A few of you may have spotted it on Instagram: I was on a cemetery tour again, in East Lothian and Caithness. The trip to the more northerly part of the country was definitely the more exciting one.
It’s a Saturday in mid-September, the weather is gracious, for this time of year: warm, windy and dry, ideal for exploring cemeteries and taking photos for my Graveyards of Scotland blog. I’m slowly photographing my way north, the first cemetery on the list is Dingwall. I’ve been there a few times, but somehow I never made it to the cemetery.
After that I work my way north, mile after mile north. I had booked a hotel near Thurso. The day is drawing to a close and because the hotel is small, the reception is only open until 7.30 p.m. I am confident that I can make it there in time. I’ve managed ten cemeteries so far and I want to visit one last one before I retire to the hotel.
The afternoon slowly melts into the evening. I drive through the desolate Caithness barenness; nothing but space, wind and turbines. Camster must be close. There is only one exit, a private road, a rusty sign near the gate names the farm as well as the burial ground. I grab my camera bag and set off on foot. Hoping to find what I expect to be a small burial ground for a small settlement, maybe just for the farm.
The evening wind brings cold air from the sea and I put up the collar of my wax jacket. After about half an hour’s walk, the gravel road takes me to Camster Farm. It is not clear to me where the cemetery is supposed to be. I scan the area but don’t see any walls that suggest a small cemetery. It’s not always easy in Scotland, walls are often just for sheep or have been used for different things over generations. It all looks the same from afar. Even though I’ve trained my eyes to cemeteries by now.
This looks like it looks on so many Scottish farms, a few rusting cars by the roadside, worn out tools and machinery. A man comes out of the farmhouse and walks to the gate, five Border Collies jump around him, barking loudly. I walk up to him, wave cautiously and shout in his direction that I’m looking for the cemetery. He seems to be nodding to me and says something that I cannot understand in this mayhem, the barking of the dogs is much too loud.
The farmer stops behind the thin wire fence and mumbles something. I step closer and suddenly hell breaks loose. I can’t even react, it all happens so quickly, when one of the Border Collies grabs my arm through the fence. Thankfully it only catches my sleeve. Before I am even aware of his attack, he jumps towards my face. I gasp and finally take a step back. The pack is raging behind the fence. They want blood.
“I told you he’s not used to people”. the farmer reproaches. As if I had just snapped at his dog and not the other way around.
Did he say that? If so, I didn’t hear.
My wax jacket has three holes where the beat’s teeth penetrated the material, and my glasses sport a huge scratch. That was close! Should I complain? Ask for compensation? I’m alone and on his property. He has five dogs. The question is rhetorical.
“Go through the two gates but close them properly behind you! Then you have to cross the river, but don’t take the bridge, it’s not safe. Then go across the field to the cemetery. “
I take his instructions like an obedient dog.
“We are not allowed to do anythingin there.” he says. “There used to be an association that took care of the small cemetery, but nobody comes anymore. We are not allowed in.”
He looks at me sternly as if I had come up with the idea. I smile a little tensely.
“Don’t forget to close the gates again!” He shouts after me.
As if I’d forget, thinking about his five berserkers. If I encounter them without being oprotected by a fence I’m done: Death in the cemetery!
I smile quietly as I imagine the different headlines.
Journalist victim of killer dogs
The author’s last chapter
farm dog attack
I could go on like this forever.
Quietly amused, I trudge carefully through the rough terrain, obediently close both gates with highly artistic rope loops, balance through two slippery burns, finally to arrive at the mysterious little burial ground of Camster. A small enclosure, an ancient stone wall, blooming fireweed and an old, wobbly wooden door that is barely hanging on its hinges.
I walk around it once and then laboriously pull the door open. When I enter, the vegetation reaches up to my shoulders. I can see a few gravestones, but I don’t know where you are going. I would never dare to come here at night. This is scary enough during the day already.
Nobody has set foot here for years.
Most of the inscriptions are indecipherable. According to Canmore the earliest known gravestone is from 1806. I can only make out a few first names: Victoria and Liam. And somebody was killed by accident? Somehow that does not surprise me here.
Suddenly I think of snakes, rats and all sorts of animals with sharp teeth that could lurk in here. Carefully, very carefully, I step backwards out of this completely overgrown cemetery. Who knows which animal could attack me in the thicket here!
I prefer to take photos from outside. On the way back I keep looking towards the farmhouse, the dogs are now in the kennel and I am safe, but I only feel really safe again when I am sitting in the car and driving towards civilisation.
Who would have thought, that Scottish cemeteries can be so dangerous.