Posted by Rebecca Logsdon, Pitlochry.
When I moved to my new house in Perthshire, a good friend encouraged me to explore the 100 metres from garden gate before setting further afield, to really get to know what is on my doorstep. So for the last 5 years I’ve have spent my time looking closely at what I have nearby. Through the help of my son’s childhood eyes I have met the same tree in all seasons, given them a name, visited the same nettle leaf every day for a month, watched the sky change from the same spot, made dens and learnt which plants to eat when.
I now feel I have permission to go further, to the tops of the mountains I have spotted from a distance, to walk to the woods, see the lochs and bothies that others have told me about in my local area. What makes it happen is having childcare and two Wild Days from the John Muir Trust!
I’ve been inspired through my work with the John Muir Award, where groups are connecting to wild places on their doorsteps. In particular, hearing from Alastair Humphreys of the joys of a micro adventure (trips that are close to home, affordable, easy to organise, that may be small, but still encapsulate Adventure) http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/microadventures-2/
So my adventure begins with a sense of excitement packing, whittling down what you definitely need to take, the simplicity and pride in self-sufficiency. Far from John Muir’s pack ‘as light as a squirrel tail’, I set off from my back gate into the woods beyond. Although still very familiar, with a pack on my back I’m now seeing with a sense of adventure, through new eyes. I leave in mist, a sea harr that has come inland. The feel of a rainforest, the wetness, the diversity and the denseness.
I’m reading ‘Feral’ by George Monbiot – that likens Scotland’s west coast woodlands to rainforest and I can certainly see a likeness in my east coast woods. With ‘Rewilding’ being discussed throughout the book it becomes a theme for reflections on my journey. How much of the wild I see is truly wild? Are these really dynamic environments? I can’t help but think that they are missing something without the keystone species (wolves, beavers…).
The wildness on my walk – the ancient oaks and some diversity, with Birch and Rowan, but I’m seeing the Sycamore coming to dominate this stretch of woodland and no understory of young trees due to deer browsing. I’m reminded of pupils from the New School of Butterstone doing their John Muir Award in these very woods removing sycamore samplings and that I must get in touch to offer my help.
Coming up into the open moorland, I’m sad to be saying good bye to what I think will be the last tree for a while.
My surprise to come into a fenced area where young trees are growing (Scots Pine, Rowan, Oak, Birch) filled with birdsong. Hope and reminder that ‘Rewilding’ is happening on my doorstep and that there will be an opportunity to visit again to experience this young wood at a different stage, having witnessed its early beginnings. The fence makes me wonder though what else is being stopped from coming in to the enclosure? To be truly dynamic we wouldn’t need fenced off areas but the introduction of natural deer predators such as wolves. Our idea of the wilds doesn’t really take into account things that we aren’t so comfortable with. Would I feel so happy to bivvy out for the night with wolves roaming?
On my way up I fall naturally into ‘Act like a Victorian’ naming the plants that I see- Mission:Explore Muir Mission http://www.jmt.org/jmaward-mission-explore-john-muir.asp . It works really well as something to tune into whilst walking. I don’t recognise everything but find it reassuring and fun to come up with my own names: Prickly globes/ purple jaggy giants (Thistles); starry night flower (Eyebright), torn pinks (Ragged Robin), firework plant (Bog Asphodel), old man’s beard or Muir’s beard (Bog Cotton). It reminds me though of the distance we have travelled from our ancestors who would have been really connected to this landscape and its flora and fauna. They would have passed on the common names of plants, their uses and observed characters. It seems somehow so much poorer to describe through colours and shapes, as an observer in the landscape rather than as part of it.
Feeling like I have earned a pause on top of Deuchary hill and amazed to find a bowl like shape between the peak that I had so often viewed from afar. I’m a little sorry I don’t have the top to myself as I’m joined by three other walkers but we end up talking about our connections to wild places and whether this has continued with our own children. People are so much more open in an open landscape.
