|03/06/2013||Filled under Carradale, family|
The track to Deer Hill begins just behind our house and starts with a wash of gorse-scent and a blaze of yellow flowers as it rises beside a shallow glen within which, many years ago, was created a lochan, a small loch, by the simple process of constructing a dam across the burn which flowed through it. This would have been done so that silt could settle out of the water thus making it fit to drink in the village below, and always providing you didn’t mind the peaty colouring that went with it, this probably was the sole source of water to the scattering of houses that once existed here.
Cross the lochan dam, which is still largely intact, and you are on the slopes of Torr Mor, a small rounded hillock whose flanks drop into the sea just to the north of the village. The day is warm and the sun powerful for we are approaching the solstice. The vegetation here is dry and crisp underfoot, the springy stems of old heather smelling dusty summer-dry as I brush past up the slope towards the tree line. A single holly tree has rooted and survived to send its green stem up above the heather but the bracken whose leaves in a month’s time will cover everything is still in the business of curling out of the ground.
I follow a track, so faint that even the deer rarely use it, to where it leads into the deep shadows of storm-succumbed trees, fallen after many years growing. Soil lies thin over the bedrock providing a poor toehold for roots which a tree will wrench out as it crashes to the ground. The after effect is a surreal landscape of both vertical and horizontal trunks and stranded roots grasping at the sky but with soil still clinging on. Walking through this is next to impossible without crawling under or climbing over the obstacles and I soon lose whatever slight trail I have been following. The sun penetrates through the holes made in the canopy making deep shadows but with bright patches where new grass is making a go of it, fodder for the passing grazers who come through here perhaps.
I backtrack and traverse to find a new way up the slope to try to reach the rounded Torr Mor summit, forcing my way in through a barrier of branches so that I am once more surrounded by trees. This is not natural woodland; timber is grown as a crop here. The conifers were sown close together and their lower branches, now starved of light, are just dead sticks which sprout horizontally in all directions like spears ready to catch the unwary. An uprooted thinner trunk leans drunkenly in its death against a stronger neighbour leaving a scar, a bleeding wound which still weeps shiny sap. As I pause to stare in horror at the extent of the injury I realise it is quiet here, the forest deadening all, but there is a tiny sound, like a squeak from a small animal, which prompts me to gaze upwards in the hope of spotting a squirrel perhaps. I listen and it comes again. I realise it is the two trunks crying in pain as they rub together, the breeze gently swaying the leafy top of the tallest of them. It cannot escape its fate and must bear the hurt until the dead trunk finally breaks its way to the ground in years to come.
Clear of trees the summit of Torr Mor would once have provided a good viewpoint over Kilbrannan Sound, or maybe it was a romantic place suitable for courting couples, safe from observation. Since the trees have grown tall this view has disappeared behind impenetrable forest, inaccessible to all but the most determined and I could not get through it without causing myself serious harm. The only view is in the other direction, looking down over the brown waters of the lochan, which today lies almost still, reflecting the landscape.
Torr Mor overlooks the lochan, which itself stands above the house where my mother spent the last year of her life. Had she had more years and better health at her disposal she might have been able to get about more to delight in the simplicity of this place, the beauty and stillness, but she has slipped away now and rests, in peace at last. In the end her failing heart let her down and yesterday her spirit finally let go its strong hold on life. I feel numb with sadness but happy that in the end I could be there for her, to let her go out as she wanted, peacefully in her own home.
Joan Eileen Rosa Matthews
1922 to 2013