Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Last Wolf and Wildcats

Some time in the late 17th century, the last wolf in Angus stravaiged through Glen Lethnot, devouring many sheep there.  One evening a servant girl was sent by her master to sift a melder of corn at Glascarry Mill.  The task was so exhausting that, on her return journey, she lay down on a grassy bank and fell fast asleep.  Next morning she woke to find a huge, shaggy wolf sleeping beside her.  Worse still, it lay on a fold of her clothing, preventing her from getting up.  But she carefully managed to extricate herself, leaving her dress behind, and ran to raise the warning at the nearest farmhouse.  A crowd accompanied her back to where the wold had been, but all they found was the abandoned dress, ripped to shreds.  The party scoured the glen and finally located the wolf on the Hill of Wirren.  There was a fierce struggle and the beast was eventually slain by one Robert of Nathro, who later married the young maid.

    Places-names in  upland Angus show there was once a sizeable wolf population in the wild places.  There is a hill named Wolf Craig in Glen Lee and a Wolf Hill near Loch Brandy, and there is also a burn called Wolf Grain.  Meanwhile the deserted fishing village of Usan, south of Montrose, was called Wolfishavyn in 1512 and Howlshavin in 1496.

    While wolves may have gone, that other ferocious - if sadly endangered - creature the Wild Cat -still clings on in the remote nooks and corries of upland Angus.  I had a strange encounter with these animals while camping out in a bivvy bag one summer night twenty odd years ago. Sleeping on a high saddle of land between two hills above Glen Prosen, I was woken  by a strange sound which sounded like a cross between a steam powered machine and a highly displeased animal.  More disconcertingly, the sound seemed to circle me in the darkness, coming nearer and nearer.  That was the end of sleep for that night.  When dawn starting inching upwards, I eventually saw two crouching beasts in the middle distance and recognised them as Wild Casts, who seemed to be watching me intently, wondering what I was doing in the middle of their territory.  I had a disposable camera with me and took a flash picture of the pair.  The animal furthest behind ran off immediately, but the other one waited a menacing thirty seconds before it bounded away after the other, down an impossibly steep slope.  Sadly, I lost the camera before I had the chance to develop the picture.

    In 1817 a deer-stalker named Charles Duncan was travelling through Glen Doll when he spotted a Wild Cat and decided to shoot it.  As he crept closer, he lost his footing and his prey sprang away.  Dazed, Duncan looked up and was astonished to see that his surroundings had utterly changed.  Instead of an expanse of heather, he found himself in an overgrown kirkyard.  He was even more surprised to see an open coffin lying on the ground.  It contained a corpse which the stalker recognised as an older version of himself.  An inscription on the adjacent coffin lid stated his name, age and date of his death:  21st September, 1848, aged eighty-three.  The horrified Duncan swiftly ran away and afterwards avoided the place.  It hardly needs to be added that Charles Duncan died on the very day which his vision decreed.

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