Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Blood and Heather

We came for heather.

August. The time of the Wild Mountain Thyme:

Will ye go, lassie go
and we'll all go together
to pull wild mountain thyme
all around the blooming heather
will ye go, lassie go


In August, some of Scotland's longer miles come into their own. Acres of flowing hillside - home to the grouse, plover, and mountain hare - become purple robed as the heather flowers.


But where to see this? Thoughts turn first to the Eastern Grampians, but the Lammermuirs are as good as anywhere.

This neglected hill range (neighbouring the most boring hills in Scotland in the Moorfoots) has many secret heathery corners. With the grouse shooting season in full swing we decided to avoid mutual inconvenience by taking the Southern Upland Way up the Watch Water to Twin Law.



The day was windy, with less sunshine than I’d hoped. Startled grouse squawked and tuk-tukked low across the ground. Hares abounded on the track. ‘Beware adders’ said a sign. Maybe we wouldn’t roll in the heather after all. But the views opened out across the prominent Dirrington Laws to the Eildon Hills and Ruberslaw, across the Merse to the Cheviot, and far away, something distant that may have been Lindisfarne or Bamburgh Castle.



At the top, two prehistoric cairns are topped by squat circular stone towers. These are the Twinlaw Cairns.



A plaque on the trig point gives the legend behind the towers. When the Angles were invading the area, they challenged the local Britons to a fight. Each side sent their champion, and the two warriors fought each other to the death. It was then revealed that the warriors were twins - the Angles had kidnapped their champion from the Britons in a raid years earlier when he was a boy. The opposing sides then built the towers as memorials to the brothers at the spot where they fell.
And they biggit twa cairns on the heather
And they biggit them round and high
And they stand on the Twinlaw Hill
Where they twa brithers lie.
As we came away, an irregular pop of shotguns blew over the flank of the hill from the active shooting butts.

We came for heather. We got blood.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Ready for the Storm

I have a confession to make. I like Scottish weather. Perhaps that's not surprising for someone who has just returned from Southern Europe which is currently pinned down by 40 degree heat.

And there are times I have cursed my timing when I have arranged a day in the hills only to have it ruined by a weather front. And what about those interminable grey days, useless for photography, when the sky and the sea and the land all borrow from the same limited palette?

And yet.

A break in the clouds, Knoydart:


There's a saying: 'what is your shit sandwich?' It means: what compromise will you make, what downside to life will you tolerate to get the good things you want?

I will take the dreich days for this.

Sunset over Eigg:


I love the wind in my hair. It invigorates. It compels action. It enables my favourite outdoor activities in a way that isn't possible in the intensity of Southern European heat.

And the light. It flows, pale and liquid, rarely the same for more than a few seconds.

Loch Quoich:


There is a gentleness and translucence in the presence of cool water. Yes, the threat of rain lends uncertainty, but I can deal with this with a good coat. I can sleep at night. I can't in the suffocating summer nights experienced below around 45° N.

The Scottish climate suits me. Next time it rains every day for more than a week, I will read this again to remind myself of that fact.