These last few hot, dry days have brought summer’s collapse to a shuddering halt. As the sun rises, it lights up a world of almost frozen dew where the riotous activity of spiders shows up like a mess of strung pearls. Every sprig of whin and myrtle is festooned with ropes and cables, and the dinner-plate sized nets of orb-web spiders shine like Christmas decorations across the paths and tracks through the heather. Mist pools in the low ground, having risen and proven under the moon like soft dough from the moss. With the first touch of sunshine, it trembles and retreats, melting and pooling and pouring down the glen into the Solway, revealing the treetops inch by inch like orange coral.
Where the sun hits first, the swallows churn and flit, hunting out the early rising flies. A few hours ago, the same air was whipped and paddled by bats beneath the moon – dozens of half-seen shapes skirting over the loaded haws and plunging down behind the willows like fragments of leaf in a swirling wind. The majority of swallows left a few weeks ago, and the remainder are easily identified as short-tailed youngsters – some of the last to fledge, playing a knife-edge game against the clock in these final warm days before the door closes and Africa slips out of their reach.
I rode the bicycle up the loaning behind the house with my knuckles throbbing in the cold. The dog ran by the front wheel, her nails clattering on the tarmac. Blackbirds flared and scolded from the hedges on either side as the hill caught the sun and the foaming sea of hardened bracken and heather opened up above me. In the deeper hollows, the frost picked out fallen blades of bracken like fish skeletons, but more often the grass was misted with a fine, silver dew which weighed on the cocksfoot heads and lit up the curling red ribbons of blow grass.
It is a short step to the top of the hill; a walk of fifteen minutes through the myrtle and birch scrub. A roe barked as I walked with the dog through the salvage yard of spider webs and gossamer – a wreckage of rigging above the scabious and the spoons of caramel myrtle leaves. The dog and I flushed a pair of grouse from a spine of bare granite in the deepest grass, and I was on tenterhooks to see what would rise when she followed the scent of blackgame through the scrubby pines. I parted the grass to see where one or two birds had lain up together overnight, but they had run ahead and vanished as she tried to follow the thread of their scent.
For ten minutes, I sat on the summit cairn and watched the mist dribble down onto the sea. The Galloway hills ran right across my Western horizon, and the steep angles of Criffel and the Cuil formed a boundary to the East. Reed buntings and chaffinches passed by overhead in little shoals like minnows, and a wren scolded me from the thickest part of a young rowan tree as I ran my eyes over the steep, angular edges of the Solway Coast.
Heading home on a free-wheel buzz, the dog and I came round a corner to find a squirrel in the loaning. He scampered up through the bones of the cow parsley in the verge and took to the dyke top, running as fast as he could for the shelter of an oak tree seventy yards away. I kept pace behind him, amused by the angle of his legs, which seemed to come horizontally out of his sides like a beetle. He threw the coping stones underneath his white tummy and coursed over the lichen, soaring like a fluid over the top rung of a twelve foot gate before vanishing into thick, all-encompassing corrugations of oak bark. I left him when all I could see was a sprig of black tail against the webbed, yellowing leaves over my head.