A Mountain Without A View

mountain_selfie

A week after our stay in Snowdonia I find myself scrolling through the Cadair Idris twitter feed, crammed with photos of glorious bright clear mountaintop views, only days after we battled through the wind and murk, querying whether this was dense cloud or simple rain that we were marching through. In the photo courtesy of twitter, I pick out clearly out path climbing steeply from the deep lake to the undulating ridge leading to the summit. On the day we climbed there was no clear path or route ahead, only dark shadows rising high through the cloud, only the immediate demands of the slick rocks rising underfoot. It’s hard to recall the wind. I recall the pockets of quiet, sheltered on the lee side of a foggy crag before pitching out in to the awaiting wind that forced raindrops through the seams of map cover and mitten.

We see barely a soul on our ascent, because of course who would be mad enough to climb on a day like this. The dogs seem to fare better on the hillside than the people: the plucky terrier in full neon safety garb, a merry assistant to the hardy men working on low path maintenance; the two collies on the high ridge, seeming more at ease here than they ever seem at the fireside, taking agile leaps over the rocks whilst their owner glumly shouts to us warnings of the peak’s grim conditions. We weren’t too worried. We knew of the old stone shelter on the summit, essential precious promise of a dry lunch stop at the top.

We felt perfectly alone for almost the entire hike. At the summit bothy, our sense of solitude was happily shattered by a convivial convergence of several parties, shaking off wet gear and exchanging ascent routes. After a quick eat, we took the advice of a seasoned climber and struck off at a vague angle through the murk, picking out sheep and cairns as we headed for an as-yet-invisible marker pointing out our route back down. Five years ago the poor visibility would have freaked me out (in fact it did, up on Kinder Scout). But since then I’ve gained enough confidence and realism to adopt cautious optimism.

We bumped our way down the steep descent, tough enough to make frustratingly slow progress. I’d always far rather climb up than down. We kept each other going with the usual mix of random song choices, a rant about nothing in particular, plenty of gentle teasing and the odd word of encouragement. Finally the low hills emerged, wispy pines atop damp ochre, while we crossed the stream on smooth slate slabs.

It always feels strange to return to the car park, the civility of the steamy cafe and the officiousness of the pay & display meter. But really I’m happy to return, not yet brave enough to spend the night in that summit bothy. Maybe next year.

A Wild Read: Feral

Feral_Monbiot

I don’t know why I’m always reluctant to pick up non-fiction. When I finally do I inevitably devour it. Feral was no exception. I uncovered this book from one of the many must-read piles and was quickly captivated by Monbiot’s call to ‘rewild’ our natural spaces.

I imagined the possibility of wolves, lynx and elks amongst our wilder corners of the land, felt frustration over the choices of the land-owning few, and surprise at the picture of a country stripped bare by grazing animals. Given that the grazing problem is mainly of the woolly variety I felt torn over my love for this fibre.

Monbiot describes many of our wild open spaces as ecological monocultures, often actively maintained as such due to popular belief that this is how these hills should look. Certainly my dad holds with this perspective; as a geologist he prefers the beauty of bare rock to the rich biodiversity of a forest. We’ve had much heated discussion on the matter. I doubt either of us will be swayed from our view.

After the sobering experience of reading This Changes Everything, I was buoyed up by Monbiot’s cautious optimism and practical possibilities for reconnecting with the natural world around us. Whatever your own aesthetic preferences, there’s no doubt we need to view ourselves less as custodians, more as respectful observers, or polite guests of the world around us.

A Weekend in the Woods

Boots

Back in midwinter, under the festive spruce tree, was a gift card from Tom for a weekend of camping out and learning bush craft skills. I can’t remember the last time I was so excited about a gift, I felt ridiculously moved by how sweet he was to think of this. I wouldn’t have thought of it for myself, but as soon as the idea appeared it instantly brilliant.

Time spent outside basically feels like winning at life, like sussing out the secrets of the universe. Even a walk in my local forest reminds me of the big old grand incredible world out there that, for once, is truly deserving of that overused term: it is truly fucking epic. So when my overpriced air-conditioned taxi dumped me and my pack on the side of a road in rural obscurity on a warm Friday evening, I was fully signed up for life as a wild woodswoman. At least for thirty-six hours.

