footprints and maps

The act of walking leaves a trace. The footprint is a potent mark of humans walking in the landscape. It is the beginnings of a map. It  records  where we have been.

Footprints through time

'Formby Footprints' from 7000 years ago and Buzz Aldrin's footprint on the Moon.

‘lorg-coise’: Gaelic for footprint, literally means 'a finding of foot’
John Stuart-Murray, Reading the Gaelic Landscape

lorg-      foot-

coise     print


In March 2014, I started a residency with Deveron Arts exploring and walking the Hielan' Ways area: A large expanse of land between the Aberdeenshire / Moray heartland in the north and the Cairngorm mountains in the south, encompassing the Ladder Hills.

The area is dominated by shooting estates, including the Cabrach and Glenbuchat. Although largely unexplored as a destination for outdoor pursuits, it contains areas of hidden beauty and stark wilderness, traversed by a web of ancient footpaths and tracks: the footprints of generations of walkers.

I made footprints in the Hielan’ Ways area.  I explored by the practice of ‘lorg-coise’(Gaelic),  the finding of foot – that is, by walking widely, and often slowly, throughout the area, identifying sites or landforms of significance.

From these explorations I created a book of  fourteen thematic map-drawings of walking routes with texts: lorg-coise.

I  collaborated with Alec Finlay and Ron Brander. Alec's project: Some Colour Trends explores a genealogy of place-names relating to colour. Ron's book 'Over the Hills From Huntly ' documents local heritage.

Some of the walks  I created adopt old paths; others follow no paths, travelling instead by burns, or features in the land – some visible, others hidden. Some of the walks may be more ideas than they are routes. I did not always stick to the routes myself – some I walked part of, others I travelled back to front. What they share is that they are all invitations, not prescriptions.


lorg-coise was published by Deveron Arts in Nov 2014 along with Alec Finlay's book- Some Colour Trends.

The books and maps were designed in collaboration with StudioLR.

They were launched at the Hielan Ways Symposium 14/15 November 2014 in Tomintoul.

Extracts of maps and text appear in this blog.

Detailed walking routes (OS1:25000 ) are available from Deveron Arts website.

defining water

Walking in this landscape, you become acutely aware of water. It defines the land. Burns fill up in response to weather,  becoming animate. After heavy rain, water becomes a visceral force in the landscape.

midsummer sizzles

S-T-E-A-M rises

from overnight rain

Ailnack Gorge

cavernous fast water

more than a colour

their blood flows

through the arteries

of the land

Often I would leave a hard landrover track, in favour of following a burn. It seemed the right thing to do.

Click to enlarge

goodbye path

following Allt na Craoibhe-cuilinn

(Holly Burn), Red Sneck burn

crossing Starry Burn, Black Ditch,

Little Kymah

Looking at a detailed map, you see names for different kinds of water. There are burns, lochs and rivers, but also rills, stripes, grains, fleuchats, and more.

Alec Finlay, extract from ‘dictionary of waters’, Some Colour Trends

After which, I designed motifs for 20 different kinds of water.

A Route of Springs, celebrates water. It maps a walk  from Corgarff over the Ladder pass, finishing at Highland Spring Bottling Plant in Glenlivet.

Click to enlarge

water-lines define

a confluence

a bend in the river

linear time’s one-way

spring becomes stripe

becomes allt

cloud becomes caochan

becomes cloud

on the watershed

a raindrop decides

which way to fall

circular time recycles

Whisky and Water

uisge: water

uisge beatha: whisky, "water of life"

Whisky and water are closely connected. The Hielan’ Ways area has plenty of both. The river Fiddich shares a very defined watershed with the River Livet. It presents as a natural walk: a wander from Glenfiddich Distillery to Glenlivet Distillery. The route follows the Fiddich to the watershed and descends down the Livet. You pass the Elf House cave on the way.

Elfhouse Burn

the cave’s in a fairy hillock

where the glen narrows

take it in turn

to stand inside

click to enlarge

Elf House Cave

colour walks

Alec Finlay has imagined walks between some colour place names in the landscape (Alec Finlay: Some Colour Trends ). Alec was interested to know how the names relate to reality in nature, and if walks between them were actually possible. So I went to explore.

