Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Culbin of the sands

Children need routine and my 3 year old boy is no different. It took a fair amount of effort to persuade him that our weekly adventure should go somewhere different to last week’s outing to the treehouses of Abriachan. I used some psychology along with the words ‘woods, beach and fire’ in quick succession and had him hooked and we were off for Culbin forest in the grey morning.
 We bundled into warm clothing and set off along the wide paths towards Tower 99 which was to be the big draw for the day. He made good pace, only halting occasionally to pick up something familiar from previous walks. ‘Old man’s beard!’ he yelled in triumph holding up a branch that was bigger than him festooned with moss. A few wobbly moments followed as he tired and then when I refused to pick up a massive pile of stones ‘for the big tower’ he descended into a wailing cry with some proper tears. I scooped him up while surruptiously dropping the stones and licked the tears from his face..’These ones on the left taste nice but the ones on the right are rubbish.’ It did not work and I left him bawling in a wee sandy hole next to the path. I got myself out of sight , crouched down and and waited and predictably he sprinted up the path and into my arms. Instantly better.
We reached the tower and climbed it nervously. My vertigo reached new heights as I scanned the slatted wood for small boy sized gaps and gripped him tight. He did not seem to like it much either as the wind bit down from the north and we headed down after some lip service to the views out as far as Caithness.
At the base of the tower the year had moved on from winter. The red trunks of the Scots pines  threw out some dappled light and meagre warmth so we huddled close on the bench to drink our flask and eat muffin treasure from the picnic box. His face looked back at me, framed with a flapped hat and lined with tears and chocolate and a challenge in his eye. ‘Are you enjoying this?’ I said fearfully. ‘Yes.’ Time to head to the beach, then.
We wandered off down a steep dune in the firm direction of the sea. He walked for a further half mile before he began to trail behind and held his arms up. By then, the wee legs had done nearly 2 miles and I could not say no so I swung him up on my shoulders and we jogged down to the edge of the water. As we stepped out from the margin of the forest the north wind picked us out. He looked up and said  ’This is a cold place.’ No fooling him today, this emerging outdoorsman. We turned quickly and found a sandy spot in the shelter of the great pines which line the shore. I scooped away the needles to make a fire pit and we construct a small pile of twigs, paper and one hidden firelighter to create the magic in front of his eyes. I thought it best to obey his mum’s instructions and prevent him from seeing the actual act in case he decided to replicate it in the living room so I distracted him with some pine cone gathering as I applied the match. The fire got going quickly and raised  a pall of smoke high in the pines.  I could picture a forestry commission swot team descending on me with beaters so I bottled it and smothered the fire quickly. We tidied the pit, packed and headed back to the car with a satisfying smoky flavour clinging to us.
We sped the journey up with joint Gruffalo recitals and some walks and some carrys get us back to the car with a sense of a day seized and a mission accomplished.   

Culbin’s aura of peace lingered on us for the rest of the day along with a faint, sweet smell of wood smoke.At the tower the seats carry a poem which summed up our day.

Hill 99
I stood one day upon the hill
And felt my shadow wheel full circle
I stood one day upon the hill
And saw the heather turn to purple
I stood one day upon the hill
And smelt the tang of marsh and sea
I stood one day upon the hill
And knew my soul returned to me
I stood one day upon the hill
And heard the coast birds pipe and call
I stood one day upon the hill
And dreamed of sailors in a squall
I stood one day upon the hill
And felt my gritted teeth bite the sand
I stand this day upon the hill
Knowing my heart rooted in this land

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