The Glorious Twelfth
by: Munro, Mary
I’m a hill body — I’ve aye been a bit feart o’ the sea wi’ its deeps an’ plungin waves. I’m mair at hame in the hills, wi the win touslin’ my hair, awa frae human fowk wi their gleckit weys an’ drivel o’ spik!
In my student days as a swack achteen year auld withoot twa bawbees tae rub thegither, I wis gled o’ the siller frae grouse-beatin — it wis gweed pey for the time. Beaters were aften nott for the Glen Muick hills an’ the thocht o’ a week or twa waggin’ a fite flaggie on the Muick braes wis my idea o’ weel-peyed wark! The August misty dawns an’ the purple heather hills beckoned me oot o’ the hoose nae bother, my “piece” in my pooch an’ wi auld claes on that widna get filed or scratted amun the roch heather. A cairt picked us up near the Brig an’ stotted us up the Approaches tae the Big Hoose on the hill.
Dan Fraser, auld Jimmy Stewart frae Balintober, Jock Bruce an’ Bob Fraser an a feow ither gamies were feerichin about gettin’ roadit for the day at the grouse. We got oor orders wi’ “Nae bloody caperin!” an’ then aff we set wi oor fite beaters’ flags. There wis only twa quines ae year an’ there wis a feow muttered grummles frae the loons fan we, files, got the cushy jobs, like bein’ flanked oot at the bottom o’ the brae an’ the loons hid tae trauchle uphill throw the waist-heich heather. We hid a gweed file tae sit doon ahin a boulder an’ watch the sun begin its climb o’er the valley. The view frae up abeen Glen Muick Hoose is glorious — the hale o the Ballater valley laid oot at yer feet an’ the Dee curlin’ an’ glitterin’ on its wey, cuddlin’ the village in the crook o’ its elbow. The heat o the sun on the heather in full bloom mixed wi the smell o’ the peaty grun maks the air up there like warm heather wine. Mind ye, we hid tae keep ae ee fixed on the rest o’ the beaters as they flanked aff up the hill, or fit an affront if ye nodded aff wi the heat — that wid be the end o’ yer days at the grouse — ye’d be doon the road afore ye could say “Jock Robinson”.
Ae day, het as the fires o’ Hell, I wis restin’ my back against a muckle, lichen-clarted steen. Somethin made me, slow-like, twist my een roon an’ there, on the sun-warm hollow o’ the rock, wis a muckle great adder, curled roon like a Catherine Wheel, soakin’ up the heat! As I moved my heid, it raised its heid — I sweir its een were twa inches frae the back o’ my neck! My hert gey near stoppit, for thon cauld, deid black een an’ the flat, coorse held are the stuff o’ nichtmares! Peer breet, it wis jist as feart as I wis an’ wi’ a slither an’ a flick o’ its tail, it slid aff the steen tae lose itsel in the tangle o’ heather reets. It fair made my bleed rin cauld fan I thought foo near my neck its pizzen-heavy fangs hid been!
A whistle frae far up the hill got ye on yer feet an’ the lang line o fite flags crept o’er the hillface wavin’ an yellin’ tae clear the grouse frae their cosy bields. The butts far the toffs sat wi their cocket guns lay ahead o’ us on the sky-line an covies o’ kecklin’ grouse whirred oot frae yer feet. It wis oor job tae push the birds afore us tae get malagaroused by the waitin’ guns cockin’ o’er the divits o’ the butts. If ye lagged ahin or got oot o’ line, a gamie seen turned the bonny hill air blue wi his sweirin!
There wis plenty grouse at that time an’ I wis aye gled fan maist o’ them wheeled o’er the butts tae fecht anither day. Some o’ the guns couldna hit a fleein’ bus bit, for aa that, there wis aye a gweed lot o’ mangled-feathered birds for the dogs tae moo in their jaws afore droppin them near the butts. Ye didna get o’er close tae the butts yersel or ye could hae ended up wi a moofu o’ shot! Then it wis aff tae the next drive — hard work — an the heat an’ heather clegs gared ye sweit an’ yoke like a pig! Ane or twa days, a thunner plump soakit ye tae yer drawers an’ ye were that weet ye jist waded throw the burns. It wis warm rain aifter aa an ye couldna get ony weeter!