An Socach – Horns of a Dilemma

THERE’S half a set of antlers lying in the grass on the summit of An Socach, high above the wilds of Glen Affric. Somewhere up here there must be a stag trotting around lop-sided. Wow. Is that how it works? Or do both sides drop off within a short time of each other, like hub caps after you’ve had a couple of tyres changed? I really don’t know.

But I’m dead chuffed with my find. I decide to strap the antlers – or antler – to my sack and carry them home to mount on the kitchen wall. Well, if it’s good enough for the nobs, it’s good enough for me.

I was not having a good day until this moment. I’d cycled up the trail on the south side of Loch Affric, seeing how far up the glen I could get before abandoning the bike. I was hoping the tracks were good enough to cycle as far as the Alltbeith YHA – the most remote hostel in Scotland – but I abandoned the bike near the bridge at Athnamulloch, where the track turned rocky and a very strong headwind made progress strenuous.

I headed off up An Socach, the smallest Munro in these parts, choosing a frontal assault. But I was not feeling too bright – like I was firing on three cylinders – and it took ages to get to the top.

The upper reaches of Glen Affric

Earlier, I had entertained the idea of climbing some big ones today – Sgurr nan Caethreamhnan and Mullach na Dheiragain – but now, as I sit on the summit of An Socach, I’m glad I didn’t. I just feel like collapsing in the turf and snoozing for an hour or two. But it’s spotting with rain, so I don’t.

I head north-east and drop down to a bealach, then follow a very boggy track back to the valley, jump on the bike and rattle off down the track – my antlers strapped to my back.

Then it occurs to me, in a sort of nonchalant fashion, that I might be committing a crime here. I am removing an object from private property that does not belong to me. Theft; handling stolen goods; poaching even? How does the law work in Scotland? Everything’s privately owned up here for heaven’s sake – the rivers, the mountains, perhaps even the people – and jealously guarded by blokes in strange clothes and with shiny guns under their arms.

And here’s me with half a stag’s head strapped to my back like an extra from Braveheart, cycling blithely along a private road on someone’s estate. Yes, some of this Scottish wilderness might belong to the Forestry Commission, some to the National Trust for Scotland; but there are pockets of feudalism up here where democracy has yet to shine its blinding light. I might be a moving target, but I’m a big one nonetheless.

Worse. What if the local nob is stomping up and down his trophy room at this very moment, steaming with rage because the only stag’s head he’s managed to mount this season has half an antler on it – and I’ve got the other half? The scenarios are endless.

I click my old rattly mountain bike up a couple of gears, and in the spirit of Mel Gibson tear down the glen like a Highland rebel.

Freedom. And bugger the lot of them.

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About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
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