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A Jura stone tells its story
‘Ei q vi legit me,’ is a Latin line often found in many medieval West Highland grave-slab inscriptions which translates into, ‘For him who reads me’. The same might be said of anything where the writer is capable of reading its message.
Here is my interpretation of what a small piece of shattered rock on the summit of the 2,575 ft Beinn an Oir – the hill of gold and the highest of Jura’s three famous Paps – might say for itself.
‘When the world was young I was part of a huge mountain massif towering high above a barren ice-bound landscape. When the temperature rose, the ice melted; my mountain could not support itself and began to crumble.
‘Soon it became a shadow of its former self and instead of being attached to its lower slopes I found myself lying on top of what remained, crushed in the ensuing struggle.
‘From there I witnessed the last of the ice sheets roll away and saw the great European stags, the boar, the bear and the beaver, the white bulls and the Stone men cross the dry floor of the North Sea beneath me.
‘I have watched the silvery moon ascend above Ben Lomond and set far away in the Hebrides. The sun rising over Ben Cruachan in the early morning, has warmed my surface and in the evening, when its huge orb falls into the North Atlantic, I have been cooled by the evening stillness.
‘I have been covered in deep snow, hit by high winds, lightening and loud claps of thunder, battered by hail and drenched in driving rain. In the summer I have baked in the noon day heat and, come the autumn, shivered in frosty crispness as the shadows lengthened in the deep glens below and the evening star drew nigh.
‘I have felt the draught of ravens’ wings; watched the blue mountain hare quiver as it cowered close to me under soaring eagles. I have heard the primeval belling of the rutting wild red deer in the corries below and the yelp of the red-legged fox, hunting ptarmigan in the scree slopes beneath me.
‘When the Greek and Roman empires were crumbling to their doom, when King Arthur held court, when Harold died at Hastings and Bruce charged the English on the field of Bannockburn, I was here. I have heard the roar of Corryvreckan whirlpool when the spring tides surge backwards and forwards between Jura and Scarba; the chant of Irish monks proclaiming the Christian gospel lifted across on the wavelets from the abbey on Oronsay. I have seen the glint of sword blades and the flash dirks by the shores of Loch Finlaggan on Islay and heard the dying shrieks of MacDonald and Maclean warriors fighting on nearby Traigh Gruinard. The shouting of the Macleans of Glengarisdale when they were attacked in the field in front of the red-roofed bothy by the Campbells of Craignish in 1647 in revenge for a clan raid.
‘I saw Spanish galleons pass between Jura and Colonsay, limping homewards from their epic voyage round the North of Scotland after their defeat in the English Channel, and the loss of one of their number in Tobermory Bay.
‘I watched the ship carrying Prince Charles Edward Stewart sail away to France in 1746. Heard the booming of cannon resounding backwards and forwards across the Sound of Islay as Cumberland’s frigates raked its shores with grape-shot, and scented the smoke of burning thatch as his marines and conscripts did their dirty work after the prince had gone.
‘Bonfires proclaiming the Relief of Mafeking, Queen Victoria’s Jubilee and the birth and death of various Campbell dukes and lairds have warmed me. Theodolite legs and surveyors’ instruments have pricked my surface when Beinn na Oir was used by the Board or Ordnance as a survey station during the making of some of Scotland’s earliest maps.
‘I saw salmon poachers at work with their nets hauling dozens of fish out of the Carraidh Mhor in Loch Tarbert, and long dark metal shapes surface and then disappear into the depths on their way to attack Britain’s convoys. I heard the Catalina flying boat crash into the hillside above Kinnuachdrachd on 15 July 1941, killing seven of its eight crew members aboard, along with the drone of German aircraft as they flew overhead and later the crunch of their bombs falling on Glasgow and the Clyde to the south.
‘Concorde and its sonic booms shook the earth under me during their test flights. Britannia, with the Queen and other members of the Royal Family aboard, the Ark Royal and other mighty warships, have slipped past in the night heaving their wake on the slumbering shores below me. Hill runners have trodden on me, exhausted, hot and thirsty from their gruelling journey from Craighouse during the annual Jura Fell Race.
‘I have heard the haunting strains of bagpipe music wafting upwards in the mist from Islay and Jura intermingled with the scent of whisky from their distilleries.
‘Walkers making a detour to the bothies of Cruib and Ruantallain have stood close to me with their latest digital cameras, iPods and other technological wonders which the Stone Age men could not have envisaged in their wildest dreams. Even former Prime Minister David Cameron sat beside me long before he had the keys of No 10. All this and more.
‘Turn me over in your fingers, weigh me in the palm of your hand, touch my surface with your tongue; smell me, look at me closely with a magnifying glass and in the morning light, see the tiny pieces of brightly coloured quarts dance in front of your eyes and marvel at what I have witnessed.
‘Throughout all these years I have lain on the summit of Beinn na Oir until 2010 when I was taken north across the seas to Morvern. Where am I now and what more will I witness – who knows? Reader I am nothing, but ponder on my past.