heroic ambition, today's story, Uncategorized, village life

Flying beyond the flock

Two small birds tear into the sky – and out again – like streakers on a cricket field.
Their compact profile and short triangular wings are familiar – but anomalous. They are surely starlings – and not only that – they are the starlings nesting in my eaves – or rather under the tin roof of the bunkhouse. I see them flying in and out of the gable end when I cross the bridge to my office – but mostly in the summer. There is something remarkable about this pair climbing the air above the Apron field where the stotts are now clearing the troughs of this morning’s nuts.
Starlings are woodland birds, so tree-loving not house sharing: and profoundly gregarious, swirling in great single-minded flocks like shoals. My birds behave differently, of necessity maybe or choice – and this aspiring glory in solitary flight marks my vision as I race the quad up to the gate from the bottom paddock with the Nog zigzagging madly across my bows.
Feeding the beasts is a welcome obligation – I know how to start my day – but to continue….? Work with immediate tasks- tag the carcase hanging by the pond, text the gamedealer, empty my pack to dry out my gear, oil and sharpen my knives – and then…?

Which item on the Endless List is fit for crossing off?
-and then-

Lynda phones to say Marie and Kari are here.
These are Wally’s womenfolk: – Wally Herbert- the greatest British polar traveller –  resident in the village for the last decade of his life
– and generous host

– and friend.
Wally made his own path where there are none; forcing his way forward in places without precedent, against Nature’s adversity and with little support or acclaim.

Marie and Kari follow in his steps, not the ones quickly filled with blown snow on the polar approaches, but the more enduring habits of psychological enterprise and endurance.

Some habits cast hard like pre-human prints on a beach- or the flight of starlings.

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.

highland landscapes, Uncategorized, village life

The view is better without snowstorms

Its not the best day for taking in the scenery from the Glen Truim viewpoint. The wind is blowing hard: this slope catches the brunt, looking straight up to the Corrieayrack pass due west of here. This ridge is the first obstruction to the weather’s force driving unimpeded down the open breadth of the strath – the wide, glacier-carved valley that supports the village of Lagganbridge and all the outlying settlements and farms such as mine at Uvie.
Oh – and it is snowing.
I have driven 10 miles to achieve half a mile. This point looks down directly on the farm-but separated by the river Spey. The roundhouse is clear, the metalclad bunkhouse. I observe the west wall of my tool shed dark with saturated moisture, how the animals are collected on drier ground, apart from the pregnant mothers who stand squarely in the mud with their heads rammed deep into the silage dropped for them yesterday – there is always goodness to be mined in the first day or so before the fermented grass starts to stale.
But this is not what I came for – I have further to climb. The wind helps me up the slope as if with a dancer’s hand on my elbow, but driven shards force me to walk with a hand sheltering the side of my face.
At the top I find what I came for- not the traditional cairn- but a haphazard looking assembly of scaffolding poles bolted to the granite, supporting some modest electrical apparatus. This is part of the relay system for the village broadband system, developed and maintained by volunteers like myself. We have 70-odd subscribers now – but have vouchsafed to provide the service to any locals frustrated enough with the big providers to want it. It is relayed wirelessly from tops such as this, like a yodel perhaps, and I am scanning for a clear view to other village homes from this point

If the weather will permit me.

I see clear to Cluny and Craig Dhubh, Balgowan and Laggan are supplied from another mast, but Glen Truim and Breakachy, candidates for the better service, are invisible, masked by rock or trees.
Another flurry hits as I pack away the binos – time to head back down. The rounded contours of the Nog are distorted by the wind so that he looks angular at times – a thing of facets like a stealth fighter.
It is quieter among the pines – not far to the truck along the forest road.

Job done: another one begun.

Animal stories, Farm Life, Highland cattle, Living with Nature, Uncategorized, Uvie Farm, village life

The visitor

I was going to say that I never saw a human face today (so it’s a good thing I enjoy the animals) – but it is not true.
I am in the yard after dropping a bale into Billy and the gravid mothers. They are all outside since it is breezy and fine; Abby’s wee black boy gallops among the birches like a tiny stampeding bison, and Billy tries to intercept the bale hoisted above the feeder, reaching up like a basketball player.
Gates shut, JCB parked; my sole visitor appears at the gate. Trevor the woodsman wants to know who owns Lochain Ubhaidh (Wee loch Uvie – close enough to the farm to share a name).
He was standing between the cliffs and the water when he heard a thrashing in the water.
Sma-a-a-k. A giant fish clears the water and thumps back with the noise of a sledgehammer splintering a gatepost.
Sma–k. It breaches again.

The sound echoes from the looming crags, vigilant with ravens.

Animal stories, village life

Communications and cold fingers

Early start in the dark, & I am now waiting for Cathy to tow the quad to the village. The animals are picked out by the quad headlights, and all seems well. Holly is still nesting in the shed and Moira is looking broody but as usual is staying quiet in the background, as if having no horns has dicatated her position in life.
The day grows revealing a clear morning with a light frost and thin broken cloud; my day uncovers its tasks.

The village is disadvantaged by its location and topography from many services including major broadband suppliers, so we decided to use our mountains to advantage by broadcasting a signal from Kingussie, 10 miles away, to relay it round the village. A number of promontaries are now decorated with a tracery of scaffolding poles, dishes and small wind turbines for power. It works beautifully and now this community provider has the mapority of households dependant on it- all good unless..
It’s simple enough – properly sourced and specified- the only problem is that the sourcers and specifiers have not taken Highland weather into account. The recent gales first ripped the turbines apart, then fried the batteries. We only found out about the batteries once the turbines were fixed. Today is about replacing the batteries.
Once towed to the village, we load the quad with two batteries front and back and, while Al and Morag set off on foot through the glebeland behind the old Manse, I ease the machine up the angled track to the football pitch above the school, and skirt round to join them at the hill gate. I leave them behind now as we head for the new road zigzagging steeply up the Gaskbeg hill on the lower slopes of the Monadhliath Mountains. I nurse my load up the road and across the old peat cutting to the rock sporting its aluminium stubble of poles and cables.
Batteries offloaded, I stand watching the view. The valley floor is green and watery, the higher slopes pure white, but from this vantage I can appreciate the land in between, the middle ground. From here the valleys open out to the west towards Fort William and Skye; north west through the Corrieayrack pass, south to Drumochter pass and the finally the wide strath of the river Spey draining peaty water towards the whisky country to the east. Closeby, small valleys appear of the middle slopes, hidden and dramatic suggesting roads and floods, glacial thoroughfares hidden from the daily traffic of the valley below-
– and we are here with communications technology, and cold fingers.