The Grey Man




Man, like the animals, is meant to live together with others like himself.
But the meaning of belonging to such a group is found in the comfort of silence and the companionship of solitude.

The Grey Man of the Merrick

He shivers. The morning air is cold and damp as he crawls from the tent, rainwater dribbling down the nape of his neck as it drips from the canvas flap.
A heavy mist shrouds the surrounding mountains, hiding them from view, rolling off their sides and drifting across the moor grass and bog. It had been an incredibly uncomfortable night and, as he fumbles with matches and the stove, he speculates which aspect had been worst. Was it the hard, lumpy surface on which he lay? Certainly, his back and hip aches from the pressure of sharp stones that'd been digging into him. No matter what position he adopted there seemed to be a perfectly placed rock for the occasion. Or was it the cold? Seeping up through the ground. Bone chilling cold that could well have it's source in bodies under the bog. If so, the Rowan had did it's job and kept them at bay - apart from the cold.
The darkness had been bad. Total, unremitting, pitch black. A blackness that emphasised every little sound; his own breathing, the movement of fabric as he moved position, the rustling of some small furry mammal in the grass outside. He found himself turning on his torch for a few seconds every so often - just to light up the interior with reassurance.
Flapping of the tent canvas, as a gust of wind passed through the Cauldron, prompted his imagination - conjuring up an image of a sinister figure outside the tent in the darkness, shaking it with a bony hand before...
Moonwatcher manages to get the stove going and discards such thoughts as it's hissing flame turns to blue and he feels the heat on his hands.

The Midburn Camp

Leaving a mug of water on the boil he begins to stretch and walk around the sheep ree, looking out over it's stone walls into the mist.
It's still very early, not long after dawn in fact. He pulls on the cape, a woolly hat for warmth and clambers over to the stream. Mid Burn is still flowing quite fast after the previous day's rain, tumbling down over the rocks on it's frantic way to Loch Valley.
Kneeling down on a flat rock, he slunges his face with the icy water, the rasping of bristles reminding him that he brought no toiletries. Standing up he turns around in a slow circle. There isn't much to see in the thick mist. He could well be on a motorway roundabout on the M1.
But he isn't. He knows exactly where he is and feels elation at successfully spending a night alone up here in this wild, remote place. The weather has changed. The air is fresh and cool. Today is the day he tracks down The Grey Man.

Loch Valley from Midburn Camp

The backpack feels strangely light as he walks away from camp. Virtually everything he'd lugged up into the mountains is in the tent, and that remains behind, a solitary outpost. He'd thought about taking everything with him, but discarded the idea immediately.
An underlying anxiety persists however. What if someone happens along and steals it, or it's contents? A quick check in the direction of the Jarkness Rig, shows it to be as devoid of human presence as the last time he looked, and the time before that, and the ...
In fact since he stumbled through the thunder and lightning from that direction yesterday.
The mist has cleared now revealing the surrounding mountains in all their brooding glory. Ahead, the Merrick dominates the grey, overcast skyline with the other fingers of the Awful Hand in close support. The rain stopped during the night but the clouds hold the threat of more as he crosses the marshy turf towards the distant Rig of Enoch.
The air is warm and breezy, a pleasant change from the sultry heat of the past week. As he picks his way tentatively through squelching patches of bog, over loose stones, around deep, ankle-breaking cracks and water-logged holes, he's reminded of last night's disappointment at not finding the colour film for the camera. He was sure he packed a twenty-four exposure film cassette into the backpac,k but, despite repeated searches, which only served to keep him occupied before dark, it was nowhere to be found. He reluctantly accepts that the handful of black and white exposures left in the little Kodak Instamatic would need to suffice. The Grey Man would remain grey.

The ground begins to rise steadily as he climbs the slopes of the Rig, stopping frequently to look back and down. Below, the line of the Mid Burn can be seen, the irregular outline of the sheep ree barely visible and the slightest dot of blue indicating the position of the tent. The temptation to take a photo is strong but he decides to wait until the return trip: save film.
The Enoch Rig takes him up close to the side of The Merrick and as he walks along it's ridge the mountain fills his world to the west. He stops and eats some Kendal Mint Cake while getting his bearings. He's close now, very close.
He studies the other side of the ridge, looking down into the narrow gully it forms with the Merrick. The gully, carries a tributary of the Buchan Burn making it's way down to his left in the direction of Culsharg and Glentrool some miles below.
Up to his right the gully emerges from a narrow 'V', a pass, which he sees from the map, must open out on to Loch Enoch. Directly ahead of him he faces and looks up at the sheer bulk of the Merrick towering above him. He knows that Davie Bell and his mates made their way down from that pass up at Loch Enoch, down through the gully before him. He knows they found the outcrop not too far down the gully on the lower rock face of the Merrick. As he sits on the coarse grass atop the Rig of Enoch with the breeze gusting through his hair, Moonwatcher's excitement mounts with the realisation that he must be almost on it! But where is it?

