• Michael

#0059: A Midsummer Daydream

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The air around me is warm, and heavy, and thick.

It saturates the dense, spongy moss blanketing the ground and creeping up the rocky walls of the deep ravine.

It makes the trail beneath my feet slick, and urges my clothes to cling to my glistening skin.

Eas Mòr burn, only slightly swollen from last nights rain, trickles between slippery rocks and bounces off the walls of the gorge.

Like the erratic call of the thrush, singing from the heavy canopy above, the river is constantly changing.

It glides from still pools of bronze, through tumultuous riffles of gold, to tumbling sheets of silver. Where it hits thick moss, it falls into silence. Where it crashes against bare rock, it hisses into the still evening, snorting a fine mist which burnishes the forest with a thousand tessellated rainbows, sparkling in the dappled light.

It flows through a lush carpet of wood sorrel, pierced by unfurling green crowns of fern, and what’s left of the ransoms, their white starburst flowers slowly fading back into the shadows for another year.

For a snatched moment, as I gaze into the swirling water, my shirt stuck to my back, and the air around me perfumed with warm, damp earth shimmering in a haze of golden light, I’m transported.

There’s magic in the air.

I was in my early teens when I first read A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I was captivated.

I dreamt of being Lysander. Of running off into the woods, far from the burden of real life, and creating a world of my own.

A world of freedom.

Of magic.

And in a way, for the past twelve months, that’s exactly what I did. As the world closed in on itself, so did I, retreating to the safety of the woods, to the magic of the forest, to a place where I felt secure. Where I felt safe.

And so, under the towering Douglas firs and Japanese larch which line the burn, I find myself clambering up the waters edge in Puck’s Glen.

I follow the Victorian walkway which clings to the side of the ravine and hops across the water in a criss-cross of picturesque bridges. With ferns hanging from the rocky walls and warm, wet droplets falling on me from low hanging branches, it’s almost impossible to imagine that this magical place wasn’t always like this.

And yet, a century and a half ago, this gorge, today so green, and charismatic, and alive, was merely a scar down an otherwise barren hillside.

The Benmore Estate, in which Puck’s Glen can be found, was once the hunting ground of the Campbells of Ballochyle. Successive owners left their own mark on the estate, including the introduction of Cowal’s first recorded conifer plantation two hundred years ago, but it was only with the arrival of philanthropist James Duncan, in 1870, that Puck’s Glen started to take the shape that we know today.

Having made his fortune in sugar refining, Duncan extended the estate and commenced an extensive, ambitious programme of afforestation, planting over six million trees and, inspired by Shakespeare’s play, used clever planting and the installation of footpaths and bridges to turn Eas Mòr into a whimsical playground, where travel weary visitors could escape into their own magical kingdoms laced together by a series of spectacular waterfalls.

He took something barren, and cold, and unremarkable, and cloaked it in a thick, humid layer of enchantment.

One hundred and fifty one years later, that bare landscape has been transformed into a thriving, temperate rainforest. Every twist in the trail reveals a new chapter of the story as the water runs its course much as our own lives do theirs.

Sharp, unexpected turns.

Churning, wild turbulence.

Dizzying falls.

And moments of blissful calm.

As the world starts to reopen and I slowly, tentatively, pick my way out of the woods, I hope I can bring some of the magic with me.

After all, as Duncan proved all those years ago, and Shakespeare so many centuries before him, if we put our minds to it, we’re all capable of writing our own fairytale.

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