Friday, 18 November 2022

November Rain

The ground can't take any more.

Splashing through a field with the dog, glad of wellies. Earthworms drowning, writhing out the ground. Thousands of them. 

It's been raining for weeks.

The water flowing on any slope, the local burn with its banks burst, water swirling around the base of lampposts on the path, now underwater.

My jacket hasn't dried out properly for days and it's started to smell.

The dog looks like she's had enough of this walk. Happy to go back now? she seems to be saying.

I throw her a ball and the splashes it makes remind me of playing rugby as a teenager. Rolling round in the mud and freezing water in just a thin jersey. Character building.

But it's not the rain that gets to you. It's the darkness. When the streetlights go off and it suddenly gets noticeably darker, because sunrise doesn't mean much on days when the cloud is so dark and dense. And then at half past three the curtains are drawn again.

I'm reminded of comments on an emigrants forum years ago. An American woman who had moved to the West of Scotland was warning her compatriots off.

'I'm fine with rain,' one replied, 'Scotland will be OK.'

I could picture the original poster's haunted look as she replied back.

'You don't understand. It's not the rain. It's the DARKNESS.'

The poor woman was not coping too well.

Och well, don't worry. Just another three months of this to go.

Wednesday, 2 November 2022

The Four Seasons: Summer

The fact is all seasons are wonderful, for different reasons.

So before we talk about summer, let’s look at them.

There’s autumn, the time of year for waterfalls and forests, leaves sun caught in beautiful death, of roaring stags dark with peat...

Winter, the time of year of drunken oblivion in the dark, the flashing of a woman’s eyes in a whirling dance...

Spring, the time of year for colour to return, splashes of wildflower like herbs for the eyes...

But at last,

Summer comes in endless daylight.

Newgale beach:

Here in the north it is the time of year of barrelling down empty roads in bright sunshine at 4am, listening to your favourite driving tunes,

Listen to summer driving tune: Lab 4 — Reformation:

the time of ploys and adventures by sea and by hill,

Light winds on the Island Peaks Race:

the time of sweat and smiles,

of insect bites,

of blood and flesh,

the time of marriages, of brides stunning in white,

the groom her necessary accessory

children playing in the street, endless twilight echoing to their games,

the time we take family holidays to the coast,

the time we go

Skipping Barefoot Through the Heather.

Wednesday, 26 October 2022

The Four Seasons: Spring

this is the time of year for colour to return, splashes of wildflower like herbs for the eyes,

clouds white as newborn lambs scudding across a fresh scrubbed sky, wind tousling your hair,

the time for wild camping and weather as changeable as a girl’s fancies,

the time of the apple and cherry blossom,

lovers hands strolling lightly,

the time when the whole world opens up.

Listen to spring tune: Vivaldi — The Four Seasons, Spring:

Next season: Summer.

Tuesday, 18 October 2022

The Four Seasons: Winter

this is the time of year of drunken oblivion in the dark, the flashing of a woman’s eyes in a whirling dance,

Listen to winter tune: Salsa Celtica — Auld Lang Syne:

the season that family gathers, rain hammering the windows as darkness falls,

trees bare sketches bent in the wind,

the time we crave sunlight and climb snowy mountains to be nearer our God,

Sunset from Ben Lomond:

the time of reflection and resolution. The time of things unseen,

the time to begin again.

Next season: Spring

Thursday, 6 October 2022

The Four Seasons: Autumn

This is the time of year for waterfalls and forests, leaves caught in beautiful death,

Falls of Feugh:

of roaring stags dark with peat and shaking with desire,

the season of bounty, of foraging for berries and mushrooms, of bramble picking, hands bloody with juice and sharp thorns,

of the striking of the first match of the first fire of the season,

grateful for the rain for driving us back home.

Listen to autumn tune: James Yorkston & the Athletes — Shipwreckers:

Next season: Winter.

Wednesday, 28 September 2022

A Callendar Autumn

 Another beautiful sunny morning, heavy with autumn dew.

The first leaves turning, a fire of bracken on the hillside.

Do you ever associate certain seasons, weather, or times in your life with a particular place? 

I do. And for me, September is redolent of Stirlingshire. Drymen, Kippen, the Trosachs, Dumiyat - I am not sure why. Meeting cousins as a child, easy daytrips from Glasgow, small-scale country, an ever-present dampness even in sunshine.

In the Trossachs:

Other seasons are for other places.

  • October is the time of big tree country in Perthshire. 
  • November is for Border rivers, heavy with fallen leaves and migrating fish.
  • Early December sees me in central Edinburgh, its dark closes and welcoming pubs.
  • In the new year we climb a hill for sunset, blinking over the otherworldly beauty of the snowy West Highlands.
  • The raw months of January and February are for bracing walks along the east coast.
  • In April, spring sunshine comes flooding over the land and we go outdoors blinking, as if coming out of an afternoon matinee at the cinema. This is the time to enjoy the last snow in the high hills of the Eastern Highlands. 
  • May is for the North-West Highlands and Inner Hebrides, a time of year it never seems to rain, 
  • high summer for the Northern and Western Isles.

Every season has a place for me.

Where do you associate with particular seasons?

Friday, 26 August 2022

Ben Wyvis: Return to my Last Munro

May 1997. My hillwalking friends were doing their final exams. I was at the Aultguish Inn with three who weren't. It was a day of stair-rod rain and a cloud base two feet above sea level; but we were there, so might as well climb the thing.  

A boggy path led to an eroded zig-zig up a steep shoulder and the summit plateau, a revelation of beautifully soft moss. 

Ben Wyvis, 1997:

A quick-as-possible stop at the summit to sip celebratory whisky it was my last Munro, after all and we retraced our steps without lingering. We'd treated ourselves to indoor accomodation, and the Aultguish Inn bunkhouse had huge, steaming baths of peaty whisky-coloured water and a well-stocked bar. “What are you going to do now you’ve finished the Munros?” my friends asked. “Get a woman and a decent job!” I half-joked.
Twenty-five years, several jobs, a dog and a decent woman (who I married) later, I was back. This time we chose a nice day!
Ben Wyvis, 2022:

We foraged blaeberries in the forest and played in the burn before the steep climb up the shoulder of the hill.

The entire hill is free of sheep (it is a nature reserve) but the dog was on the lead again on the summit plateau in case she chased birds. 

 Unlike last time, we weren't the only people on the hill. There were several others with dogs, a couple of women together who our dog was very interested in, a couple eating sandwiches I had to distract our dog from bothering, a lovely local pair ("we're dog friendly" the man said as we approached) at the summit who climbed this hill all the time, or at least the woman did. I was unable to stop myself telling her this had been my last Munro many years ago. I recognised a politician coming up the hill, Kenny Macaskill, who released the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. He also had a dog.

 The views from the top are vast, as you might expect from an isolated massif. An Teallach and Torridon, the hills of Sutherland and Caithness, oil rigs in Nigg bay, the Moray coast and Cairngorms. The two tops of Suilven just poked up above an intervening hill. Ben Wyvis makes a particularly good viewpoint as it stands right on the boundary between two very different landscapes, the arable fields and firths of Easter Ross and the jagged desolation of Wester Ross.

We put our blaeberries in a crumble that night. This time round, nobody asked me what I might do next. We were already doing it.