Blue Cairn

thigh-deep heather

piles of bluish-grey stones

why was this one

given a name?

snow patches

white hares

under a bridge

by a ford

two burns meet


One of Alec’s conceived walks around Glenbuchat was between two burns: Allt na Greine to Blacksnake Burn.

Alec researches the meaning of place names through multiple sources:
OS, Blacksnake Burn; Milne gives G., snàig, to creep or crawl, for a slow-maundering burn, but, according to Watson, the name is Black Sneck, from the Sc. sneck, a notch between two hills, or, in Alexander, a cut on the horizon. In the Peak District sneck is used in a similar topography to refer to a latch.

On a misty dreich day, I went to find the Blacksnake burn.



an idle stream

that crept along

curled  in a  cleft

bend by bend   up to

the notch  of the loch

that unlocks the latch

of the watershed   which

feeds the divide  I looked

on as the mouth opened

into the dark head

of a snake



snake  is snaig

to creep, or  crawl

Watson  gives sneck,

a notch  between hills

Polmadie’s sneck’s a lock

and  Russell  gives  snake

whose  head she  has

seen  in the  shape

of  the  wee

loch itself

 Alec Finlay, Some Colour Trends


Another walk Alec and I created connects ‘breac’ place names. Breac means 'speckled' or 'spotted'. It is a common feature in the natural environment-from trout to scree. Alec had found two hills in quite close vicinity with breac place names: Dubh Breac and Breagach.

I  had walked there before, but set out to explore Dubh Breac more closely. At first sight it seemed just another amorphous lump with no distinguishing features, but on the top I found the most unusual circular white patches of stones.

wetted feet fording

Allt Chuirn Deirg

secret pools

& soundscapes

tracking the burn

to its source

where deer shelter

among wild-flowers

keep on till the last

patch of green leads

up the bleak slope

Dubh Breac

breac’s universal speckle

bright white stones

in dark heather

dubh’s black peat bogs

on the summit

I created a circular walk from Corriebreck to Breagach Hill via Dubh Breac, which Alec translated as: ‘a circular walk from Splotched Corrie to Speckled Hill via Darkly Pockled’

Click to enlarge

We have also created routes and maps for some of Alec's other colour walks:

Blue Cairn to the Garnet Stone

White Well to Well of Cul-dearg

Ca-du ford to Bridge of Avon

Detailed walking routes can be found on (soon)

Alec Finlay, 'Some Colour Trends'  
Gill Russell, 'Lorg-coise'

this is your land

The pressure from shooting estates in the Hielan Ways area results in a heavy land management program. Gamekeepers are employed by the big – and frequently absentee – landowners to manage their estates and maintain the grouse population artificially high, by means of heather burning and traps for ‘vermin’ (foxes weasels, stoats, crows).

On some estates there is often a conflict of interests resulting in a degree of hostility towards walkers.

Cabrach House


confronted by a man

with a gun

Cabrach Graveyard

Moran’s grave

‘Big One’

* *


‘Lucent in tenebris’

they shine darkly

on the coffin path

ruins rowan sun

peewits curlews skylarks

cheese-press on the gable-end
of a tumbledown farmhouse

Cabrach Ruins

The Cabrach is littered with ruins; the homes of people who were forced to leave through circumstance, whether harsh climate, poor land, poverty, or dubious land management. Some of the ruins have cheese presses still intact. A trace of a way of life.

Often the site of these dwellings is marked by a lone and lucky rowan growing close to the house, planted by the folk who lived there to bring them luck.

traces of home

marked by a lone rowan

to ward witches

harsh climate


poor land


it’s still going on today

a wish tied to the branch of a rowan

a seed from a berry planted*

for good fortune

on Referendum Day

A paper 'wish' (with Alec Finlay and Ron Brander ) at Hillhead of Largue

*seeds from berries gathered from older rowans growing near some of the Cabrach ruins will be planted next to the ruins that don’t have one, as a memorial to the folk who lived there.

