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My Favourite Place in Scotland - Sally Magnusson

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Karen Miller Karen Miller | 15:30 UK time, Friday, 16 March 2012

My favourite place in scotland

Where is your favourite place in Scotland? What makes it special to you?

Scottish Book Trust and BBC Radio Scotland invite you to write about your favourite place in Scotland, whether it's a remote beauty spot or an urban hideaway, a famous landmark or a favourite café. We want to get Scotland writing, inspired by our country's best-loved places.

Write a story, poem, song lyric, diary entry, letter or sketch about your favourite place,
submit it on our website and your story could appear in a book or be broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland.

Check the website for stories, poems and songs by celebrities and listen to BBC Radio Scotland's Out of Doors programme to hear more.

To find out more, read others' pieces and write your own, go to The Scottish Book Trust - My Favourite Place. For full terms and conditions visit the BBC Radio Scotland website.

My Favourite Place ambassador Sally Magnusson took Mark Stephen on her favourite walk in Scotland as the competition was launched on Out of Doors...


Here's Sally's story in full:

Of Mice and Haggises by Sally Magnusson

There is a particular quality of evening light in early summer, just before the day turns. Every line you see - the branch of a tree, the curve of a distant hill - is sharpened in it. The green of the fields is emerald-bright and the blue of the sky (of this you are sure) is the acme of all blues there ever were. You walk along, spirits soaring with the joy of it. Suddenly everything makes sense. And then, by infinitesimal degrees, the light begins to fade, the lines start to blur and smudge, the grass confesses to a hint of brown and someone has taken a rubber to the sky. That time of utter clarity, that ecstatic Wordsworthian moment of seeing into the life of things, is no more. You call the dog and remember the ironing is waiting.

Yes, it can take the imagination to wonderful places, this haunt of mine, although it is nothing grand in itself: just a walk in farming countryside north of Glasgow. I follow a tumbling burn along a tree-strewn bank, climb a steep track to a point below the Campsie Hills where I can catch my breath and gaze at the city spread out below, then head down again. The dog and I amble there and back most days and I wish I could claim such poetic uplift every time. In fact I am usually listening to a podcast of The Archers, and in the whole of the recorded universe there is nowhere more prosaic than Ambridge. But, oh, I love this place. I love the golden light of those May evenings. I love the daffodil fiesta in March. I adore the wild flowers that tangle the verges in July. I even relish plodding along in the dreich drizzle of a January afternoon when the trees drip and the snowdrops cower and the light never has the chance of an artistic death because it has barely lived in the first place.

Best of all I love knowing this place so well that I can slip into its moods and seasons like a slipper. I know where the ice will trip me in winter and where the wild garlic will send out its pungent whiff of early summer. I know where the primroses hide and where tiny raspberries will flaunt their sweetness behind an armour of nettles. I know the smell, the lovely smell, of the rain-sodden earth.

On the other hand, beloved places can be like beloved people: you know them, and you don't know them. Today I experienced a familiar thrill at the sight of frost lacing the old drystane dyke. But minutes later I discovered something quite new - to me at least. I noticed how many tree-trunks and branches I always thought were quite bare are exquisitely embroidered with ice-green lichen. I crumbled off a piece and marvelled at this unremarked colony of tiny leaf-like shapes. Why had I never noticed before?

And then there are the memories. This place is all about remembering.

The daffodils shooting up again as I write in February are the ones the children and I planted together one balmy afternoon long ago. The burn is where they built dams and rescued misdirected footballs. These desiccated bramble bushes prompted our first and last attempt to make jam one autumn. The toads we swerve to avoid in the mating season used to be collected by a soft-hearted son, who hopped out of the car and tenderly moved each one to the side of the road; in those days a frog could have crawled home faster than we did on a rainy night.

The hill is the scene of family egg-rolling competitions on Easter Day, so hotly contested that last year another son rigged up a pulley between telegraph poles to carry his egg to the finish line. (The year before he attached it to a firework and the year before that prodded the dog to carry it around her neck. His efforts always end in disaster.)

That gaunt hawthorn tree, waiting and waiting for the cloud of creamy blossom that will transform it in late spring, is the one my mother loved. Walking past it together, we used to dip our heads into the flowery froth and wonder at the strange absence of fragrance.

When the wild flowers arrive, they remind me of the summer I once devoted to learning their names: tufted vetch and self-heal, slender speedwell and meadowsweet, hoary cinquefoil, thyme-leaved sandwort, yellow loose-strife, sneezewort, buttercup, foxglove, forget-me-not. Weeds? They are flowers as beguiling as their names.

The birds are old friends, too: the owl with its unearthly night-call, the huge buzzard soaring overhead, the circling hawk, the heron that pays a hopeful visit to the burn and then stands there looking silly, the interminably squawking crows. Then there is the family of deer that skitter out of the way as soon as the dog heralds our approach, a fox or two, a scurry of tiny rabbits, a dashing field-mouse, even the occasional otter in the pool under the bridge.

One spring day, when the gorse had burst canary-yellow across the hillside and the trees were budding along the bank, it occurred to me that this place would make a perfect setting for a children's book populated by these same animals and birds. By the end of the week I had the plot of Horace the Haggis, the story of a lone haggis on the run who finds refuge here with a blethery mouse, a vegetarian fox, a pair of Tweeting magpies, a gossiping rook, an inventor squirrel and the bumbling underground intelligence agency, the Mole Patrol. I dare say that before publication later this year I will have to explain to the gentle farmer at the top of the hill why, in the interests of art, he has been reborn as a wicked haggis-hunter in underpants decorated with tulips.

That, of course, is the thing about a favourite place. You just never know where it will transport you next.

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