Mountain man

I haven’t been up a mountain for a long time, and I’ve missed it. I hadn’t realised how much until Tuesday last week as I stood at the summit of Lochnagar listening to the immense silence and thinking – what am I in comparison to all this?

My brother and I had come to scatter my dad’s ashes. It’s probably fair to say that dad was his happiest at the top of a mountain. The bigger, wilder and harsher the landscape and wider the view, the happier he was. Lochnagar is one of dad’s old haunts, and he used to climb it on summer solstice to watch the sunrise. My brother and I planned to do the same – spend the night on the peak, watch the sun rise on the longest day and say goodbye to our dad. But I was feeling a bit fragile (too much cider at the Insider Festival – dad wouldn’t mind) and the nice woman on BBC Radio Scotland forecast heavy rains and high winds, so we set off in the early morning drizzle instead.

Stags on Lochnagar

Stags on the way up. The summit is somewhere in the mist...

We followed the path from Loch Muick up through the silent Scots Pine wood and into the dark mass of hills. A group of stags stood their ground to the right, watching and chewing, as we passed. A couple of grouse shrieked and jumped out of the heather. The burn, full and fast with the rain, crashed its way through the glen, as brown and frothy as real ale. The wet gravel crunched underfoot, a familiar sound and a trigger of memories. I’ve walked up this mountain many times with dad – him in front with his hands clasped behind his back – the only sound the steady crunch, crunch of our footsteps.

As we neared the top the temperature dropped and sent an icy breath down my back. The wind picked up and swirls of low clouds, smoky and sinister, chased up the mountainside, tendrils clinging to the bulk. We picked our way through the boulder field and scrambled up the final leg, happy to see the rough pyramid of stones, the cairn, that marks the top. To the right the crag drops vertically, steep and long. Today it was masked by the mist. Mum’s last words to us as we set off this morning rang in my ears: ‘Don’t walk over the edge’. We stood on a rocky outcrop and hurled the ashes off into infinite space, and dad became part of the mountain.

Scattering the ashes on Lochnagar

Dad's ashes join the mist and the mountains

Afterwards, as we hunkered by a rock drinking coffee, my brother said: ‘Bloody hell, coffee tastes so much better at the top of the mountain’, which is exactly what dad would have said. We looked at each other for a moment and then rolled around laughing. ‘You’ve swallowed some of dad’s ashes – he’s possessed you!’ But then aren’t we all possessed in some way by our parents, good and bad. My dad’s love of mountains was passed on to me and remains there, set as hard and immovable as a chock stone. Quite what it’s about I don’t know (mountains are, after all, just lumps of rock and ice), but it’s there and it’s real even if some of it’s unexplainable. Mountains balanced dad, and they do the same for me. They speak of a durability that puts my tiny life in perspective: how fleeting and insignificant I am in this vast vista of time and space. In day-to-day life I can ignore this thought, but up here it hits me like a shot in the arm. And this, I think, is a good thing.

Three chickens in a run

Meet Martha, Minn and Marilyn

Finally I’ve bitten the bullet (or should that be pullet) and three chickens and a hen house have arrived today. I was slightly nervous about being responsible for three fluffy lives, but they seem quite happy clucking around their new home. They’ve to stay in their house until Saturday and then they’ll be ‘homed’, so I can let them run free during the day and they’ll settle themselves back into the house at night. I’ve talked to a few neighbours who keep poultry and apparently I need to watch out for pinemartins and mink. The hardest decision was – which hen house? I’d been warned against anything off the internet (fine for down south but not tough enough for our west coast winds). I didn’t want to spend a fortune, but I didn’t want something knocked up out of two old pallets and a sieve either. I visited a few poultry centres locally to get an idea of what’s on offer and immediately liked the people at Doune Traditional and Rare Breed Poultry. John, who runs it, gave me lots of good advice and put together a simple package – three point-of-lay pullets (hybrids – one orange, one black, one grey), one solid hen house, a run, a bag of feed, a bag of wood chips, a feeder and a water dish all delivered to my door and erected for a grand total of £290. John specialises in breeding Scots Dumpies, a cute stumpy-legged rare breed of hen that I rather fancied, but he recommended starting out with a few nice hybrids – they’re better layers, friendly beasts and easier to look after. I’d also been after two hens, but John will sell a minimum of three. They’re sociable creatures, you see, and if you only have two and one dies, the one left alone will be miserable. And that’s always a risk with pinemartins on the prowl.

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16 Comments

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16 responses to “Mountain man

  1. Brigid

    Brilliant Eve!! Your story of the moutains reminded me of the 3 Peaks Challlenge I did a few years ago.I LOVE that feeling being on top of a mountain too .What a beautiful way to honor your dear Dad .
    Keep writing Eve,your stories are a real treat tand we all look forward to reading your posts.You have an amazing way of making the reader ,feel as though they are there with you experincing all these wonderful things .Enjoy it all xxx

  2. Stuart

    Loved your Mountain Man story Eve, and what an amazing photo of you scattering your dad’s ashes in the mist!

    It was lovely to read about your chicken’s too but they snapped me away from the mountain when I wasn’t ready to go.

    I really look forward to these little trips up to Scotland that I take from the comfort of my PC, please keep them coming.

    x

  3. Mark Davey

    Eve,
    You made me cry
    |

  4. Lucia

    God Eve, I’m so impressed what you have achieved in such a short space of time, the ‘birds’ looik interesting! if you get another one could you call it Lucia? X

  5. Rat

    Eve, you are a BRILLIANT writer….felt like I was climbing a mountain with you. Beautiful. xxxxx

  6. Peter Bolton

    Dear Eve,

    Marilyn I can understand as a choice of name but perhaps the others should have been Margaret and Carol with a reserve of Patricia?

  7. Hi Eve, Glad to see you’ve got your ladies! Impressed with the hen house and run too. Your mum said you had 4 eggs in the first day – not bad for 3 hens. Try them out with left over spaghetti – most amusing! SheilaD

  8. Mick Greaney

    COFFEE! Surely an occation like that would be better anointed with a nice Single Malt? Did you camp out?
    A lovely moment to share with us and a touching eulogy.

    You’ll never be able to eat supermarket eggs again!

  9. Lottie

    What an emotional journey it must have been for you up there on the mountain. What an incredible talent you have for sharing this with your readers. I have to admit that tears were shed. Such a beautiful way to say goodbye Eve. May your dad rest in peace and you find security in knowing he will always be with you. Lots of love coming your way xx

  10. Hilary

    There was a young miss had a yen
    For to keep a wee Scots Dumpie hen
    Her three chooks roamed free
    Then came home for their tea
    In their ever-so-fancy new pen

    (Okay, so it’s not really called a hen pen, but it’s the best I can do on a Friday afternoon. Go on, come back with a better one, see if I care!)

  11. brenda

    enjoying reading your stories very much eve, are the hens named after ” the Ms Munros”?

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