Saturday Snippet: Glen Coe I

Mike, Rich, and Luciphera go hiking. Bumped to Friday due to Day Job.

Luciphera parked in the far end of the visitors’ lot at the main visitors’ center. Mike unfolded from the front seat and opened Rich’s carrier. The mongoose started to bolt, then stopped. He descended in a graceful flow from the seat and stood beside Mike. That’s odd. He extended a tiny bit of magic as he locked, then closed the door. Ah, yeah.

Old and cold. Chill filled the local magic flows, like a winter breeze but made of magic. The land here had watched glaciers advance and retreat, seas rise and fall, and creatures humans had yet to imagine live and die over the eons. It reminded him of an eagle staring into the distance, seemingly unaware of the birds and smaller animals below its perch, but ready to strike at any moment. The presence predated the events of the 1600s, but those had not helped. Perhaps. “We stay quiet,” Rich murmured.

“Yes.” Like that thing near Draku’s eyrie. It and Meister Gruenewald had a treaty of sorts. Perhaps. Perhaps. Mike shivered, then followed Luciphera between tall blooming hedges that hummed with bees to reach the gift shop and visitor center. Rich detoured, as did Mike. The facilities were quite civilized. They met up again in the gift shop.

“Can we get one of those for Angus, please, please?” Rich begged, pointing to a tee-shirt proclaiming “Kilt – what happened to the last person to call it a skirt.”

“If you spend your own money,” Mike said. Luciphera chuckled, then continued to a very large 3-D topographic map of Glen Coe, Ben Nevis, and the other mountains around them. “I’m just not used to mountains that fall into the sea, almost.”

“No. Ours back home are inland, except for Alaska and part of California.” She wrinkled her nose as she read one of the caution notes. “I’d ask who goes hiking in Scotland without preparing for weather changes, but I’m sure there’s someone.”

One of the volunteer guides gloomed over to them. “Aye. Tourrists.” The word dripped with resigned contempt. “Come up from London and think that just because the peaks are nae sa high as th’ Alps, they’re tame.” He shook his head.

“Like the ones who try to pet the fluffy cows in Yellowstone,” Mike said.

“Aye!” The man perked up, in a dower sort of way. “Are ye thinkin aboot climbing?”

Luciphera brushed her hair back from her forehead as she straightened up. “No, sir. I’ve never climbed serious mountains, and my friend didn’t bring his equipment with him.”

“Good choice. If ye want a general introduction, this trail . . .” He pushed a button, and a path along the valley glowed yellow. The docent showed them several options, ranging from flat and damp to not so flat and still damp. “Mind ye stay away from th’ sheep. They’re in controlled grazing paddocks, to preserve wildflowers and other adapted plants.”

Mike put a hand on Rich before he mouthed off. The mongoose sagged, but held his peace until they went into the small theater to see the film about Glencoe and the infamous massacre. “I wouldn’t bother the sheep,” Rich protested, tail thrashing, whiskers twitching. “Just look at them.”

“Rich, I remember when you ‘just looked’ at the puppies in the park,” Luciphera sighed. “They don’t speak mongoose.”

“And harassing the livestock is a criminal offense, especially here,” Mike reminded him. The lights dimmed, and the film began. Mike shivered as the story unfolded. They violated the laws of hospitality. You don’t do that, ever. There’s so much karma debt there. . . He’d learned that over and over in Southwest Asia and elsewhere—the laws of hospitality were sacrosanct, and the lowest of the low were guests who betrayed their hosts after breaking bread and taking shelter under the roof. A warm hand took his in the darkness. Luciphera squeezed, then let go. She understood.

“Nae dogs and nae Campbells,” Rich whispered. “Took generations to cleanse most of the blood corruption from the land here.”

Most? I don’t like the sound of that. “Not our job, right?” he whispered back.

A furry head thumped his neck half a dozen times as Rich shook his head. “Oh no, no way, no. Healer, land healer with native blood and the agreement of the locals, maybe. Not us.”

The lights came up. Luciphera stood. “So, I want to see that house, and the archaeology thing, then the waterfall trail.”

He stood as well, and smiled. “The trail that ends in the inn with the four star tea?”

“Well, there’s that too. If we need to warm up.” She grinned and winked. They left the theater and read about the history of the mountaineering clubs and rescue groups, then the Special Forces training area just outside the mountains. She got a few things in the gift shop.

A tourist looked at Mike. “Which clan do you belong to?” the man demanded. “And what’s that on your shoulder?”

Mike smiled, one hand on Rich. “Any Scots in my family was too long ago to document, sir, and my Familiar.” Since every army known left genetic material in the area, who knows? Although a wandering Viking is more likely. Some of the Varangian Guards in the Byzantine art looked a bit like him.

“Oh.” The American returned to an intense study of clan badges and tartan patterns. The young man restocking the coffee mugs mouthed, “Tourrists,” and rolled his eyes. Mike agreed whole heartedly.

“I dare you to say Clan MacRadescu,” Rich giggled once they went back outdoors. “Do it, do it, do it,” he chanted.

Mike pointed to the bushes. Rich weaseled off to do his thing while Mike made another pit stop, then held Luciphera’s bags while she did the same. Refreshed, the trio followed the short nature and history trail to the reconstruction of a turf house. Luciphera looked at him, then at the house, then back at him and shook her head. “Not happening,” she said. “I don’t see you moving into one of these, no matter how cozy it might be in winter.”

