The year was 1939, Britain being dragged into the second world war was imminent. In a private room somewhere deep within the corridors of power, sat Winston Churchill, Lord Halifax and some other Conservative hierarchy. Winston Churchill was asked if he was willing to serve under Lord Halifax. Without boring you to bits with political intrigue, a simple yes or no would have meant the end of Churchill's career. What would the wise man do now? How on earth was he going to handle this? Well, he simply stared out of the window! The loaded silence endured for two whole minutes until Lord Halifax could bare it no longer. They rationalised that a Peer becoming Prime Minister would create it's own complications. The King was called for and Winston Churchill was appointed P.M. That day the Nazis rolled across half of Europe! So there you have it, ultimately the whole outcome of the second world war and Britain's future was down to Winston Churchill looking out the window!
I recall being told a true story at a junior school assembly. I would love to find it on the Internet but have not been able. I will relate it the best I can. The year was 1916 a young French infantryman we will call Xavier was dying in a ramshackle hospital in Ypres. On his deathbed he enquired of the duty nurse what the view was like out of the window. She told him there were cascading waterfalls, snow capped mountains and little townships huddled in green valleys. He died peacefully. In truth the view out of the window was of two dustbins and a septic tank! The moral of the story isn't that the nurse did not tell the truth. The moral of the story is that we all yearn to be in beautiful surroundings. Xavier wanted to pass away his last hours in beautiful countryside. He wanted to look out of the window.
I used to look out of the window when I was at school. Back then I was mesmerised by the hills of Derbyshire and longed to be there. As I look out of my front room window now, I see two stately Lime trees dropping their sticky contents over a row of quaint little council houses! But my real longing is to be lost on some lonely Scottish hills or perambulating some untrodden wilderness in the beloved Motherland.
When we look out of the window we are really looking deep within. Deep within our roots, fascinations, dreams, goals, aspirations and memories. It's a real pity that people don't look out the window anymore!
SECOND PICTURE - BEN SGRITHEALL: A HEROES LAMENT
''Deb I think I'm going to be....'' the last word was intended to be 'sick' but I didn't get the chance to
say it, as if from nowhere a bowl was thrust under my nose, a volcano erupted within me and the bowl was filled. I had assured Deb five minutes earlier that I was positively not going to be sick ''how can I be sick when all I've had to eat all day is two bananas? '' I asserted with Ingramic conviction. As Deb left the bedroom I realised that I could have made an error of judgement. Deb saved the day in impeccable style, a split second later and we could have been in a catastrophic mess. But how did this knife edge drama unfold?
Well I've just had official verification from the G.C.S ( Golden Crampon Society ) that I am the only person in the history of Mankind to have climbed Ben Sgritheall with a tummy bug! Obviously all the Munro guidebooks will eventually be updated. I'll settle for a footnote which I expect will read something like ''on the 2nd of April 2015 an English man called Mark Ingram became the first person ever to ascend Ben Sgritheall with a tummy bug. He chucked up later that same evening. Thanks to his wonderful wife he made a full recovery within 24 hours'' In my opinion it was act of sheer heroism and with all Heroes ( especially male ones ) they crave recognition.
Where good views are concerned Ben Sgritheall, due to it's strategic location, is the King of Scottish mountains, an expert Bagger could rattle off the names of at least 150 hills from this summit! Today happened to be a perfect day, a breathless sharp clear dawn, making an early start a joy. But it wasn't a joy! I had a nauseous fatigue that I just couldn't shake off. However with the opportunity of doing Ben Sgritheall on a perfect day it was unthinkable that I was going to shelve it. Illness would just have to wait it's turn like everything else.
From those first few steps it was clear that things were not good. I visibly manifested unspoken concerns, some of the team tried to engage me in conversation but unbeknown to them I was fighting my own private battle and therefore had to remain in my own head. I was determined that nothing was going to rob me of this revered grandstand view but I continually had to fight for every meter. It was brutal persistence in the face of extremely hard work.
At the col before the final relentless pull to the summit there was a magnificent temperature inversion. A sea of white candy floss stravaiged over an angled rank of warrior peaks. Some stood out like knuckles on a giant's fist, others were like isolated nodules, just puncturing the cloud. They all looked like newborn peaks of creation.
