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.