24th February


This morning you take a stroll out to the Pictish stone, two miles from home. A good walk to a good place. Up onto the high road, which runs along and over the Sidlaws down to the Tay, and which gives commanding views of the Grampians to the north; past the castle and four neat cottages, and then to the stone. An old road, this: once a path, then a track, five hundred feet above sea level, avoiding the worst of the low-lying bogs. There would have been more trees on the hillside then, protection from the weather to which it is now exposed. A place from which to look north and not be easily seen. From here you’d see them coming, whoever they were.

A neighbour, who was out at the stone two days ago, remarked that the mountains, though still white, were looking contented, as opposed to saying Fuck off, their usual mood at this season. But perhaps this is a ploy, to lure you to them, and once you are lured they’ll say, Fuck off now, if you can. The King of the mountains is Death.

Who brought the stone, ice or man? Around here the ice moved from west to east. However it arrived, this six-foot slab didn’t originate in these parts. Different kind of rock. The carvings are only on the south side, and very faded. Two discs linked by a Z-rod: a frequently occurring symbol with a meaning lost to us. Below this, a mirror, and maybe a comb. At the top, an animal, camouflaged by the lichen, with a curved back and open mouth. Dog? Wolf ? Boar? Bear? At this distance, this close, it is impossible to be sure.

But you trace the lines with your finger and you know that men, if they did not transport it here, stood it upright. Why? To mark the land? To leave their mark? It is not hard to imagine them imagining you imagining them. The mirror of time. And they would have seen, as you do looking north, that this is what there is, earth and sky, and that the stone will outlast its carvings and all of us too.

Reader: James Robertson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium: Kit Downes
Subscribe here for more stories & music