When we finally spilled on to the summit the cloud had vanished. It was a day of unrivaled visibility, a pure delight. An unfathomable mass of geometry spanned the horizon in an extravagance of Motherland scenery. Ben Nevis resembled a cut out triangle with its arms around the family of smaller triangles!
The more you looked at it the more stupendous it was. Loch Hourn widened into Barrisdale Bay, The isles of Rum and Eigg had just surfaced. The sprawling hamlet of Arnisdale deftly indented the coastline. Although I was feeling as rough as sut, on a day of magical crisp clarity like today, there was no better time to be alive!
Wonder of wonders! I found a Poem that mentions Ben Sgritheall. Here it is my Deer Blog Fans. . .
what is it about gaining height?
the mind altering intoxication
that procures from reaching
the summits of the highest hills
looking down on things that are so small
that on the ground are just massive
rivers like blue snaking ribbons
and people like minute dots
are our problems that big on the ground?
are our difficulties that insurmountable?
from the top of Ben Sgritheall
in the south east corner of Glen Elg
I see a preview of Scotland's finest peaks
like school children lined up in a 360 degrees shop window
looking down on the Hamlet of Arnisdale
I see houses the size of shoe boxes
and our problems and difficulties
the size of mere dots.
|T.W.D and Author putting on a brave face. Notice the distended stomach, I'm not normally that fat!|
THIRD PICTURE - THE FALLS OF GLOMACH
I still think this would be a splendid walk even if it didn't have the most spectacular falls in Britain at the end of it! You have Scottish wilderness on it's terms and a good taste of it at that. In spite of all the footfalls, the area is not walked to a tram line, far from it. If this was in the Lake District the route would be interspersed with cafes and souvenir shops. However we're not in the Lakes we're in the Highlands and the Highlands don't do cafes and souvenir shops but you might get the odd deer gazing down at you from some nearby promontory.
We started off from the tiny Hamlet of Morvich, another excellent day, the exuberance of which I'm sure was reflected in our team. We soon crossed a bridge, just 'a bridge' but really we crossed the rubicon, we were in wild open mountain country now, there was no turning back. The intervention of man was minimal indeed.
When you reach the high point of Bealach na Sroine (500m) the roar of the water can be clearly heard . We scurried down the orchid dotted meadows, with a youthful gait, to the top of the falls. It was a little bit frustrating at first you think ''charming, the only way I can get a full view of this 375 foot drop waterfall is either from a hot air balloon or be a bird!''* but on closer inspection an ingenious path thrillingly contours the twists and turns of this mammoth crumpled up gorge.
*that is the warm blooded egg laying vertebrate. Not a young lady.
The falls themselves are breathtaking, several tiers of cascading water in a lugubrious ravine, with Shostakovich in it's roar! You're looking at creation. You're looking at nature. You're looking at power. You're looking at wonderment. The thundering waters were actually laughing! Laughing out loud at the realisation of the fact that they had shrugged off the sphere of human influence. '' If you want to see me you're going to have to earn it, six miles of hard graft, okay it will be easier on the return leg'' Six beautiful miles though.
T.W.D (the wonderful Deb) was acting very strange throughout the whole of this walk, going to sleep on the overhang of a bridge! Sat in quiet torpor as if she was experiencing a different journey, at one point I announced to the team that Deb had gone back to the car only for her to pop up out of nowhere during one of our extended tea breaks. She was sluggish all the way there yet galloped back the six miles to the car as if she had committed a crime, apparently she wanted a shower (?) does any of this sound familiar? Yes you've got it, or rather Deb had. Deb had got the TUMMY BUG!
FOURTH PICTURE: LOCH DUICH - LAZY DAYS!
Deb was poorly in style, or maybe I should say Ladylike. I was a typical man. The world had to know that I was ill, I clutched my stomach and hobbled around with a pained expression on my face. Deb was dignified, she discreetly withdrew from company. I would run to the loo screaming out loud that I was going to die. Deb was unobtrusive, looking quite stately in her dressing gown with wipes and air freshener in hand as she visited the bathroom. I didn't bother with any of that!
