Today I am going to tell you a ghost story, and not one from an old history book, or a well-worn one from local legend. This is a real ghost story which happened just two days ago. And it happened to me.
After weeks of rain and back-to-back storms with funny names like Dennis and Jorge, there finally seemed to be a clear day for an adventure. I knew that, despite the lower ground being pretty much snow-free, the tops of the hills would provide a bit of a snowy mission and I was excited. I have decided that I need to have one big snow adventure every year and Tuesday turned out to be the perfect day for it – exactly 11 months to the day since my last really arctic adventure up there, the day when I first began painting the mural in the bothy.
After waking up at 4 am and faffing about for 45 minutes, I finally slipped out of the house at 4.45 am and headed down to the bottom of the forestry road (which I noticed had a new sign which called it the ‘Heads of Valley’ road which I hadn’t heard it being called before). I normally never take any music with me on my long walks because I like to be able to hear all the sounds of nature without any distractions, but since I knew I would be walking in the dark for the first couple of hours I had decided to make a little playlist to keep me company for the first section. As a little in-joke with myself I just included songs with the word ‘night’ in the title, and only upbeat songs that I could sing along to loudly, like Sam Cooke’s ‘Twistin’ the Night Away‘ and (of course) The Strokes, ‘Last Night‘ (new album coming out on April 20th – could I be any more excited?!). I purposefully left out Garth Brooks’s ‘The Night will only Know’ because it is quite a horrible song about a woman being raped and murdered so I didn’t think that would create a positive vibe. The songs made the first 2 hours pass quickly, even if it did mean that any lurking wildlife keep its distance from the wailing beast that was me.
Anway, by the time I reached the bottom of the hill past the track for Hillend Farm, the terrain beneath my feet suddenly changed from firm gravel to deeper and deeper snow. Before too long the snow was spilling over the tops of my boots and I seemed to slip backwards a few centimeters with every step I took. I completely underestimated just how snowy it was going to be up there and to be honest, I did fleetingly consider turning back around when I realised how tough it was to walk in; every step up to the wind turbines became an exhausting chore, but I figured that once I got up past Euchanhead and down towards the bothy then it should have thinned out a bit.
Just as I was on my final ascent up beside Rye Grain burn, I noticed a very slow-moving truck heading in my direction; a forestry manager had chosen the day to come and measure the bridges and do an assessment for a felling job. I hitched a lift for the long descent down beside Polvaddoch Burn and learnt lots of interesting things about forestry work and the machines that are used. Just like running a B&B, this time of year is very tough for folk in the timber trade; if conditions are too bad then they aren’t able to do any work and therefore aren’t earning any money, and yet are still having to pay out for big machinery which isn’t being used. Much as I love the snow, I do hope it stops soon so that people can start earning a living again! (us included!!!).
It was exactly 9 am when I was dropped off at Polskeoch/Chalk Memorial Bothy – getting a lift for the last stretch probably didn’t really save me any time because we had to creep along so slowly, but at least it saved my legs a bit. It was so nice to be back at the bothy for the first time in ages; some absolute diamond had left a big stack of dry logs and a massive sack of coal so I had a roaring fire going within minutes. Next time I have the opportunity to get a lift up there I will drop off more fire supplies for other weary travellers!
My original plan was to chill at the bothy for an hour, do a bit of work on the mural and drop off a new visitors book, and then head up to one of Andy Goldsworthy’s Striding Arches on Colt Hill. But just after 10 am, the previously clear sky turned into a monsoon and continued for the next couple of hours; I was so glad to be inside the shelter of the bothy, with socks drying atop a blazing stove. As I waited for the rain to stop I enjoyed my lunch (a Port Salut & Lime pickle sandwich, and 2 packets of Stilton flavoured Mini Cheddars, in case you were wondering – unfortunately my Double Decker was completely frozen solid which made it far less pleasurable to eat than a non-frozen one), and I read a rubbish short story about a murder in Johannesburg and added a bit onto the mural with my Posca pens.
Apologies for the ramble: I am now getting to the ghost bit, finally. So, after a nice relaxing couple of hours I decided to take some more photos of the bothy, whilst thinking about the other little bits which still needed to be finished on the mural. I added an extra bookcase to the design a while ago – this one is being saved for a very special selection of books requested by the Chalk family which I will be doing around Easter time (read more about the background to the bothy, and its connection with the Chalk family here: https://thescottishdream.com/2019/09/30/sundials-greek-classics-murals-the-synchronicity-of-it-all/).
Just as I was thinking about all this, whilst I was taking a photo of the back wall, suddenly, just as the flash on my phone lights up, right in front of me I see a big wispy form. That is the only way I can think of describing it. It was like a ‘cloud’ – not a trailing wisp like from a candle or burning cigarette, more like the size and form of Slimer from Ghostbusters, but white and smoke-like. And yes – of course I am acutely aware of how silly this all sounds. Although I spent my teenage years obsessed with The X Files and yearning to see a ‘real life’ ghost, I am more of a sceptical realist these days so I certainly don’t go looking for, or hoping to experience, ghostly encounters.
Anyway, as daft as I know it sounds, I knew completely that there was another entity in that bothy with me. And I’ll admit – because I was so utterly certain of what was happening, for a tiny nano second I was a little bit scared. So I simply said out loud something like ‘Oh, hello ghost, I’m Alice and I’m just going to chill here for a bit until the rain stops, I hope that’s ok?’. And everything felt fine. I didn’t feel ‘alone’ the whole time I was there, but it most certainly wasn’t a bad presence at all; I knew that this was a ‘good ghost’ and not a haunt-your-nightmares type one. In fact, it was quite nice to have a bit of silent company.
So, that is my True Ghost Story. Of course, the photos I took don’t reveal anything at all, which is fine. Despite being a bit of a cynic about other people’s ghost stories, I am very certain about what I experienced on Tuesday – there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that there was a ‘spirit presence’ in the bothy. I think it was a happy spirit which presented itself simply because it was pleased to have a nice warm fire and a bit of company for a couple of hours; judging from the visitors book, no one has been in there for a few weeks so I guess it was just a bit lonely. So if you are doing the Southern Upland Way anytime soon, please make sure you light a fire and spend a bit of time with the Polskeoch Ghost – and please say hello from me.
Get in touch if you have had any similar experiences at the Polskeoch/Chalk Memorial bothy – I’d love to hear more stories!