Colours and reflections from a small hill in Highland Perthshire

The view south from a small hill in Perthshire

This year, I’ve mostly experienced the coming of autumn through our kitchen doors.

From the table, where I’m both working and eating most of the day, I have watched as the yellow lime tree leaves swirl down towards the soil. Stems turn slowly into twigs, flowerheads melt, and squirrels dart around, defending their spoils.

The main impediment to adventuring further from home — given that, currently, there’s no travel ban in Fife — has been my partner’s car. It has broken three or four times since the start of the pandemic in Scotland, and always preceding the lonely but hopeful plans we have pencilled in our calendar. This month a stiff gearbox placed our caravanning plans — organised for the mid-October holiday — into neutral.

Autumn doesn’t feel like autumn to me until I’ve spent at least a day in the Perthshire forests

It wasn’t until nearly two weeks later that the car was re-deemed roadworthy and we headed north.

Autumn doesn’t feel like autumn to me unless I’ve spent at least a day soaking in the Perthshire forests. So many of my past autumns have been enjoyed here — long weekends in quaint cottages, day trips to Dunkeld haunts, or evenings curled in the candle-lit corner of a Perth restaurant.

At the end of October then, with a working car, we didn’t have to decide where we were going before our seatbelts clicked into place. Quite simply, we were heading towards a favourite hill walk in Highland Perthshire.

Even though this spot is less known than the insta-famous Hermitage walk to its north (and indeed, for me, that’s the appeal) it was busier than I’ve known it. We parked, along with a dozen other vehicles, booted up, and began the two-hour loop.

Up the rocky, damp ascent we went, through tan oaks and golden beeches. My eyes went everywhere, stuffy senses gulping the cool autumn air. We paused for a packed lunch at the old bridge viewpoint. From here we could already see far out across a palette of trees — gold, orange, brown, teal — to a turreted house and fields beyond.

Out of the canopy we came onto the heather-darkened hillside proper, shadowy slopes rolling away to the west now. The path steepened, and we splashed through mud and wobbled up steep steps before reaching the summit cairn.

The rain held a gift that could restore and reset, at the summit of an otherwise unremarkable small hill in Scotland

The rain started. Below us, we could see neither Dunkeld nor the woodland that cocooned the town. Everything was filtered in a white-grey haze, the meteorological reverse of the blue skies we’d had the last time we’d walked here. There was something more real about this though, more tangible (although that’s by virtue, I suppose, with water whipping into your face).

The rain held a gift that could restore and reset. There we were, two people, at the summit of a small hill in Scotland, here and breathing and happy to be part of this world despite everything.

After a walk like this we’d usually retreat to a cosy café down in Dunkeld for a warm drink and the thickest slab of cake we could find on the counter. Instead, we opened a flask of tea and had a homemade biscuit whilst taking in the eye candy of autumn in those final days of October.

Leaves like copper coins, floating on the breeze, making muddy ground gold. (What would happen if leaves were currency, we wondered? Would the powerful take control of all the world’s forests, too?)

The smell of the soil, that damp-earth autumn scent, the memories of spring and summer already rotting under our feet.

And just before we returned to the car, the sight of deer darting between dark branches, three or four of them. Always blurry to our fallible human eyes, always just out of reach, a smudge of magic in the autumn twilight.

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