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The Mystery of Loch Tromlee

Alastair Macleod

The Mystery of Loch Tromlee

or Angus of the Rocks

To Clan McCorquodale, and their lost castle.... Morning; From Ballimore, folded in the mountains, I see and hear, white mist creeping over the loch, black and grey the shawled hoodie, harsh calling to its mate. The hebrideans bleating, black wool bundles on the hill, Blue swallows chitter, sweep and dive, the Highlands, walking slowly in the sunlight, up the track to new pasture. Fionntan Eilean; When the minds of men are contracted, and the heroic spirit, almost utterly gone, I mind me of, the island in the white mist, the island of the white rocks, the island of women, the island of joy, the island of life.

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The Mystery of Loch Tromlee

     Behind him the rising sun was casting a pinkish glow that fingered gradually forward and fell upon the flanks of Ben Cruachan.  Angus McCorquodale cast again from the shore. He was hoping for a pike and a mighty struggle with the big fish the locals said lived in the loch. A group of Canada geese unfurled their necks from under their wings and began stretching and preening. They bred here each spring then disappeared in the winter to some southerly home.

     Angus was twenty one. He was of middle stature, well formed, with curly black hair and the look of the poet about him. Angus "the dreamer" his mother had called him. You would think this meant he was studying poetry or literature but he was home from a university course in geology in Edinburgh. As a boy he had been fascinated by stones and rocks and was forever roaming over the estate looking for that special stone, perhaps one with gold in it or a semi precious gem. But he was also fascinated by stories.

     Like the story of the Loch. There had been a castle right here in the middle of the loch, the castle of the McCorquodales. Some said it had been destroyed by a rival clan, some say it disappeared under the water by magic. When Angus was smaller he had often fished from a boat with his dad and, right in the centre of the loch, on a clear day he had seen a dark shape below him. He had called his dad to look over but the wind ruffled the surface and the vision was gone. Old Hamish, who also had permission to fish the loch, said he had seen the shape too, but he said it could be a sunken island. Over the years the height of these lochs had varied said Hamish, and things appeared and disappeared.

     The scientist in Angus dismissed this as fairy tale but he had Highland blood, and that part of him wanted to believe in a mystery.

      Like this pike he thought, does it exist? He had been fishing for nearly two hours and he was getting chilled. It was April, yet the temperature that morning was only 10 degrees and with the freshening wind now cutting across the loch from the hills he decided to pack it in. As he waded back to the reedy shore a snipe flushed from cover and darted away weaving and screkking as it went. The daylight now revealed dainty heart shaped hoof prints, newly pressed into the wet mud at the edge of the loch. Roe deer. They must have come to drink while he was casting further round the loch.

     He breathed in the cool air deeply. He had his thesis hanging over him. He had chosen to do a longitudinal study of Scottish earthquakes from the earliest records. Scotland wasn’t earthquake prone but the recent one in Haiti had spurred his interest.

     It was great to be home in Ballimore, to the peace and quiet of Argyll after the bustle of Edinburgh. The estate, which had once been much, much bigger, lay high up on an undulating glacial plateau and was mostly coarse grazing for sheep and cattle with a bit of conifer woodland. His dad was trying to build the estate up again; in the past Ballimore had been the largest estate in these parts and stretched away in all directions down off the plateau to Loch Awe and in the other direction, down to Taynuilt.

     Over many years it had been dismantled and parcels of land sold off to speculators. All that was left now was the beautiful heartland, and the Loch; but it lacked its ancient heart, the castle.

He knew his father yearned for that castle and, while the Laird’s house was large and grand, it lacked that certain something that hundreds of years of ancient masonry give to a place.

     Angus stopped to sort his fishing gear. The small trout he had caught earlier would please dad who was a keen fisherman himself.

 Angus’s sisters had both come home last night. Isla was a vet now and lived not far away over in Oban. She had a particular fondness for cattle and horses and so had specialised in farm animals. Fiona, his oldest sister, was now an air hostess with FlyBe and travelled all over Europe with her job.

     He trudged up the track to the"big hoose". To his left and in front, straying here and there, were the hardy blackface sheep found all over the Highlands. Able to stand the coldest weather, they had been sorely tested this winter. Although the ground now was green with the new shoots of grass and yellow flag iris, at New Year, the temperature had been down to minus 15 and they had had to supplement the sheep with sheep nuts and hay. The hardy Highland cattle on the land behind the big hoose could stay out in such temperatures but they too needed hay when the snow was too deep for them to hoof through to the sward. One had even calved in those temperatures. Torri, the sooty black one had given birth on the second of January. As a breed they were usually black or red. They called this calf Rory. His full name for the pedigree papers was Ruari Mhor Colla. In English this meant Rory, the red one, great high chieftain. “The pedigree books of highland cattle are full of grand sounding names like that,” Isla had said,” it’s fun but it has a purpose, to distinguish one cow from another.” Though, as Angus passed Rory now, he was just a boisterous little calf with that distinctive long shaggy red hair of a Highland, the colour usually depicted on post cards.

     The adults have great sweeping horns, developed to kill wolves in bygone days and their scraggy coats of hard outer hair have a soft under wool like a thermal vest. It was cattle like these that the legendary Rob Roy Macgregor had driven down from the Highlands to Perth and beyond.

 At the top of the track, Ballimore was now before him. On a raised green terrace framed with huge ancient sycamore trees, the L shaped big hoose with its dormer windows, grey slated roof and biscuit coloured render, looked out and down the rolling plateau to the loch and beyond into the birches and rough ground near the road. If you raised your eyes, you could see ranges of mountains beyond. Behind Ballimore, the grass covered ground rose steeply to a fence line beyond which was a conifer plantation. Here ramblers often mistook the patrolling buzzards for golden eagles. If you kept walking forward the ground eventually fell away down through the young fir saplings to Loch Awe, a long, hammer-headed body of fresh water that teased you into thinking it was a sea loch.

     Angus stowed his fishing gear in the new ground floor boot room at the base of the round tower his father had added to the frontage to give the new laird’s house a more traditional look. The tower now carried a large winding staircase to the first floor. Many Scottish houses and castles have towers like this, the ancient ones with small arrow slit windows on the upper floors.

     The sun was well up now and the rest of the house was stirring.

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