Brian Grassie 2017

 

Scotland is a relatively small country, or as we would say ‘wee’ country. In my opinion one of the greatest things to come from Scotland is the Scottish Deerhound. An ancient breed of dog that has enchanted man for thousands of years. Such was their importance that its been said, ancient tribes of Scots and Picts would wage war over the theft of deerhounds. 


Sir Walter Scott described these magnificent animals as “A most perfect creature of heaven”. 


His connection with the breed being so strong that he would often be depicted with a deerhound at his side in paintings and sculptures. In fact, the world’s largest monument of any writer is indeed of Sir Walter Scott with his beloved hound named Maida. In his words:


‘“I have sometimes thought of the final cause of dogs having such short lives and I am quite satisfied it is in compassion to the human race; for if we suffer so much in losing a dog after an acquaintance of ten or twelve years, what would it be if they were to live double that time?” 


Before we go any further I think it would be best for you to take a look at some deerhounds. Invest 3 minutes of your time and find some images online or in old fashioned books. Continue with this text when you’ve don’t that please. 


The deerhound breed is loved around the world, and like most pedigrees you will find some obsessive breeders who have dedicated their life to achieving the perfect specimen. The lineage of the Deerhound is a contentious topic for some, and there is much debate about the breed standard. A pup from a top breeder can cost thousands of £££s. I’d rather not indulge in all of that. I’d rather tell you a wee story about one of these magnificent beasts. 


This is the story of Bracken


Hundreds and hundreds of years ago in a cold damp region of old Caledonia, on a very dreich day, a hunter sat on a  glenside with his two faithful hounds. The hunter was wee, ginger, and brawny. This is a nice way of saying he was sturdy and powerful but a bit fat. However his dogs, a male and a female, were true athletes. Huge animals, well passed waist height for most men. Lean, long limbed, heavily muscled shoulders and haunches, long necked and with fine nimble feet almost cat-like. Long elegant heads, with Their coats, dark grey, thick and wiry provided protection from the fierce Scottish weather, and the aggressive Bramble bushes they’d run through. These three had been on a hare hunt. Hare aren’t the biggest of quarry and far from the easiest to catch. However they make good eating, and keep the hounds on their toes. 


All day they’d traipsed across moors and bogs, up and down a few corbits, and for what? Not even a single glimpse of a hare or anything else that might suit the pot! 


However, this was a thankfully rare occasion, as the hunter and his hounds were well known for dependability in providing food for the table. You see despite the weather, despite the fact that there was still some food at home, the hunter dearly loved to wander with his hounds, and they dearly loved the chance of a chase! As the sun began to slide behind the distant mountains, these three headed for home. Of course, they were tough enough to spend a night outdoors and pick up the hunt in the morning. They were tough, they weren’t daft, Mrs Hunter would have the fire roaring and dinner waiting by the time they got back. There would be plenty of other nights to get a soaked face courtesy of the unescapable Scottish rain. Of they set, homeward bound.


That night Mr and Mrs hunter enjoyed a wee drop of bramble wine and a fine stew, prepared by Mrs hunter. It was delicious, rich, thick, aromatic, and………a bit mysterious actually! He knew there was venison haunch left from the last hunt, but what were these other bits and pieces. Mr hunter wasn’t quite sure what was in the stew, but he knew better than to ask. You see Mrs hunter was even brawnier than him! He’d get himself an almighty whack if he questioned her on anything, most of all her cooking! 


Through the course of the evening they finished off the Bramble wine, concocted some wonderful patter and prepared for ned. Nestled into a soft squishy pile of furs (one of the benefits of being such prolific hunters), they cuddled and snuggled into each other feeling content with their lovely wee existence. What more could they ask for, full bellies, happy hounds and the warmth of a loved one (lubimaya). You see they were never blessed with the arrival of a son or daughter. Make no mistake, they loved and fancied each other to bits and never spent a night apart. However, despite a lifetime of passion and devotion no baby ever arrived. This surely played a part in their bond with the hounds. Of course, they put food on the table and they provided protection, but they were more than this to the hunter and his wife. Though, Bramble wine will sometimes have your mind wondering and wandering. They drifted off to sleep, happy with their lot. 


