Communion with past spirits; a waving off of summer; fancy dress; freakish acts of nature. It’s Halloween. And I’m lured away from these seasonal concerns towards fresh air and a snatch of big bright daylight on the summit of Dùn Coillich.
I take the route newly marked by Clare Thomas to pass a number of archaeological features. Relics of shieling huts have been located to the south of the summit and the practice of taking animals up to the summer grazing there is memorialised in the sunken paths that climb steadily across the land between Dùn Beag and Dùn Coillich. They are marked now by the rustle of bleached grasses underfoot and the absence of heather.
The route turns off this track to the north, into a lovely corrie above the shieling huts, up a small gully, and takes you zigzagging onto the summit. This last part needs more pioneer feet to establish it, and this is a good time of year for it. The bracken is weak now, crisping back into the ground and giving the hills their gorgeous tawny autumn colour. It’s forgiven its thuggish summer stronghold of sap and fibre.
It feels appropriate on this day where living and spirit worlds open to each other, to follow the people who walked before us, their trails and piles of stones still ghosting the land. I like to think that by walking old ways such as these, we forge a link across the centuries. It hasn’t taken long to find myself back in Halloween territory.
I’ve climbed to the top of Dùn Coillich by many routes but this one will now be my favourite and is perhaps the quickest at under an hour. The last steep gasp is rewarded by the lively thrash of wind and a panoramic view revealing the local lay of the land. Schiehallion heaves skywards to my west wearing a small bonnet of cloud. Loch Tummel and the hills beyond; Farragon; Glen Lyon’s hilltops. Cloud parts to give sudden fox-coloured illuminations of larch and bracken and to glitter glass on day-trippers’ cars way down by the Lochside. I can also see new layers of archaeology being formed around me – Griffin’s wind turbines; Balfour Beatty's ‘electric road’ working its way down the valley towards Coshieville alongside General Wade’s 18th century way; the new road stretching into the netherland between Dùn Coillich and Schiehallion for the Keltneyburn hydro-intake.
A walk always rewards with observations and feelings -- the unseasonably warm blush of sun on my face; the buzzards mewling; a chainsaw yawing faintly. It also reminds us of things we know or have experienced before. But if we walk with a curious mind, we learn even more.
Today I place my feet carefully, tiptoeing around trails of large dark hairy caterpillars, each sporting golden-yellow stripes. They bask on the grass as if it’s summer. Fortunately the hut that I return to is a mine of information (and one of the good reasons to become a HPCLT member). Here I answer my curiosity. Recent sightings and ‘hearings’ in the visitor’s log include raven, hare, stag and 'fox moth larvae'. I look the last up in the Moths and Butterflies book and there is my ‘fancy dress’ caterpillar and the fox-coloured moth that it will become after its hibernation in these hillside grasses.
However, the second mystery of the day remains unsolved. Jellyfish lying on open grass. OK, they turn out not to be jellyfish, but they are great gobbets of a jelly substance, some bearing clusters of black caviar-like eggs. A quick search on Google when I return reveals that heads have been scratching over these wobbly phenomena over the last years, and probably far earlier. 'Star Jelly', remnants of a meteor shower, perhaps? Slime mould; or the regurgitated innards of frogs taken by predators? Or, as some have suggested, the freakish secretions of alien visitors or fairies?
Take your pick. The eve of the Celtic New Year approaches…
Anyone can walk on the HPCLT land at Dùn Coillich. It belongs to all of us and needs our feet on it to lay and revive trails. The route described is easily found from the hut (on the left of the B846 just north of Glengoulandie as you head towards Tummel Bridge). Cross the burn below the hut on the obvious stepping-stones, climb the path between two gates up to the head dyke, from where bamboo poles with red and white flags will lead you to the summit. Be prepared for some rough and wet ground but for a very pleasing walk. Information about membership at: http://www.hpclt.org

Linda Cracknell 31/10/11


 

 

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