Sally Evans, UK



Global Correspondent Report From Callander,

Central Scotland: November 2007

The Big Darkness

The leaves are off the deciduous trees, the conifers unchanged, but fewer than before. Most of the conifers were planted in afforestation programmes some thirty years ago, and the present fashion is for native trees, so great swathes of the spruce and timber forests are currently being felled. This includes some on our own crags, though the work has been done sensitively, to leave corridors for red squirrels which are supposed to like fir trees, though you certainly see them among oaks - they like acorns and plant them, whether for stored food or to maintain their tree supply in the longer term. Who knows what makes the animals behave as they do?

red squirrels:
a grass snake crosses
the pathway

Some of the areas where forests have been cut down are now very rough underfoot, with tree stumps and broken roots and of course the deep furrows on the land that were cut when the trees were planted. It may take many decades for the land to revert to how it was. In some of these areas there is hardly any birdsong: it seems the small birds have gone away with the trees. Kestrels, red kites and other birds of preythe eagles are mostly a little further northcircle the bare areas and make short work of any small birds that are not under shelter.

Native Trees above Callander

Otters are fairly common round the rivers here. We were surprised one day to see one swimming under the main bridge at Callander. it disappeared quickly in a row of bubbles and then waving grass, through the drainage ditches from the watermeadows towards the head of Loch Venachar. Clearly they sometimes have business that takes them long distances.

an otter
beside the loch:
one more timber lorry

There is less traffic on the roads in winter. The big log lorries (we don't call them trucks, as a rule) seem to be off for the winter, which is just as well because you don't want to have to negotiate their slow, unsafe-looking loads when the roads are wintry. One friend went up to southern Skye last week, via the car ferry, and she admitted to going rather fast to catch the afternoon ferry. This can be another hazard on the roads, cars in a hurry for the ferry at Oban for Mull, or at Oban, Mallaig or Uig for the outer isles. There aren't so many ferries, so if you miss one you will have a long wait, perhaps overnight.

Of course you can get to Skye by the Bridge, and that is certainly the way I would use. The Skye Bridge is surprisingly small. It runs over the narrowest part of the strait between Skye and the mainland, by no means the massive structure some people imagine. It used to be a toll bridge, but the tolls were suddenly removed some two years ago when it was finally proved the charges were illegal. There had been a huge fuss about them, local community leaders such as the doctors being repeatedly taken to court for refusing to pay. Now the tolls are set to be removed from the other three toll bridges in Scotlandthe Forth Road Bridge, the Tay Road Bridge and a bridge called The Erskine Bridge on the upper Clyde. The Erskine Bridge, a light-looking modern steel structure, was actually knocked out of line by a passing boat on one fairly recent occasion, and had to be closed for inspection and repairs.

the wide bridge:
closed till tomorrow

But the reality of November in Callander is you tend to sit and fantasise about driving round the country. Maybe there's a daytime trip to Glasgow or Edinburgh, to meet a colleague to discuss plans for a poetry event (I have one such visit next week). Edinburgh is a Phase Three experience for me. Phase One was before we lived there, a large, rather terrifying, windy, high-buildinged city behind its spectacular main streets, Princes Street with its long promenade-like sweep, its gardens, its art galleries, its festival venues.

a fiddler playing
near the floral clock

Phase Two was living there while my children were young, working, taxi-ing to schools, being visited by festival-goers because we lived there, and then running our bookshop, and buying books regularly at central city auctions, including the famous outdoor Lane Sales which had been going on since 1840 and of which we eventually saw the demise. The auctions then moved further out, as they had been sitting on central city sites worth millions of pounds.

Phase Three was after we had moved out of the city. At first we didn't like the sense of going back into our own past, when we visited, and we particularly hated going into the street where our shop used to be (it now sells chandeliers). But now, on my occasional visits, I like the fact that I know the place so well, I always know where to lunch, where the interesting galleries will be, etc, so I can act as a guide to any companion, or amuse myself if I am alone. And its great to get back to Callander after such a visit, and to realise that this is now our home instead.

an old pub
on the royal mile


Sally Evans







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