The weather forecast said, among other things, bursts of sunshine. It was recommended that I not read the ‘other things’, but I caught a glimpse of them anyway, something about snow, hail and rain. But the bursts of sunshine sounded good. And the sun shone, most of the day. There were one or two bursts of hail, but not much and not for long and mostly over in another valley or blotting out the peak of another mountain.
We climb up to a cemetery and the gravestones explode in colours – rust red and sea green, mould green lichens. The sun gleams on the snowy peaks of Ben Nevis. Thin straggling lines, like cornrow plaited hair.
And the parallel roads? Old drover roads? I ask. No, they are the old shorelines, old beaches, where the sea reached long ago, ice age long ago, so the new theory goes. Lines cut along the sides of the mountain. Some clearly visible. So – no, not drover roads, where the cattle passed, on their way to market. Tracks now like small rivers, red and turquoise stones glinting like jewels just below the surface, the stepping stones, the left-behind stones, stones among peat, covered up by peat, cairn stones, marker stones, stones that do not shift beneath your feet.
Mounds of green moss, that give way underfoot, soaked with water. Moss of reddish, orange, terracotta, pink and purple colours, honeycomb patterned, growing high up on the hillslope where only skylarks see them. Wasted beauty. Only the hail clouds drifting like thin muslin curtains from one valley to the next, screening the hill behind. They see them. Skylarks and hailstorms, that’s all.
Boots squelching into a moss-topped bog. Thin yellow grasses, dried-out and forming a loose weave over the moss clumps. Wish they had woven a mat, a raft above the water-surface. The ground is saturated.
The path peters out, into quagmire. We change direction and head for the wood and the river. When we reach a sandy track we stop, take off our boots, and wring out our socks. After that, walking now along the track, with no clumps of springy sodden grass, my feet feel almost dry. The track reaches the river, and follows alongside it.
Birch woods. A cuckoo. The first I’ve heard this year. One or two skylarks. A grasshopper warbler. Woodpecker. And the river passing between banks of grey rock. When it tumbles over falls, it’s the colour of champagne. Away from the high rocks, down deep in some chasm underwater, the surface turns mahogany. Unimaginable depths, once you’ve stepped off the banks of rocks.
Cupped handfuls from a small spring, the water tastes of cool sweetness, evaporating on the tongue.
The track turns into a paved road and comes out at Roy Bridge. We cross the road, and then the bridge over the railway line, and find another path that leads through the woods, and follows the river again. There’s the road, with its sound of traffic. Then there’s the railway. And the path slides between the rail track and the river.