Rambles in the Ettrick Valley
Here in the Scottish Borders, folks tell you where they're from with the name of their hill or valley instead of their town. I'm making my home in the Ettrick Valley, which runs along the Ettrick Water between hills that where I'm from would be called mountains.
As I settle in, I seek to come to know this place thru' time spent in the hills where I hike up, up, up into the clouds until I can't tell if it's raining or if I'm just a condensation pole for their kisses. My Wellies (magnificent knee-high rubber boots) are my best friend. This is sheep country, and the hills are mostly denuded from long ago. Farms are huge -- the one I live on is 1,400 acres. Much of the old system of land ownership is still in place -- huge tracts of land are owned by wealthy landowners and rented out as "tenancies". The rents are often below market rate, and the landowners have no financial incentive to keep the system in place, so as tenancies come up for renewal, more and more land is sold off to commercial forestry companies. Ugly swaths of monocropped Sitka spruce cover many of the hills: dead zones which harbor no birds or wildlife.
Back on Cossarshill Farm where I live, a stand of beech and birch has been planted, part of the effort to restore at least small bits of native habitat. It runs just a few trees deep along the Cossarshill Burn -- a wild and clear brook tumbling down the hills and up which salmon will soon come to spawn. Under the beech, I find robust patches of chantarelles, and gather some each night for dinner. Even tho' the stand is just a few trees deep, the farmer here refers to it as "the woodland" -- and indeed, it is a rare sight in these stark yet beautiful hills.