Country diary: sunlight on snowfall

adrian hopkins - view from Sgurr MorI wrote a short entry for the Guardian’s Country Diary section this week following a fantastic hillwalking trip to the west coast, on the edge of Knoydart, stopping off at the Kinbreak bothy.

Full text can be found here, or after the break

Wildlife braces for winter as the frost begins to bite

Sgùrr Mòr, Highlands The sky is flung wide open, a bright bluebird of a day, as sunlight glitters on the drifts

 

High on the hills above Glen Quoich, winter has arrived. The first snowfall of the year begins to stipple the ground at 400 metres above sea level and lies knee-deep in the lee of the peaks. Overnight the air was thick with freezing fog, but now the sky is flung wide open, a bright bluebird of a day, as sunlight glitters on the drifts and the rime frost that has grown in shards from the rough grasses.

From the summit of Sgùrr Mòr, we follow a ridge that curves away from the nape of its neck, towards the neighbouring peak.

We find ourselves walking in the footprints of a mountain hare – the dash-dash-dot of Morse code – who has taken shelter nearby. He too will be dressed for winter, in a sleek white coat buttoned up to the chin.

The trig point, when we reach it, is encrusted with ice. Jabbing from the bare hilltop it is windblasted and exposed, and a perfect lookout. From here I can see for miles – to the great hulk of Ben Nevis to the south and, to the north-west, the Cuillin’s jagged profile, and the rounder outline of its imitator on the Isle of Rùm.

I am not the only one to appreciate the view: the squat pillar is ornamented with the fresh pellet of a golden eagle. It is dense and soft, not yet frozen.

Lower down, the red deer are wandering the open hill, rust on rust. They are segregated again, the stags huddled together after the excitement of the rut. Weighed down by their antlers, ribs protruding, they have lost their energy for hostility and called an uneasy truce as they brace themselves for the coming season.

One of their fellows lies rotting at the water’s edge, skin splitting and guts spilling, waterlogged fur dark and darkening as it sinks into the earth.

The females too now travel in packs, seeking safety in numbers – the hind shooting season began in late October. They circle us from a distance as we descend, keeping us in their sights, eyes flashing with the reflection of our headtorches as the night closes in.

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