Two burns, two ruins, two rowans and a wish

A circular walk starting at Aldivalloch (NJ 360 262) continuing by way of:
Allt na Craoibhe-caorainn (Rowan Burn) and Allt na Craoibhe-cuilinn (Holly Burn)
a paper 'wish' tied to the old rowan at the ruins of Hillhead of Largue
holly planted by Allt na Craoibhe-cuilinn (NJ 324 245)
rowan planted at Allt na Craoibhe-caorainn (NJ 323 258)

Click to enlarge

Are you lost?

Often the main paths follow hard landrover tracks for miles- somewhat soul-less places to walk. It is a delight exploring away from the main tracks; following a deer path, an interesting hollow, or tracking a burn to its source.

Once while following a burn to its watershed spring, I came across a young gamekeeper who was setting traps. His first question was ‘Are you lost? ’

wetted feet fording

Allt Chuirn Deirg

secret pools

& soundscapes

tracking the burn

to its source

where deer shelter

among wild-flowers

keep on till the last

patch of green leads

up the bleak slope

Burning heather

Around April, patches of old heather are burnt to encourage new young shoots for the grouse to eat. Smoke rises on distant hills. The black burnt heather leaves scars on the land, and a foul smell in the air.



to red-roofed


new-burnt heather

& acrid Land Management

for an aftershave: Butt

The Red Well

green wellspring

among dearg heather

seven starved dead

now the hillside's tame

Shieling huts and shooting butts

Shieling huts and shooting butts are both temporary improvised shelters, typically found on the hillside, made from local materials, commonly turf and stone. On the big estates in the Hielan’ Ways old shielings intermingle with an abundance of shooting butts.

Shielings are a collection of huts, used as summer dwellings for transhumant farmers and their families, grazing stock – usually cattle. Shielings had largely fallen out of use by the end of the 17th century, although in remote areas the system continued into the 18th.

Grouse butt are hides, to shoot red grouse from. A shooting party commonly consists of 8-10 guns, concealed within a line of butts. The grouse are driven towards them by beaters.

from shieling to shooting butt

a rise in class

a fall from grace

Alec Finlay, Some Colour Trends

There is a place right in the middle of the Ladder Hills called Long Moss. You can get to it by crossing over a bealach from the south in Glen Ernan. Long Moss and Glen Ernan have an abundance of shielings. Another way of crossing from one place to another is by a new purpose built landrover track going to the top of a hill , littered with grouse butts.


shooting butt

deep in the Ladder Hills

a bealach connects

two old shielings

before sheep

before grouse moors

cattle grazed

where 3 burns meet

on lush Long Moss

and south on the fairy hillock

of Glen Ernan

did they pass this way

on summer nights

to share stories?

there’s no path now

over the bealach

landrover tracks on Sgòr Gorm

a gormless scar

shooting right to the top and all down the other side

danger of death

There are reminders everywhere as to the purpose of this land. Often you see piles of discarded gun cartridges. You see them in different colours - blues, green, reds, orange.

Perhaps they are colour coded for different types of bullet?

On a two day walk to Tomintoul from Aldivalloch, with Claudia Zeiske, we found a pile of green and blue ones. Claudia picked a green lipstick for me and a blue one for her.


an empty cartridge

for Claudia’s lipstick


‘Roy’s Wife of Aldivalloch’


Everywhere you walk on these big shooting estates you see traps for 'vermin' (foxes , weasels, stoat, minks, crows).

 mink trap


I came upon a Scottish Black Water-vole, a protected species , caught in a mink trap. The gamekeeper said the trap was set too high over the water, and he removed it.


Dovecotes are used for breeding baby doves, to distract raptors from preying on grouse chicks, or in the case of wildlife crime, put into traps.

early oystercatchers

Davidson’s Cairn
burnt heather

The Lifting Stones
cannot be lifted

The Evil Dovecote
two white chicks
cowering in filth

The Glen of Bones
becomes The Deveron

traces of shieling
wan-yellow double-star flower
unexploded artillery shell

Wildlife Crime

In recent years, some of the Hielan' Ways area has been at the centre of a series of wildlife crime investigations and prosecutions. A number of young satellite-tagged eagles have all mysteriously ‘disappeared’ over North Glenbuchat Estate in the past few years.

