19 May 2018
It’s around 20:30 and we are sitting at the end of a track a mile or so from Cougie, north west of the little tourist town of Drumnadrochit on Loch Ness. This is the croft where my friend from Cilycwm, Steven Pocock was brought up, his parents having migrated from Cardiff in the sixties. His mother, with her gentle Welsh accent, was still living there when I camped here 3 years ago. Sadly she has since died. Steve’s younger brother Iain has lived here all his life, married (relatively) local girl Sasha Mackintosh, and brought up 4 children.
Iain is the real thing – your original mountain man. He’s a fantastic whirlwind of talk and action – skilled in every aspect of life in the wilds, from mechanics to killing deer for the pot. He can, at a pinch, do thoughtful too.
We are in the cab of his newest 4×4 with both windows open. This is a good time to see eagles hunting, he tells me, because it’s when the prey species come out. Meanwhile we talk. He tells me about the ponies. They have 21, mostly Highland crosses with a few Shetland for the children. He tells me how intelligent they are and how they communicate with body language and a few noises. I’m aware of this and earlier had been watching two geldings squaring up to each other. They tangle heads, rearing a little. One shrugs and walks away a few paces, but he’s still cross and edges up alongside his opponent, not making eye contact. With a range of movements and gestures they exchange insults until honour is satisfied and they drift apart, neither backing down; each keeping his dignity.
Some of the Pocock ponies have been trekking for 18 years, and they watch their clients getting out of the cars.
“Uh hu, there’s a fat one, keep out of his way.”
“That one looks cocky. Thinks she can ride. We’ll show her.”
Iain tells the trekkers not to worry. The ponies will look after them. He imitates the horse body-language:
“This one is worried, I’ll be nice to him.”
“Little child – see how gentle I can be.”
“Knows it all does he – we’ll see about that.”
This is Sasha with a young trekker on a very tolerant pony.
Slowly the light is going. We’re watching a ridge which has been clear felled and still looks bristly with dead timber.
Many miles of tall deer fence have been used to clear three huge areas of deer – in total around 65000 hectares. They shot 8000 deer – Roe and Red – to allow the native forest to grow and species absent for years like red squirrels, otters, and badgers to return. Other species like black grouse which had maintained a presence, are increasing. The area in the middle belongs to “The Dutchman” who seldom visits. His covenant with Scottish Natural Heritage has lapsed and he’s taken down a section of fence. A few deer are returning, but now the new forest is established Iain is optimistic that they won’t do much damage. It’s an inspiring project, which like many other landscape and human-scape projects in Britain, is EU funded.
Iain tells me about the Blackcock lekks. There are dozens of them in the area, and one year he was paid to record them all. He’s well qualified, having worked on the Isle of Canna recording Manx Shearwaters and corncrakes.
It’s now too dim to photograph, but we still watch, and the bottle of malt and two shot glasses come out.
“Will you have a dram?” Why not?
It’s ten o’clock when we finally leave and the level in the bottle has taken a beating. I want to show Iain the eagle sites I have marked on my online maps so we sit in the van for a while, Iain still going on the whisky, me on water. The talk flows. Although he speaks in rapid bursts I can follow him OK face to face. I reminisce about the Small Nations Festival, which is where we first met. Eight or ten of the Pococks used to make the long trip to Cilycwm in their kilts for several years running. I still feel very proud that our little festival made it worth their while.
It’s just before midnight. I’m well on the way and Iain is even further down the road to drunkenness, and we part the best of friends.