The Grey Man




Superstition is like a magnet.
It pulls you in the direction of your belief.

Bruce's Land

A more appropriate pseudonym for Moonwatcher, would be 'Peoplewatcher', as he watches the day to day comings, goings and antics of life on the campsite.
Mothers on their way to the shower block in dressing gowns and slippers, swatting early morning midges. Back home, they wouldn't be seen dead, stepping outside their door in such attire. Grannies, lumpy scarves wound around curler-festooned hair? Bare-chested, pot-bellied Dads, emulating their sporting heroes, as they play Wembley and Wimbledon Finals with foam balls and plastic racquets. Caravaners arrive and display their reversing skills (or not!).
Then, there are the 'Super Campers'. After proudly boasting to workmates and neighbours, that they and the family are going camping, and creating an the illusion of 'going bush' in the 'Wilds of Scotland', they appear on site with enough equipment to provide logistical support for the entire cast and crew of 'Braveheart'! Huge tents, awnings, support camper-van (just in case it rains), folding beds, heaters, television with aerials pointing skyward from the top of the tent, a cooker Delia Smith could happily live with, fridge, lighting which would be the envy of a M*A*S*H operating room, enough car batteries to supply an Apollo Moon Shot, and a mat at the entrance announcing 'Welcome! Please Wipe Your Feet!'.
The Ranger does his rounds; bike winding in and out between tents and vans, talking to campers, addressing problems, discouraging barbeques too near tents or foliage, pointing out forest-trail routes on maps, and chasing those who had tried to sneak in at night, then shoot off in the morning without paying the overnight fee.

The Skull

Compared to that of The Super Campers, Moonwatcher's camp is a Spartan affair. His mis-named ridge-tent sags in the middle due to the absence of a ridge-pole, and slack guy-ropes. The grisly sheep's skull, complete with curled horns, stuck on top of the pole over the entrance, sends a clear message to children, that this is not a good place to play ball. Adults aren't too keen on approaching either.
The sleeping bag lies out on the grass, providing a mat to sit on, while perusing the map and having lunch: cold baked beans, scooped from a can with a spoon, accompanied by thick slices of 'SPAM', hacked from a tin, destroyed with the Swiss Army knife after the wee wire key failed to do it's its job. A can of Tennents lager washes the meal down.
The bike leans dormant against the trunk of the oak tree, it's its wheels having been stationary for the past for a few days. He absently scratches his arm and tuts,as a flurry of 'snow' falls over the map. The sunburn has eased now, and he's been careful to keep covered up and avoid direct exposure. But the peeling, flaking skin is a nuisance. A nuisance he can't keep his fingers away from. Leaning inside the tent flap, he fumbles for the jar of 'Nivea' cream, and starts to slap it over his arms and legs, while looking up at the sky.
The weather is changing, the heat less fierce, but the sky has become grey and the atmosphere humid and heavy. People talk about thunder, but people always talk about thunder. He lies back, closes his eyes and relives the other day's walk. A walk he probably would not have done, had it not been for his conversation with Arthur ...

Arthur's Ambulance

"Have you been along the Steps of Trool yet?" the older man had asked.
Moonwatcher shook his head.
"Nope, never been round that side of the loch."
"Should do that one. Gives a good view of the Buchan, and up by the Gairland."
They were sitting on the back step of the old ambulance, each with a mug of tea. Earlier, Moonwatcher had approached the man, as he hooked up a fresh 'Calor-gas' bottle to the van.
Introducing himself, he expressed his interest in the vehicle. Two things were guaranteed to get Arthur talking: The Galloway Hills, and his converted ambulance, so he invited Moonwatcher inside for a mug of tea.
"You'll see she's a diesel." he enthused, while pouring boiling water into a teapot. "Not many diesel ambulances around. And a Glasgow number plate as well!"
As the conversation continued, cupboards were opened and seats unfolded. Evidence of its previous life was pointed out, and scrutinised. Moonwatcher was able to explain what equipment would have fitted where, and how it would have been used. Arthur was fascinated to find out more about his camper, and the two sat on the back step drinking their tea and comparing notes.
From Kilmarnock, Arthur was a tall man in his late thirties, early forties, balding and bespectacled. Lean and sinuous, skin bronzed by the sun, the type you could easily imagine being a marathon runner. It became clear that he spent much of his time tramping the surrounding hills. His knowledge and experience was were impressive.

