15 – The Highlands ’13 – Reflections: Giant Mushrooms on the Dead Ground

A land before time? Designer forests. New romantics. Purpose and narrative. Giant Mushrooms on the Dead Ground. 


Graffiti at Loch Long

After the Frusciante EP was over and the joint dead, we left the car—the impromptu curtain still flapping over the window—and headed for a trail not far from the water’s edge. It led into woodland and toward the peaks around Loch Maree, through evergreens and fern. About two minutes on, we found an opening in the bushes, where a small stream pooled over pebbles and ran into the loch. It reminded me of Jurassic Park or the Land Before Time and felt like a window into prehistory. I’m prone to these romanticisations in reality, not just writing. I don’t know if that’s better or worse. I know it makes a trip more special and connective though.

There are narratives, tragic and romantic, that run through all things and if you find them, they tend to make those experiences, especially the ones with unhappy endings, far more palatable and purposeful. I’m sure there was a philosopher who said, it’s one thing to die, we can accept that, but to die fruitlessly and have lived a meaningless life, is the greatest hell.

If you make your life a story, that’s less a risk.


We bent under low hanging branches, pushed aside brambles and crossed onto the bank, then stepped onto an island of pebbles the stream hadn’t submerged. The water was cool and clear, the stones red-brown and smooth. After walking the bank for a while, we resolved to cross the stream, so we took the pebbles from the island and started making a bridge. It took a while but we felt free and wild and were lost with no sense of the passage of time. Eventually, we finished and tried to cross it without getting wet. Mid-way, you’d need to bend down limbo style to get under a low hanging branch, you could use your momentum to swing under it and pop up cleanly, or else you would be hanging precariously over the water, all your weight held by the branch and your shoes nestled on a clump of unstable stones.


For me, it was a type of revelation. The exact sort of environment I’d always wanted to witness first hand Like a mystical, lost lagoon, untouched and unknown. A stream flowing into delicate waters, housed and disguised by the masonry of the trees. We called it, half-joking, the Garden of Eden.

Following the stream, we found that it transitioned from pebbles to an orange tinted silt as it mixed into the loch. Further down, and on the other side of the stream, was a rocky beach where dark grey boulders bordered the ripple-less waters.


Away from the beach and moving up hill, through muddy, narrow paths toward the hillsides, we started to notice that this too was a well designed fake. The river that eventually fed the stream and pool was maintained by plastic tubes and pipes. We were in a huge, contrived garden. We saw both the funny and the bittersweet side of our new understanding.

As we walked, Yuri impersonated a pretentious interior decorator.

‘I added these,’ Yuri pointed to the dry river bed with dead old logs in, ‘to give the sense, you know, the illusion of natural beauty, do you see?’

‘My real concern is whether or not we can justify the money we spent here. I mean, dead tree trunks, is that big right now?’

‘Oh yeah. Massive. Huge. Everyone loves dead tree trunks. These ones, I had them shipped from Europe for extra authenticity. Now, this is something I really love, really love,’ Yuri brushed aside the thick foliage that ran along the path and pointed to a mostly obscured rock. ‘This really adds a sense of mystery. Not everything you see here is going to be obvious, you know. We added this to really bring visitors into our vision, this vision of, you know, beautiful, but at the same time safe and manageable nature.’

‘I see. So, gardens like this are popular?’

‘Oh, fantastically popular. When they’re done really well, like this—by the way, note the lavender, we added that to bring more purples into the natural pallet we were using—anyway, as I was saying, when they’re done really well people might not even notice that they’re gardens.’

‘Yes, well, I suppose there’s so little wild nature it’s hard to tell now, isn’t it?’

‘Here, look at this,’ he stopped and pointed up hill. ‘This is where we completely gutted the entire valley. I mean, we took out nine acres of forest before we could start levelling the area. Now we’ve built it back up but with plants that are, statistically speaking, more pleasant.’

‘So, it’s a real kind of designer trail?’

‘Exactly, exactly. This is designer nature, picked by people for people. Very post-modern, very va-va-voom, very je ne sais quoi.’

We went on for some time in this way. Maybe it was denial. To discover that even the Garden of Eden, my daydream and its romantic, wild connotations, wasn’t so natural. That it was, in fact, fed by a black plastic tube, splurging a little yellowish foam.

On this same leg of the journey there is one other thing worth mentioning. We were walking down sand covered paths, mostly overgrown, with the dry river bed to our left. To our right was a grid-design forest, the floor crammed with stacks of old wood and decaying leaves. I stopped and called Yuri back. Across the small channel that separated the sand trail from the designer woods, was a mushroom the likes of which I had never seen. It was bright red with a white underside and stalk. Most impressive was its size; it was as big as a large pie or a dinner plate, about four inches thick, and standing maybe nearly ten inches from the forest floor. Me and Yuri stared at the thing, absorbed and amazed, for maybe five minutes. It was a perfect cartoon mushroom. When our surprise subsided, we looked around and noticed more similar mushrooms, perfectly round, healthy gills, brightly coloured, but none as large as the first.

These were by far the most impressive mushrooms I’ve ever seen and they bare mentioning even though these words will not conjure in myself or the reader a fair mental image of their size or our exhilaration at finding something so far out of our point of reference. These were mushrooms I’d seen in Sonic the Hedgehog video games, he used them as spring boards. Now I see that they were barely exaggerations. It occurred to me also, that probably the reason why those mushrooms grew so large had something to do with the fact that it was once a forest farm and the whole trail stood on what was probably once a clear cut. That being the case, I suspect that the decaying wood of the long dead forest below probably provided more than ample material for fungi to eat.

The last great memories of our journey—besides for the beauty we witnessed from the car as we travelled, besides for the conversations and the music that enlivened an already animate landscape—were of the urban decay at Loch Long’s abandoned torpedo test site.



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About Luke Smith

I travel around and write about it. When I'm not travelling around, I write about whatever seems meaningful to me at the time; these are usually meditations on current events, finding ways to survive the crushing existential grind of modern civilisation or vaguely philosophical musings.
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4 Responses to 15 – The Highlands ’13 – Reflections: Giant Mushrooms on the Dead Ground

  1. Pingback: 11 – Lake District and the Highlands ’13 | Journeys Through Pre-World War 3 Britain

  2. Pingback: The Lake District and the Highlands ’13 – Complete Contents Page | Journeys Through Pre-World War 3 Britain

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