Cougie 26-27 September 2019

It’s a name on the map, a croft which can only be reached by a 5 mile rough track from the little estate village of Tomich north of Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness. It’s home to a pair of Golden Eagles, 23 ponies and horses, 20 old cars, 6 old motorbikes, countless bits of abandoned machinery, thousands of trees and a branch of the Pocock family. The ones I’ve met are Iain and wife Sasha, son Douglas, and daughter Sarah, and I love them all. I’ve been here twice before and have written about it here:

Still shaking from the long bumpy drive I pull up in the place I usually camp: next to 4 large agricultural trailers comfortably settling into a life of retirement.

I walk up to the house. The front door seems never to shut and there is Iain, beard like a black bog brush, loud in his welcome, rapid fire talk in his fierce Highland accent.  I give Iain a boxed bottle of malt whiskey as a thank you for my two nights here. As things turned out it may not have been such a good idea.

“Aldi’s best”

“Wahay – thank you Dick. Good stuff”.

“That’s a relief. I was a bit worried you might have given up the booze!”

Gales of laughter.

“That” says Sasha “is funny!”

There is a nice young French girl called (I think) Lianne who is working there as a volunteer, and Douglas the younger son, and the only one still partly at home.

We agree to meet up later and I go back to the van to settle in.

Later, only Douglas is there. He is as calm and thoughtful as his father is exciteable and voluble. He tells me he is about to go on an induction course for the RAF. I sit at the 4″thick oak table in a big room with an open wooden staircase in the middle and a stove at both ends. Everywhere is dark and oaky with piles of all kinds of stuff covering every available space. When Iain turns up he rushes around stripping off clothes.

“I stink – all day cutting firewood. I’ll be down shortly.” Eventually we sit with glasses of malt, catching up on news from Scotland and Wales. Sasha arrives with bundles of shopping and a tale of losing her wallet at the shops. The normal chaos returns and I leave them to whatever order can be restored. I walk up into the forest for a while and marvel again at the naturalness and wildness of it all.The next day I walk up the track to the north west, past the place where I saw the eagles last time. This year most of the eyries in this part of the Highlands failed, Iain told me – a cold Spring. It’s along walk – 4 miles out to where I have my lunch near the path down to Glen Affric where I will be next week.The Forestry Commission is taking out the non native trees with huge machines.The timber is carted away to be sold and they will then allow the native forest to re-generate.

The Pococks run pony trekking holidays, and all up the  track are signs of horses, their dung carrying the spores of small fungi. There are wonderful patterns in the rocks, and a plentiful supply of two kinds of hairy caterpillars, the Fox Moth and the Buff Ermine:
On the way back I see the eagles and feel it’s been a long and satisfying walk, and I look forward to another session with the whiskey and conversation in the evening.Early evening I am in the van when I hear a vehicle tearing past at great speed. It skids round the corner ahead and hurtles off towards Tomich. But suddenly it stops, turns round in a cloud of grit and tears back again.  It’s Iain in his bonnet-less, souped-up, beefed-up and beaten up little yellow car. A big Land Rover pulls up and the car stops beside it.  Iain jumps out to talk to the forester and introduces me. Lianne gets out of the car not looking happy. The half empty bottle of malt is beside him in the car and Iain is flying, well away, shouting at Lianne to get back in. She argues. It seems they are looking for Douglas who had gone past earlier on his motor bike. She wants to go further and find him, Iain – well I don’t know what he wants, but he’s happy.

“I’ve a bottle of malt and a girl beside me and I’ve been up to look at the mountain!”

I can see my idea of a pleasant chat has gone out of the window so I  tell them I’m going to make my meal, and return to the van.

The next morning I go up to say goodbye and all is sweetness and light.

“Bit of a problem last night then Iain? You were well away.”

“No problem at all. I went up the mountain, got drunk, had an argument. Absolutely normal!” He has a piece of toast and marmite in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other and is walking down to the track to meet Sasha with Douglas and Lianne who are all sitting in a normal car.

“Look at the mould on that toast” he laughs. It’s Saturday and they are all going out for the day.  We say a quick but heartfelt goodbye and that’s it: my dose of Cougie for the year.

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