On Rannoch Moor
by Audrey Niven
It’s a clear day. Clear enough. They set off. They have guide-books, knapsacks, waterproofs in breathable fabrics, wicking base-layers, hats, gloves, walking poles, stout boots, sandwiches, hip flasks, energy bars. They have mobile phones – no signal, of course – a camera, binoculars, a book of birds, a book of flora of the Highlands, a compass, a Swiss army knife. Someone has an orange. Someone brought an umbrella and everybody laughs.
They leave behind the hotel with its tea and bacon rolls. They walk towards the woodland. The ground beneath their feet crunches, then it snaps. The pine-needles muffle all the sound in the forest. The forest gives way to the moor. The road – such as it is – meanders off.
Stay on the road.
The moor is eighty-four percent water. It deceives the eye with its low-lying heather, brownish water glinting between its roots.
They read about the blanket bog that lies on the surface, its rocky outcrops and lochans, the slow decay of dying things, the mesotrophic standing water.
The rain pushes in over the mountains and falls on them. There is no shelter on the open moor, so they stand together in a circle, their backs to the weather. They have rain in their pockets. The umbrella blows away. No-one laughs.
By nightfall they are still walking, pushing forward but slower now. They are afraid but they only say so by arguing, by whining like children. They see lights in the distance at last. They are expected. Someone knows they are coming – a reassurance as the wind gets up and stings their faces. They tuck into themselves and press on.
At sun-up the moor lies quiet, the weather undecided. By the side of the road – if you can call it that – a trail of orange peel dwindles away to nothing.