Through the night the female hound was restless. Mr hunter took her outside, for a daunder. Back in. Door closed. Back to bed.


She’d stir again. Mr hunter would pop out of bed again. The offer of a drink of water. A wee clap on the head and a tickly behind the ear. Back to bed.


A while later they were all awoken by an almighty howl. They’d never heard anything like it before.  You see, Deerhounds rarely make noise, even when badly injured or excited by a hunt. Something was wrong. They took an ember from the fire and created some light. The poor female was in desperate pain, breathing quickly, and burning up. The male hound ran round in circles helplessly panicking. The female’s breathing gathered pace.  Her heart racing, her gums darkening as she slipped into shock. They checked her over as best they could, unable to find the cause of her distress.  The female dragged herself to a dark corner of the room, she wanted to be alone. Mr hunter and his wife feared the worst. After a few minutes, he approached the poor creature slowly. As he placed a hand on her side he could feel her heart pounding, her eyes rolling back as she slipped in and out of consciousness.  Then, he noticed her tail lifting. The dimly lit room made it almost impossible to see anything back there and he daren’t bring a lit torch close to investigate. She was a brave and proud dog. Whatever she was going through she wanted to deal with it on her own. Mr hunter retreated a few feet to his chair. The male dog lay by his side. He too knew his place, and wouldn’t encroach on his mate’s chosen resting place. As time passed the distant morning sun began to cast weak shards of light into their dwelling. Gradually light trickled across the room, revealing most things. But not the dark corner where the hound lay. The hunter could no longer hear the rapid breathing, was this a good sign? He was too afraid to approach his anguished hound. Scared that she might snap at him, and even more afraid that perhaps she hadn’t made it through the night. He could no longer hear the rapid breathing, was this a good sign? Fearless in battle and in the hunt, he was unable to move from his chair. Terrified of what he might find in that corner of his own home. His wife stood up and made her way across the room to the corner where the hound lay. As she knelt beside the great beast her heart sank. The hound’s body was cold to the touch.


Her eyes were closed, she’d taken her last breath, and was finally at peace. A stream of tears poured down the face of the hunter’s wife. Though she refused to make a sound, she had to stay strong. 


As she quietly got up, both the hunter and the male hound rose to attention! Eyes wide, filled with a mixture of fear and hope. 


As she stepped closer, their hearts sank. 


Mrs hunter put one arm around her man, placing her other hand on the head of the male hound. They three squeezed and pulled each other close, grasping at each other, as If scared that they might slip away. An incredible pain engulfed them, dragging them down, each struggling to breathe, each with their heart breaking in that very moment.


The hunter’s face was soaked with a flood of tears, he’d have you believe it was the first time he’d cried as a grown man. (wee Scottish men will all tell you this). Certainly, he’d never cried like this. Wailing louder than the brutal winter winds that ripped through the glen. 


His wife trying with all her might to retain her resolve pulled away for a moment.


Something distracted her. For a moment she thought she heard something coming from the corner. She looked over her shoulder and still the corner was in darkness. Turning back to kiss her husband, her ear was caught again. This time she was certain it came from the corner. She let go of the hunter and the hound, and turned round to face the corner. Light was now pouring into the entire room. She thought she could see very slight movement. As she edged closer she could see the female hound’s tail moving she rushed over and fell to her knees once again. Holding the hounds head in her hands. There was no breath. Nothing. 


Leaning forward she placed a final kiss on the head of the hound. She fetched a blanket and delicately covered the hound’s now statuesque body. 


The tail moved once more. 


She fell to her knees again. 


This time she heard a squeak.


She carefully lifted the tail of the hound, 

and underneath 

                                                                                                  was a warm, 

                                                                                                                       soft, 

                                                                                                                               sleek, 

                                                                                                                                       jet black

                                                                                                                                                     pup.   


A single boy. No litter mates, and tiny in comparison with his mother. So wee, they hadn’t even noticed that she had been carrying him all this time. 


Glossy black eyes, glistening like polished onyx, he let out a small yet resolute howl. His father and the hunter rushed over. 

This, was Bracken.