Saturday, 17 March 2018

Cnoc Coinnich and The Brack

The Argyll Forest Park. Dense ranks climb steep hillsides, logging roads and military vehicles, lochs with deep detours and always dampness, seeping out of everything, sour tasting water and metallic schistose.

Head of Loch Long:


But sometimes the clouds break, the sun comes out, and magic happens. Mist drifts though the dawn, drawn out of the dew to join the sun's dance.

Logging road:


Behind, the fairy peak of  Cruach an t-Sithein wreathed in mist:



Ahead, broken black cliffs stud the gleaming snows of The Brack, set in a blue sky.



At the forest edge I climb upwards towards the summit of The Brack, pulling on tufts of fescue as shaggy as a sheep's winter coat, driving the axe into semi-frozen turf, glasses fogging over with the effort. Before long, I am in the snow.

Glen Douglas:


Which way upwards will I choose? I thread a gully, kicking steps. The obvious way further is straight up. Instead I contour round to see a lochan, realising once halfway across a small flattish area that I am standing *on* the frozen lochan! From here the ground steepens and I attack another gully with relish.

Gully:


And then the fun stops. The gully steepening and the run out invisible, I traverse to solid ground, which is frozen and provides no grip. The sound of tinkling ice as pieces fall off the surrounding cliffs and skitter down the gully. What a stupid route. I traverse back to the relative grip of the snow, controlling my breathing, talking encouragingly to myself, taking great care with each change in balance.

Foolish route:


The top: but the joy had left the day. It had clouded over, and I cursed the snow that I had to trudge through to reach my second peak, Cnoc Coinnich. Beinn Reithe as well? No, sod that.

Beinn Reithe and the lochs from Cnoc Coinnich:


But the joy returned in descent, admiring my line of footprints, a record of the judgement of the placement of each foot punched into the snow. I had survived a little scare, had good exercise and fresh air, and was going home intact.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Gette!

This may surprise you, but four years ago I started writing a musical. Provisionally titled Gette!, it was the story of women gaining the vote in the UK. The curtain is raised at an early Edwardian dinner party where the first song - 'Hush Woman' - follows one of the heroines giving an informed opinion on the Schleswig-Holstein question to the horror of the assembled gentlemen:
Hush woman, Hush woman!
You are an inferior race.
Hush woman, hush woman!
Your opinions are a disgrace.

When it comes to matters of state
Only men can be first rate
Hush woman, hush woman!
You've got me quite irate.
There follows public meetings, parliamentary defeats, the formation of the Womans National Anti-Suffrage League (a genuine organisation, astonishing to relate, of women campaigning against gaining the vote), smashings of windows with toffee hammers, force-feedings in jail, and the martyrdom of Emily Davison.

Women go on strike, the leader of the WNASL has second thoughts, and then the Great War begins. After a subplot involving right-on Labour saint Keir Hardie who supported universal suffrage and raging Tory imperialist Emmeline Pankhurst, women gain the vote and in the final scene, women in fashions from across the 20th century line up on stage, ballot papers in hand, singing the Suffragette Hymn March of the Women,  and vote one by one.


It's an amazing idea and when I put it to a director four years ago her eyes lit up. She immediately started discussing the logistics and how, with great determination to overcome the many difficulties involved with putting on a live show, it could maybe be put on in the back room of a pub with a cast of two and a piano. Fuck that. I wanted a The Lion King spectacular or nothing. The idea went into hibernation - I had four years after all - and now here we are four years later at the centenary of women's suffrage still with nothing more than the original outline and some song fragments.

Instead I've been concentrating on writing my book of Scottish history. And one of the most notable aspects of the subject is the invisibility of women in much of written history. The first Scotswoman to enter the stage (unless you count the legendary warrior Scáthach) doesn't even have a name - she is described merely as Argentocoxus' wife. It is really only now that women are gaining parity - with a female First Minister and Prime Minister, female leader of the opposition in the Scottish Parliament, and increasing number of women leaders in business and public life.

So a challenge for the girls of today: it's over to you to make sure that when the history of the next 100 years comes to be written, there will be a lot more women to write about.

Monday, 22 January 2018

The City With a Park in the Sky

Most cities have parks. But how many do you know with a park in the sky?

Edinburgh is one.



The citizens of Edinburgh are spoilt for choice. On a sunny day they can visit the beach at Portobello, the miniature mountain of Arthur's Seat, riverside walks along the Water of Leith and River Almond or city centre parks like Princes St Gardens and the Meadows.

And when the sunshine is combined with snow there is one obvious choice. The Pentlands, easily accessible at the end of a couple of city bus routes.



The Pentlands used to be the haunt of the shepherd and the nature-lover. But that was a few decades ago. Now they are a popular destination for local people, a couple of broad new paths cut across their slopes that can be taken to with ordinary shoes and bicycles.



Not everyone is happy about this desecration of the landscape. But everyone we saw seemed happy enough today.



And why wouldn't they be, when you get to the top and gain vistas like these just a couple of miles from the city's edge?

Monday, 15 January 2018

Heaven is a Place on Earth...

Climb Rois Bheinn on a fine winter day and you will probably be able to work out where it is.

Rois Bheinn (pron. Roshven) is a Corbett in one of Scotland's most under-appreciated areas.

Not Skye, whose hotspots are apparently overrun by tourists, or the North Coast 500, whose success means some tortuous roads in the north-west will have to be upgraded.

This is Moidart, part of a 45 by 30 mile lozenge of land south of the A830 still only lightly touched by tourism or outdoorsy types.

Rum from Rois Bheinn:


Heaven requires a bit of work: there's hoof-churned fields to wade through first (reminiscent of Gigha's Isle of Mud) and a relentless climb up steep, tussocky ground. These bogs are hard going in descent, especially if you've stayed up high for sunset and are coming down in the dark.

Seasoned hillwalkers are used to this: it's the price you pay for getting the good stuff.

Cold river:


Snow:


The figure in the photo below was taking pictures of the sunset. He was disappointed because the views weren't as good as he hoped. Apparently if the north-west hadn't clouded over an hour before sunset it would be even better.



Let that sink in a bit.

He thought this was shite.



But for us it was a little slice of heaven, carved out of a sunny winter's day.