We clamber into the Landrover, it's been raised up on significantly bigger wheels in a conspiracy to make all but the tallest sport feel as unfit as he really is. The Ghillie fires up the repurposed blast furnace of a heater, it’s all very cozy, my trepidation lessens, the Landy has started to feel like a refuge from the elements. Little Tim: I’ve had a few Landy’s both of my own and of Her Majesties, I’ve never been in one with a heater like this! The Ghillie: Aye. Is that right? This is the highlands so the changeable weather has blown in a change. Some of the day before’s snow has melted, and being the highlands has just a quickly changed back and been refrozen as a thin sheet of ice over the snow and freezing mud. The Landy lurches and slides its way up the glen, the Ghillie’s hands shuffle the wheel like a Stig, When that doesn't work he tries to use the spinning tires to melt a way through the snow. The Scottish tourist board have laid on another of those stunning moments where you’ll swear you will return, all aching limbs and inaccuracy induced shame momentarily forgotten. The clouds part like stage curtains, sunlight illuminates the hillside, heather glows with diamond sparkling dew and the Red Stag herd, some 250-300 of them, stand proud against the snow on the far far side of the glen. Emerging from the rancid cloud of tire smoke we lurch forward and the clouds bear in again. A white mountain Hare bounds past, turns to watch us, bounds on, turns to watch us, after the forth time it bores of the game and scampers away across the heather.
Little Tim: I like your office a lot more than mine.
The Ghillie: Aye. Is that right?
Yours truly: Do all clients say that to you? Ghillie; Aye, [pause] you might say it’s worn a little thin, [special extra Scottish pause] over the years.
I give Mutley style snigger, and blow snot all over my own face. The Ghillie’s expression says ‘you just can’t the clients these days’. So far - so birthday. And the torment is yet to begin.
We leave the hothouse of the Landrover, as usual the ghillie is off like a galgo on a hare. By the time we’ve shouldered our rifles he’s quite a way across the snow. I try to long-stride after him, stumbling from tussock to tussock. We are about the same height and it gets a bit easier as I start to stepping-stone his foot prints, wearing a bit less than the first day I’m feeling a bit less overheated and light headed. In spite of yesterday’s equipment failure I’m starting to see how this could work out. My confidence is rising. I turn back to see Little Tim face down in the snow, on turning back the ghillie is suddenly a field of snow, heather, and mud away. He’s doing that exasperated waving thing again, the wind howls, more snow gusts at us, I struggle on. I’ve lost the Ghillie’s footprints and either lose my footing; my boots slipping off the tussocks, or worse still I sink knee deep between them where the thick black mud sucks. After many a slip I finally start to make some progress. There’s a sudden lightening of my load. Surprised I twist back just in time to catch my rifle while its still butt-down but upright on the ground. Sling failure. Of course the Ghillie has turned back to issue more impatient hand gestures so is watching the whole debacle. I look back the way I’ve come. I’m not sure if Little Tim is recovering from another plummet or just had his head in his hands in despair. Sling now mended with a bit of string – Ghillie’s pocket - I didn’t have a piece, for shame. We’re all caught up and the next stalk begins. “When ah turn round I wanna be able to touch both of you” Right re-focus. No more fart-assing about, after all the Ghillie still has his hands in his pockets. I catch up with the Ghillie at the next sheltered spot. He’s checking his email and looks up as though I’ve wandered over to his desk to ask if he’s coming to lunch. Yours Truly: [panting] I keep expecting you to spark up a fag The Ghillie: [deadpanning] Aye. Is that right? Ah used te smoke, [special extra-Scottish extra-long pause] it dhud used te irritate the clients. We stalk up hill, we stalk down hill, occasionally we stalk across the hill, somehow we stalk around the hill, crossing our tracks several times. Suddenly the Ghillie does that thing where ‘racing snake’ leaves the realms of metaphor and becomes a literal description; he basically dives down the steep hillside slithering along on his belly until the heather gives way to shale where he moves into a low crouch. I follow him, more tentatively. Rounding a mini-crag of cold slippery rock I find him signaling and then shouting for me to catch up. Two Roe doe have just become aware of his presence and are high tailing it away. I trudge back to Little Tim who’s taking a breather, sheltered behind the remains of some ancient drystone wall. We share that moment of wordless understanding familiar to all travellers in far-flung lands. The Ghillie strolls past bellowing “Tim and Tim. When ah turn round I wanna be able to touch both of you”. Back to the Landrover. Once we’re back in the warm its all a laugh and a joke again. Like many psychopathic bullies our Highland Professional alternates between being hilarious and withering disdain. But on the upside he will not let you fail, even if you nearly die in the attempt. Some more of the same later we’ve been up and down, and down and up, I’m really not sure if I’ve got it in me to climb another one, we cross a stream, and cross back again, taking the route down along the water course where we are obscured from the hillside above us. Without warning the ghillie turns 90 degrees and starts up the near vertical hillside. I pull myself up after him grabbing handfuls of heather until I run out of heather, I struggle on up the hill and catch him up, he takes my rifle and in his anti-grav wellies saunters on up the hill. I follow. Instantly falling through the thin crust of ice into the snow, as I push down with my hands to get my head out of the snow, both of them disappear into snow deeper than my arms, I’m like a beached bearded walrus, I roll over on to my back and manage to struggle to my feet, the Ghillie is lying prone about twenty meters above me, somehow we’re now bellow three Roe. Reinvigorated by my snow-bath and with just about the last of my strength I power myself up and alongside him, collapsing behind the rifle which balances on its bipod. I’m wheezing like a broken set of bagpipes. Breezily he tells me to relax and let my heart rate drop, I chamber a round and at his instruction shoot the first, he tells me to shoot the second, and then the third. The first bounds away and the other two crumple, dead in their tracks. The ghillie gives me a warm smile “there you see, just as easy as that”.
Obviously I’m delighted, my birthday bucket list has a big tick next to it. Now the light is failing fast, this was the very last shout for the day. We pull the first two together and the Ghillie gralloch’s , but the third eludes us. We tumble the corpses down the hillside to where Little Tim has come to meet us in the Landy. As we’re driving back towards the farmhouse I’m resigned to going back up onto the hill with a dog to look for the lost beast.
Ghillie: “Oh aye that's what we’ll do, we’ll wait ‘till it gets dark and is snowing before we go and look for twelve poonds worth of venison”
Suddenly I can’t help but see the pantomime of him guiding us as we play at doing his day job.
The next morning I cant get up from the sofa, Tim’s, big and little, spend the day on the hill, as they meet him at dawn the Ghillie smirks “ I think I may have broken your pal the Birthday boy” if I’d been there all I could have done is feebly concur.
Thanks for reading