The trouble with going out for a walk in the woods after darkness falls is the difficulty in taking a feature photograph for the blog page. So, on this occasion, and no doubt many others to follow, I’ll just have to make do with the above photograph taken at Aberlady Bay Nature Reserve back in July. This evening it was out into the wild woods and rolling fields of Dalhousie for a nocturnal nature walk. These past few weeks I’ve taken to an evening stroll in the dark, on the look out, or more accurately a listen out, for wildlife such as badgers, deer, hare, rabbits and foxes, along with the bats that seem to be everywhere. Oh, and the occasional rat as well.
I like September nights. Sunset today was around 7:20 pm, and pretty much dark by 8.00 pm, so no need to stay out late and loose much needed sleep. My walk starts at the old entrance road to Dalhousie Castle, now well overgrown and soon approaching impassable unless someone takes some serious gardening equipment to the vegetation. This old entrance is actually walled up but they’ve left a stone style for foot, and all be it awkward, two-wheeled access. The sandstone steps of the steps were crumbling away during Covid-19 lockdown but I did a covert repair late one night with a concrete block scavenged from the tipped waste by the burn and a bag of pre-mixed mortar. My repair is still going strong.
First wildlife of the evening was barn owl at Cockpen & Carrington Parish Church. It was screeching at me from the trees. The screeching sound could be quite unnerving if you didn’t know it was only a barn owl. On previous visits I’ve managed to get the torch on the owl but it stayed well-hidden tonight. With the harvest all taken in, this left the fields in stubble, and a perfect excuse to try alternative routes rather than walk through the woodland trails. Might as well make use of these big open spaces while you can. They will be under the plough in a few weeks’ time.
As the weather is still warm and windless, I’m travelling lightweight, making a determined effort not to carry all the usual crap I never use but carry with me. Shorts and t-shirt are my attire, sandals on my feet and my Roka Willesden Crossbody Sling Bag on my back. Contained inside my Buffalo jacket, light leggings, house key, mobile phone, backup torch and some Planet Gary cards just in case I meet anyone and can hand them out. In my hand, my trusty Ledlenser MT14 torch.
So, across the fields heading in the direction of Carrington. Big bales are still littered across the field, awaiting collection and safe storage. The sky is overcast, so no moon tonight to light my way but the clouds cast plenty of light from the streetlights of Bonnyrigg. No need for my torch walking the fields. Approaching the road, a dark patch not five meters to my left. I flick the torch onto it, a badger digging for worms. Hello Mr Badger, I say, and away he goes. About the same reaction I used to get when I spoke to girls when I was teenager.
My route sometimes takes in part of the Carrington Road but not tonight, the adjacent field in under stubble, a good alternative highway to walk. As I’m walking along, I hear the sound of a meaty engine behind me and see a humungous tractor emerging from Dalhousie Mains farm. It turns and heads my way. Now, I thinking, here I am walking across the farmers field in the dark. What if he comes into this field, bathing me in the light of a million candelas from the multitude of lights on the tractor.
Actually, I’m not doing anything illegal. The Land Reform Act (2003) Scotland says I can be here at any time of day or night. But I still feel slightly guilty. I don’t know why. In any case, he takes a right and heads along another road at the junction. I would later encounter the same tractor in another field gathering big bales for uplift.
After checking out another field, again under stubble, I decide on a change of route. Instead of my usual return along the River South Esk, I’ll head towards Rosewell and back via the sand quarry. So, across the fields, through a very dark wood with all manner of creatures rustling the leaves, one most likely another badger from the heavy sound of its footfalls. Then across another field and we meet our tractor again. This time lighting up most of the field. However, he turns and roars away down a track, leaving me free to cross the field unseen.
I’m now heading back towards Bonnyrigg, though Young Bog Wood. However, I’m having problem with the trail. It’s been a few years since I came this way, usually on the fat bike and the trail does not get much use. In fact, its little more than a game trail and few people, if any, come this way. Fallen trees block the path and new boggy areas have appeared, making progress extremely difficult without ended up with smelly bog mud up to my knees. Definitely something to avoid. So, I have to other choice but to find another route, forcing my way through the scratchy pine trees, frequent smelly bog areas, patches of stinging nettles and hidden drainage ditches. But eventually, I make it largely unscathed, but with no small amount of nettle rash to my legs, onto the gravel road feeding the sand quarry.
My final stretch home is across stubble fields again, a better option than walking through the adjacent Hopefield housing estate. There’s usually some deer about here, but not tonight, I had the place to myself, other than a skein of geese flying overhead, possible heading for the Solway coast for the winter. Overall, a poor night regarding wildlife but still a most pleasant and enjoyable walk. And the best thing of all? I didn’t see another soul out walking. Bliss.
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