Serendipity is a wonderful thing. Funny how a totally unexpected change of circumstances can be beneficial or even rewarding. When I'm up in the Motherland I want to sponge it all up, climb every mountain, cycle every hill , explore, ride, paddle, I just can't sit still. But serendipity say's '' you are both going to sit still and you are both going to enjoy it''
Our April Holidays have become a treasure trove of memories, we spend the whole year looking forward to and anticipating them and yet they always deliver, they never disappoint. We have quite a simple but sagacious team ethos - a group of between twenty or thirty good friends rent an old Victorian shooting lodge for a week in the West/ North West Highlands. Everybody brings something to the table , so to speak.You do your own thing in the day and we all come together for a meal at night. No one is in charge, the only thing that you have to do is love it!
I had my recovery day walking to the Falls of Glomach. Deb had her revivifying day laid on the shores of Loch Duich. It was the best day of the Holiday! The sun handled the world gently the entire day. The sky remained biscuit tin blue save for a few docile ripples of cloud in the late afternoon. Only the mildest of breezes ruffled the sweet highland air.
Loch Duich, or part of it, lies at the front door of Druidaig Lodge, where we were having this year's April Holiday. It is a sea loch about six miles long and a mile wide at it's widest point. It stretches from Shiel bridge to the Kyle of Loch Alsh. It is flanked by big hills on both sides and is therefore very sheltered. Druidaig Lodge lies at the end of a single track road. Today certainly had an end of the road ambiance, we had the whole place to ourselves.
Nothing was going to awaken Loch Duich from it's reverie today. Oyster Catchers periodically scanned the loch, dragging their uneven bodies across it's placid waters, families of Mallards would take advantage of the kind weather and go out for a paddle, even the odd seal swam by adding a finer touch to nature's brush. None of this escaped the notice of Eilean Donan Castle, a stark sentinel on it's own island plinth. I was blown away to find out that not only was there a poem written about it but written from this vantage point. I just can't believe it but here it is.
Five Sisters and Three Brothers in perfect harmony
The Saddle and Loch Duich for perfect company
an Oyster Catcher scans the loch
devoid of any hassle
as the sun streams down so radiantly
on Eilean Donan castle
Otters frolic in the bay tho we can never see them
elusive as an Archer's bow beyond the east of Eden
a Porpoise fin a cackle of Geese
we are nature's willing vassal
as the sun casts down it's evening cloak
on Eilean Donan castle
when the sun slips out of sight
on a tranquil April night
and the moon hangs like a tassel
the lights emblaze the awesome sight
of Eilean Donan castle.
( from www.poemblog3.blogspot.com)
The sunshine fell friendly on our upturned faces as we snoozed, read, wrote poetry (whoops) until that mighty star ran out of warmth like a lantern runs out of fuel. Dandelion days go by too fast.
FIFTH PICTURE: OUR TRAVERSE OF THE FOUR SISTERS
Any fool knows that it should be the five sisters, anyway more about that later. A well meaning man once had the impudent cheek to criticize one of our walks for being poorly planned! Well I can tell you for an absolute certainty that this walk wasn't poorly planned, it simply wasn't planned at all! We just thought it would be a good idea because it was near to where we were staying. I didn't even read a book about the five sisters or even look at a blinkin' map!
On the point of bad map reading I'm afraid I've got form. On our traverse of the Ben Alder circuit, when we got off the station at Corrour, I wanted to disembark on the wrong side of the train track! I'm the sort of person who visits someone in hospital, goes out for a coke and can't find my way back to the ward. No directional awareness whatsoever.
Our traverse got off to an enthusiastic start. We were a right bubbly detachment of varied ages and ranges of fitness. As we slogged our way up Bealach nan Lapain we seemed to naturally gravitate into two groups. My platoon forged ahead, or rather across! I thought something wasn't quite right but on we went, trundling straight past the cairn that intersected the track that we needed to get to the bealach and the other to the Cluanie Inn! Which is maybe where we would have ended up if there hadn't been mutiny in the camp. A man well known to these Blogs, James 'the Hess' Hesse had his map reading skills challenged. Rob Mitchell of Ingram/ Mitchell * summits fame, blurted out ''will someone take that map off him and give it to someone who can read it!'' I said that I would take it!
*an Ingram/Mitchell summit is a top that you think is the summit but on closer inspection turns out not to be the true summit.
