyes are watering so that I can’t see the ground and have to guess the distance to jump down.
From here I can see that the pasture of the farm is greening slightly, that Alice has not yet calved, that the weekend guests have departed.
A rainbow strikes the far ridge and curves over towards Creag Dubh, spanning the farm.

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hillwalking, History of the Highlands, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, wildlife

Soaring- with an eagle even.

None of us is wholly attached to this earth.
This is true of humans too.
Moira’s baby is barely resident on this plane – a half calf.
The old folks, especially the women gathered by the flanks of the milk cows every morning, would tell stories of milk supped by fairies at night.
Moira is losing no milk this way, but the lad still part resides in the palaces under the hill, where the night is spent dancing and spinning, where he is free to soar and where to breathe is to eat, so rich the air.
All that retains him here is the russet mass of his lumbering mother, and a strange bare forked animal that throws him to the ground to invade his mouth, holds him tight while half suffocating him with a tube in his throat, and locks him to the earth with the shackles of his will.
Passing by the field later on the quad, I see Billy on his feet. The little lad is transfixed by this gigantic apparition (his father), staring stock still, as if in disbelief that this might be his adult pattern. Billy sheepishly shakes his head and looks away.

It is Sunday: I have promised the Nog a longer walk.

We cross the road from the farm and work our way up though the old quarry, the birches loud with the memory of descending slipes, horsedrawn sledges used to cart granite block down to the road.
At the top of the burnside path, I catch up to the shadows of peat carts, hook my stick to a backboard as they wind slowly up the hill road and then cut across country to the spot where Nog and I surprised the deer last night.
We move out across the plateau, leaving the old drowned cuttings behind: picking up the ghosts of my father and grandfather who walked this same ground.

We cross to the far edge where the ground drops away before rising again to the arctic waste of the Monadhliath range, still heavy with snow.
The mountains are grouped around the Dalbhallach flats as if encicling a lagoon, an inundated crater. They are roundtopped; the connecting valleys swag like fabric, swathing the hills as if storing furniture. In spite of the upflift to the view of the mountains, I have a strong sense that to progress into this wilderness is to plunge, not rise.

I watch the hills across the valley, my eyes climbing the air towards them as I approach the lip. Before the ground falls away, perhaps disturbed by my approach, from a vantage directly in front but below me, and as if carrying my volition, the outspread wings of the eagle launch the giant bird effortlessly outward from the face. Within seconds she is slowly spooling arcs in the still air at the centre of the cooling lagoon.

‘Oh My..’
The sound of my voice breaks the stillness, unbidden.

Words surface in my memory:
‘Come to the edge!’
‘I cannot. It is too steep.’
‘Come to the edge!’
‘I am scared. I will fall.’
‘COME TO THE EDGE!’
So he came-
and he fell-
and he flew.

 

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Animal stories, farm bunkhouse, Highland cattle, highland landscapes, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Ridge world

Old roads, half hidden, carry ghost traffic up the hill.

Carts hauled by small horses coaxed up the zigzags eased over the years by a stone placed here to support a slope, an incline there dug level. At one point where two drains meet in a small gully at the base of the climb to the ridge, tumbled stones mark the remains of a handbuilt dam protecting a ford where the vehicles might cross. I take a moment to study the contours to check the extent of the lagoon that would be created by such a barrier: but it’s too long gone.
The Nog is waiting above, I turn to follow.
The hill divides as we arrive at the crest where a fence separates sheep pasture from genuine moorland. The Nog finds the low section and jumps over, follows the peat road crossways, runs forward and then halts – winding something.
I come up to the near edge of the plateau to find him intent on the near horizon.

A herd of fifty red deer enjoy the calm of late afternoon. Hinds and calves graze with their heads down in the dead ground below. The breeze at their backs gives them no warning: they are unaware of our presence. The ridge above is lined with stags, mature beasts with full antlers. They have seen us but at this time of the year are not too alarmed – just enough to lift their heads to face us full on. Some are standing, showing the full mass of their powerful bodies silhouetted. Others remain prone, swivelling their necks, heads outlined against the distant snowy slopes of the Monadhliath foothills.

The antlers rise towards the hazy blue of the sky in a symmetrical bow like a prayer: alert ears extend along  horn reinforcing the base of cupped void like petals against a stem.

As I move forward, they gather and turn. Arrived at the position they have abandoned I find them strung out to the far horizon, watching but unconcerned.

The lead stag, a royal, waits down the hil, alone – assessing when to rejoin the herd.

Standing here I have a view round three quarters of the snowfields bounding the horizon. A chill breeze breathes from the north east but the sun is warm mitigated by a storm haze that sends windwracked clouds floating overhead like aquatic mammals.

Down at the farm a small red calf is waiting to be let in to the night pen.

I call in the Nog as I turn to descend.

With luck he ‘ll be able to run further tomorrow.

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Farm Life, hillwalking, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

Alone on the hill?

There is nothing up the hill behind the farm. Nothing to excite or entertain. No homes, people, vehicles, livestock, few trees.
This time of year the grass is yellow and flat, water lies softening the peat, the heather is dark and low.
Today uniform grey cloud slices the tops from the hills; the wind drives hard across the open hill, snow lies in pockets like hoofmarks, clings in stubborn banks on north faces.
I force myself from the shelter of the farm. The wind hits as I leave the path circling Sarah Justina’s memorial, the last outpost.
I cut straight up the hill to reach the ridge at its lowest point, heading for the high ground, the Nog ambushing me on steeper inclines.
And we’re not alone. A shape slides behind the border of ancient pines as we reach the watershed – and then reveals itself – the outspread arc of a monitoring eagle. The eyrie is back in the trees – perhaps the henbird is sitting in the untidy stack of twigs lodged in a fork. I have seen her before, but this is another bird, smaller, probably male.
I watch the near horizon carefully as the Nog ranges. He is the colour and size of a roe calf: eagles eat roe calves. I call him closer- the dynamic has changed.
We are now the hunted.
I relax as we progress toward the back hills.
The Nog ranges backwards and forwards as generations of his ancestors have done.
I catch up with my father and grandfather- who walked here before me.
Coming back down the hill, we do not return.
We re-enter.

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