Grouse Butts and Anti-Scouts

Trip Start Jul 12, 2010
Trip End Aug 03, 2010

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The M's: Carrington Terrace

Flag of United Kingdom  , Scotland,
Thursday, July 22, 2010

Read on for a definition of Grouse Butts, a term we found on our topographic map of today's hike. We should have known we were out of our league, or at least unprepared (anti-scouts) when we saw others dressed in warm layers with day-and-a-half packs, sturdy boots and hiking sticks at the parking lot. I had my new (commercial moment) Merrill boots on, which I love, but the others were just wearing trainers (sneakers), and we were all in shorts. Ha, ha, we thought, as we felt extremely comfortable on the first part of the trail...
The track brought us to a different style of stile over a fence, because, of course, there were hooved mammals to leave packages on the trail for us. Loch Turret is formed by an earthen dam, which made our first loch a fake loch, but we're working up to the real ones... Actually, it was quite beautiful, and the dam was soon behind us.
This particular walk is in an area surrounded by hills and mountains with nary a tree, lending an open, sculpted look to the landscape. Michael's interest was immediately peaked (no pun intended) because this particular look occurs in his computer game making program, Unity, when he sets up his background before adding more vegetation to the terrain. Go figure, but it made him immensely interested in the minutae of the land, and happily planning a new game along the route.
The track was hard-packed, with many stones (did I mention that I love my hiking boots?), and presented an easy walk at the beginning, about ten feet above the lake shore. The lake itself is about 3 miles long, and the trail rises and falls a bit depending on the terrain and the burns (streams) coming down in gullies from the surrounding hills. The distant views of the area perceive the vegetation in swatches of green and brown, but closer examination discovers a wide collection of plants in all ranges of colors. I thought at one point to look for a wildflower guide at our home, which has all kinds of wonderful resources, but I fogot. I know there were heathers and bracken, and mosses, and wonderful, lichen-speckled rocks to lend the background colors, but there were many plants that were a mystery. There must be dozens of microclimates along the trail we hiked throughout the day, which resulted in a great variety of plants, many with small leaves and blossoms. We even saw sundews in bud, which I have only ever seen in bogs in the states. I took many photos of the small micro-gardens caused by the unique combinations of textures and colors along the way.
The loch had a rocky shore and was quite beautiful to our left. To our right, the steep slopes of Choinneachain Hill (2,600 ft.), Ton Eich and Auchnafree Hill (Luckily, we didn't have to say any of these names out loud), with low vegetation, grey rocky outcrops and sheep rose above us. There was no doubt that we were in a new, exciting environment, and our lunch spot, towards the end of the lake, brought one of those moments - warmed up but not too tired, full of the view, and happy to  eat for the job ahead. For job it was. We climbed 1,000 ft. in about 1/2 mile, taking opportunities to look at the views opening up below us of the loch, and even rugged mountains beyond the close mountains, rising in the distance. It was near the top of this rise that we realized that we would not soon reach the tantalizing ridge, and that we'd have to dip down into the stream gully and back up to get to the higher ridge of the mountain next to us. Although we had three large bottles of water with us, they were 3/4 gone, and we sussed that, although we had tackled the major climb, we had covered only a third of the distance of the marked trail. Although the day was mostly sunny, some clouds had come in (this is, after all, Scotland), and some of the breezes were quite stiff. Most of the rest of our hike would be along the ridge, with full exposure to the wind, and we were just not prepared. 
I wish I could say that I was mature right away as we turned around to do the responsible thing and not push on, but it took me much of the steep downhill to bannish my disappointment and recover my sense of awe in the moment of the hike. As is usually the case, backtracking along the same trail affords views from another perspective, and so we continued to discover beauty on the way back.
I seem to be crossing-impared on this trip. It has become a family joke to watch me try to cross a road. Early on, in Avebury, I looked both ways before crossing as though in the US and was quite nearly run over as a result. All crossings since have involved lots of looking back and forth, a bit of sheer terror, and a definate briskness, if not run, across the street. My crossing issues today were crossing the 3 burns (streams) we needed to cross along the route by the lake. Each required stepping across wet or even submerged stones, and leaping at some point. My sense of balance seemed to be off. I have always been cautious at this kind of crossing; I ABHOR walking with wet feet, but this time I felt like what I imagine someone giving up their walker towards the middle of rehab feels - a shaky lack of confidence.
 Luckily for me, my family was supportive once they realized that one of the real reasons I didn't want to turn back was to avoid fording the burns in the opposite direction. I actually managed to find small trails above or below the streams to better crossing spots, and got through it just fine.
We ended our trip tired, footsore, thirsty (but with a swallow of water left) and were very pleased to be coming home to the AGA and a home-cooked meal.
Michael and Emily rallied to actually jump on the trampoline after dinner, and Bob tried, unsuccessfully, to tackle the lawn. I consider my 'job' to be this blog, so I have been sitting at the top of the garden, writing, watching their efforts, petting the occasional cat that purrs over, and glancin g over the slate rooftops to look at the surrounding hills. Life is good.
Post-script: It's a good thing I started reading to edit. The promised definition of a grouse butt is a small structure built to shelter hunters or shepherds in the hills. They were circular, quite tiny, built with rocks and covered, | think, with soil and vegetation; really just a hidey-hole to crawl into to outwait a storm. We did find one near the highest elevation of our climb, and took the requisite photo of the kids posing inside.

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Martha Levine on

Oh, I love the grouse butt! What a great name! Did you see any border collies herding the sheep yet? You must get a picture if you do. David says to try and see a soccer game, ANY soccer game you can find! Keep the writing coming and the incredible pictures. I am living vicariously through you. love, Martha

ithacabelle on

Hey, Marf,
I have been thinking of you as I see border collies, but none herding sheep yet. I was thinking of how amazing it would be to watch them when they are herded by dogs. That would be a sight to see.

Elaine on

It's shamefull to write, but thanks for pointing out grouse-butts that I never knew we lived amongst! So sorry you never made it to the top of King Kenneth's cairn - good job you're made of the stuff of Pollyanna and can find a silver lining!

ithacabelle on

It took me a while to be Pollyanna about it....

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