He clambers down the slope of the Rig into the Gully. For the first time since he arrived yesterday, he has a feeling of being enclosed. The walls of the gully shelter him from the breeze and block his vision of the surrounding landscape. He can make his wa,y either up towards the 'door' to Loch Enoch or cross the stream and, keeping close to the Merrick, follow it around. Choosing the latter course he crosses the stream and picks his way up and along the steep embankment.

He expects an anti-climax, an outcrop of rock that he'll probably pass a number of times, before realising that it is indeed what he seeks. Then a period of moving around to find just the right position to actually see a face in the rock. A position so precise that the slightest movement of head, eye or camera lens will dispel the illusion and the face will dissolve into craggy stone in an instant. After all this way, he's prepared for disappointment.

The Grey Man

It's as he lifts his head, after scrambling on hands and knees over one particularly slippy and treacherous bit of ground, that he sees it.
It requires no second look. No careful positioning. No squinting of eyes trying to make out the image. It's there before him. The old man's face. The Grey Man.

It's so lifelike that, for a moment, he suspects a ruse. A man made sculpture, carved by human hands and proclaimed, with a sly wink by those in the know, as being natural - a geological Piltdown Man.
Casting cynicism aside and almost in a panic, as if the face may disappear at any moment, Moonwatcher fumbles for the camera, frames the face in the viewfinder, and presses the button. Having hopefully recorded the image, he makes his way towards it.
It's tricky. The slope up to it is fairly steep and he finds himself grabbing at tufts of long grass to haul himself up to the level of the old man's beard. Finally, he stands directly below him looking up at the huge, wizened features.
He's larger than Moonwatcher'd imagined, around fifteen to twenty feet perhaps from the tip of his beard to the top of his head. Moonwatcher reaches up and touches the cold, hard rock forming the beard. Now that he's up close, any suspicions of human manufacture are gone.
He ponders on how old the formation might be, how it was formed and how many ancient eyes may have gazed at him in awe over the eons, perhaps taking him as a god or mountain demon. Would they have feared him? Worshiped him? Or was he simply ignored. How did he escape being recorded for so long?
Finding no answers, he moves away again for a better view of the profile, studying him for a long time, noting the perfect symmetry and proportion of the features, the eyes, nose, mouth, beard, even the wrinkle lines and the wart on the nose. It's so lifelike, he expects the head to turn at any moment and face him: a deep booming voice asking him some philosophical question.
But the Grey Man remains motionless and silent, gazing out down towards the Solway.

He decides to leave the old guy meantime while he explores the shore of Loch Enoch. Heading up the gully he makes for the opening onto the narrow shoreline of the loch and on to it's white silver sand. Hard to believe that gypsies tramped all the way up here to collect bags of this sand.
Moonwatcher wonders if they knew of the rock man down in the gully. They must surely have seen him on their way up and, if so, what did their superstitious nature make of him. But again, nothing recorded.
As he ambles along the sand he looks out to the small island in the centre, site of another loch, tiny Loch in Loch, and recalls how Bell and his intrepid bunch actually paddled out to the island in an inflatable boat!
Following it's eastern shore, he makes for a point on the grass where something metallic has caught his eye. Arthur, at the Caldons, had told him of plane wrecks in these mountains. Seemingly it's a black spot for aircraft, a sort of Galloway version of the Bermuda Triangle. Weather conditions can be extremely bad, radio and radar communications temperamental.
Many wartime planes came down in this region and more recently, civil light aircraft. The wreckage of the aircraft is strewn over quite a wide area, nothing too large remains, just small pieces: a wheel, front cowling of an engine and twisted propeller. Sections of wing lie around, the skeletal struts exposed by the ripped outer skin.
He picks up a fragment here, an instrument there, turns them in his hands. People died here. He thinks of the people he's seen die, particularly in cars. Looking around at the wreckage, he hears the screams, feels the terror. People died here. He replaces the piece of metal carefully on the ground and walks back to the gully.

The Grey Man is still there when he returns, and he chides himself for harbouring the ridiculous thought that he might be otherwise. He's like a friend now. His sole companion in this remote and lonely place. He says his farewells and begins to back off towards the burn. As he takes one last look back at the old man, dutifully maintaining his vigil, Moonwatcher wonders how long it will be before he returns to see that ancient old face again.

