I’d never paid any attention to the sign pointing to Loch of Liff. In fact, I suspect I hadn’t even noticed it until the day Molly and I found the landscape had changed on our usual Backmuir Wood route.
This was in the aftermath of Storm Babet, the one that swept through in October 2023 and left a trail of havoc — particularly along Scotland’s east coast. The flooding had nudged towards the biblical, cost at least one life, ruined much of next year’s crops, and left many further north of us with homes seriously damaged.
For us, Babet and the various lesser lookalikes that followed soon after have thankfully just left us with closed roads, cancelled ParkRuns, and a lot of mud.
And, for a tiny window, also what locals are assuming is the Loch of Liff.
This was a week or so after Babet passed through, and in front of me wasn’t the type of temporary puddle or pond you get after heavy rain. It was a serious loch (well, more of a lochan) that came complete with waterfowl, including swans.
While I was standing and looking at it in amazement, one of the Woodland Trust’s Backmuir volunteers (plus dog) serendipitously appeared as if from nowhere. This, he said, was almost certainly the ‘loch’ in Loch of Liff, a steading a short distance away. You’ll find no evidence of it on today’s maps, or even on the older maps I haven’t seen because they lack a digital footprint.
But the name goes way, way back, he said, suggesting that something looking a lot like what we could see now had once been a more permanent fixture. But where did it go? We speculated that at some point the water course must have been diverted — to create more land for grazing or crops in the loch’s place, maybe, or perhaps to take the water somewhere else. Nobody, he said, knew for sure.
Which then led inexorably to ask why it had come back. Why now? When it hadn’t been seen in, at least, living memory? Scotland isn’t exactly short on rain and storms, so what was it about Babet that had tipped the balance? More speculation, but clearly the water table was raised very, very significantly in a very, very short space of time. Maybe that was enough to — basically — block the drains and allow the lochan to form.
And now? Well, it’s gone. Almost as fast as it appeared, and gone too are all the waterfowl.
(As an aside, how did those canny birds find out there was somewhere new to settle, and how did they spread the word? And when did they call it a day, and where did they go next?)
Now we’re back to an unremarkable arable field that — we can only hope — will yield a fine crop of something next summer, and the only clue that anything unusual happened is a little more mud.
Being me, I couldn’t quite leave it there, could I? Molly and I took a short road trip up to Loch of Liff to see what was at the top. We found a working steading with a very fine farmhouse — and, for another day, somewhere from which to explore new paths, new perspectives.
And, being me, I of course also had to delve a bit and discovered that Loch of Liff farm is possibly also home to the site of a Neolithic cursus. As far as I can tell, it hasn’t actually been excavated and is much smaller than the extraordinary one recently discovered on Arran. But there it is, nonetheless: something created for unknown reasons — possibly ritual, possibly astronomical, possibly communal, possibly something else entirely — and among the oldest structures in the British Isles.
Turns out quite a few cursuses have been found on flood plains. Which maybe starts to join a few dots…
What I’m grateful for: An unscheduled but sharp reminder that absolutely nothing is permanent, and nor does it always appear to be what it seems.
What I’ve gained: A chunk of knowledge about this small corner I seem so drawn to, and a strong desire to find out more.
What I appreciate: That fortuitous chance encounter with the Woodland Trust volunteer — love it when that happens, and I do hope our dog-walk paths cross again.
This exercise is one of the many powerful yet practical tools my coach Katie Joy has created to help us get clarity, abundance, and balance right across our lives. I can’t recommend her courses highly enough!
Image: Eugenie Verney