Dùn Coillich is a fabulous place for contemplative and creative thought. Linda Cracknell, a previous HPCLT Trustee and local writer, together with other local writers has submitted the following pieces.
All Hallows on Dùn Coillich
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…
By Linda Cracknell. 31st October 2011
Dùn Coillich Summer Sonnet
Heath bedstraw crochets white lace, air shimmers.
We tread bog myrtle into frankincense,
Grasshoppers chirr as the pipits chitter,
The dog rubs his belly on cool sedge.
New grass bursts in unbelievable green
Wafting picnic memories like shadows
Across the hill, and an osprey, just seen,
Cuts through the glen to where only she knows.
Above the Dùn we spot paragliders
Searching for thermals, and we pick our path.
We are uncertain, like the fretting burn
Beneath the claims of the pylon striders,
Taking their lines direct to the strath.
So we stop and watch and think of our return.
By Ruth Atkinson, lead sonneteer, with assistance from Marian Gerry, Muriel Dunbar, and Linda Cracknell. Inspired on 3rd July 2011
Spring Writes on Dùn Coillich
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 finally 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 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.
By Linda Cracknell