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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change of season, Farm Accommodation, farm bunkhouse, Farm Life, highland landscapes, Living with Nature, today's story, Uvie Farm

Five minute story

Against expectation, the farm is flooded with sunshine. Long seeded grass in the silage fields lies almost flat under the weight of night rain and carries a polished sheen when scanned from ground level. The cattle in Logan’s meadow stand drying off the nights dampness, chewing the cud in appreciation. Housemartins and swallows forage further afield on a clear day like this, since the supply of insects around the house house is blessedly diminished by their constant activity.

That is where my attention is set.

A single leaf twists through the still air falling from the giant silver birch as I open the tap to start the flow.

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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, Highland cattle, highland landscapes, Living with Nature, new birth, Uncategorized, wildlife

Spaces

The birches vanish progressively
as the plastic is pinned to the inside of the studwork
nominal walls til now,
skeletal rectangles allowing light and wind.

Plasterboard starts to define the interior space

where owls perched and pelleted the rough screed floor
now tiled.
Around the house the birds swoop and soar ceaselessly,
the martens spilling wind, pulling their wings back                                                 to flutter briefly in stasis

as they pluck insects from the new hatch
while  swallows wheel in the higher air.
I wait in the doorless portal
knowing evening warmth and calm
and the busiest time of opportunity,
the cattle grazing as if at harvest.
The hills are softened in vapour
and mottled with shade
from cloud teased by distant winds
blowing seagulls in from the east.
Young lambs on the hill
demand to suck:
their calls enter the new room
claiming it.

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Yellow flowers follow flows

Yellow is being worn today.
Slow draining rivulets along the margins of the farm sport finery.
Peaty and filled with black mud that has clarted my boots many times on my way up the hill, these semi stagnant waterways obstruct hard paths around the farm.

I think sometimes there must have been stone bridges- there are old roads after all, winding their way around and between the townships that dotted the drier slopes above the river’s floodplain.
Today’s road shortcircuits the connecting loops that wander between habitations – at walking pace, at cart pace. The routes describe the journeys, mostly short and where longer, diversionary, topographic – one had to keep one’s boots dry after all.

The new road is far from arrow straight; the cliffs of Creag Dhubh are as unyielding as ever, the low ground as liable to flood as at any time, but the cars fly past on their way to somewhere else.
Watching them as I walk parallel to the road, I am looking not just from these woods separated by a few metres from the facilitating ribbon, but from an old time as if through an opening in a rotting stump.

Here hanged felons swing beside the highway as a warning,

and kingcups blaze above the slow movement of dark water.

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Farm Life, Highland cattle, highland landscapes, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

I prepared the field last night, hauling the chain harrow to spread dung and molehills.
This morning is perfect for rolling.

A heavy mist covers the house allowing a luminous glow through the windows-

assurance of a cloudless sky.

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There has been no rain overnight, but the grass is so heavy with moisture it splashes on my face as I trundle the lines back and forward across the field, deep green

then silvery

then green again.

The mist lifts as I progress, revealing sunshine on the upper part of Creag Dubh,

its lower slopes still veiled as if for modesty.

By the time I finish my skin is chilled,

the smell of crushed grass fills my nostrils;

small rainbows hide in thinning vapour.

The day is opening.

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Farm Life, Highland cattle, highland landscapes, Living with Nature, Uncategorized

Keeping the peace

The birches at the bottom are greening with tiny knobs of curled leaf: higher up the farm road they are skeletal still. The climb up the burnside after the Nog remains unadorned – though I almost know that it will change soon.
Yesterday the animals paraded through the open gate – then required shedding to their new homes: the younger cows to join Angus Halfhorn for his first season as stud bull.
I am concerned that, at three days old, it is early for Alice’s calf to cope with a sudden influx of older animals: but the opportunity to shift the animals has to be taken.
My choice: their time.
Single handed on the farm I have to work their way to do things my way.
The old bull,my darling Bill, has spent the day sitting by the fence looking down to where his son Angus  partners cows that were with him last year. He is still there when I down last thing after my hill climb with the Nog. Alice’s baby is running in joyful circles with the other, larger calves.
She is fearless-
unlike her mother who, forgetting her cracked hooves, chases after her like a clumsy shadow.
Billy is now standing at the fence above, roaring, raking the ground with hoof and horn. Angus responds to the challenge. There are still two fences between them-
but as I watch Billy uproots a line of three posts and the connecting wires.
Angus is roaring his challenge from below. I chase him back to the girls: he flounces down the hill kicking his heels.
Billy is still knocking hell out of my fence; he has created a gap large enough to get through if he wants.
I reprimand him.
I hit him with a stick.
I spot a feed bag caught on the fence. He turns as I pick it up and follows me across the hayfield back to the calving paddock, where I close him in after rewarding him.
Staying there depends on him – a fence, a gate is mere suggestion.
Co-operation is best-

after all he’s bigger than me.

 

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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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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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