March. NB 2976 3817. A pool where two streams emerge from beneath the peat – the source of the water which flows to Loch na Mòineach, which in turn feeds Feadan Loch na Mòineach, which joins Feadan Loch an Fhraoich and Feadan Loch nam Breac to form Gleann Thorradail, one of the tributaries of Gleann Bhradhagair. Even here you can smell the river. Sounds of the water, a single skylark singing, and the wind in the grass. Skeins of geese are flying north, changing formation as they go.
April. Moorland shimmering in a heat haze. Pipits singing, plover whistling. An occasional little breeze running across the moor, which you can hear coming before it hits you. My first time out here since six wind turbines were built on Beinn Mholach. I’m shocked to see them towering over the beautiful line of the Barvas Hills, like a jagged scar on a previously flawless face. The limitless moor of sphagnum and water and insects and bird-calls feels limited by concrete and steel, the vast calm horizon disrupted by constant restless movement. I walk home feeling sad.
May. Walking out the river on a hot morning to a loud chorus of pipits and skylarks, thinking of those I’ve walked this way with in the past, the people they walked with, and those who walked it a hundred, a thousand, six thousand, perhaps eight thousand years ago. Bobbing sandpipers, calling twee-see-see. The loud, exotic trilling of dunlin. The song of a thrush from a shieling. The bird sounds may have changed over the centuries but the sounds of the river itself remain the same.
Big footprints of swans and curled white feathers on a peaty beach. The first bees, dragonflies and damselflies, buzzing, whirring and flitting in and out of my field of consciousness. Spiders spinning everywhere: when you sit down, small spiders walk across you. The evening breeze is sweet smelling after blowing over miles of sun-warmed moorland.
June. Four colours of milkwort growing in the centre of the peat track – deep blue, rich pink, pale pink and pale mauve. Siabann nam Ban-sìth – ‘fary women’s soap’. Harestail, orchids and eyebright by the side of the road, and pale mauve marsh violets with purple veining and saffron-coloured centres. I make a new track in a day, barrowing peats. An eagle, a skua, some butterflies, a four-spotted chaser and a few bees pass by while I work. Curlews and pipits display on and off through the day. Wheatears flit ahead as I walk home, decoying me and the dog away from their nests.
July. Birds heard through the evening, night and early morning from a tent on the moor: dunlin, golden plover, red grouse, snipe, meadow pipit, red-throated diver. During the day I hear a greenshank call – tyew-tyew-tyew.
A sunny, muggy, hot evening on the beach of a moorland loch. Silence but for the humming of insects and the eerie sound of a distant Diver. Dragonflies hunting – Hawkers and Darters. The silence is broken by a deer wading, plunging and swimming across the loch. It watches the dog, stamping its foot. Big ears, small velvet-covered antlers, large eyes. It scrutinises me for a minute or two before putting its head in the air and sauntering off. I’m pleased to have come face to face with it here. Fiadh – ‘deer’, fiadhaich – ‘wild, untamed’.
Deirdre Nelson, Murray Robertson, my sister Catriona and I walk through a thunderstorm, enveloped in cloud, with mist rising off the lochs after the heat of the day. I’m glad to get to the shelter of the shieling. In the morning we sit on stones in Loch an Òis chatting while Deirdre knits a sock. The knitting makes me feel as though we’re re-enacting a scene from the past.