Antonio Vivaldi, a man for all seasons, knew that spring, summer, autumn, and winter are all enchanting in their own way. But spring is my favourite. The season of hope. We have just crossed the vernal equinox, and next week the clocks leap forward. Another winter survived! The daffodils are out. Here in the heart of Scotland, we have had a week of fine weather.
There is an erratic, a huge boulder, that sits precariously near the top of a hill at Bochastle, west of Callander. I believe it was deposited there when the ice receded about 10,000 years ago. An alternative theory is that some giants were having a shot putt competition on nearby Ben Ledi, and this was the winning throw. Hence the boulder is named Samson’s Stone.
I occasionally visit. It is a beautiful round walk from Callander, west via the old railway line, south west via the stone and on to the Iron Age Dunmore Fort, and east again by a forestry track back to Callander. Communing with Samson’s Stone is a bit like communing with the ancient Picts at my local broch. There is a sense of timelessness, and for a moment one’s petty cares recede.
I was up there yesterday. It’s a massive irregular rock, maybe 10 feet tall by 12 feet long by 8 feet wide. The extraordinary thing is how little of the rock is in contact with the ground. It’s on a slope, and looks precarious. It really ought not to be there. It seems to defy the laws of physics. You could imagine giving it a push and watching it trundle five hundred feet down the hill, cross the A821 like a bouncing bomb, taking out power lines and frightening the horses, then crossing the Eas Gobhain River to demolish the hamlet at Gartchonzie. And yet it has sat there, immoveable, for thousands of years.
I descended the south-west side of the hill and then ascended the neighbouring hill to Dunmore Fort. It is a rough path but some kind soul has waymarked it with a series of canes each bearing a small coloured flag. Atop this is the remnant of the Iron Age fort. I’d never noticed the remnants before, until yesterday my fellow hiker pointed out the three tiers of parapets and trenches formed in a perfect semicircle on the west side. The east side is precipitate and no doubt would have been easier to defend. I’d never noticed these fortifications before. I am the world’s most unobservant man. As Holmes said to Watson, “You see, but you do not observe.”
There is a wonderful 360 view from here. North-west, Ben Ledi, south, Ben Gullipen, and between them, beautiful Loch Venachar. Further west, Achray Forest and the Trossachs. To the east, Dumyat hill at the west end of the Ochils, and the iconic silhouette of the Wallace Monument. To the north east, Callander nestling under the crags is in a very favoured position. I imagine there has been a settlement here ever since Samson’s stone got deposited. Between Callander and the fort, you can see (if you are observant enough) more ancient remnants, this time of the Roman Fort just to the north of the old railway line. Maybe the locals atop Dunmore Fort looked down at the Romans and thought, “Now who are these guys? Maybe we should push that big boulder down on top of them. It looks pretty shoogly from here.”
I don’t suppose we’ve changed much over the years, except in our increased capacity for doing harm. From Dunmore Fort, looking west, you can’t quite see Faslane and Coulport on the Clyde. But they are there. They lie just below the horizon. I gather that the government in Westminster wish to increase the cap on nuclear warheads from 180 to a total of 260. And the top brass of the military have been touring the television studios to gloom us up about “lethal harms”. Apparently the possibility of a chemical, biological, or nuclear attack sometime in the next thirty years is very high.
I think if I’d been in Dunmore Fort all these years ago, and we were debating whether to push the erratic down upon the invading colonists, I might have said, “I dunno. Maybe we should try and get along with these chaps. Perhaps we could trade. Their plumbing arrangements seem to be jolly good.”