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