"I use Glentrool as a base." he said matter of factly. "Here every weekend and holidays."
Grabbing the map, he eagerly opened it out.
"Just returned from a trek over by the Dee, from Talnotry."
He stabbed his finger at the location of Murray's Monument, to the south of them.
"Got a lift over to there, and was dropped off. Set out from the Dam and along the side of Clatteringshaws Loch."
His finger traced the route.
"Up by Curleywee, stayed at White Laggan bothy for a couple of nights, and explored from there, before heading past Loch Dee down to Glenhead, and back here to the camp."
He finished his account with a firm tap of his finger on the campsite symbol on the map.
Moonwatcher realised that he was in the presence of someone worth listening to.

"White Laggan bothy?" he inquired, sipping from the mug.
"An old shepherd's sheiling, restored by the 'Mountain Bothies Association'. Well worth a visit and a good place to stay overnight in the hills."
Moonwatcher made a mental note of the place, for some future trip.
"Have you heard of a rock outcrop called The Grey Man?" he asked.
"Certainly have. Seen it many times."
He repositioned the map to focus on the area further north - the Dungeon area, his finger acting as a pointer once again.
"Lies below the Merrick on its north-east corner, up near Loch Enoch."

It was difficult to say who was more surprised: Arthur, bythe question from this young man, or Moonwatcher for meeting someone outwith Davie Bell circles, who new knew of the existence of the face in the rock.
"You've seen it yourself?" asked Arthur.
"Not yet. Plan to set out in the next few of days to find it."
"Better watch the weather doesn't set in against you. Forecast's not good."
"Hmm. I'm aware of that." acknowledged Moonwatcher.
"You're a cyclist you say?"
"So you'll have learned about the face through Davie Bell?"
Moonwatcher nodded. "Got his book in the tent."
"He was quite a guy, by all accounts." continued Arthur. "Haven't read the book, but I used to read his articles in the Ayrshire Post."
"So how difficult is it to find?" asked Moonwatcher, keen to make the best most of this unexpected resource.
"Which way are you intending going. Up by Culsharg?"
"Well, no. Actually I was ..." He takes a turn at finger tracing on the map. "I'm planning to go up the side of the Buchan, then follow the route up to Loch Valley, Neldricken, and across to Enoch."
"He expected a rebuke for taking such a long circuitous route, but instead ...

"Ahh! You want to see the 'Murder Hole'." laughed Arthur.
Moonwatcher smiled. "Yep! Sure would."
"Well, the reeds are certainly there, but there's not much of a hole to see. Whatever old man Crockett saw before he wrote the Raiders, seems to have been overgrown since. Worth a look though. You intending doing it in one go?"
"No, I'm going to camp up there."
"Camping in the Cauldron eh? That should be an experience. It'll give you a chance to explore the area though. Mist will be your biggest problem. Be careful around The Wolf's Slock, and the edge of Dungeon Hill and Craignaw. It's a fair drop down to the Silver Flow. Also, look out for plane wrecks, there's quite a few up there."
Moonwatcher finished his tea, and put the mug down on the ground beside the step.
"Listen. Thanks Arthur."
"For what?"
"For letting me see inside the ambulance, and for the advice."
"Anytime. Have you been along the Steps of Trool yet?"

Moonwatcher at Glentool

The next day found Moonwatcher on the steep, undulating path that runs along the south side of Loch Trool. A clearing in the trees allowed him a view over to the opposite bank, where the 'Bruce's Stone' stood against the backdrop of Eschoncan Fell. Cars could be seen at the distant viewpoint, the occasional camera-flash confirming the presence of tourists around the monument.
Sitting on a large boulder, he removed a boot and fumbled inside, for the tiny stone that had been bothering him. He contemplated events that had occurred here over 700 years earlier. A battle fought and won by Robert the Bruce, on these very slopes, the steep side of Mulldonach - 'The Steps of Trool'.
If Moonwatcher had paid more attention to Scottish history at school, instead of ogling the pretty history-teacher's legs, he might have been more familiar with the historical significance of this area. For good reason, would it come to be referred to, by some, as 'The Cradle of Independence'.

March 1307. Glentrool

The Bruce stands on a high point on the north side of the loch watching intently as the long line of English foot soldiers pick their way, single file, along the treacherously narrow path on the opposite side. Obscured by early morning mist clinging in patches to the precipitous hillside, and the natural cover of trees, he can't see them, but reckons, from intelligence sources, that about fifteen hundred of the Earl of Pembroke's men are snaking along.
It must be difficult for them. The path is uneven, muddy, slippery, steep in places, and they're carrying the accoutrements of open warfare - unsuitable to the guerrilla tactics, necessary for victory in this wild, inhospitable land.
He smirks, as he hears the distant clink of metal against rock, followed by what he could swear was the sound of a curse, carried on the chill morning air. He almost feels sorry for them.

