The magical lady of the Highlands danced through the crags and rested by a rock, she turned back to me and her voice floated down on the cool breeze “Just a little farther, there’s a perfect pitch with a hidden spring not too far away…”
I smiled and followed her, it would be nice to get to camp and get the stove on.
She floated above the summit, pointing down, urging me to look before she faded into the evening glow. I squinted towards the bright golden skyline where something moved, a wee furry thing, scurrying around, but I lost it. A few paces further on it shot from the rocks into clear view. Yes! It was real live haggis, a young one, but the long nose and asymmetrical legs were a dead giveaway. Cheered by the rare sighting, I hurried on.
True enough, there was a carpet of flat grass surrounded by shapely rocks, and between these ran a trickle of cold clear water where I filled my mug and drank as I gazed around. Across the glens to each side of me I could see Ben Lomond, Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan, the Eiger, Doughnot Hill, with the four big heids of Mt Rushmore were still holding some snow in the crevices, even this late in the year.
As night fell to the sound of birds singing and the whispering whoosh of pteranadons swooping onto the settlements for slaves, the lights of distant Mos Eisley twinkled as the Millenniun Falcon shot silently from the jumble of buildings and rose into the darkness.
I slipped back into the tent and gazed up at the sky as…
I woke to dawn, and the most wonderful of mornings lay in front of me, stretching to the sun as it rose slowly to flood the land with warmth and light. I saw a sea of bubbles with plastic farm animals bobbing up and down in it, foam letters fell from the sky as they dried out…
Clang! Clang! Petesy are you asleep in there?
The bath drained and I sat spinning in a giant teaspoon…
Petesy, It’s lunch time!!
He sat up, damn it was warm in this boilerhouse. Cough, sniff, adjust waistband, “Aye, aye, I’m coming now. I was er, fixing the er, thing there…”
He clicked the light off as the door swung shut behind him. Macaroni cheese and chips on his mind.
When I blinked through the wind blown snow into the coire to finally pull the Wheelie across the flat, even if that flat was soft snow, I’ve rarely felt so misplaced in Scotland.
Loch Etchachan sits over 3000ft, but the peaks all around rise a 1000ft more, the high dark cliffs plunged from the seething cloud deep into the dark and frozen waters. I felt quite alone, not something I often feel when I’m in the Highlands, however high or dark it is.
An obvious camp site lay over to the southwest, there, the fresh fall was starting to lie on the bare grass beyond the remaining snow cover, but it was melting into the neck of too-wet grass where the loch is cut in two, my original planned spot. I pitched quick, I was tired and hungry. By the time I was ready to cook, my hands were freezing and throbbing. Damned doughnuts clogging up my pipework.
Stove on, I padded over to the water in unlaced shoes to pick up more water and I met the couple who would spend the night with me. They both wore their summer kit, which I reckon was a bit premature, but their voices were unmistakable as they trotted around the rocks trying to lead me away from their nest. I filled the bottle and beat it back to the tent, and for the rest of the the night I would either listen to, or dreamily absorb the ptarmigan’s banter. A cheery wee burd wi’ gallus patter.
The moon was bright, but it was lighting only the tops of the clouds, which rarely parted for more than a glimpse of a single star at a time.
I crept outside in boxers and duvet jacket to take some night shots and tried to place that little red glow on the screen. I ran around playing air guitar to the fast bit at the end of Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell (iPod was on) to keep warm, and it occurred to me that the feeling of isolation had gone. But what had changed? The tent was up, was that it?
I thought about it when I was back inside, snug inside merino and down, that little red glow to me means comfort, familiarity, trust, memories and endless potential.
Bloody hell, I’ve bonded with a tent. It’s all over.
Macfarlane’s Lantern is the moon. The full moon is when my relatives steal cattle and hide it in the Arrochar Alps.
In some small way wild camping is not carrying on the family tradition.