Since his shoulder reached half-way to the peak of the steeply-sloped grey-green thatch and turf roof, he couldn’t argue. “Life imitates nature,” he observed, waving toward the ridge on the other side of the glen. “These would blend in very well once moss grows on the roof.” The ridge line and the roof line matched, as did the green of the lower slopes and the black and green walls. Turfs six inches thick and more had been cut, then layered to make the walls. “Rich, stay out of the roof.”

“Awwwwwww.” Rich sniffed around, then darted into the dark, shadowy interior.

Luciphera ducked through the doorway. “Mind your head, Mike,” she called. “It’s really low.” Thus warned, he bent double and followed. Once his eyes adapted to the very dim light from the doorway, he started to straighten up. He could stand, if he stayed in the center of the room, away from the roof beams. “I don’t think the people were as tall as we are,” she observed.

“No. Not as much protein in the diet, so shorter and lighter mostly. Plus this keeps heat in.” The turf house had no windows, just a door at each end. It smelled of smoked meat, peat and turf smoke, and wood. It was a little overwhelming, and his eyes watered. I guess you got used to it, especially in winter. The smoke is better than a dozen unwashed people and chamber pots. The people here had survived, but not exactly thrived. But they’d been independent of the English and Scottish crowns, too, and if this was all they knew? My ancestors weren’t all that different – blood feuds as a sport, fighting outsiders when given the chance, suspicious of change, carrying grudges until after the second coming? Check. “I don’t think I want to stay in that traditional house hotel, thanks.”

“Does it have snakes?” Rich chittered. “Snakes in thatch? Those are fuuuuuun!”

“No. There are no snakes. Zero. Keine Schlange. Nae snakes,” Mike informed him. “And get out of that!” He grabbed Rich just as he started trying to burrow into a basket near the door. “Dude, you are not an exhibit. Quit.” He bent over again and unceremoniously hauled Rich back into the open air as Luciphera took pictures.

Rich found a stack of wood and wove in and out of it, sparing his mage the challenge of trying to explain damage to a display. Luciphera stepped out of the house, blinking. Even the cloud-covered, mottled-grey sky was bright compared to the inside of the turf building. “It’s eleven,” she began. “Let’s go to the trail now, in case rain moves in.”

“Rain will move in,” Rich said, now still and serious. “Glencoe has rain and overcast when all around are clear. The land remembers.” Mike hid his shiver, but not easily. Luciphera pulled her jacket closer.

(C) 2023 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved.


6 thoughts on “Saturday Snippet: Glen Coe I

  1. The glen left me uneasy for two days we spent in the area – yes that was the air of implacable watch being kept. The laws of hospitality were the smallest breaking. Not even the pretext of a formal feud.

    There is passage right across fields like those enclosed for sheep, which are frequent along the routes of the Great Walks. One main Walk (similar to Appalachian Trail, but not made difficult for hiking) passes through, and a lot of smaller walks. You obey the signs to carefully open gates and close immediately behind you, and to keep away from livestock. And then you come upon yearlings caught in the gap between stile gates, and have to clear them first. Slowly, one person wedging in, close outer, reach over and open inner. And they still try going the wrong way, then bound over the gate and back in the field. Sheep!

  2. Wow, a Saturday Snippet a day early, a great present. I did not know a thing about the Glen Coe massacre before I visited Scotland. I wonder if the people (won’t use the term soldiers because they gave that up in my mind) who committed it thought about the future repercussions to the laws of hospitality. I did try to honor the “No Campbells” signs while I was there. Only seemed right.

    • A few might have – they warned the people they had stayed with to flee. Others? Probably not. I’m not sure Scotland has had peace since the Neolithic Era. And I’m probably wrong about that.

  3. We stayed in Glen Coe when my brother and sister and I visited in 1976. We knew about the massacre, of course. The thing that struck me then, was how very, very quiet the place was. We could hear the water falling into the glen from quite some distance.
    One of the things that struck us, when we visited the Highlands, the Lake District, and some parts of wildest Wales – was all the warning signs in the various youth hostels. Warning signs about the rough country, the horrific dangers posed by changing weather, the rough landscape … and we looked around at all of that, having come from a little town at the edge of the San Gabriel range, which was truly steep. rocky, rough and treacherous country, although it was only a short drive from urban Los Angeles/San Fernando Valley … thinking … OK? And?
    Well, likely the changeable weather in Great Britain had something to do with it – but we also wondered if so many visitors to the Highlands, Wales and the Lake District were also thoroughly urban, citified folk, who had no IDEA WHATEVER that going for a walk in the countryside was no more of a challenge then going for a walk in their own urban public parks.

    • Given what I read from a blogger who lived on the edge of Dartmoor? Oh yes. He kept having people come past his home (on one of the main walking/hiking routes) wearing sneakers (“trainers”), jeans, a tee shirt and maybe a light jacket, and carrying perhaps a bottle of water or two. In one case he stopped two guys from London and warned them that they were about to get hypothermia if they continued. An hour later, two pathetic, hypothermic guys staggered up to his back gate. He warmed them up and did NOT say “I told you so.” They apologized for not taking the warning seriously. They had no idea that the weather could change so fast, and be so different from London.

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