The skies are blue, the sun is warm, the plum trees are blossoming and our lawn is aglow with daffodils. Bunty and I decided to take advantage of this luscious spring weather and do a spot of geocaching. Geocaching is a sort of permanent treasure-hunt with GPS devices, and Bunty had spotted a cache on the map within walking distance of our cottage.
It was at the edge of the woods at the far side of two fields. We set off, with a mobile phone to guide us. Some highland cattle gazed at us from a nearby meadow.
Climbing up the rise, we tried to get our bearings, but the phone was failing to connect. As Bunty tried in consternation to make it work, a small horse came over in that way that people do when they’re all geared up to offer advice about something they know nothing about.
Unsurprisingly, we got little sense out of her, and decided to just keep going and hope to find the geocache by blind luck. What we found instead was an angry farmer.
He came striding across the field in a black suit and tie as though he had just been to a funeral. I gave him a friendly wave.
“Can I ask what ye think ye’re doin’?” he said.
“There’s a geocache here somewhere,” I smiled. “Do you know where it is?”
This seemed to throw him.
“Have you heard of geocaching?” I asked, getting all ready to explain.
“Yes,” he said. “It’s up thataways.” He waved vaguely at the woods beyond his field.
“And can I just say…,” he added, “ye cannae just go wandering aroond here withoot permission. This is a working farm.”
“I see,” I said. I didn’t really see. Bunty and I had grown up on and around working farms; people taking walks through the fields was a normal occurrence. My family’s farm in Wales contains a standing stone that is very popular with hippies, who can sometimes be seen dancing naked around it at Midsummer, because we told them you can get money that way. We wouldn’t think to go stomping over to tell them to sod off. As for Scotland, there are no laws on trespass here, and people have the right to roam.
I asked politely, “so next time we want to come this way, shall we come and ask you first?”
“Tae be perfectly honest with ye, I’d rather ye didnae come this way at all,” replied the farmer. He was bristling, but clearly uncomfortable with confrontation, falling back on extreme politeness to express his rage. Still, he managed to work up some steam.
“It’s rude,” he said. “If someone came intae your garden, especially with cameras, ye’d want them oot, wouldn’t ye?”
I didn’t want to cause bad feelings with a neighbour, so I just said yes. I pointed out our cottage to him, and the route we had taken from it. I emphasised the care we had taken to adhere to the Countryside Code, which he didn’t seem to have heard of – is that just a Welsh thing? I reassured him that we hadn’t hassled or fed any of his animals and had merely stroked his ponies over the gate.
“It’s just rude,” he said.
I promised that we wouldn’t walk on his [precious] fields again, except to go home. He politely retorted that we had no reason to go home that way, and could take the long way round. So I explained that I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and can’t walk that far.
“Ye should’ve thought o’ that before ye came,” he said.
I had thought of it. In fact, I’d had it all planned out. I was later to learn that this comment had upset Bunty more than most of the things the farmer had said, and he has been brooding about the man’s “dickishness” ever since.
We entered the woods. There was no sign of a geocache.
It began to rain.
We made our way to the Wallace Monument car park and called a taxi.
Somewhere in that clump of trees, there is a geocache.