There are many place names in the area relating to eagles (Gaelic ‘Iolaire’). The Eagles’ Stone is a large rock on North Glenbuchat Estate, very near where a large scale police raid took place in April 2014, after the disappearance of another young sea eagle.

Angel of the Buchat
 Steve Cameron , a local resident posed on top of the Eagles' stone. I was playing music with him in a house nearby, when the raid took place.

Click to enlarge

eagles take flight from rocks
because they cannot rise
from level ground

after John Milne

CLICK TO ENLARGE: Walking Directions from the Scottish Parliament to the Eagle Stone

hielan' safari

‘It is a badge of honour among hikers to have ‘bagged’ all 284 Munros, which to the uninitiated, might sound like a joyless mountain slog. But even for non-committed trekkers, a spot of Munro bagging is an infinitely exhilarating experience in the wildest corners of the British Isles.’ The Lonely Planet

This walk of sixty-five-plus miles is a Hielan’ Ways Safari, composed of animal related places, gathered together in the spirit of Munro bagging. Darker realities force themselves upon our attention, in habitat erosion, traps, wildlife crime and ‘factory’ shooting of ‘game’. Most of the place-names are taken from Gaelic – indicative of use and animals of cultural or cultic significance – while a few have been invented, to reflect contemporary fauna and human interventions, themselves representative of forms of ‘cultish’ behaviour.

In May 2014, a black water-vole, a protected species, was found in a mink trap in Glen Ernan.  This spot marks the start of the walk.

Burn of the Black Water-vole (NJ 270 127) to The Dovecote (NJ 357 204)

The walk can be extended 30-40 miles, by way of The Deer Trap, and The Devil’s Park, giving a total of 29 animals ‘bagged’.

Distance: 65 miles, extension 36 miles
Ascent/Descent: 5500m, extension 2700m
Accommodation: camping
Transport: car to Glen Ernan, then cycle to start 

Hielan' Safari: CLICK TO ENLARGE

Walkers should devise a route by way of:

Dog’s Craig

Cairn of the Eagle
Carn na h-Iolaire

Wee Burn of the Den
Little Allt na Saobhaidhe

Big Burn of the Den
Muckle Allt na Saobhaidhe

Blind Burn of the Pig
Caochan nam Muc

Dark Fairy
Shean Dhu

Hawking Knock
Cnoc na Sealg

Birdies Hill
Tom nan Eun

Roe-deer Hollow
Hill of Clais nan Earb


Birdies Burn
Allt an Eòin

Salmon Burn
Allt na bradon

Carn Daimh
Deer Cairn

Deerbone Glen
The Dovecote

Cow Hollow
Clais nam Bò

Hinds Crag
Creag na Gamhna

Birdies Crag
Craig an Eunan

The Deer Trap

Deer Stanes

Corbies Nest

Boar Stone

Craw Stane

Devils Park

Lambs well

Raven Hill

Cats Craig

Oxen Well

place-name translations: Alec Finlay

picts and turbines

The Pict Road (Ron’s route)

Ron Brander had researched a route that seemed to link several locations of significance to the Pictish tribes (Ron Brander, personal correspondence). The route starts at the Glacks of Balloch and ends at Milton of Lesmore. See it on Bing here.

This route has a rich history and mythology, including giants, ‘worms’, ‘ghosties’, hut circles and a Neolithic henge. A massive windfarm in Clashindarroch forest now covers an area of this route.

I had done several 'haikin aboot' expeditions with Ron and Jake Williams, where we walk slow, chat a lot and look at everything. The first part of the Pict Road was one of those trips- it took a whole day to do four miles.

Haikin Aboot (Advanced)

tr. ‘Extreme sauntering’

it is forbidden to exceed

three miles per day

change direction


change your mind

Picts walked this way

and giants

and worms

to a Neolithic henge

The next outing, Ron and I walked part two. It was a very different experience. We came to the top of a peatbank and stumbled right into the Clashindarroch windfarm under construction.

Quantum Junction

peat bank

windfarm construction



contemporary Picts at work

in high-visibility clothing

from another dimension

WTC, Spur 8


under a concrete pouring machine

could become Pompeiian

Click to enlarge