‘It must have been a shooting star. Or his imagination. Then the light appeared again’
Extract from Light on Dumyat
By Rennie McOwan
Published by Rowan Tree Publishing
Chapter 2: The Mysterious Light
Gavin reached over the seat and put his hand in his rucksack pocket. He produced the compass.
Aunt Elspeth laughed: “I see you are prepared. Can you use it?”
Gavin nodded. He had practised using a compass and map in a park at home.
“Well, that’s good because the hills are new to you, so your compass is essential,” said Aunt Elspeth. “Anyway, it’s early to bed tonight. Tomorrow you can explore as much as you like. You do know you should never go hillwalking without a hot drink and food, don’t you? It’s just in case the temperature suddenly drops or you get into difficulty.”
The car stopped in front of a large stone house. Gavin eyed it with interest. It had three storeys and a high roof. At one end was a round tower and there were real battlements. A pebble-covered drive ran right around the house, with large flower beds in front. The woods surrounded it on all sides. They looked deep and peaceful. Gavin listened in delight. There was no sound, but a soft whispering from the trees and the deep crooning of wood pigeons in the distance.
Aunt Elspeth led the way to his room. It was small, with thick walls papered in bright colours. His bed was against one wall.
“These are the Ochils,” said Aunt Elspeth, pointing out of the window.
Gavin peered out. Beyond the trees and dwarfing the house lay a range of hills. They were like a huge, frozen green wave, he thought.
He studied their steep flanks, seamed with little cliffs and covered with clumps of gorse and boulders. Half hidden by a cluster of tall pine trees, he could make out a rocky pointed peak at the end of the range.
“What’s that?” he asked Aunt Elspeth. She came over to the window. “Oh, that’s Dumyat,” she said. “Long ago there was atribe of Picts called the Maeatae. They built a fort on top of that hill. It overlooks the Forth valley and then north-wards to the Grampian mountains.
“A Pictish fort is called a ‘dun’,” she continued, “so that’s how the hill got its name. The dun of the Maeatae. Since then, the name has become slurred into Dumyat – pronounced dum-eye-at.”
Aunt Elspeth laughed. “Some of your cousins didn’t. When they came to stay here, they couldn’t sleep. They thought the hills were going to fall on them!”
Gavin chuckled. Yet he could understand their feelings. The hills did appear to lean over the house. They “frowned”, he thought.
“You’ll meet Uncle Fergus in the morning,” said Aunt Elspeth. “Now, get to sleep. I’ll call you early and show you over the house. You’ll have plenty of time to explore.”
Gavin lay in his narrow bed and gazed at the hills. Now that it was dark they were just a blue-black mass against the sky. A few stars twinkled palely. Dark night clouds drifted slowly across the sky.
It was then that his adventure began. Halfway up the hill – the peak Aunt Elspeth had called Dumyat – he suddenly saw a light. It winked for a moment and then disappeared.
Gavin lay still. It must have been a shooting star. Or his imagination. Then the light appeared again. It flashed twice .
Gavin jumped out of bed. He opened the window quietly and leaned out. All was still. From a farm, a dog barked twice. The pines sighed softly. From the woods came the hoot of a tawny owl.
Gavin studied the hills again. They remained black and silent. Then the light flashed again. He saw it clearly.
But who would have a light up there? No one lived there. Aunt Elspeth had said so. Could it be poachers? Or smugglers? Anyhow, no one burned a light late at night in those lonely hills without good reason.
It was a funny sort of light, thought Gavin as he drifted off to sleep. It was almost as if someone had opened the door of a lighted room and then shut it again… quickly!
Light On Dumyat by Rennie McOwan is out now (PB, £7.99) published by Rowan Tree Publishing
‘The decaying ruin of the former seminary itself sat patiently awaiting its fate throughout’
‘A reminder of the sheer range of Scotland’s literary imagination’