Over in group two things were faring a little better but the Laurel and Hardy influence was still shining through. Christian drew everyone to a halt with map in hand and exclaimed '' there should be a cairn around here somewhere but I'm at a loss to know where it is'' It was pointed out that he was stood right in front of it! Both groups were eventually reunited at the bealach, there we donned our crampons in anticipation of what lay ahead.
What occurred next was the longest tea break I've ever known, once again we had drifted into the same two groups, our group had gone ahead to the next subsidiary peak and the tea break went on and on. We were facing each other like we were bound in trench warfare waiting for either side to break the deadlock. It transpired our group had seriously compromised the house rule that had only just been etched in marble, that is that you should all stick together and nobody go more than five meters ahead. Ironically it was me who made the rule!
Reluctantly six of our party had to head off the hill at this juncture. It was a long day ahead and not everyone had crampons. Some were very disappointed that they hadn't bagged a Munro or even a Sister, as it turns out Sgurr nan Spainteach, where they reached, is neither. But so what, this whole Munro thing is a complete man made contrivance anyway. I ask myself sometimes do we really need this benchmark or are we sometimes missing the point? walking hills to death just so you can put a tick in a box.
This day we all tasted the epitome of unspoiled mountain scenery and enjoyed winter walking of the highest order. The demarcation of the winter tide line was clearly visible at about two thousand feet. Looking down into the glen, the River Sheil was a snaking silver blue strand in a corridor of green. As they all plodded down towards the road I felt proud of them. The slow movement from Schubert's String Quintet sang in my heart.
As soon as we turned tail we walked straight into the mist. Instead of an amazing view we had a world of bleak monochrome that was to stay with us until we dropped below the cloud towards the end of the traverse. In spite of the vagaries of the weather it was still deeply satisfying to haul our complaining bodies over the three Munros. Our mauvois pas came when, due to the mist, we were unable to locate the connecting ridge from the last Munro Sgurr nan Saighead on to the final Sister, Sgurr na Moraich. Just to make it more interesting a blizzard had been imported directly from the arctic as we trudged up and down like Ptarmigans being blown around in a strong wind, trying to locate this elusive ridge with Christian's G.P.S. It was at this point that Kornel, who had, had knitted furrows for some time, uttered those memorable words '' how long do you think this walk is going to last? ''
The G.P.S eventually pinpointed the location of the connecting ridge but in reality it was nothing but a snow slope at a ridiculous angle with a bewildering array of rocks at the bottom. An audacious change of plan emerged, a draconian knee shaking descent straight down from the spur to the ground. We would negotiate any rivers or bog when we got there. One is never alone in ones madness.
I will never forget dropping below the cloud. It was like a dream image, one to be felt rather than seen! There was no sun so therefore a different quality of visibility pervaded. I can only describe it as ' an exquisite body of light' . The powdered blue Loch Duich demanded your gaze but the fleet of mountains including the Saddle and Forcan ridge had first claim on your astonishment. Our hearts glowed at the magnificent scale of this wild sequestered country. Beyond words, beyond adjectives and I'm afraid even beyond photography.
Our group evening meal on mountain days is traditionally 7:00 pm. When we finally reached the ground, the delta of the River Sheil, we realised our timings were not going to conform to the merciless forward momentum of the clock. Yes we were running late and no amount of energy bars or will power was going to put us back on parity.
There was however one fleeting hope, if we could ford the River Sheil rather than fight five miles of bog to get to Sheil Bridge, I could get my dear Wife to pick us up on the A87, thereby saving a good chunk of time. This was suggested to Christian who uttered more memorable words, '' you'll be up to yr neck in it! '' That being the case we stoically panted on, our work rate being stultified by miles of ubiquitous bog. Just before we reached the road Christian received a video message, it was of our youngest member of the team, Tyler, sloshing across the River Sheil only ankle deep! Your most important bit of kit isn't your cagoule or crampons, it's your sense of humor. That was flippin hilarious!
Our real hero of the day was the Chef of the day, Vanessa. A lot of effort goes into providing a meal for 20 or 30 people. In the past it has been my opinion that if you are late it is bad manners even a little rude. In order to be sat at the table at 7:00 pm, the very latest we needed to be off the hill was 6:00 pm . We were on the ground at gone 7:30 pm! Vanessa willingly provided a second sitting! We apologised profusely but she was having none of it, reasoning that this is a walking holiday and we couldn't help being late. She even reprimanded us for being repentant. You don't mess with that Gal!
