Tag Archives: Scottish Highlands

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.

Dunrovin

Lynn and Richard’s home is remote.  You fly into Aberdeen, population 212,000.  From there you head into the highlands and know you are getting close when you pass the town of Huntly, with around 4,500 people.  The closest town to the house is Gartly, a “hamlet” of 144 people.  A bend in the road.

Lynn and Richard’s house has a name, as do many houses in the UK.  I will call it Dunrovin because this is where Richard wanted to move when he retired and was done with big city life and international travels.

Actually, he wanted to move to a “wee bothy” (a hut).  I’m not sure which of these variations he had in mind but Lynn put the kibosh on the idea of a bothy.

Dunrovin had been owned by generations of the Gordon family until all the sons were killed or disbursed in the wars and there were no men of their class for the sisters to marry, so the family died out.

The idea of a stately home was difficult for me to comprehend, as an American.  It’s one of those things I think British people grow up knowing about, so it’s obvious to them.  There is a wealthy family—not royalty or aristocrats but landed gentry—living in the main house which has a name.  Everything surrounding it is referred to with that name and would have been part of the estate.  In the case of Dunrovin, there is the gamekeeper’s cottage up the hill, the laundry cottages over the road, and the farm house.  All were sold off, along with the silver, as the Gordon family contracted financially.

I will share some photos of the house and land, starting with the great outdoors.  My photos have been taken at various times of year over 12 years, so if some look like they’re set in winter, they are.

As you come up the drive, there are fields on either side with grazing sheep.

This is the back garden and beyond from inside Dunrovin.  In the middle distance is one of the satellite cottages that used to be part of the estate.

This is a view in the opposite direction, from the back of the garden near the gate that leads down to the river. Meet Parker.  He’s a very aloof dog; people call him Lord Parker.  But he always appeared and hovered near me whenever I left my room.  Parker is not much for people and I am tone deaf to dogs, so we got along great.

This is a similar view, only taken in summer this year so you can see that the sun really does come out in Scotland.  When there’s the slightest bit of sun and warmth, people like Lynn and me go out and sit on benches and turn our faces up to the sun and go “Mmmmmm,” while Richard complains that it’s too hot.

This is the back garden from the attic, where I spent a lot of time.  No, they didn’t put me up there, although that wouldn’t have been so bad because it’s a nice space with skylight views of the 15 chimneys.  No, it was because I requested to be given a project, and Richard assigned me to clear out and paint the attic.

Here is Parker again, your tour guide, showing you the net house full of lettuce and broad beans and peas.  The netting keeps the birds (and dogs) away.  Across from it is the glass house, where Richard grows hothouse veggies like tomatoes and peppers.

In addition to growing his own produce, Richard shoots deer and other game so in theory they could be almost self-sufficient if they wanted or needed to be.

Exiting out the back gate and leaving behind a disappointed Parker, I would often walk down to the river, passing these trees with old graffiti from soldiers billeted nearby after the war (I think).

Richard had moved a café table down to the river, where I enjoyed a cuppa.

I have asked and been told several times the name of the river, but I can’t remember.  I prefer to think of it as just The River.  This was where I would spend a month.