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Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Leaving the Highlands

When I leave the Highlands old sores ache, from days when a train from Victoria took me away to boarding school sixty two years ago. It was normal in those days. People were called away from their families to go to war, sometimes never returning. An echo of that temporary bereavement tightens my chest as I head cheerily for the station with Oscar and my luggage, and a picnic for the eight hour journey to Birmingham. At Drumochter Pass after Dalwhinnie - Dail Chuinnidh - the train goes by the heads of Loch Ericht and then of Loch Garry, below the Boar of Badenoch and the Sow of Atholl, picking up speed down a long gradient to Blair Atholl and Pitlochry. I see the Truim flowing north, then, passing the watershed, the Garry flowing south. There's still miles to the border at Gretna Green but here's where I feel I've left and where, when going north, I feel about to arrive.
* * *
Staff at Gatwick have postponed strike plans for when we're due to fly having negotiated a better deal than the initial 3% they'd been offered. We'd been apprehensive in a selfish way that baggage handlers and check-in staff would walk out; Gary Pearce, GMB, "We've a new improved offer to put to our members as a result of talks at conciliation service ACAS ... all planned industrial action is suspended until we get the reaction of the members."
This landscape on which I surfeit would mean no more than postcards without my mother. That's always been the case, alone at sea, its beauty and wonder is no more than desolation without thought of who's waiting for me, to whom I'm travelling.
The older I grow and the longer I look at landscapes and seek to understand them, the more convinced I am that their beauty is not simply an aspect but their very essence and that that beauty derives from the human presence. J.B.Jackson
Amy's walked on. I last walked here in January with Richard
Without Brin Croft this beautiful place is an art gallery, full of paintings and photos agents call 'commercial'. Even now, if I walk on my own along the Farnack my enjoyment is the less if I'm not accompanied by the ranging dogs enjoying it with me, catching scores more scents. In their canine way they'd share in this celebration, preferring my procession to roaming alone. The same applies everywhere. What would Handsworth or Lydbrook be without Lin or Richard or Amy, dearly as we value our friends and neighbours? I suspect they feel the same about their treasures. Similarly Ano Korakiana, on Democracy Street - 208 Οδός Δημοκρατίας, Άνω Κορακιάνα, Κέρκυρα, Ελληνική Δημοκρατία - although there's where the sense of a village is greatest, perhaps greater than anywhere I've had a home. And there too despite it's lovely aspect, it's being there with Lin surrounded by friends and neighbours that makes the village - το χωριό - wherever it was. What good thing did I do to be where places so complement the people in them?
Winter was hard in Scotland., especially in the Highlands, so spring was late and only now, in mid-summer, is the heather starting to flower. Banks of violet that give a sheen of blue grey to the hills are still muted. Ripped branches and torn trunks of oak, alder and larch that could not take the weight of snow in January are developing scar tissue. Dried wood and brush lies against bridge pillars, heaped by snow-melt spates. I know places where I trudged through snow in January. At the same time I can't imagine them. Then the land slept beneath thick snow. Ice silenced the rivers and burns. Now they roar with the summer rain; dazzle in the afternoon sun. The land's in a quiet frenzy of propagation. Scotch Argus seeking mates flutter everywhere over the lush grass. More butterflies appear - small exquisite blues, Red Admirals, Wood Browns bouncing in woodland sunbeams and - everywhere - bees, bumble bees, wasps, midges and flies so ubiquitous I stop noticing them. Put my face close to the ground and I'm sneezing in seconds from inhaling pollen swirling invisibly across every inch of open ground. Where's not grass, there's a patchwork of sphagnum moss above the peat; bed for rushes. In the woods where sand is close to the surface, as at Culbin, the woodland floor is rimed with blueish lichen amid dead Scots Pine needles - colonising the ground beneath them for all but their own seed - from which, even so, sprouts a dissident foxglove or rose bay willow; laid in a bird's dropping? In the more open spaces wildflowers proliferate; delicate speedwell, blue vetch, creamy meadow sweet, hare bell, field orchid and Queen Anne's lace, enjoyed by wasps, through to coarser daisies, wild carroway, yellow ragwort (where the fields lack sheep), banks of rose bay willow and avenues of foxgloves and sturdy thistle; in the hedges wild raspberries - red and yellow, the former slightly sweeter, tiny delicacies, some so ripe they fall apart as they're picked. Briers are a long way from flowering, still growing soft tendrils. Hazel nuts are forming, soft and light green still. Across our walks Amy and I were seeing tiny toads working their way through the jungle above them. Reproduction's in the air.
Leave them together another week and Oscar and Lulu, her season forwarded by his attentions, would be tied.
"Keep an eye on those two" said my mother, "Sharon's got enough to do already without puppies".
Above the fields and around Brin Croft three buzzards make passes circling and moving on, mewing to each other. On walks we've starting young red deer, fleet and healthy leaping over fences and brush, sending the terriers into ecstatic hopeless pursuit, yapping with excitement. Hares easefully outdistance the dogs. Rabbits disappear into their burrows under gorse and broom. Young pheasants hurtle in different directions lying low until we're nearly upon them.
** ****
On Saturday morning Amy flew in. Liz and her fiance Matt drove up. We met at The Dores Inn for a fine supper. Back at Brin, Amy with her friends, despite being up since dawn, went for a night walk by Loch Duntelchaig, in part to gaze at the Perseid Showers trailing across the night sky reflected in the still water, missing the invasive loom of Inverness - worse each year as the city expands.
"I wish it wasn't there. That light pollution" said Amy later.
"Yes indeed, but Amy, street lights for over a century have meant safety, civilisation. Darkness was danger, fear of the outdoors, free-range crime. City lighting for most people is still about feeling safe. Not so many have learned the pleasure of darkness from early childhood like you."
Banquo's murderer in Macbeth: ...The west yet glimmers with some streaks of day; Now spurs the lated traveller apace to gain the timely inn; and near approaches the subject of our watch
During Sunday morning ebb Amy and I strolled along the shallows of the Moray Firth plashing through puddles of brine, popping bladderwrack amid lugworm castings, the air clear, smelling of iodine. Fort George and Ardersier on the horizon.
Mum hates departures "Bye darling. Lovely to have you" a peck and she's off, as I head with Matt to the station and the long journey home, hours to enjoy Kadari's first novel
** ** **
Mark your calendar for August 27th (Fri) and August 28th (Sat) for the Agiotfest 10, a festival of ROCK, JAZZ and FOLK to be held for two evenings in Agios Ioannis, (Triklino), Corfu. Gates open at 1800. Music until 0100
  • Car parking available. Coaches available. Food and refreshments.
  • Memorabilia. Nearly fifty musicians from four countries.
  • Tickets €20, or €35 for a two-evening package.
  • Children welcome.
  • 100 metres from the plateia. Clear signposts, easy to find location.
Please help us by coming to our event, and thereby put Agios Ioannis and Corfu well on the international festival map.
Telephone 2661058177 or 6974932408 or 6978206077 and visit wishes, Agiotfest team.

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Simon Baddeley