Our bothie, a steep thatched conical hut with a low stone wall dug about a shovel head in depth beneath ground level, and raising to hip height above. The wall was fairly thick, from what little memory I have of it, and was built of the local granite found in abundance around our village. A rude mud, cow manure, and straw mixture formed a sort of a mortar, plus plugged any holes keeping the wind out. When possible the earth floor was covered in rushes from the local creek in summer and spring, otherwise it was straw or whatever other silage we were fortune enough to pick up along our way.
Centrally placed within our humble wee abode was our fire pit. Here we cooked, washed, thawed ice for water, dried clothes and bodies, but mostly kept the cold at bay. It was surrounded again with the same stone as used elsewhere, with ropes and lengths of plaited leather suspended from above, hooks and utensils hanging from them, and two large stone blocks had been placed beside our place of warmth as seating.
My father, the headman of not just our wee village, but all areas surrounding, and being a psychopathic thief, raider, warrior, and kilt wearing right cont, had raided Roman settlements at the time the intruders were starting to depart our bonny lands. As such, we hand iron, and iron was worth more to the longevity of the Clan than gold, silver or any other pretty metal or stone could ever be.
We had swords of the type known as a ‘gladius’. There were cutting tools ranging from the tiniest skean dhu’s, right through to massive double handed meat cleavers for the butchering of beasts. We sported spades and shovels made of the stuff, spearheads and arrow tips, shields and armour which the kiddies played in, our men folk would never lower themselves to such weakness. Father had taken possession of great lengths of iron, and said same were stored throughout the bothie, all to be used in the production of vicious implements of carnage, and other, lesser miscellaneous items, specifically implements for farming. Farming on the whole took a enormous backward step when there was warring and raiding to be had. Plus, much to mother’s delight, we had great iron pots for the use of cooking and washing which had found their way to our little home. A God sent metal no less.
After iron and fire, the three most important items within our wee thatched slice of heaven were –
– A spinning wheel drew woollen thread;
– The loom, from which mother and the other women made our clothes, rugs, kilts and woolly what nots;
– Then, the table, which was always hard scrubbed, and made of yet another series of boards of unknown origin. Something else father picked up on his travels.
This table was a place of magic. You could find food and laughter and whisky at it one moment; then it would transform itself into a place of nightly tales and whisky with the wee bairn’s sat proudly upon father’s knee; it was a place of sorrow and wailing and whisky when a lass and her unborn bairn had been lost in birth to the ghouls of the night; it was the surgeon’s table where the women stitched up the men after battle, or reset the bones of farming accidents; the final amazing act our wooden table magically performed, was that of conversation and talk and whisky. Occasionally, the talk was of war, and raids, and the hopes of securing iron and livestock and women and whisky.
When I eventually did return to our bothie, it was not the bothie I remembered that welcomed me. What lay before me was a television crew; a bright yellow JCB digger, digging shallow trenches across the places where our great hall had once stood; another trench across the memory of the place my Uncle and Aunt had lived; and lastly, most tragically, a trench through the middle of where I had been born, lived and exiled.
The television presenter, a chap apparently named ‘Tony’, was discussing geophysics with one chap, pottery finds with another giving an approximate date of the village, and lastly, he spoke to a chap in a brown felt hat, straggly hair, a ‘Howard Green’ jumper of the sort worn by British and Australian soldiers, jeans and a set of heavy brown leather, much worn, lace up boots. The latter chaps most distinguishing feature, however, was a set of sideburns that had not seen a razor in years, and blew loosely around him; small tribes of “A” League Footballers could easily be lost amongst them. A dark blue Landrover 110 Defender was parked to the left of the remnants of my village, with a logo splashed across the bonnet in gold.
I watched, from a distance, and as the shadows began to lengthen, the television crew and workers packed their gear and left to which ever local watering hole they were camped in for the night.
Once gone, I had the place to myself for the first time in roughly 1700 years. Everything had disappeared, with the exception of the stones that were once the bothie walls of my long gone home. Sadly, even they were few and far between. The spade, wee trowel and short pry bar I had with me were enough to start my own dig. Not at out bothie, rather at the indent into one of the ‘Fury Knolls’ nearby. It was a medium sized earthen mound, its origins long forgotten, and well overgrown with heather. Today’s folk would likely call them ‘Fairy Mounds’, sad ignorant wretches they are.
Father was a great believer in removing from sight all that you don’t want ransacked by raider’s, as such he hid everything of value as far from home, yet within sight of eye, as safely as possible. Hence, I stood before a ‘Fury Knoll’, tooled up, and ready for work, praying that the real ‘Furies’ weren’t still guarding it.
Firstly I moved shovel after shovel of dirt, forty minutes, and a considerable amount of sweat later I hit rock. This stone turned out to be heavy and thick, yet well butted together, with slabs covering the top, bottom, and others perfectly fitted together without mortar, forming foot high sides. My father’s great granite box buried, and now revealed, which, by appearance at least, had remained undisturbed since the time of its construction and burial. A theory proven true after much huffing and cursing, when five minutes later I finally prised the top from it, tearing a nail in the process.
It was all there, and not one Fury, or Faerie, or Fairy, or whatever they called themselves these days did once interrupt me. Yet the wind had picked up greatly, and I believe those spirits of things long forgotten were about me still, their watchful eye unblinking.
I made seven trips in all to my Land Rover. Father had done well for himself in his lifetime, and amongst other things of incredible value, both of the time and of today, I suspected I was the only person worldwide to own a 1700 year old bottle of Scottish Whisky, let alone the two dozen now stowed carefully in the back of my four wheel drive. Whisky in hollowed granite flasks, complete with granite stoppers, and the whole lot covered in molten glass, as was the interior of the flask, granite being as porous as it is, rendering them leak and water proof, whilst keeping any air out. From there I set out reburying Fathers stone vault, and replacing the sods of earth as strategically as possible to give it an undisturbed appearance as best I could.
Once I was fully loaded, slowly creeping through the gears, I made my meandering way away from the television show dig site, blending in with the plethora of equipment left by specialist archaeologists, camera crews, plus the digging machines, both mechanical and man powered. Finally making it back to the open road, I had to move off the make shift track to get around a gaggle of onlookers that appeared to have snuck out from the local school for a look, with the notion of grabbing anything dug up and not bolted down.
Neither tears nor a frown graced my face as I left. Not once did I look back at my original home, and I would never see it again, in this lifetime anyway.
My villages’ nearest modern location is that of Rhynie, Aberdeenshire, which is about a mile to the south east of what once was home. The name has changed, but the remains are still there. ‘Tap o’ Noth’ is the subsequent name for my wee burgh, it apparently became a fort after I left. I shall reminisce no further with these petty digressions.
The road and run to Glasgow was fair. Winding my way west then south for roughly 50 miles, taking the second exit at the roundabout and indirectly on to the A90. The journey completed upon following road signs the rest of my way.
The 160 odd miles I had just driven in a shade under 4 hours had originally taken me nearly 400 years to complete. Yet another slight against those before those of today; how small the world has become, and how easily forgotten the endurance of those from time past when compared to the weak, take everything for granted, self centred people of today.
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