To the Hill, and Through Hell

Richard asked if I wanted to climb a hill with him later.

“I told myself I was going to climb a hill a day in August, but so far I’m a bit behind.  Well, naught for eight,” he smirked.

“I have to work,” I replied, then caught myself. “What am I thinking?!  I can work when I get back.”  It’s just a hill, I told myself.

So after lunch we climbed Tap o’Noth.  Finn, the younger of the two Labradors, joined us.

“It usually takes two hours to reach the top,” Richard informed me on our drive to the “hill.” “It should be faster coming down,” said Richard, “but you do have to mind your step because it’s rocky and rutted.”

I was kitted out in wellies, a wool sweater, a heavy, oversized tweed coat, and an oiled hat, and had my Eco Chic rain poncho from Daniel at the ready.  All in all, a harmonious look.  You never know who you might run into on a hill in Scotland.

As is usual when I try to keep an open mind, I was rewarded.  This was the view of an abandoned farm from the base of the hill.

We wound our way through a magical glen of goats.

Then the real walk commenced.  Here’s the peak in the distance.

The weather shifted from cloudy and drizzly to sunny and back within minutes.

At first the path was grassy, then it gradually changed to rock and got steeper.  The grass was so wet it was like walking on a giant sponge.

Heather, which looks brown from a distance.

It was one of those hikes where you are trying to stay dry but you get slimy inside your poncho from being covered in plastic, and you’re also trying to blow your nose and use your camera phone without getting your tissues and phone wet, and the next minute you need your sunglasses but they’re steamed up and oh my god look at that view! – then – oh boy – pay attention to your step; it’s a long drop off that cliff edge!

“This is the second-highest hill fort in Scotland,” Richard informed me.  I had no idea what that meant.  After two hours we rounded a bend and saw a jeep; how in the world had someone managed to drive up here?  A little further on, we saw people and tents.

An archaeological team from Aberdeen University was scraping away in the rain.  When they saw us they dropped everything and came toward us as though they were desperate for any excuse to stop.  They didn’t stay in the tents, they used them to keep paper dry.

I learned that the fort is possibly pictish. It slowly came into focus for me, as the leader of the team pointed out the rings of stone circling the hilltop that would have formed exterior and interior fortified walls.

The oldest artifacts date to 2000 BCE.  There are vitreous sections, meaning rock fused by high heat.  No one knows how ancient people could have generated enough heat to fuse rock.

I tried to imagine living here, with no heat except open fires, no electricity, dressed in a deer hide.  Brrr!

But the view….

Here are Richard and Finn contemplating the meaning of life.  Or just thinking about dinner.

We trotted down the hill. I stumbled twice and Richard gave me his walking stick.  I prayed he wouldn’t stumble because I wouldn’t be able to drive to A&E.

That night Richard picked the movie—a documentary about the Battle of the Somme.  A million young German, French, and British men died or were wounded over 161 days of trench-warfare horror.  The first day alone will go down as the worst day in the history of the British army, which suffered 57,470 casualties. I am not an expert on war, but it seemed to me that the allied leaders made every mistake that could be made.

I heard a sob from Richard and was surprised to see him crying.  “Such a stupid waste of young lives!” he exclaimed.  Why was I surprised?  Men who have actually served in the military don’t take war lightly, like some childish politicians.

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