A light drizzle hung in the air, every surface was damp and dark. The wet branches of the trees swayed lazily as the leaves grew heavier and pulled themselves closer to the moss-covered gravestones.
Through the gently swirling grey, the silver water of the river lapped silently onto the rounded black rocks on the shore at the foot of the graveyard. It was a scene devoid of life or colour.
But, if someone had passing, and if they had not been hurrying through this bleak, unsettling venue then they might have heard a sound coming from the vents half buried along the bottom of the wall on the old church. And if their hurry hadn’t been urged into haste, and they’d stopped to take a step closer and peer into those vents they may just have see a flickering light and sounds of movement.. or was it voices?
Deep within the dark of the crypt, under centuries of history, an ancient anger was awakening, a beast would be reborn this day. Hurry on passerby, kiss your children and hold your dearest closer.
Jimmy is welding with damp rods and he isn’t happy. Not one bit.
Tonight’s bedtime stories for Holly were a little different. We had the Cailleach and her magic cow in the legend of Loch Awe and we had the story of how the farmer’s daughters became the Five Sisters of Kintail with a spell.
She loved it just as much as the Doctor Who picnic story, so we’ll be having those again.
I’m going to brush up on my legends, there’s so much stuff from around here and it’ll be great fun, plus I can add in whatever Cbeebies characters I like.
A great resource is Tom Atkinsons “The Lonely Lands” which I lent to someone about two years ago and never saw it again.
Ebay or Amazon…
Apparently he had a learning apptitude which fell short of that of some hapless Soviet dog desperately clawing at everything within reach as a grinning German scientist pushed it’s unwilling frame into a shiny globe with a one way ticket into orbit. Beep… Beep… Beep…
25 years of bad posture while holding a guitar and standing at a mic and still he stood there awkwardly for three hours, screaming over a racket that was entirely his own fault, and then was mildly surprised (again) when he bent down to pack up the cables and FX pedals and his calf went thwang.
So a day of sitting and watching was planned and executed. The next day was more twitchy, the twitch became an itch, the sky was blue, the sun was low and he was gone.
Limping down the trail to the river he was glad he hadn’t packed and left for, well anywhere with a gradient. Maybe he had learned more than that dog after all? That’s progress at least.
Beep… Beep… Beep… “Gimme a break, oh no wait…”. You have to charge camera batteries he remembered, it doesn’t happen by osmosis when you leave them in a room that has electricity. The venue fitted the mood, but the sky lightened it.
He chatted to an auld fella with his dug, but the darkness brought a chill and soon they headed their separate ways with dinner in mind and drips at the ends of their noses. The dug was making do with chewing a plastic bottle for the time being. Obviously not related to that Russian dug.
Oddy, that gave him some comfort as he limped back over the canal bridge to the motor.
Nine pitched forward onto the floor. When he ground to a halt his face burned from the impact and his vision was blurred as he looked sideways across the floorboards breathing in dust and panting out spit as his lungs heaved.
He heard footsteps quicken behind him and stop. Was it a second, a minute? When the impact came it turned everything glaring white, his vision, his hearing, his thoughts.
He was pulled up through the pieces of his smashed chair by his neck and his vision cleared just enough to witness his own departure through the front door as his head parted its wooden panels.
As he lay in the darkness, in the snow, there was no pain. There was no feeling at at all. He peered through a glaze of slowly freezing tears at the figure in the doorway. It was a child, no not a child, tall, too tall… a girl, was it a girl?
Ten turned back to the room and looked around. She flicked a switch on the wall and the room was bathed in light. She wondered why it had been kept in darkness for so long. There really was no need.
Spears of light flew through the shattered doorway onto the wreckage outside. The warm glow softened the broken shape as the softly falling snow began to cover it.
He was still breathing.
But, It was after midnight by now.
The weather fitted his mood. It was one thing that was beyond him, it was its own master and played its own game by its own rules. He had often felt that it was laughing at him as it wrecked his plans and took none of the blame, but then took all the glory when it deigned to provide those perfect days when it would sit back and bask in the goodwill of the people far below.
