The sun was fading as I struggled up the track towards the bothy and I could detect the first strands of mist beginning to roll off the mountains. Not a good place to be caught out in deteriorating weather. Just ask Mountain Rescue. The Scottish Highlands are a bit like the girl of your dreams – visually beautiful, but unforgiving if you treat her wrong.
As the evening breeze died out I heard a familiar sound, distant yet distinctive, of a solo piper, playing a pibroch, a tune in the form of a lament which I did not recognise. I rounded a bend in the track, and there he was, in silhouette against the hazy setting. He stood on an outcrop, facing away to the west.
I was going to have to pass him to get to the bothy. As I did, he stopped playing and spoke in a voice which seemed to emanate from the gathering fog.
‘Stranger, you are far from a warm hearth.’ He turned towards me and regarded me with sightless eyes. His thin body was draped in plaid, but the skin that I could see was palest white, almost blue. It took an effort to suppress a shudder.
‘I am heading for the bothy at the top of the glen. I did not recognise the tune.’
‘It has no name. It is in honour of my brothers who fell at this place nearly 600 years ago. The battle has no name either.’
‘It is a very sad tune, and it does tell its story.’
His yellow teeth gleamed as his mouth twisted into something that might have been a smile. ‘Our legend says that if a stranger hears that tune I must play its successor. It is the good news that my brothers have found favour with God. I must stay on this world to play these pibroch tunes to an empty horizon.’ He blew air into the pipes.
The tune was lighter, more uplifting but compelling. As the last notes faded away I began to applaud, until I realised that the lone piper had vanished.