SIXTH PICTURE: THE APPLECROSS GLOW
Climbers have the Cuilin ridge, walkers have Glen Coe, canoeists have Loch leven. Cyclists have Bealach na Ba. If you're into cycling and love the Highlands then things don't get much better than the Bealach. It goes from sea level to a giddy two thousand and fifty three feet over a grueling five and a half miles. It's a 'stand alone ' road in this corner of the Motherland because most roads are sensible and go around the mountains by staying in the valleys. Bealach na Ba throws caution to the wind and goes straight over the top to link the township of Applecross to the community of Lochcarron. The road was originally constructed as a track to get cattle to market, Bealach na Ba
literally means 'the pass of the cattle' I can't help but think that there must have been some pretty fit cows back in the droving days!
I'm fairly new to the cycling game but totally sold, it doesn't look like there's any turning back. I've had B.N.B as a goal for some time but to be honest I thought it was in a different league from my lowly conquests. I'm no stranger to the hill, I remember many car journeys over the single track B.N.B over the last quarter of a century - palls of swirling mist, the weather continually arguing with itself, a flotilla of isles, a diaspora of lochans and the stench of burning clutches hanging in the air.
I set off from the cafe at Tornapress. It was a little bit blowy but nothing to be overly concerned about. I was just focused on doing my best. All was very sedate at first but the Bealach gradually started to flex it's muscles. I was forced to put my foot down when a tractor with a trailer full of hay bails over cautiously negotiated a bend. Next up a car missed it's passing place, I realised we couldn't pass each other, I unclipped but lost my balance and lost it. Now it was time to flex my muscles!
To be honest I picked the wrong time to do this bike ride. It was a busy time, Friday afternoon. I was continually hampered on a single track road with cars coming up behind me, others trying to squeeze up the side of me. The most logical thing I could do I figured was to become a little more assertive, I decided to ride in the middle of the road, giving car drivers two choices either run me over or wait for a passing place, of which there were plenty.
It was on passing the third bend that the hill went from being hard work to sheer relentless! Now came the irascible weather, the hail was ferocious and the wind seemed to be gusting in all directions. A side wind had me overcompensating thus riding at absurd angle. You would think it would be advantageous to have the wind behind you but I found it frightening, it felt like I was in an out of control computer game! When the gale blasted in my face I was taken aback by my own knee jerk reaction, it transpired really deep within I was a monster of determination, I stood on the pedals and screamed out to the hail and wind ''you will NOT beat me! ''
As the gradient went from being sheer relentless to utterly brutal, I approached the four hairpin switchbacks. It was time to turn it on. The final push. Kick it over. I could feel my thighs burning but knew I had to rise above it. Push, push, push. What I saw in front of me now almost caused Mild Mark to compromise his mildness - on the last hairpin a car for no apparent reason was just sat at the bottom! I tactfully implied that it would be better if he proceeded on up the hill, he complied with my request. There is no wonder they call me Mild Mark!
From now on the road began to level out. I felt really good inside. I was victorious! I'd somehow managed to do it. After a celebratory dance on the summit I didn't have the energy let alone the hands ( they were numb!) to put my bike back on the bike rack! I had the Applecross Glow .Good times.
There is a lot more to Applecross by the way other than this silly road. There is an iconic Pub, nice beaches, quality walking and a whole host of other outdoor pursuits.
I'm getting a bit concerned about coincidence now, I stumbled across this poem...
The Applecross Glow
how I longed for the Applecross Glow
smooth heather dumplings plastered in snow
Bealach na Ba was top of the list
but whenever I got there
it was languishing in mist
I know I was there a long time ago
on those sweet heather dumplings covered in snow
I was compelled to return there a short while ago
on those bulky heather dumplings void of snow
iridescent lantern shone through the cloud
illuminating bays with luster endowed
there was an Inn I recall, I remember it well
for snow on the mountains rang the death knell
cottages shone in springs undertow
hopelessly smitten by the Applecross Glow
the sun's coppery light on a vast tract of sand
it's a place where nature still has the upper hand
people stood around chatting didn't want to go
hopelessly smitten by the Applecross Glow
I know I was there a long time ago
on those sweet heather dumplings covered in snow.
