By definition, the author of a blog about black grouse and moorland management doesn’t get out much. When I went to Murrayfield on Saturday to watch Edinburgh play Toulouse in the Heineken Cup, I was overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of people I came across. You can easily get out of the habit of being around people, and while the game was latterly very exciting and saw a team of Frenchies sent homewards “to think again”, I was quite relieved to get out of the stadium. One thing led to another, and it transpired that I didn’t get home until after three o’clock on Sunday morning. There was a high full moon, and still buzzing from the day, I wasn’t at all tired. I set off up the Chayne for a long walk.
It was an odd experience to be on the hill after dark without torch or rifle. Within half a mile of leaving the car, I had heard a vixen barking down in one of the new forestry blocks, and I wondered if it is too soon for them to be moving cubs around. She certainly was persistent, and a dog fox joined her after a while, muttering to her with a series of low woofs. Snipe drummed incessantly overhead, and the sheep browsed by the side of the track as I headed up over the hill and began a long loop round the back of the farm.
The moon was shining through ragged windows in the clouds, so that from a high point, I could look down on a moving mosaic of silvers, greys and whites. From time to time, the windows converged above me, and I was lit up momentarily by a dusty glow of light. I crackled clumsily through the rushes and tripped through the molinia tussocks until, after three miles, I reached the old farm buildings I had been aiming for. Reliably occupied by barn owls, I took a seat and waited for a glimpse of those white ghosts. Far off in the distance, a cock teal bleeped and a red grouse stirred in the heather above me.
After half an hour, I began to feel tired. The exhaustion which had been on a delay finally caught up with me, and my ambitious plans to pull an “all-nighter” and head down to the forest to look for lekking blackcock at dawn melted into the darkness. I turned back and walked a wide loop back to the car. The funnel trap had a couple more rooks in it that it should have had, so I emptied it out and headed on as the first greyness of dawn began to appear over the Rhinns of Kells. A corbie crow called as I got into the car, and a curlew rose out of the rushes as I turned and drove the few short miles home to bed.