At first glance, I had thought the long, low, rise in the ground, a quite natural feature. On closer inspection however, it became apparent that it was far too regular, to be just another rock or boulder on the hill.
Myself and Hazel had been hunting hard all morning – and it must be said – for little result. She had flushed a few Snipe out of a particularly black, sucking bog – but as I had been knee deep in ooze as they had exited, I had made a total hash of the shot – and the jinking waders, had flown on to marshes elsewhere.
Calling the little red Spaniel to heel, I approached the hump in the ground before us – my sense of curiosity piqued, ( and you know what that did for the Cat!).
As we drew nearer, I realised that the bump was in fact, the remains of an outer wall – well overgrown with moss and grasses now – but a wall non the less.
Heading off at right angles were two other low walls, each perhaps 12 inches high, and completely overgrown. Unknowingly, we had stumbled upon the remains of a Croft Cottage, and Cattle shelter.
I had heard stories from the old people in the village, that such a place had once existed, and was last occupied by a family named MacDonald. They had finally given up their life of an ancient form of agriculture, around the year 1900.Perhaps even they deciding that the new ways were better. These were people who had never seen an electric light, or motor car – never wore shoes from the day they were born, to the day they died. Water was cold – and carried from the stream in a bucket.
The MacDonalds lived Summer and Winter, way up, upon the open moorland – their home constructed from the rocks that lay exposed on the surface, and roofed with a Heather thatch, four feet thick – to insulate against the Winter blizzards. All that kept them from the cold – a turf fire, and a wee dram of Whisky!, ( the exchange rate then: 1 Cow = one barrel of The Creature!).
The MacDonald children never attended a School – for what was the need of reading and writing, when there were Cattle to be tended, and water to be brought by bucket, from the gurgling stream that ran behind the Croft.
They may not have been able to write even their own names – but they would have known every Fox den, Badger set, and Grouse nest, around there moorland home.
They knew where to set a fine, brass wire snare, to catch the Mountain Hare, when the Game Keeper wasn’t looking – and in which tree to find the wild honey – (so sweet that the stings were worth it!). They knew where the Red deer crossed the stream – and where he lay at night – for their eyes missed nothing!.
I looked down. Hazel – clearly bored by my historical ponderings, was sitting by my right boot, chewing grass.
I looked around. The Sun had now come out from behind it’s veil of grey, and had brightened the gloomy Sitka and Norway Spruce Forest, that stood all around.
Much had happened since the MacDonald’s Croft had been abandoned to nature, and fallen into ruin. The open moorland which they would have known, had been planted as commercial forestry. The purple heather, and the Red Grouse that fed upon it, had long since vanished. Now – only the shy, delicate Roe deer, wove it’s way between dense conifers, to feed in open sunlit clearings.
Looking back at the low ruin – I wondered if I stood very still – and very quiet – whether I might here the sound of the children,being called in to milk the cows – as it echoed down across the ages. Their ghosts may have been there, playing in amongst the fallen boulders – but I couldn’t see them – and all that I could hear, was the wind whispering in the Spruce above.
I felt something press against my leg.
No – not a Ghost – but Hazel. The little Spaniel had clearly grown tired of chewing grass, and was keen to be off and hunting once more. Putting my hand under her chin, I looked into her small, dark eyes. They gleamed back at me – an Impish gleam!.
Closing the 20 bore – which had been resting, open, across the crook of my right arm, I lifted the muzzles skyward, and with a wave of my left hand, commanded Hazel to, “GET ON”.
Like a genie, released from a bottle, in an Arabian Fairytale – she sprang up and over the low, moss covered, Croft wall – and headed straight for a scrubby Birch tree, which now grew where the MacDonald’s fireplace had once been.
As quick as thought, the little Cocker was in and under the Birch. In an eruption of frantically beating wings, and crowing – a long tailed, old Cock Pheasant, rocketed out and upward, from behind the fireplace Birch!.
Caught completely off guard, and wrong footed, I fumbled for the little double’s safety catch – barely mounting the gun to my shoulder, in time for a single parting shot at the bird.
I fired – just as he crested the Spruce, and felt certain that he had folded up at the shot.
Hazel had clearly thought so to – as she was off into the dense, dark, ranks of conifers, in a flash!.
Presently, I heard the snapping of twigs and branches, as Hazel forced her way out of the trees – bearing in her mouth one very dead Pheasant.
As she delivered the twitching bird to hand, I wondered just what the MacDonalds would have thought of that!.
If someone – 100 years ago – had told them that one day, a small red dog, would flush a pheasant from their fireplace, and it’s Master would shoot the bird, whilst standing in their living room – they would have called him mad. Well either that – or they would have told him to put more water with his Whisky, next time!.
5 Comments Add yours
Scolopax…Love the history of that story! I’ve never hunted in New England, but your story reminds me of a lot of grouse stories I’ve read associated with places that have seen better days! Loved the story…there’s nothing better than a happy ending with a DEAD roughneck rooster in it!
Scolopax, I agree with Shawn. Your story reminds me of something written by Corey Ford or Burton Spiller. I loved it! I especially loved the fact that you dropped that wily rooster with an off balance snap shot. Great job! In the states I am a grouse nut. I would like to know all the different kinds of grouse that you can hunt in Scotland. Are there Black Grouse, Hazel grouse, or Capercaille? From your story, I gathered that there are red grouse (like our willow ptarmigan). Any info in this regard would be appreciated. Andy
Great story – I LOVE discoveries like that! And how lovely that the fireplace still had some warmth to give…
Elegantly phrased, a bit of the old lore woven into a happy ending for Hazel. If you had missed that rooster Scolopax, well, I hesitate to think what Hazel might have done!I have shot many a bird near old buildings in the Great Plains of the US; around old barnyards and dry wells; and, with something of the mystery you relate, in the woods of Minnesota during the pursuit of ruffed grouse and woodcock over land that had been homesteaded a hundred years before, but now standing in that wonderful disused condition that bespeaks “Birds!”Your stories have that certain “something” that ought to be gathered and collected into a volume one day. Tell us more.Oh, Thank you!
Looking forward to all you have to offer here!