Today was the first day I’ve missed my woolly hat while out walking. I should have anticipated this from the sound of the moaning wind down the chimney, but I saw diluted sunshine and overestimated its efforts. We’ve hit that indecisive time between summer and autumn, when dressing for a walk becomes a series of deliberations.
This morning I saw a couple of swallows swirling over the shore, still lingering after their long summer holiday. Further out, a couple of white flicks were diving in the choppy swell. Even from an anonymising distance I could tell they were gannets straight away, recognising the stiff beats of their black-tipped wings. As I withdrew further into my coat with hunching shoulders, another flash of white caught my eye. This was the clincher, a sign I’d been waiting for. A flock of eider ducks meant autumn was coming.
Summer isn’t my favourite season by a long way, and this year it was made particularly insufferable by a 40°C heat surge that coincided with my first case of Covid. Still, I can look back and say this summer has been both productive and great fun. Most of it was taken up by research for my book, which is now due in six weeks. I’ve explored Aberdeen, Portsoy, Glenlivet, Ballater, Braemar, Banchory, Dufftown and Carrbridge in the last two months alone, filling the last gaps in my Slow Travel Guide to North East Scotland.
After spending so much time walking outside, I was pleasantly surprised to find tan lines beneath my rings and watch strap. I mostly write at my desk, so I loved having the opportunity to stretch my legs and assure myself that spending days on end walking through forests and wandering around coastal villages was in fact work. Putting this book together has tested my organisation, self-discipline and resolve, but I’ve now emerged with a complete manuscript. All that remains is the entire editing process.
During my research trips I’ve been learning more about butterflies. Birds and mammals have been favourites of mine for years, but insects in general have never been my strong suit. This summer I thought I’d make use of not being able to birdwatch as much, and expand my nature knowledge in another area. I found it fascinating, stopping frequently to crawl on the ground for a closer look at a red admiral, peacock or, on two wonderful occasions, a common blue.
The butterfly I saw most was Scotch argus, which has made my English friends jealous. Many of them have never seen one, let alone several on just a short walk. It’s been a fantastic learning experience and one that I’ll continue next year.
Now, however, as both summer and my time working on my first book draws to an end, I’m looking forward. Fly agarics are popping up in the forest and eiders are rushing past over slate grey waves. I know it won’t be long before some of my favourite birds – fieldfares, redwings and long tailed ducks – make their reappearance. That chill in the air is the sign that autumn is waiting in the wings, and I can’t wait.