The high hills of Strathpeffer gird Black Isle and the south from Scotland’s dark northern reaches. The day is iron grey over emerald green and the wind, skirling from the snow-clad mountains, rips through the old Victorian spa town. For hours my dad and I have scoured this region for remnants and relics of the dark ages, from Craig Phadrig to Rosemarkie to Balintore to, finally, Strathpeffer. Here, beneath the intermittent lashing of rain showers and between requisite coffees, we climbed the muddy path to Clach an Tiompain: Sounding Stone, in Gaelic.
It is a relic of the Picts, an ancient culture that flourished in a time of such intellectual darkness that barely any memory of them remains. It is known as The Eagle Stone because the images of an eagle and a horseshoe or rainbow are graven on the face. The original name, “Sounding Stone,” is for more mysterious. The Brahan Seer prophesied tales of flooding in connection with the Eagle Stone should it fall three times. It has fallen twice. I love the Scots’ idea of protection – simple wooden fences, the mercy of the elements – and it feels right for something so integral to the land. There isn’t much to do once we find the stone but stare in silence and soak up the flood of wonder.