AUGUST is Scotland’s month,
as September is, perhaps, that of England. In one the grouse reigns, in the
other the partridge. In August, Scotland appears as the joy of nations. The
bustle, the portmanteaux, the fishing-baskets, the shooting-bags, all are so
cheery, so hopeful, so virile. They who have been in the midst of it look
forward eagerly, and backward with a sigh of regret. The story of August is
the idyll of Scotland.
Natives feel all the charm
without the freshness of novelty. They refrain from ecstasies because of a
quiet sense of possession. Just as those who live in the sunshine are
content to bask. Dwellers on the coast are not constantly snuffing up the
sea-breeze. Children of the hills smile pleasantly on the eagerness of the
In August the breath of
autumn is felt first, cool, but not cold. The sun shines through a soft
silver, and lies golden on the golden harvest fields. In a sea of haze,
cumulus masses float up from the west. The sky is oftener grey, clouding
over of an afternoon. The breeze has a trick of rising suddenly, passing
through the trees with a certain metallic rattle, suggestive of the fall.
The hills are misty-outlined and purple-flanked, even at midday. The
landscape sobers into brown shades. The setting sun has crept round to the
southern side of yonder peak. The northern twilight is less lingering, and
deepens into something more nearly approaching dark.
Young willow-warblers come in
about the gardens to feed on the aphides, and utter at intervals their
plaintive lay, not yet fully formed. Castanet sounds are heard, and, ere the
second week has passed, young robins break into their autumn song and trill
delightfully. The twittering swallows feed the young on the eaves; then
young and old float in the air to a sweet chorus. Anon is a gathering on the
telegraph wires, and on the morrow all are gone. Far aloft the swifts
scream. The young arc on the wing, strengthening for the long flight, to be
entered on at mid-month.
A yellow-hammer sings from
the fence, but for the most part the singing has passed into something else.
A charming family of whitethroats are talking to one another ever so
delightfully in the bramble brake. How soft the tones even of a whitethroat
can be when in its gentler moods, and how expressive. Some of the notes seem
to be telling the young I am coming up the lane, and that they must lose
themselves in the shadow, or among the twigs and the leaves.
The August linnet is a
charming bird; it meets us in so many places and so many ways. It seems to
take possession of the countryside. Here it is everything, and everywhere.
Perched on the top bar of a fence, it sings its tinkling song almost without
a break. It fills more of the autumn air with music than the robin, which
sings but now and then, and with frequent breaks. In the late afternoon,
when the shadows are falling westward, it flies to some favourite tree or
trees, where it meets other linnets, and all sing their tinkling song in
chorus. Wherein it differs from the robin, which never sings in company.
Now a family of rose-linnets
are bobbing high over the fence, tinkling as they go, to light on the
grain-field beyond. The most charming of Scots birds finds a golden
cage—whose wires are the slender stalks of the single grains—in the most
charming of Scots cereals. Others may laugh at the oats, because of the free
use the nation is supposed to make of it when ground. But it is hard to beat
full grown, and with the head shaken free; harder still in its golden tint
as now. With how infinite a grace do the pendent grains drop round a linnet.
Friendships are made there. It may be as the heads sway together from the
weight. On the note of alarm, two families bob away as one.
With an evener dip in their
motion, and a flight-note lower, sweeter, though not less charming - in
autumn the characteristic sounds are flight-notes - pass families of
greenfinches. Next to the linnet, they play the largest part in August
country life. They are even more numerous, and more generally spread. They
are more of a dominant species. But, inasmuch as the play of the greenfinch
is less varied, as it moves about in larger or smaller groups, and seldom
sits alone to sing, the linnet is more heard and felt in the scene.
From some convenient tree,
the plebeian sparrows drop down on the uncut barley. If this, too, is in a
sense a Scottish cereal because of its supposed popularity north of the
Tweed, the nation can have no objection to acknowledge the soft impeachment,
and own it. Among grains, it is second in grace to the oats alone. And it
can lend of its charm even to the sparrows, as they swing on an elastic
perch under the misty sweep of
On level wing, a dozen or
more starlings flit from place to place, or run over the pasture with inborn
restlessness. The lapwings of all the Countryside have gathered together,
and through the afterglow and in the twilight, wheel in two great flocks
against the western sky.
Mating has passed. August is
the month of families. Flocking has set in intermittently, and for a
purpose. It is joyous work this raiding together, this dropping down from
the deep shade, this tinkling through the coloured autumn sunlight toward
the golden fields. The order is not yet so close, but that a family will
drop in a corner by itself. They will gather in the morning to spend the day
together; they will spend the day in families to gather in the evening. So
these characteristic northern forms—the finches and the buntings—pass their
charming August life, to fall again, it may be, into looser order when the
harvest is past, until the coming on of the cold.
