So here we are again. Back at the top of the Isles and on top of the world. Fifty-three weeks ago we turned up in Glencoe. For fifty-two of them I’ve been waxing about them to anyone who’ll listen, boring the unfortunate with my photos and praying in my heart for the beauty they represent, and the closeness to the numinous that I find here.
A year since Glencoe and the Highlands last reminded me that my spirit is only given full flight when I am near the mountains. I have cried, I have held-forth, I have thought and I have yearned. Now, here I am, and they are just the same. My mountains. My Highlands. My beloved Scotland.
We left Bristol at 10.30 yesterday, flew up the Ms: 32, 4, 5, 6, 74, 73 and 8. Never slowing unless the cameras were out. Hardly pausing at Tebay, and landing breathless at Milngavie ready to take a night off before launching forth as the ground goes up.
We didn’t see the tree this year. The first time since Isaac and I returned to Scotland in 1997. I have a photograph of him next to it then. Big baggy flared jeans. He looked still a child, still growing into the man he is now. Then, we were venturing up Ben Nevis. We managed that one, no problem, and have returned each year since. Each year pausing at the tree that nearly killed me and Dan in 1989. But this year the rain was out and the sky was dark and I thought, “Heck: let’s do the Rest and Be Thankful”, over the Arrochar Alps, into Inverary and then up into Tyndrum from the west. We’ll catch the tree on the way back, along the bonny, bonny banks. Today there was no mountain, and hardly any loch to be seen.
So, we past through Tyndrum, pausing to fill the tanks: petrol and coffee, and then off up the road that marks the entrance to the wilderness. The journey to Tyndrum, whether over the RABT or along the BBOLL, is a slow introduction to the wild places. It draws you in slowly, gradually, leading ever upwards until you pop out into Tyndrum. Then the frontier lets itself be known. Along the road past Ben Dorain and onto Rannoch Moor, past the White and Black Mounts and heading headlong for the wall of Buchaille Etive Mor at the stop of Glen Coe. It is always a starling ascent: whether the rain is falling or the sun is shining. It takes you from trees to barren, almost alien landscapes and presents you with the unavoidable truth of your own insignificance against the hard truth of nature.
We stopped at the White Corries ski centre and walked a bit of the Highland way, just to get our legs moving. Isaac always astonishes me at his stoicism and capacity to enjoy the misery with me. For misery it is. How can I say that, after all I spout for the beauty of this place? Well: when the mist is down, and the icy rain slashing across your face, you have to take a moment to think, “Why? Why do this? Isn’t it all a bit stupid?” and yes, it is. There is no reason to be out in the cold. No reason to forsake the warmth of your house. No reason, other than being able to reconnect and reconfirm the beauty of the cosmos. Of course, this is also available in Easton, or Broomhill, or Clifton. But there is some rawness, some unignorable validity to being a speck on the hillside and a thousand feet up on a path that has been walked for centuries.
We had the inevitable coffee/soft drink amongst the skiers. Do they feel the same as Isaac and I? Never yet got to grips with that. And then down the road to the Youth Hostel where nothing has changed except the warden: young enough to be in school, he seems. Unpacking. Sorting the food. Ready meal: all good stuff. Why waste time on having to cook when there is sitting down and reading and playing to do? The stuff that hostel stays are built upon. There was a family playing a board game (I recall The Brecon Beacons), a table of young guys and girls all swapping mad ideas. A couple of loan older guys (probably younger than me, but less hair), and a sense of value in all our lives.
Bring it on. Bidean nam Biam. Tomorrow. If the weather holds. Or even if it doesn’t. Photos to follow.