It was mid-afternoon on a windy, white-washed day when we first saw the sign. The four of us had been walking non-stop since breakfast, heavy packs on our backs and waterproofs at the ready. Though we had a way to go, it was the sign which finally drew us to a halt. The word “Tea” was hand-painted on rough wood; bold and bright, standing out amongst the wild, scrubby stretch of Scottish moorlands we were currently crossing. With a forest looming on one side of us and an vast plain on the other, there was nothing to do but ignore the sign and carry on.
We hadn't gone far when the second wooden sign appeared; fixed tight into the ground, this one promised “Refreshments” in bright yellow letters. With the cold wind picking up, and the warmth of a cup of tea already permeating our imaginations, we agreed to leave the trail to investigate the source of these mysterious placards.
Pushing through scrub and gorse we soon ambled into a clearing at the edge of the forest. Within it stood a corrugated-iron shed, a run-down caravan, and a large, crudely-constructed wire pen, housing four large dogs which had begun to whine and bark hysterically at our arrival.
Wide-eyed expressions of fear and uncertainty were exchanged between the four of us as the reality of our situation began to sink in. Nobody knew where we were; and to be honest, neither did we. Hours from the nearest town we were in the middle of absolutely nowhere. We had been lured off the trail and now we'd be captured, cut up and fed to these hungry, whining dogs. With pulses racing, we agreed in whispers that we should get out of there immediately; that this was not a place for hikers to be.
The sight of a tall, wild-looking man made us jump. He strode silently towards us in his heavy boots, a woolen hat pulled low on his head, and an indiscernible expression behind his bushy black beard. The four of us were rooted to the spot.
“Tea then, is it?” he said, his sudden gap-toothed smile shattering the fear of the four hikers huddled before him.
The man's name was Rory; he was a crofter, tending to the local land, and kept the dogs (“big softies they are”) as a deterrent for thieves who sometimes stole his tools. He explained all this as we perched at the picnic table in his overgrown garden, where three chickens scratched for bugs and made gentle “brrrrrrrk” noises at our feet.
Having taken our tea orders, Rory returned indoors and swiftly came back carrying mugs and pots on a floral tray.
“Where you 'eading then?” he asked.
"Have you been?"
Rory was most proud to announce that he had never left this area his entire life.
“Not at all?”
“Why would I?” laughed Rory, stretching his arms out at the wild landscape around him. “I have all I need!”
The four of us sipped our tea, looked out over Rory's beloved kingdom, and quietly considered the difference between this man's life and that of our own. Of our daily routine, and all the ridiculous things that concerned us.
“You can just boot the chickens out o' the way,” he said.
It was one of the best cups of tea I've ever had in my life.