( from www.poemblog3.blogspot.com )
SEVENTH PICTURE: GLENELG - A BIKE RIDE OF TWO HALVES
The single track road from our lodge at Druidaig round the Glenelg peninsular to Corran has got to be one of the most peculiar roads in Britain. For twenty seven miles it swoops and meanders and finally bends round to the tiny Hamlet of Corran where it simply stops dead. It could only happen in the Mothereland!
The four of us set off on a glorious sunny Sunday without a care in the world. Under a low spring sun of promise, we ambled along and chatted away with nothing to mar our happiness. The captivating sight of the Five Sisters in snowy raiment projected West Coast charm, the metallic blue Loch Duich gave us a tone poem of a ride and just to make sure we kept our eyes on the road, a proliferation of French polished mahogany sheep turds!
I had forgotten how punishing Mam Ratagan was. I'd driven up it last year on the way to Glenelg village but when cycling it you get to know it on a personal level. It rises to an impressive 400 meters over a distance of two and a half miles, a miniature big Yin. Serotonin levels were high as I reached the summit viewpoint, it was worth every drop of sweat.
I sat alone on a picnic bench waiting for the others. The reward for exerting one's self on the threshing floor of exertion was a breathtaking view of sharp atmospheric clarity over the cobalt blue waters of Loch Duich towards green hills that seemed to thrust themselves up out of the ground and didn't know when to stop. Life was good.
The weather didn't even hint that it was going to throw it's Teddy in the corner but it did. Cumulus drew across the sky like a curtain at a theater. The knock on effect from that was a Scottish aquatic exuberance that drenched everything in it's path. This was exacerbated by having to ride four miles downhill into a squall discharged straight from the jaws of the Atlantic.
The squall didn't even pause to draw breath, it continually blasted us. At one point I couldn't see where I was going because of the hail yet I had this awesome dread due to the inertia, that I was going to slide off the handlebars. After all my exploits going uphill I had to dismount going downhill! Harry became a 'push bike! '
We couldn't of got any wetter if we had sat in a river. Commendably it didn't dampen our spirits. Not a chance, not in this beautiful forgotten corner. You get a soaking, you get dry, you move on, you get hammered again! It's all part of the package. On this occasion though as we sat around the fire in the Glenelg Inn, trying to ignore the sign that said 'do not hog the fire' , we just couldn't get warm. I was especially concerned for Deb because I don't think she would have made it back in this weather.
We therefore had no alternative but to avail ourselves of a very special service. Call on Mr Roberto Mitchem to come and get us! Mr Mitchell has achieved a prestigious title for his selfless attitude it's called MOUNTAIN RESCUE!
why not try driving through the Highlands with some Hard Rock on full blast with the window down and get your wife to provide some accompaniment by bashing a salmon tray.
recommended listening, 'living after midnight' by Judas Priest.
EIGHTH PICTURE: IDYLL - THE HAMLET OF SYRE
If cycling is escapism then this route is the epitome of that. This is the single track road from Altnahara to Bettyhill on the North coast of Scotland. This is Flow country, not your usual Highland scenery of soaring mountains and deep rolling glens but it has an alluring emptiness, a charm of it's own that keeps drawing us back again and again. It's where East meets West or as one Poet put it 'where beauty meets bland'. That reminds me... you've got it my D.B.F's there is a poem about it!
Idyll - Syre
smoke ascends yet the trees aren't on fire
a church and a farm there's not a lot more
the heather burns and the plumes rise higher
evening sun and soft light on the moor
cycling on through the Hamlet of Syre
an unruffled glen your spirits just soar
please can I live here when I retire
fairy tale land outside your front door
beauty, nature and freedom conspire
bumble bees dancing, butterflies galore
the Naver flows and sings like a choire
take me back there that's the one I adore
let me take you there, let me take you there
down in the valley of sweet scented air.
( from www.poemblog5.blogspot.com )
The twisting River Naver is a delight to ride along, a conveyor belt of sheer loveliness. It's a place that will never sell it's soul for pound notes. A place that is as far away from big cities and motorways as you can get. As the setting sun spreads the colours of life, you just lose yourself in a fairy tale land.
We will go back there again one day. Actually I go there most days,
WHEN I LOOK OUT OF THE WINDOW.
KTDA my Deer Blog Fans
( please feel free to leave a comment )