Wednesday, August 28, 2019

A Man of Stone

Last May I hiked to Beinn a' Bhoth (hill of the beehive cell) in the Morsgail Deer Forest on Lewis. I started by following a boggy quad-bike track to the Beinn na Gile beehives, a must-see for any walks in the area.

It's a level, easy walk to the cells. From there an old path, little used from the look of it, headed off to the south east. Although I've made many hikes in this area, I'd never followed that old path and, since it was the most direct route to Beinn a' Bhoth, I decided to take it. 

It was very hot, and I was out of shape after a winter of easy city walking. So I huffed and I puffed my way up what was left of the old path as it led to the summit of Shelibradh (190 meters). As I was climbing I noticed a fellow sitting on a high point ahead of me; an odd sort of fellow, sitting perfectly still, wearing a wide brimmed hat. I shouted out a hello, as I didn't want to startle him. There was no reply.

I was surprised to see anyone out here in the back of beyond. And as I neared the fellow he continued to sit still. I had thoughts then of another strange island encounter I'd had six years before, when I was drying off in Uisinish Bothy (South Uist). I was in the process of examining a jar of instant coffee on a shelf that smelled faintly of moth balls. And, while pondering on whether or not to brew up a cuppa mothy bothy coffee, a man suddenly entered, the door loudly banging shut behind him. He then proceeded to walk around for a minute or so, all the while muttering something incomprehensible. He did not seem right in the head, and I started to to wonder if I was about to meet an untimely end. I pictured the headline in the Oban Times: Corpse Found in Remote Island Bothy - Grisly Details page 2....  It had all the makings of a Peter May novel.

But I survived the encounter; for as abruptly as he'd entered, he stormed out. It had been a strange experience, and as I hiked away from the bothy there was no sign of my peculiar visitor on the wide-open moorland. It was as if he had vanished.

And so, six years later, as I approached the silent man on the hill, I wondered if I'd stumbled upon yet another eccentric hill-walker. The hat the fellow was wearing looked eerily familiar, and then it hit me: For a fleeting moment I felt 50 years younger, as I had a flashback to a character in one of my favourite childhood cartoons on TV - Dudley Do-Right of the RCMP. 

Then, as I neared the top, I realized it was not a Mountie far from home, or a weary hiker, but a cairn that, when viewed from below, looked like a man wearing a hat.

From the man-cairn there was a wide-open view across the head of Glen Shanndiag to the rounded summit of Beinn a' Bhoth. I was glad the cairn had not been a man, as I like having places like this all to myself. And I did, for aside from a few dozen deer, I would be the sole occupant of Glen Shanndaig for the next two days.

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