With time just streaming through my fingers over the past few weeks, a quick trip up the hill on Thursday was enough to calm and reset my entire brain, which has recently become bogged down in technical notes on grass staggers and the fascinating (if somewhat tangential) world of silage chemistry.
The hill was like a tonic in the cold. After weeks of rain, a bright afternoon beckoned irresistibly. Three or four days had passed since my last visit, and the opportunity to idle over the cattle grids for an aimless mooch in the heather felt like coming home. Ravens croaked away out of sight towards Carsphairn, and the woods breathed gently in the biting wind, which swung from North to North East. Overnight, the snow would come in its first real dump of winter, and the rushing chill was just a precursor.
Belties loomed by the neighbour’s gates as I drove onto the farm, and then the hill opened up in a broad, vacant bowl. Water bubbled unseen as I jogged the first half mile of my walk to get my blood moving, and then I went off-piste in the path through the rushes made by a fine, broad-skulled tup who turned and stamped with a snorting, defiant “HUFF” every fifty yards. A snipe or two rose up from the ditches, but in the trees the dog flung a woodcock almost into my lap. The startled bird seemed to pass within inches on silent, stroking wings; a silhouette at first, then out into the sunshine, bursting into colour. Finely jewelled details of barred and blended red and gold, and a black, dewy eye.
Three hours passed in a moment, and my neighbour’s quad bike came grumbling into view as I revelled in the progress of the new hawthorn hedge which I planted in 2012. The dog rose hips were glossy red lozenges against the white scaffolding of cocksfoot and meadow grass, and a few chaffinches worked at the dregs of the pheasant hopper nearby.
When he came within earshot, the neighbour passed on a fine story of several blackgame seen on his side of the march dyke a week or two before, and the tale breathed fire and enthusiasm into a cold afternoon. I hadn’t known about these birds, and the mind boggles as to the details of their story. They had been found in the deepest, dullest afternoon of miserable rain, and the only thing the neighbour had been sure of at long range was their species. Whatever the story, it warrants further investigation.