Evidently I was too comfy in my sleeping bag on that first morning. One of the last to wake up, I dodged the task of raking over the coals to get the kettle going. But I was up in time to swoop in for a black coffee once it had boiled, retreating to a sunny clearing for a ‘sit spot’.

I shared the sunlight with a long, languorous spider climbing her way to the top of the brambles to lounge on a top leaf, her legs dangling in motes of dust. A wren scuffled about in the low bracken, before deciding on a branch from which to carefully clean every feather on her wing. The crack and knock of loose bark in the pines gave away a small woodpecker’s whereabouts, so shy near the top of the tree.

Shelter
Look Up

I gamely wielded a knife, cutting bracken for my shelter, legs scratched by the bramble and sticky pines. Apparently hard as nails (read foolhardy) to have my legs out, but surely we’re all agreed that jeans are too hot. We foraged silver birch to flint fires, found compass points in the shadows and, after dinner found the fire, watched constellations turning.

By our second morning, having slept in such deep sleep under our own bracken roofs, it felt perfectly natural to start the day by a campfire, chatting about the wild redcurrant found down the path, or the deer someone spotted earlier, like it was no big deal. That was the beauty of it for me. We learned useful skills and had plenty of fun, but the sheer simplicity and steady pace of time there was what gave it such joy.

Fireside

When the weather is so warm and welcoming, living wild out in the woods is a tempting proposition, at least for one more night. On returning home, I settled for an evening sit spot under an old tree, followed by a hot bath and the bedroom windows flung wide.

Clearing

A Beach Barbecue

cartwheelcastlescape

It’s been great weather for writing this weekend: bright spells for sunshine adventures and heavy rain clouds for staying in bed to simply type (with tea, of course). With some writing due for Style of Wight, we set out to do some ‘on-site research’ (play and photos mission) on ‘A Perfect Day at the Beach’. Someone pointed out to me that our perfect day may not look like most. True, for this project we did visit beaches only before 7am and after 7pm. But, those are the magic hours, not just for the light, but also the promise of coffee & donuts or beer & burgers.

castles
bucket_barbecue

We’re not seasoned barbecuers. This trip was our first graduation from a disposable bbq. I just got fed up with throwing away all that tin at the end of a meal. Our bucket setup worked a treat, fired by local charcoal that we kept burning long enough to cook up a storm: local burgers, asparagus, elephant garlic and lamb koftis. The dying coals proved perfect for toasting marshmallows. Tom defied all logic and had only one s’more. It’s almost like he didn’t pay attention to the instruction in the name.

blankets
last_light

It’s a busy week ahead, but with my mind full of fresh air from the weekend, and Blogtacular to look forward to this coming Saturday, I’m sure the week will breeze by. I hope you have a good one too.

Out for Hours

Daisies

We’ve had a lot of spectacular sunshine in the last month. Laid low with an injured foot, I was determined it wouldn’t keep me indoors. So, I’ve just been taking my time outside at a slower pace. I’ve read plenty of books, been sunburned, and eaten a lot of good food. I now officially have a pair of jeans I can’t zip up. Lying in the garden on a tumble of blankets, or hobbling to the clearing in the woods for a picnic, I’ve learned to appreciate the fresh air in all its still and quiet wonder.

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But this can’t carry on forever. (Did I mention the jeans?) Thankfully it’s the perfect time of year to appreciate a long hike over a short run. When the sun shines for hours, I don’t want to be puffed out after only an hour. I want to keep going.

Wildflower Collage
Meadow

Rolo and I had some solo adventure time while Tom Walked the Wight last weekend. We wandered the beach, the overgrown footpaths, downland and cliff top tracks for hours. By the end of the day I had that good all-over achey feel from paying outside all day. Sadly I couldn’t compete with Tom’s aches and pains from his 26 miles.

Now I’m back in my muddy shoes and running again, somewhat gingerly and certainly slowly. The Clarendon half marathon is looming at the end of the summer and I’m determined to finish it. I’ve also (finally!) got back in to the routine of daily yoga. So, this injury cloud has a silver lining. Of course, I’m writing all this from the couch while Tom’s out running in the forest with the dog. It’s important to not rush this recovery.

Thorness