An inner voice whispers: “There is no internet. No phone signals. No shops or pubs or amenities for 14 miles. We’re at the road’s own craggy end. Whatever you do don’t get into an emergency situation of any kind.”
The roads are narrow, clogged with errant sheep, confused pheasants and the occasional brooding stag. The sun, moon, the glacial, battered landscape and the clear, warm unseasonal breeze are magnificent. We are in “the Glen”. A short period of minor adjustment to the new reality will be required.
“My Jaguar is in the workshop” said our landlord as he apologized for leaving us alone, whilst driving away in an inferior but clearly more reliable car. Jaguars eh? Dusk was descending so I made friends with the birds. There are a lot of them here, always quite angry with each other as they bicker at the various overflowing feeders. We’re not the only stupid things on the planet it seems. Red squirrels eventually pick up the confidence to raid the feeders too, they’re a bit more violent, they wrestle with the tops and poke at the nuts and seeds or bend the wire frames with tough buck teeth that I presume are worth risking to attack the metal larder.
We wake up early. The garden is full of sheep, well four sheep, two ewes and their faithful, fatty lambs. We’re concerned but there are sheep in all the fields so this is probably normal, so long as they don’t eat the plants or the chicken food and so on. The next day there are twenty seven sheep in the garden.
At night the skies are dark with no light pollution, there is no one nearby, no vehicles or streetlights. We can see into space. There’s the moon and Jupiter and some other blingy things. Wispy clouds allow the celestial fairy lights to peep through at us. We’re alone. Like Joni and Graham we light the log fire. This is our house now.
Out in the glen we hear the sounds of dogs and quad bikes. The shepherds are at work, driving the flocks down from the hills. Then a darker shadow grows across the glen. It’s 8AM, there’s a large blue HGV parked down on the single track road, it’s engine running. We hear the sheep bleating as they are led towards the wagon. They are quickly scuttled inside and so off to wherever. They won’t see the glen again, that’s for sure. Today there are no sheep in the garden. As I grow older, I’m mostly ambivalent than ever about Indian food.
At times we will crack and seek out civilisation, there, shining at the end of a forested tunnel way down the potholed and beaten track. Blinded by the sun going out, blinded by the sun coming back. A pheasant ricocheted across the windscreen, thankfully unharmed and we live on to eat a canteen breakfast in a garden centre. It’s surprisingly good complete with an almost perfect fried egg. Like the rest of the clientele we are of a certain age and attitude, killing time before we take in the final backwards view from the bottom of a shallow grave or inside a plastic urn. (I don’t really think about these things often, just at garden centres). We will be the last of the boomers one fine day, they’ll all miss our purchasing power and wit and wisdom then.
The weather is always just outside, we try to ignore it as we walk into the hills. It comes and goes. Today we are in the footsteps of Queen Victoria. Not my favourite queen, royalty being something of a peculiar human invention albeit leadership of some type is always needed. It’s the lack of “qualifications” and the family connections I object to, that and the abuse of privilege and rank. The walk is unplanned, we leave the house and turn right and trek onwards, already we’ve broken all the rules by being unprepared and vague in our intentions. We do however have an extra, older walking companion who has planned all this but simply forgotten to tell us about the details.
We move up the glen through a variety of conditions and surfaces. There are trees, stones, and the sounds of rushing waters as time ticks down slowly in God’s own country. It’s a “there and back again” kind of trek so we’re back before the dinner burns up, down from the hills and eating shepherd’s pie in the cottage.
At night, when the books are exhausted and the keyboards are quiet, we take refuge in a grainy TV signal’s output, looking much as it might have done in the 1960’s but with washed out colours. For some reason the volume is also governed down so a high level of concentration and focus is required just to get through regular, pastoral TV otherwise it’s just another blurred experience. Any bodily creak from a stray bone or couch can render the program narrative quickly incomprehensible. I find a few glasses of red wine apply the necessary numbing quality needed to adjust to this pace of broadcasting and so enjoy the variable and distorted content. Misheard dialogue and blurred vision is always entertaining.
Life here is not without it’s drudgery. The regular filling of the bird feeders being an essential task. Sometimes also removing struggling birds trapped in the feeders is required. They just get lost in some feeding frenzy at times. Sunflower seeds are their favourite, even though it takes time and technique to split them open and consume them, the birds don’t mind. Peanuts are more run of the mill, pecked at and eventually destroyed with the hammer action of the bill, pulverised and gone. I scatter random nuts and seeds on the ground, the squirrels, chickens and Guinea fowls don’t seem to mind. Everyone gets fed.
It’s been a mostly sunny and blue skyed break; the strong September sun is unexpectedly bright and strangely warming. The house faces south so we bask in it all as the friendly clouds allow. I’m reading a book about young arty types on Hydra in Greece, a historical work of fiction. At times the alien heat almost works and some slight transportation takes place if you just close an eye for a moment and forget about Brexit and fashion anxiety. The glen, but on a Greek island; perhaps not quite yet and no Leonard Cohen striding around, making conquests, stringing along fickle muses, buying houses and then carelessly warbling off into the sunset. No. We are firmly in Scotland and the dead grey churches are out there as a stiff reminder; empty, standing like some strange presbyterian theological litter, comatosed now but once intent on chewing up all the green grass at the edges of the fields.Eventually I finished the book, a bit later on in the week. It was both profound and flimsy. A lazy holiday read so as you might expect mildly irritating, those Bohemian types are hard work, but that’s just my take on it. Over time I’ll reflect, I’m less than good in the moment, I need space for my thoughts to either ferment or mature. I’m not sure what they do naturally and they can’t be left alone for too long, they only turn on themselves and become feral.
By Friday I’m back to having a second attack on actually reading the final book in the Knausgaard saga, part 6 of My Struggle. I’m struggling with this one. It’s heavier and more reflective and I feel it strangling every thought in my mind at times. I’m blinded by the tirade of words, like some verbalized Mozart or shredded guitar figure. I’d planned to finish it sometime during lockdown last year but didn’t even bother. I decided to allow myself to coast over those unreal months. Now we’re on the sunny uplands of further self-inflicted austerity I might as well try, there may be some comfort in his bleak but busy with the minutest detail, elongated prose and self-exploration.
I'm still reading...
We made it home safely, fuel shortages and a stupidity surplus all failing to slow us down. Thanks to the weather gods and my lovely wife for making it a very enjoyable and peaceful week. Our first break away since everything went crazy last year. The glen leaves it's mark once again.