More interesting to the man
of sporting instincts, as distinguished from the naturalist, is the grouping
of the grouse. The family is known as a covey. August is the month of
coveys. It is the form that lends itself to sport. It dots the heather all
over—a covey here and a covey there. When many families pack—move about in
one body and gather into one place—much of the heather is barren. During the
period of family life the mood is comparatively gentle. In packing, another
order of instincts come into play. Reports from the moors tell that the
birds are difficult of approach. The season is not necessarily over, for,
under changing conditions of weather, they will pack and dissolve again.
Hill birds pack sooner than
birds of the plain. Indeed, in ordinary winters, lowland birds pack but
loosely, or can scarce be said to pack at all. Upland conditions are harder,
the gales ruder, the storms rush down from the heights; there is less of
shelter save among themselves. Mountain linnet and golden plover leave the
heather for the pasture and the stubble. Grouse stay. The gusty winds of
autumn ruffle, the gun decimates, the thinned family ranks seek safety in
numbers and readier flight.
Were the shooting later, the
packing might be later. Were the birds stronger, the skill of the sportsman
must be increased. In late seasons are many cheepers, which are no fitter
for the game-bag than small trout for the fishing-basket. But it is hard to
break the tradition of "the twelfth," or to pass on its glow and virility.
The heather would have ceased to bloom; the charm of the environment would
be wanting. A change in the day and the spell might be broken, the moors
might cease to attract, and Scotland might no longer be the joy of nations.
So great issues hang on little things. Shooting or no shooting, August
reigns queen over the hills, not less for the flush of her heather than for
picturesque grouping of her red birds, midway between the mating and the
Ere the month is out the
stalker is abroad. Many a stag has been grassed. Those who love the delicate
bouquet, nor wish it to pass in repletion, leave the moor for the forest.
The knocking over of grouse day after day does not appeal to them. They seek
nobler game, go a step up the ladder.
If not a very reliable month,
August fishing is very charming, and that is a good deal. From the hill
burn, fringed with yellow and white saxifrages, and rushing, to the twitter
of mountain linnets, through the glen stream flowing down between
heather-flushed slopes, to the lowland water in its statelier course by
green haughs and overhanging woods—all are equally delightful. The change of
environment makes no change in the charm.
After all, the fishing
depends much upon the season, so that there may be both environment and
sport. This summer was dry, still, and bright. The water shrank till it
dipped to the mud of slow-flowing streams, and made channels in the gravelly
beds. Spring and summer were alike barren. With August the rain fell; not
drenching, but just enough to flush; not continuous, but with long, bright
intervals. After the rain came wind, not blustering, but strong enough to
chase the flushed pools into ripples, and so add the last touch to perfect
fishing conditions. The big trout rose in that determined way of theirs when
feeding, sucking down the fly while scarce breaking the surface into rings.
Only yesterday, in the stream
hard by, the rising was quite eager, in pleasant contrast with th€
sluggishness of months.
Night fishing comes earlier;
indeed, it is the month of night fishing. It is no longer a waiting through
an unfading twilight. One who does not care for a whole night of the stream
may stroll out about eight o’clock, cast for two hours over the dimming
surface, and then walk home through the dark. Perhaps the most delightful
form of fishing while it lasts, and that which leaves the most charming
impression. It deepens the mystery, which is the spell of the sport.
Trout are in perfect
condition in August, fed upon summer flies into fatness and symmetry of
mould. One is worth having. Anglers, like gunners, are too much given to the
big-basket theory, to measure the day’s success by the weight and often by
the number. And just so far they come short of being sportsmen. My most
delightful day of late only yielded one fish, but it was large, lively, and
lightly hooked. With that pleasing flutter within, I watched the Scouring of
the line, felt the impatient tugging when he had got as much as I cared to
give, followed the reluctant passage down the stream till the white side was
turned up. How firm the flesh was, and what power of muscle as he curved in
the hand. It was enough. With each fresh capture the delicacy of the
sensation would have weakened. Though I made a few more casts, I soon went
away. Next day the charm would be fresh again.
If the fish are dainty
because of the variety of the fly, and slow because of the number, all the
more art is needed, alike in the choice and use of the lure. Watch an old
angler—shabby as only an angler can be—who has been baffled all the morning,
and only gets the keener—with his eye on the rings which the trout are
breaking, to see what they are sucking down. From his book of battered
parchment he takes a bare hook, and fur or feather for fresh dressing. If
the lure attract where others failed, a glow comes over his face. It is
better than a basketful where the trout would not be denied. I have visions
of such an angler who—after barren but delightful hours— came near to
Ashestiel, where he cast again, and this time not in vain. The play of the
trout is passing now; the faint gurgle where the water swirled, sounds; the
glow on the face shines out.
