Low Airie, Glenkens – 26/4/20
The fire destroyed everything south of the railway line. Miles of moor lay streaked in cinders, and the devastation was a sight to behold. But my new ground lies to the north of the old railway…
Huge flames came down on the darkening, and I heard that fire was heading north towards my summer grazing. Night came, and at last it was confirmed that the railway embankments were burning and the flames would cross the tracks at any moment. I could feel the coming certainty of collapse; everything I have worked for these last eight weeks would soon be vanishing in smoke, along with more than a thousand pounds of hardware and woodwork. Until that moment, the fire had been a mad adventure; scary and foul for all of us in equal measure. Then it clenched into a fist and prepared to punch me personally in the stomach. I went to bed and watched a red glow swarm gloating across my wall.
The following morning, I went to see what I could salvage. The last mile of railway line before the hill is through forest, scrub and deep railway cuttings. It’s an indoor feeling, which has always made the final emergence into open country all the more exciting. I crept out into daylight and found the hill split starkly in two halves as if carved by a knife. To the south, a scorched lunar landscape ran to the far horizon. To the north, my patch was completely untouched. The fire had run to the railway line and died with an abruptness that was hard to fathom. I had already begun to think about what I would do next, pondering alternative places to run my calves for the summer. There is a man near Dumfries who buys store cattle and grazes them on nature reserves along the coast – I had been on the verge of calling him. Now I realised that, for me, nothing had changed – my plans remained magically intact.
I have the foresters to thank for my salvation. They refurbished the railway line in February in order to run timber out from a newly felled forest. In so doing, they felled the scrub woodland which grows in the verges and laid a new hardcore track almost fourteen feet wide. The fire had been unable to reach across this barrier, and it was compelling to compare the fate of my ground with another piece of moorland beyond the forest where the old railway line is thick, weedy and overhung with willows. Here, the fire danced all over the line and crossed it back and forth a number of times.
So despite the turmoil and upset of a wild weekend of smoke and bursting trees, now I find that I am back into a week of “business as usual”, with the final few lengths of electric wire to strain and insulate before the calves can go out. It’s a crazy salvation.