highland landscapes, hillwalking, History of the Highlands, Uncategorized, village life

Old voices whispering as we bring in the greater world

Al & I quad up  the south slope of the Monadhlaith plateau, with equipment and tools for the wind turbine halfway up looking over the village and the roads that lead in and out.

The plateau is a piece of old Scotland, pre Scotland, preglacial – very old, in fact. There are signs of human intervention up there. The long march fence sunk with molten lead into sockets painstakingly drilled into the granite: it lasted two winters before the wind in the wires drummed the labour to gaptoothed irrelevance. The old shooting box on the march lying open to the weather where men and ponies could overnight to wait on the deer crossing the high passes. There are signs of summer shielings from the middle period of occupation, and before that round houses and even, on one hillside, a small stone circle.

These are the signs from many centuries- but they don’t belong. People are visitors here: as I do when the evenings lengthen.
Al and I are working on a rock platform where the broadband is relayed to the houses on the far side of the strath. The face of the plateau rises behind us: I know the snow grouse will be scratching among the stones scattered on the snowclad upper slopes.  The patches of white start just above our position and grow rapidly as the eye is drawn to the higher snowbanks.
This harsh proffer of the land is not simply geographic, not just beckoning to the higher ground and adventure beyond the horizon; it also summons from a timeworn reality shadowing all human activity such as that undertaken today.
I huddle into my collar against the mountain’s chill breath: focus on the task in hand.

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highland landscapes, hillwalking, Uncategorized

Straight up the quarry wall this time

It is a dreich day, fit to watch the Rugby but the cattle need fed and the Nog walked – and besides, I’ll enjoy it more with a gulp of air in my lungs. I drag myself to the tinker’s stance by the Nog liftgate. Here we cross the road to the gate that breaches the perimeter deer fence to Cluny Estate, once run by Sarah Justina.
Her obelisk is in clear view from here, imposing, but beckoning  upwards. So we choose to the direct route, not the quarry path round the crags climbing beside the burn. The Nog reacts excitedly to the change in routine attacking the slope with sudden energy and turning to jump jigs as we climb. It is raining lightly so the slope is slick but I traverse safely across flows of moss and blaberry plants between dripping rockfaces.

Immediately below the summit supporting the monument, the Nog and I strike into a valley-end scooped from the rock as if from a feedsack. The floor is green and kind while the walls are sheer on three sides. The cliff is stacked in seams of granite folded on each other like damp towels petrified by ancient forces. Filling cracks between courses of black, seams of aggregated quartz and silica curl.
At the apex there is a hollow under jutting crags, creating a small dry space. Dung of sheep and deer testify that I am not the first to use it. Sitting here, the little steep gulley funnels away on either side opening out to the east where the wind blows from today.
The jagged sheltering stone is close around my head like a hood, or rather like the beaten metal turrets of a crown.
It feels like sitting in a cockpit – or an entrance beyond the rock.

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highland landscapes, hillwalking, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm

The Nogument

Sarah Justina’s monument disappears below the rocks forming the near horizon at my back, to be replaced by a new one, a Nogument. The dog sits neatly at the highest point, tapering from his hunkered rear to his alert ears. He waits as I play a game of my own: approaching the angled stob braced against a post set as a turner interrupting the fenceline, I step onto it ready to walk up it and over. The frost has melted but the wood holds moisture causing my boot to slip – not today then. On a good dry day I walk up the narrow bar without breaking stride, perch on the flat post-top and jump down the far side. Each time achieved is a small triumph of resolve and fluency. Unwilling to adopt an ungainly scramble over the line wire, I place my stick with my right hand, my left on the post and swing my legs over with my weight on my arms.
The Nog watches this manoeuvre impassively, as if dissociating himself from my antics: he has his own agenda. I stretch the top wires apart and call to him- once- twice, at the third call the stone dog melts and charges down the hill, suddenly recalled to vibrant life. He pauses, gathers and launches between the separated wires, turning immediately on landing to receive the expected congratulations.
Thus primed with a warming glow of joint achievement we step briskly down the hill with early stars starting out while the light wind cools from brilliant white summits.

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