The views take in the wild landscape and glen up to Pitlochry but I decide that my place to stay the night would be somewhere I couldn’t hear or see the road. The itching feeling of wanting to keep on the move- I had to make tea to keep me enjoying the top for a while (a tip from Muir himself).
And then to searching for a bivvy site, an art indeed- near water, shelter or sense of enclosure, off the main track but in a windy enough site to keep the midges off (my bivvy has no midge net). I chose the edge of a small woodland overlooking a loch, enjoying the sun and watching the wind in the trees, moving over the loch.
A wild swim in the lochan, which was warm and clear. I’m reminded of how this landscape is in the winter time when the lochan would be frozen over and it would be hard to stop for even a short while.
How did people fair in this landscape? So far I’ve had two wild strawberries and three not so ripe blueberries. I fall asleep looking at a view between the trees of Schiehallion. Lots of tossing and turning in the night to get comfortable, the strange call of the woodcock and deer barking waking me up. The sense that it is just not getting very dark, and finally a view of stars at some waking point in the night.
I’m greeted in the morning to a light dew and spiders webs now visible all around me. The grass is swaying loaded with dew drops. The joy of eating breakfast, alone and already in the hills, looking over a loch with the excitement of another days walk. Packing up has a kind of harmony too with things now finding a place. I leave the small Lochan and head down to Loch Ordie to a path again that I have seen but never taken. I was saddened to see deer in the enclosure of young trees and lots of browsing evident. They must have got in during the winter, the snow helping them to get over the fence. With the wolf gone, I wonder if anyone is managing them?
I follow some well-built tracks and bridges (I later learnt these were built in the 1800’s for Larch timber extraction), through a heather clad landscape with a few remaining trees. Passing an old ruined house I wonder who managed to make a living here, it seems so barren, even in high summer (I later learnt that this is Jock’s Bothy, inhabited until the 1940’s, children of the house used to walk over the moor to get to school- now that’s active travel!)
Lots of Golden Ringed Dragonflies on the wing, a pair mating, and another skelping up and down a burn I stopped at to boil water. I watch one catch a meal and eat it and l can’t quite get the sound of its jaws cracking out of my mind. Definitely a highlight and one of those mind images that live on.
Coming round the corner to see a bothy tucked into the trees was a delight. My heart drops though on seeing the sight of a pair of red socks hanging outside as I had come to hope for the bothy all to myself. But even a well kitted out bothy is not enough to tempt me, for my second night I choose to bivvy out under the trees – Muir’s words ‘ going out is coming in’ pop into my head. First there is a chance for another wild loch swim and time to sit under some trees, listening to a willow warbler getting closer and closer. Then to finding places for my things in the wood, removing twigs to lies down on a soft moss bed. It’s soothing to see the wind still blowing the grass to keep the midges away. I’m woken early by trampling and barking of a deer, very curious about this purple object lying down in his woods. It felt like a special meeting that I really was in his place.
I’m up and away early on the return walk home, following the Buckney Burn all the way. Something magical about following it from its source in the mountains, that I will now feel more connected to these mountains as I know where the water that flows past my back gate springs from. After the Duke’s planted area, I come back to barren heath and a few lone trees and disappointment that land owners vary so much in what they are doing to help regeneration.
With my feet edging closer my mind turns to home and my boys welcoming me there. I make them a small offering from nature, a few found feathers and flowers to share some of the beauty I have seen.
I reflect on how I now feel 2 days and nights in the wilds on my own, physically tired, renewed mentally, excited about my natural finds. The words from poet laureate, that I have taken on my travels pop into my mind “what will you do with the gift of your life left?” I know that I will make sure to have lots more adventures in the wilds, to share these with others. I am also thankful to have a job that helps peoples make these connections on a daily basis.
For a great selection of books to inspire your own adventures visit the John Muir Trust Wild Space http://www.jmt.org/wildspace.asp