LESS has been said in a
pleasant way about the wild flowers than about the wild animals of
Scotland. Yet our four-footed creatures are few, and their tale easily
told. Our wild birds, too, have been sadly thinned out, with the
exception of sea forms; and these belong to other coasts as well. Birds
have wings, and can cross water.
Whereas the many wild
flowers are well-nigh untouched. Nor do they fly about from place to
place, but remain pretty much where they have been all along. They are
ours, in a sense in which other living things are not.
Moreover, they are out of
fellowship with the wild flowers of other lands. There is no common
border across which they mingle with kindred forms. Like ourselves, they
have a semi-island character, and have grown into what they are by long
ages spent within the Channel. They have been shaped and coloured here.
If the quest is not
exciting, it is not therefore less interesting. Some of the ruder
elements of sport are absent. We do not shoot them, nor do we hunt them
Nevertheless, it is not
all dainty basket-work in shaded woodland glade, or on sunny bank,
seeing that Scotland is not made up of such mild features as these. To
the venturesome there is abundant opportunity of showing what is in him.
If the ledge of
coast-cliff, where the peregrine builds, is bad to get at, either from
the grassy top, or from the bottom where the water gurgles, the crack in
which the rare seaside flower roots itself is still more puzzling. It
needs a cool head as well as a rope and a belt.
If only a bold man dare
take the golden eagle’s eggs from the face of a Grampian precipice, it
needs a bolder one still to rob that little colony of alpines, faintly
glowing, through the field - glass, five hundred feet above or below.
It thus appears that in a
land like this the pursuit of the rarer wild flowers need not be lacking
in manliness. If they do not run away, it is because they are safe from
all but the boldest, who will blench at nothing, in some giddy place
which no blue hare could reach, and where no mountain bird could perch.
Where wild animals thin
out towards the tops of mountains until, it may be, only two are left,
wild plants climb on ahead, scaling everything by the way, so that one
who would follow them must be at least as hardy as a ptarmigan shooter.
No scene so rude as to deter them, or so lofty as to keep them back. If
they are not higher, it is because there is no greater height to reach.
They are in all sorts of
cunning places, where a false step or too long a reach might be awkward.
They hide in the shadow of the boulder, or peep from the crevice of the
rock to see who may be the strange visitor, in solitudes so seldom
disturbed by human footstep.
And the results at the
close of a long day, when one has dropped down the mountain-side and
perhaps got into his slippers, are certainly not less a matter of boast
than the bag of game. One has at least the satisfaction of feeling that
he has been among genuine wildlings, that have been left in those out -
of - the - way places to fight their own battle with natural enemies.
I have followed both
plant and animal, with no view of taking either egg or flower out of its
picturesque or wild setting, and I owe more of my delight in wild nature
and my knowledge of Scotland to the former than to the latter.
The quest for flowers has
led me by the seaside, within the spray of the breakers; inland—over
spring meadows passionate with blossoming, through brakes glowing with
broom, along lanes scented with the May; upland, beyond the purple and
pink heather zones, to where the mountain breezes play most freely.
My wish is to take those
who care to follow, by the same pleasant ways, to the same goal. I shall
begin low down, and among familiar things, only so far Scots, that in
some cases they have had to harden themselves to our soil and climate.
“You are not going to
give us everything found here?” said one.
“Oh dear, no! Nothing is
further from my thoughts.”
A few typical forms in a
natural setting, livened by some incident or course of events in which I
shared, or stood by to witness; and that is all.
Among others, the wild
flowers of these benty sea-coast stretches, known in their natural state
as links; and that for a certain reason, which I shall proceed to give.
No pleasanter way can
there be of spending the hot hours of a summer day than on some royal
mantle of purple thyme, or some humbler couch of yellow bed-straw,
looking away over the lit and shaded grasses; and, yielding to the
drowsy influence, to tilt the cap over the face, and to go to sleep to
the whispering of the sea within the shell of the ear.
Of seaside thyme, or
humbler bed-straw, there will soon be none. As these scenes are being
invaded and re-turfed, this sketch may come to be interesting as a
picture of what used to be.
In St. Andrews—that Mecca
of golf—until the other day, a margin of natural bents was left between
the new course and the sea. Visitors will recall the bright picture on
the sunny afternoons of their stay, filled in by attractive groups, of
which they may have formed one.
Even this strip has been
taken away. And a whisper is passing round that the lack of walking-room
may be supplied by wounding the sides of perhaps the most picturesque
sand-dunes in the country. This would be worse even than driving away
the links flowers, and denying an afternoon siesta in the hot sun to all
who are not prepared for a rude awakening.
From the seaside and the
plain, where so much is common, I shall enter the fastnesses in search
of what is peculiarly Scots, and wade through the belt of shrubs to the
alpine region beyond.
From the mountain-top, as
a coign of vantage, I shall gaze away north, over the milder Shetlands,
to where mountain forms with us grow at sea-level, and are known no
longer as alpines, but as arctics.
From Nansen’s Farthest
North I borrow a nearer view of these arctic lowlands.
“In the evening we at
last reached the islands, and for the first time for two years had bare
land under foot. The delight was indescribable, and was not lessened
when, in a little sheltered corner among the stones, we found beautiful
poppies and snowy saxifrages.”