by Ken Jones

"The Estate Welcomes Walkers", with three colour-coded routes. The heavy clunk! of the gate's scrap metal counterweight.
"The Ramblers' Way" soon climbs off over featureless moor-land, high and craggy. On reaching each guide post, silent and indifferent, the next one comes into view - but only on a good day and only just. Two toilsome hours later there dawns that crestfallen feeling "Haven't I been here before?"
"The Climbers' Way" is marked by a fingerpost, pointing to a fierce little mountain with an impressively long Gaelic name. No guideposts now - all map-and-compass work. So, if you really are where you believe you are, then everything else will be where it's supposed to be, including the summit cairn.

A pile of loose stones
sprawled upon
a slippery rock

"The Travellers' Way", unmarked, climbs on into the interior. It is barred by one of those decrepit Highland suspension bridges, swaying across a ravine - the Allt na Cailleach Baine:

Bold boots
rattling the broken slats
above the White Hag's Torrent

What was a strong and reassuring path grows faint…and fainter…and dies out. The compass needle spins in some mysterious magnetic field. The map fades into a blank sheet. In vain I try to sketch my own map of this shape-shifting landscape.

Rotting post
sprouting from its mossy top
two wizened fairy nipples

Here is a mosaic of jewel-like lochans and granite outcrops, and several mountain miniatures, complete with buttresses and boilerplates. An old man's playground. The streams meander from one lochan to another, or just lose themselves. It's all pathless heather, tussock and bog. Only the deer tracks.
I toy with the idea of reporting to the Royal Geographical Society that a nightmare had opened a black hole in the middle of Ross-shire. But now I delight in never knowing where I am.
Here is a little oasis of grass, with the mossy remains of some bothy:

Ruin of piled stones
each one settled
into how it has to be

There, overlooking a dark pool:

Two black eye holes
in a great worn post
missing nothing

Again, I come upon an Edwardian stalkers' iron step-ladder, up, over, and down a long vanished deer fence:

The elegant curve
of a rusty handrail
knickerbocker ghosts

So far, after several forays, always I come upon traces of the path - the frayed end that leads me out. Here, beside a shallow ford, I raise a cairn of river-smooth stones. On my going in and coming out I chant the ancient Sanskrit mantra of Guan Yin, the Goddess of Compassion. The lodestone which draws me safely out.
But some day I'll be here for good, and hence this testimony - to bear witness, and not because Search & Rescue would ever find me.

An empty tent
taut in the ripple and tug
of an unseen wind

Note: Fairy nipples - hallucinatory "magic mushrooms".


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