IT’S dark outside, and around a glowing stove in the alluringly remote Bearnais Bothy these three hunched figures are warming themselves … Robin, a teacher from Edinburgh, Gavin, a local authority planner from Dunbar, and myself, a former Wolf Cub sixer from somewhere between Darlington and Barrow-in-Furness.
Bog-wood is one of the more interesting topics we discuss. I had thought, incorrectly it transpires, that these bleached tree stumps that poke from the peat all over the Highlands are the remnants of forests cut down during the Highland Clearances to make more pasture for sheep.
Robin says they are much older – thousands of years older. They date to a time when the climate was warmer and the Highlands were cloaked in forest. At some point in pre-history, the climate changed slightly, and the forests disappeared beneath peat haggs. The trees were choked out and their stumps preserved for eternity in the heavy black peat.
I comment that the lumps of bog-wood we are about to throw on the stove are of great archaeological significance, that they were growing at about the same time Stonehenge was being built. The resin seeping from the wood has been trapped since late Neolithic and early Bronze Age times. We are burning history. Worse, we are burning pre-history.
We look at our little heap of bog-wood pensively. It is more ancient than the written history of the land we are in. It was old when Kenneth MacAlpin was young. It was old long before Macbeth came to the throne or Longshanks crossed the Solway.
Then the wind howls again, the roof rattles – and we throw another lump on the fire.