In the slight air-chill,
flies are not so many. Forms drop and pass. Other forms, touched with richer
shades, come in their stead, but do not quite fill their place. The heyday
of insect life has gone by. Whereas the water was a maze of spinners half
hidden in drowning forms, one spins or drowns here and there. As in spring,
insect life awakens not all at once, but a few appear in advance. So in
August it goes to sleep, not all at once. A few remain after the rest. There
is a sort of second spring, where are flies, but not enough to sate. The
rise is not, as in chill April, that of hungry, half-fed trout, wherever
March Brown lights, but a sullen wallop for change of diet. In a season of
dry, hot, forcing weather, is a gap after the passage of summer forms—when
the later insects appear, the rising is eager enough.
As a further charm, August
closes the fishing. The trout have matured into their perfect mould, only to
change. Though the form is generally maintained to the last day of the
month, through the early weeks of September the deterioration becomes plain.
Even yesterday, the 20th of August, a trout, full and perfect as trout could
be, still showed a tell-tale margin of white on the fins. The season may
have forced the fish as well as the flies. It was the first hint that sport
was drawing near an end.
Some fish on to the last
lawful day. They go by book. The angler’s book is nature; he guides himself
by what he sees there. As a general rule, he finds that August is as long as
he cares to fish for trout. No one year is like another, so he may fish on a
few days longer, or stop a week earlier, as he finds the trout slower or
faster in passing their best. In no case does he care to trouble fish which
have on them the marks of early spawning.
For the angler are the same
divisions as in shooting. August is a precious, and somewhat of a sad month.
Its weeks are numbered, then its days, finally its hours. And when the
reckoning is reduced to the fingers of one hand, he might well pose for the
"Knight of the rueful countenance." To have the trout at its best and yet at
its latest. To be bound by that angler’s conscience of his, that unwritten
agreement as between him and his quarry, that debt of honour to Nature for
her largesse, not to fish after the hour has struck, or the first sign of
That last day of grey cloud
and wind-chased pool; that last night of shortening twilight and
early-coming dark, which—linger as he might— would come to an end. That day
and night too which—as though to try to the utmost what manner of man he
was—the trout rose, as they had done no other day nor night for many weeks.
I have come with him along the shaded road, entered his house, and watched
him place his rod on the pegs where he would see it from his arm-chair all
winter through, and muse through the curling smoke on the last time of
using, when the trout rose so freely in the darkening.
Coast life in August is very
full and very charming. The sands are not so hot as in the earlier months.
The white light of July is pleasantly shaded and tinged, flushing the
breaking waves into a delicate pink. It is then that the crowd, whose
instincts are in the main right, seek the seaside; it charms and exhilarates
as at no other time. Their demands are few, the conditions elemental; they
give themselves up to the simple joy of living. Once a year it is well to
return to nature. Mature hands splash the water in the frolic of childhood.
Their natural history is confined to the donkeys up on the dry sand, which
they mount for a penny ride— after the cold snap of bathing—to the ripple of
the old girlish laughter. But even donkeys are part of a very delightful
picture, and by no means banish other forms for those who have eyes to see.
If the bird life, on the flat
stretches where the visitors go, is not so rich nor so varied as in winter,
neither is it so grave. It is bright and sparkling, vivacious and
sympathetic. The terns mimic the bathers, but with ever so much more perfect
an art. They are sunlight, motion, virility, joy incarnate. They dive and
splash, and emerge, not to shake the drops off, but with the purpose
which runs through all the doings of wild life. For the children, how
delightful a first lesson in nature, to have such bright associates for
bathing, with whom they take dive about. They may forget many things, but
scarcely the bright days with the terns among the August ripples. If,
hitherto, they have been so absorbed with their own little ring formed by
chubby hands, next August let them make new friends.
Paddling in the rush of the
breaking ripples are many gulls, which scarce take the trouble to get out of
the wader’s way. As a change in the puzzles weekly propounded in the
children’s corner of magazines, it might be well to ask how many different
kinds of their fellow-waders there were. They can scarcely fail to make out
three— the herring-gull, the common gull, and the black-headed gull. In
August the difficulty is greater than at any other time, but that only makes
the puzzle so much the more interesting. They are in process of changing the
summer for the winter plumage. The black-headed gull is imperfectly named
after its summer hood. And now that it has no longer a black head it is hard
to tell. Only it is the smallest of the three, and has red legs.
Certain returning divers sail
close in to add to the list. Many waders pipe along the coast, whose notes
should be easy to distinguish. And altogether the circle of new
acquaintances on an August day is fairly large.
In the sterner conditions of
marine life flocking comes hard upon, harder even than on the hills. The
three phases, moulded by the environment, are of exceptional interest. In
the vast and lonely areas of buffeting winds and warring seas, the living
forms at once mass into flocks, and cling together in pairs. The family
relation is no lasting phase. The solitary life is well-nigh unknown.