'Pembroke must consider himself so smart.' thinks Bruce. 'Trying to sneak his force up the south side of the loch.'
Since learning of Bruce's hideaway, at the head of Loch Trool, Pembroke has been determined to trap his adversary in his lair; to exterminate Bruce and his band of a few hundred.
Bruce smiles at the thought. Smiles at the shock awaiting the Earl and his minions. Gaining intelligence of what Pembroke was up to, had been a stroke of good fortune. Good fortune long overdue.
Since donning the crown at Scone the previous year, nothing seemed to have gone right. A series of defeats had driven Bruce and his men to seek refuge, down here in the wilds of Galloway and Carrick. It was a refuge, not without it's its merits. Principal access to the head of the loch, was by one route only, on the northern shore. Any advance by this road could be quickly detected and acted upon.
The hunting was good, with red deer in abundance. The tranquillity of the area gave opportunity to reflect, rebuild resolve and cast aside the spectre of failure. Like a spider rebuilding it's its destroyed web, Bruce had re-forged his resolve during his time at Glentrool.

All he needed now was the opportunity to strike.And, in choosing to sneak his troops up the loch, by way of the Steps of Trool, Pembroke had inadvertently given Bruce that opportunity.
The previous night, under cover of darkness, Bruce had ordered squads of men to climb to the top of Mulldonach - the great hill towering over the Steps of Trool. There, they levered, manoeuvred and rolled as many large boulders as they could manhandle, lining them along the edge ready to be pushed off with minimum effort.

As Bruce now stands on the north bank, this spring morning, he can see the sun glinting on the line of boulders along Mulldonach's summit, like a hastily constructed stone wall.
As the soldiers traverse, oblivious to the danger above, the first indication of trouble is the sound of horns echoing off the hills surrounding the loch. The signal! Becoming Suddenly conscious of a rumbling above their heads, the troops look up to see giant boulders thundering down towards them, rolling, bouncing, cannoning off each other. In the ensuing panic it is clear that there is no defence, or escape.
Men jump, fall, or find themselves pushed off the edge of the path, seconds before the stones impact. Screams echo through the hills as hundreds of men fall to their deaths in the cold waters below, or are crushed and buried by tons of rock. Those, at the head of the column, escape the barrage of rocks, only to run into Bruce's men at the head of the loch; there to be cut down and slaughtered.

Bruce's victory was decisive. After the Battle of Glentrool, he moved north. Success followed success, on a road that led ultimately to another slope, just outside Stirling. There, a nearby burn would give it's its name to another battle.
'Bannock Burn'.

As Moonwatcher replaced his boot, and tightened the laces, his only recollection of the history lesson about Robert the Bruce, was something about a spider, and that history teacher's legs.
As his walk continued, he tried to avoid thinking of about those who died there. The path was rough, narrow, and in numerous places, steep. He kept an eye on where he was putting his booted feet, and refrained from looking up to check for falling boulders.
At one point, his eye caught something white in the bracken. Closer inspection revealed it to be the bleached skull of a sheep, that had fallen to it's its death from the heights above. He picked up the trophy, and fastened it to the outside of his backpack.
The descent down to, and around the head of the loch, took him across a marshland known as 'Soldier's Holm', where an information board informed him that hundreds of bodies, from the carnage that took place on the Steps of Trool, were buried beneath his feet. At that thought, he shivered in the humid afternoon heat.

He rounded the top of the loch, on to its north side, then climbed the steep path up to the viewpoint, and the 'Bruce's Stone', which he'd seen from across the other side of the loch, earlier in the day. It had been erected in 1929, to commemorate the battle.
A few tourists were taking pictures as he arrived. He was familiar with the massive Stone from previous visits, but, nevertheless liked to read the inscription. The tourists, having satisfied their need for photographic evidence, moved away. Stepping up on to the base of the stone, he read the words ...


Bruce's Stone

Moonwatcher is startled awake by the noise of the 'rumbling bridge', as a large continental camper-van trundles across.
Blinking and rubbing his eyes, he sits up on one elbow, and looks around. His mind is still full of images of Robert the Bruce, narrow paths, boulders and battles. It's late afternoon, and the midges are starting to bite. He swats a couple on his on his bare forearm, leaving tiny red spots where they had started to feed.
He soon has the stove on the go, and a brew sends wisps of steam up into the branches of the overhanging oak. He lights his pipe and sits contentedly; looking around his tiny camp.
Tonight he'll pack what he needs into the backpack, leaving room for the tent and sleeping bag. Everything else, he'll stow into the bags on the bike. The Ranger has agreed to stable the bike, and its gear in a shed at the back of the shop.
Tomorrow, it should a case of striking camp, then heading out on foot along the road towards the 'Bruce's Stone'.
From there, he'll take to the hills.

Top of the Page

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

tachras Home Page
Talk to tachras
Translate into English
Darwin's Mouse
The Grey ManAnnexe