The only thing that I ever thought would frighten me during one of my most tranquil of dog walking trails was the odd Capercaillie. Until yesterday.
My friend Claire and I took our dogs for a good two and a half hour hike in the autumnal mist around Glen Tanar, the largest surviving remnant of Caledonian Scots pine forest on the south side of the Cairngorms. Nestling in the heart of Royal Deeside near Aboyne, Glen Tanar covers around 25,000 acres and is a magnificent and majestic wilderness. I have walked it many times on my own with my dogs and have always felt a particular serenity in the undisturbed landscape … and have always felt safe and at ease.
Around two-thirds of the way around yesterday, a little way past the Knockie viewpoint, Dinah, my Golden retriever began barking fearfully down towards the heather to our left. There was nothing to be seen or heard, the ferns and heather weren’t moving which is usually an indication of some creature scurrying away through the undergrowth yet we couldn’t console Dinah. She continued to bark – ears back, tail down – whilst backing up to the opposite side of the track. The other dogs ran ahead and as Claire and I passed the spot which was causing Dinah so much unease she ran past me on the far side and away from the spot. We stopped and scoured the area for any sign of activity but could see nothing. A little unsettled and bewildered, we turned to continue on. As we did so, something to the right caught my eye. Something I had never noticed before.
A large, flat stone propped crookedly against the hillside just feet from us. Free from moss, rain marks and other signs of the ravages of time, the stone was strangely pristine which did not sit well with the archaic prose.
Engraved in a crude, gothic style with ‘t’s carved as crosses were the words “lett well alone”.
Startled by the ominous warning, and still a little perturbed by Dinah’s reaction, our strides lengthened and quickened and, although we continued our amiable chattering, both of us found ourselves looking over our shoulders until we were off the hill, out of the pines, on to the more popular track and in sight of the Chapel of St. Lesmo, the mysterious Holy Hermit who lived in Glen Tanar over 1,000 years ago.
‘Lett well alone!’ Is it a simple plea not to disturb some nearby well or mineral spring? Does it imply a weightier, more philosophical caveat not to tamper with tradition? Or was it intended to send us swiftly on our way?
On the one hand I’m anxious to return to the spot to reassure myself that the stone remains, despite me never noticing it before. Perhaps if it’s a bright, sunny day and the light would enhance a photograph.
On the other, I may take a different route. Especially if the hill is again shrouded in mist. It would only impair my already rudimentary photography skills you understand!
I’m sure it will remain a much-loved walk close to my heart, but I’ll never call it a favourite ‘haunt’ again.