Scalan is a collection of old seminary buildings in the Braes of Glenlivet. Though long deserted, it remains an enigmatically spiritual place. Tucked under encircling spartan hills, its ancient stone buildings huddle round a burn and a clear spring that’s commonly known as The Bishop’s Well. Some of the buildings are in ruins with yellow stonecrop clinging to the walls. Some have been restored; a place to shelter from the rain and ponder on the austere lives they once sheltered.
The ground surrounding the buildings is dotted with gnarled and twisted trees, sparsely fruiting rowans and sycamores, fissured alders, branches laden with blue grey lichen, that edge towards the waterside. All around the burn soothes and tinkles.
Apparently Scalan, set in its lonely isolated glen, was a Catholic seminary dating from a time when to be a Catholic was a risky business. I am not a Catholic, or even a particularly spiritual person, yet the place is profoundly moving.
My first visit was on a sunny afternoon when it glowed green and friendly. The second time a faint Scottish drizzle fell softly on my skin and evening was coming on. Then there was a slight air of apprehension about the place.
It may have been partly because four belligerent looking cows and a rather nervous calf stood solidly by the running water, between me and the bridge. They obviously resented the intrusion and my heart beat a little faster as the biggest one splashed purposefully through the burn towards me. The others followed, stopped almost face on, then nosing the calf before them, they turned shifty glances towards me, before nudging the calf up the bank. Once on the path they looked my way and waited.
I was too nervous to pass them so I also waited. We eyed each other, then I waved my arms. The older cow turned on her heel, gave her nearest companion a stroppy shove with her head and they all trotted away, looking back resentfully a couple of times before disappearing behind a small hillock.
Scalan was empty again. The burn played and the wind sighed softly in the trees. Once again it seethed with ancient spirituality, with a mysterious atmosphere that seemed to predate the long gone priests.
We dallied a while, breathing in the atmosphere and taking photographs, as dusk fell we walked back in the softly falling rain. On leaving the silence flowed slowly in behind us.
I caught a movement in the corner of my eye. To my disappointment it was only the cows creeping quietly round the back of the barns, waiting for us to leave, reclaiming their shelter for the night. It was cows, but it could easily have been something more secret and hidden that was also waiting for us to go.