Rig of the Jarkness

The camera clicks as the images imprint themselves on the film. The camp far below and in the distance, Loch Valley, Rig of the Jarkness, Craignaw, Dungeon Hill - all recorded on crude black and white film. As he rotates the last exposure through with his thumb, and the little window indicates the roll is finished, Moonwatcher sighs and stows the camera before making his way down the hillside.
A detour takes up him down towards Loch Neldricken, along it's boggy shore to Crockett's misplaced scene from The Raiders. He peers out over the dark water. A carpet of orange/yellow reeds waft in the breeze close to shore but, try as he might, he can see no sign of any mysterious circular hole or pattern amid the rushes. If this had been his main objective he'd have been sorely disappointed. Whatever it was that Crockett and others saw here years ago seems to have vanished with time.
But the Murder Hole was not his main objective, that has already been achieved, and he finds it easy to shrug off any hint of disappointment following his discovery of The Grey Man.

He wanders freely now, with new found confidence. The Cauldron seems less threatening, it's mountains and crags increasingly familiar as he tramps and scrambles over grass, peat bog and rocks. He climbs the steep Wolf's Slock onto the ridge running between Dungeon Hill and Craignaw, looks out through The Nick of the Dungeon, down over The Silver Flowe, far across to the tiny dot that is Backhill o' the Bush, a remote bothy destined for some future visit.
From high atop Craignaw he scans the land he's traversed, up to the Merrick and along the line of Benyellary, Shalloch on Minnoch, Tarfessock and Kirrieroeoch. North to the granite bulk of Mulwharchar and south to the Buchan; the way home.
On a flat, shiny 'whaleback' surface of stone he muses over dozens of smooth boulders strewn over it's surface. Could this be the 'Devil's Bowling Green'? The story that the Devil and some other mythical figure - was it Pan - played bowls here has him smiling and actually trying to roll one or two of the huge rocks - unsuccessfully.
It's been a long, rewarding day by the time he trudges wearily between the stones of the sheep ree and drops exhausted on top of the sleeping bag.

It's not the cold that keeps him awake that night, nor the lumpy ground, fear of the dark, or the hunger making itself felt since fuel for the stove ran out, rendering the last packet soup useless.
None of these things can take the blame for him lying there, eyes open, staring into the inky blackness between him and the canvas above. Images of the landscape around him, the face in the rock, the feeling of freedom, satisfaction, achievement: that's what's keeping him awake.
He gives up on sleep, crawls to the foot of the tent, unzips the flap. As good a time as any for a call of nature.

The torch beam picks out part of the stone wall in the darkness. He crawls out the tent and stands up, raking the beam around him, instinctively checking his surroundings. It's some moments before he chances to look up.
The sky has cleared and, with no artificial light for miles, stars in their millions are on show. It's as though the Cauldron has granted him one last, very special performance, a finale on a grand scale.
Moowatcher staggers forward, head tipped back till it aches, his body turning round and round as his eyes scan the vista above. In the absence of any other distraction he feels as though he's floating in space, taking a journey through the stars...

The Milky Way, bright, shimmering, glowing, slashes across the sky, thousands, millions of stars giving the impression of being tightly packed yet all with unimaginable distances between them. High above, Ursa Major, the Great Bear, directs his eyes to the Pole Star, Polaris and he follows that constellation down through Ursa Minor.
There are so many stars of magnitudes not normally visible to the naked eye that he has difficulty making out the prominent constellations against the dazzling stellar background. But as he focuses, they begin to emerge from the twinkling mass. Gemini, the twins. Leo with the bright Regulus at it's feet. Pegasus, it's great square almost lost in the competition, globular cluster showing clearly as a misty ball.
Such distances, such incomprehensible scale, violence and power. Perseus. Cassiopeia, it's big 'W' illuminated overhead. A shooting star sweeps across the panorama, then another! Streaks of light. Starry visitors, brilliant, gone in a second.

Moonwatcher has never seen a night sky like this, nor will he again.
Awestruck, he wanders a good distance from the sheep ree, mesmerised, oblivious to all but that above. Standing in this big place, gazing up at an even bigger place, he thinks big thoughts and, raising his arm with outstretched fingers ...
      ... and 'touches the face of God.'

Balgrennan and Glentrool

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Original story and material © 2005 Bob Wilson
Layout, editing and additional material © Dave Sloan 2005, 2012, 2016
'tachras' and 'Winding Yarn' © Dave Sloan 2005, 2012, 2016

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