Nine unfolded from his chair and shambled over to the radiator. It was turned all the way up and no matter how much he fumbled with the valve it wasn’t getting any hotter. He straightened as much as he could and started off back to his chair, biting at his chapped lower lip. He was run down, distracted, he was done.
The wind-blown snow began to gather on the window, but it didn’t melt and slide down, it stuck and began to cover and diffuse the patch of amber light. It was getting colder in here. He pulled in his feet and shrunk into his clothes and his chair.
He glanced at the clock once again.
His eyes shot to the now dim window. A shadow had moved across it, close up. A shadow distorted by the light’s angular journey from streetlight to pane, but still, shoulders and a head were unmistakable.
Why would… ? There’s nothing back there but… ?
He looked at the clock again, he held his breath, had he lost count of the days? Too soon, surely too soon?
Nine looked at the clock. He looked down and sighed again, there were still a few weeks to go, the clock wasn’t exactly relevant. But it was the ever-present reminder of the passage of time, and therefore of the end.
That thought made his heart race and his mouth dry. Walking through that door and knowing how much time you have doesn’t make it any easier when your last day is in sight. A year is never long enough.
He had made some big mistakes, but surely he had tried as well. What would history say, what would his successor say?
There was maybe still time to swing it, one way or the other in fact, given the way things have a habit of turning out. Would his parting gift to the world be smiles or a feeling of relief that he was gone?
He drummed the arm of his chair with calloused fingertips. He was tired. Maybe tomorrow he’d think about a plan, it was too late now to do it today anyway. He breathed out deeply and sat back looking for distraction.
Nine looked at the clock.
They made a break for it down the river. The ancient railway bridge which had served as an escape route for some of the lucky ones had been dismantled by the council, and now the raging waters were the only option, an option deemed suicide, and consequently it was rarely patrolled.
It was the remains of that very bridge that now disturbed the flow, the huge pillar compressing and forcing the rushing water to either side. As hard as they paddled it was like an infernal magnet, and as they the struck the towering buttress the fugitives were launched around the hull like loose change thrown to eager children at the church door by the groom after the wedding. No one aboard even felt the hull ground and tilt violently to one side.
Hours later he slipped over the edge and onto the stony river bank, his vision was blurred and he was cold, so incredibly cold. He could see the rising sun through the holes torn in the hull as he lay on his back. There was no other sound, even the water had become more reserved since it’s outburst after the previous days rains.
Who else was alive, how far had they come, what the hell was he going to do now? Standing was the first thing, and getting into the trees.
He tried to stand as his heart raced…
He had no plan other than taking the shortest distance to the fence.
It was just before lights out, the snow had stopped and the atmosphere was as relaxed as it’s possible to get when you have no laces in your shoes and everyone on the other team has live ammuntion and a casual attitude to it’s use.
He knew it was going to happen sooner rather than later. That stretch of fence to the south that had been damaged by the falling tree had been straightened up, but it still lacked the razor wire deterrent on its top edge. These soldiers were miserable enough as it was to be here anyway, and in this weather they were happy enough to wait for “someone” else to fix it. And with two feet of snow on the ground who the hell was going to run?
He ran. He took a right-angled left turn before the barrack block and went as fast as he could for the fence. 300 yards, 200 yards, 100 yards…shouts, there were shouts…the harsh white light hit him square on his back and he now found himself tearing through the snow after his own sharply defined shadow. The razor sharp air dried his lips and burned his throat, tears streamed back to his ears, tears from eyes shocked by the rush of cold air, tears of hope, and of regret.
A single shot. The sound was sucked from the air by the snow that had been a silent witness to the act of desperation.
Warmly uniformed guards stood in a semi circle at the fence and looked down. Spots of blood led to the fence. On the other side a trail of disturbed snow snaked into the forest. They looked at each other, then backat the barracks where the guests had gathered in numbers at the entrances and windows.