Sagas of the Highlands: A Walk in The Shire of Aberdeen

Parting from the Inner Hebridean isles and coastlines, hence the change of title,

I took venture to see my guru in Abderdeen shire. Shire basically refers to the rural country of the main populus which it is named after, just like the Norse had the concept of the Inangard and the Utangard, and the heath-ens lived in the Utangard, the ‘heath’ dwellers, which was the wilder less civilized countryside. I get the same impressions from the open lands of Britain, though not a lawless anarchic zone in the slightest, the lifestyle has more of a do it yourself bent, this is where the true culture is preserved, this is where multi-generational farmers still groom the earth, and the hospitality is revered.

Three days had been arranged on my journey further north into the highlands, keeping in mind I don’t drive, and every time I feel the compelling instinct to cover ground I must pack my haul, consisting of far more than the ‘average’ traveler. Besides clothing, my pack is usually meticulously fitted with a number of skulls, gifts for others, pelts and skins, several instruments, a small library of books, a handful of journals, a laptop for means of writing, tools, other forest curio, and some smoking apparatus (I do enjoy my plants). I have been living this way for nearly 2 years, semi-nomadic, following The Work, stepping in the forever, talking to the spirits, meditating on the beating of the heart in Truth.

Day the first took me out of my peninsular dwelling in Dunoon through the farm zones of the upper echelons of Scotland, a three hour trek of rather uniform sightings of blackfaced ewes, highland cattle, and pastureland. Arriving at the hub of Aberdeen where one can take a ferry to the Orkney and Shetland isles into comparative remoteness. Though I intend to sail, this time was not my calling. After meeting my guru, we drove back to his hof and homestead in the parts known as Old Aberdeen. I was taken around his land to see his Rune Stones, standing some 5 years since carved, then spent the evenfall in discourse on re:wilding, ancient tress, Scottish history, and the Guild of old. In the nocturnal hours, we vacated the main stead and sat in the Hof building, before a Hogmanay Sumbel, then drank various bog brews whilst listening to traditional English folk music before calling it a night.

Day the second of an early arising, we ate a customary new years porridge, and set off to the Methlick quarry of Bell Muir, walking a circuit around a vast farmland, to find some ancient disc barrows upon a Birch planted hill. Some four in all we circled, a fox skull given in one of the centers which had seen me with empty eyes on the upwards trail. A descent down, and a loop over a river (or burn in Scots Gaelic), keeping my feet dry and tramping up another light slope to some stone piled cairns, and numerous bowl barrows, making some fifteen in all, dating from the Bronze. Passing back towards the roadside past a large badger warren, roughly as many dens as barrows that were heaped on the heathery landscape.

Onwards went to Fyvie Castle and its gardens, a number of arboreal allies grew in its midst, The Ash, The Oak, Giant Redwood, The Yew, The Elm, and a tree called Diabolo. A buzzard flew brazenly aloft seeking to redden its beak. The castle was topped with many carved humanoid/demigod features and inverted conical turrets. Caffeinating our blood, then heading back into the shire to Gight woods. Passing a farmstead that reared and bred Icelandic horses, the winds did not smell of the salt I was used to but carry a malty aroma. We passed down trails of Gorse, and into a broader lush of grass, where some wind rocked Ash trees defied the common belief of growths. Four arboreal giants, shaped by old age, branches of massive girth rotten off like lepers limbs, yet new hardy arms stemming from the old points of demise, alive and feeding in some mystified way, through the mass of the rotten tree which supported it. The boles and warps, the wrinkled skin bark, and gnarled omnidirectional stems, the scars and scrapings, all resembling fantastical images of sentient life forms, the foaming mouthed Sleipnir, the World Ash, Antlered Crows, and Scalped Stags. In a grayscape of organics, I lay under the hollow of one, resembling a horse looking through its sky portal. One could fare quite far here. Bleakly crumbling so near these withering trees were the equally dismal ruins of a Byronic Castle. Though no one knows if he even step foot in this estate. Traversing dry stone and ivy, I crept into the hollows of what remained behind, up spiral chambers of stair, betwixt piles of crushed boulders, through the many moist and musky halls and rooms of the grand chamber, then scampered to the moss enriched rooftops to scry over the valley and the rushing river-source. Panning my neck over the castle quarry of which I had now ascended, a brushed bronze and brown texture caught mine eye, though in sadness, for I knew the corpse of one particular feathered friend meant his haunting days were at an end. A Barn Owl lay below his perch, one eye open, one closed, the most beautiful transpose even in death. Suddenly a newer, more haunting, yet tranquil atmosphere overtook. The wrapping ivy vines that seemed to defy nature, growing through stone, the subtleties in green of lichens and their allies made images of the kind only small insects and birds make sense of. The chambered rooms, ruins, levels, its panorama and openness to the reaches of space were the most prevalent they have been. I stared at the owl, then smiled, not because of its death, but because of it’s life. I knew of what kind of life it would have had, perched in this grim castle, it could have seen and hear every mouse who scurried through labyrinthine ways of porous ruminants of a once noble estate, aloft on one of many vines or sticks could peer over the valley for its dinner, or catch predators in acts of sleuth miles away, it lived as a king, maybe had a mate, and I figure probably died in its sleep. It’s main vine was nooked right beside a window, liken to how one looks slanted through rainy panes of glass in a storm. This Owl I thought, lived and died and is now remembered. We built a rock cairn on the second floor of the castle floor where it was found, etched with limestone, the grave Runes of passing through, and continued sullenly on through the wood. The time between worlds was getting thin, and we veered off trail into denser thickets to honor the land wights. Poems for the dark elves that inhabit, ALU for the spirits of the light. A Conjuring of Fox and Grouse, and a quite exit from the bush. Taking a route past a long steady blackwater and bypassing the Hag Pot, known by the folk as a deep pool resided by a devil, guarding silver gifts. Then back on the trail of Furze, making one way towards home. The night passed in high minded converse and told stories of those who were greater. (Interestingly, a Fox did haunt our path back, leaving its scent along some fence posts, and I have seen more roaming Grouse since this walk less than a week ago, than I have in the entire span of my living in Britain last year)

Day the third we took a walk in Den Wood, a rising ground of coppice, creepers, and carr (resembling swamplands). Coming upon a bizarre tree that bent the laws of physics as much as it did its branches, growing backwards, sideways, spirally and into itself, while others less unfortunate outstretches broken off and damming a slow running stream. Wasting no time and tramping over beaten way, into a plantation befitted with an extensive rookery, many a nest swayed in the brewing storm. Making the rounds back, in a circle, not backtracking, as it should be, I head for Inverurie, snagged a Guinness and made way for the trainline to catch my ride out. Parting with my guru for the time being, though with traded boasts to return to the Heath in the Shire…

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One thought on “Sagas of the Highlands: A Walk in The Shire of Aberdeen

  1. Regarding the Owl, falling off your perch, in an appropriate environment, now that is quite some death. Cause to celebrate a life well lived for sure!

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