On the Sunday that the clocks changed in late March, I got up at five (old time), packed a flask, some muffins and a tiny notebook, collected a couple of friends, and went up high, to where the land dips between Schiehallion and Dùn Coillich. I had the map reference for a ‘blackcock lek’; a place where the male black grouse gather at dawn in early spring to strut their stuff and establish a breeding hierarchy, whilst the less showy females camouflage themselves in the heather and watch.
It was the sound that located them; a gentle chorus of ‘rookooing’ drifting across the hills. Nineteen or twenty were assembled on their grassy parade-ground, white tails fanned out in plates behind them. Most seemed intent on skirting each other in carefully choreographed nonchalance, but then one would sprint at an opponent, beak-outstretched, wings raised, shrieking.
As we passed the binoculars and munched on our muffins, we tried to work out the rules and patterns of this mysterious dance. We couldn’t resist comparisons to a Saturday night in The Fountain or to a gentleman’s club which upholds a black and white dress code, with members who puff up their chests: ‘I say old chap, I do believe my estate/tail display is larger than yours,’ etc. As the sun rose, highlighting the ripples of snow on the surrounding hills, the birds relaxed their stretched necks, hauled down their tails, and finalaltly flew off as a pack.
I went to see the spectacle out of curiosity at what’s on my doorstep, and because I’ve recently joined the Trust which owns this land for the community. Such an experience often demands to be written, and is what makes the writing life varied and exciting: curiosity is not only allowed, but necessary. I may sometimes complain that it’s impossible to switch off from this ‘job’, and that the pay is rubbish, but if it can get me out of bed before dawn on a Sunday, perhaps that speaks for itself.
There are many further attractions at Dùn Coillich, but one in particular lures me. Writers love huts. Roald Dahl never let anyone else into his, and kept up a rumour that wolves lived there so children wouldn’t distract him from story-writing. He sat in a sleeping bag to write when it was cold. George Bernard Shaw had a rotating shed as his secret lair. Michael Holroyd said of it: “There was an electric heater, a typewriter, a bunk for Napoleonic naps and a telephone to the house which could be used for emergencies such as lunch: surely everything a writer could need.”
Dùn Coillich’s hut (right) may not have an emergency ‘lunch-line’, but is gloriously positioned, basking in sunlight with views out onto the Hill. It cries out for writers to sit sucking their pens and gazing from the window.

An Invitation
I’d like to gather a few folk to be based at the Hut for a day in late June or early July – a chance to wander the land and get inspired to play with words encouraged along by each other. If you’re interested, please email me at CLOAKING . No experience is required but you’ll need to be comfortable with a minor element of ‘roughing it’.
See also: http://www.hpclt.org/

Linda Cracknell

 

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