Monday, 27 August 2012

Glyn Davies' 'Welsh Light'...review

Virginal Explosion
Having just had the pleasure of casting my eyes over renowned landscape photographer, Glyn Davies' eagerly anticipated latest collective works - Welsh Light - it is fair to say from the outset that the collection cannot fail to further cement his reputation as one of our most gifted and imaginative photographers.

Despite being very much a Welsh artist, Glyn in fact was brought up in Cornwall, before crossing the Severn Estuary in his early 20's and settling in the land of his antecedents.

Welsh Light is the fourth collection in a series which began in 2007 with Anglesey Landscapes Volume One and continued in 2008/9 with a second Ynys Mon series and a collection based around Nant Gwrtheyrn on the Llyn Peninsula.

This time around, the photographer has spread his creative net across the uplands and coastlines of north Wales and the island of Anglesey where he is based, and captured a series of images which carry with them more than just technical proficiency but an almost tangible atmosphere. In effect, for those viewers who like myself are familiar with many of these mountain and coastal scenes, the photographs within Welsh Light evoke a powerful sense of being there. Of standing in the photographers' muddy boots and tasting the salted air,feeling the viperous mountain gusts or listening to the plaintive clapperclawing of a circling raven.

Cloud Breakers
This is the difference for me, between those photographers like Glyn Davies who are artists, and those professional photographers who despite being technically proficient and capable of taking 'nice' photographs, fall down when it comes to creating atmosphere in a photograph. For amateurs like myself who have some half decent cameras in their possession- who possess a modicum of photo editing know how and who take thousands of landscape photographs a year, it is sobering to realise that we are only taking snaps compared to artists like Glyn !

Glyn Davies belongs to a honourable tradition of creatives. Artists who take a Ruskin-esque view of the natural world as 'a repository of goodness'. It is a spiritual dimension within art which includes creative figures from Coleridge to John Muir..from The Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood to Edward Abbey.

Although there are a few places in north Wales which haven't felt the heavy hand of man, places still remain which feel timeless. Particularly around the rugged coastline of western Ynys Mon, where remote coves and crenelated cliffs look out to an empty sea. Here Glyn has perfectly seized those timeless qualities and captured the evocative sensory nature of these quiet places.

Rippled Pink
In the mountain areas where man's presence is all around-in the grey stone walls coiling across bleak hillsides, gaunt chapels set amidst tumbling cottages and barren slate mountains frozen beneath a sea of snow- his lens still manages to capture the living essence of these places. An essence which transcends a mere one dimensional image. These landscapes shaped by humanity, for all their imperfections, still have a sense of scale which exudes a harmonious synchronicity between mankind and nature.

A relationship which has become increasingly threatened by the advancing industrialisation of the uplands, coastlines and seascapes, particularly the rapid development of huge onshore and off shore wind farms. Developments which in effect aesthetically and spiritually rape many of our most beautiful and fragile environments.

However, despite the barbarians at the gate, we should at least be thankful to have creative figures like Glyn Davies around, to chronicle and record the magical essence of our mountain vistas and those otherworldly big sky seascapes. Welsh Light succeeds brilliantly in doing just that. Marking moments in time which move beyond the fleeting moments of man and celebrates the timeless eternal qualities of nature...... Ruskin would approve!

The Gathering

John Appleby 2012

Photographs and titles: Glyn Davies-copyright
Welsh Light is available from the author's website.

A selection of 'Crow' imports


Below you'll find a selection of popular features and reviews which have been imported from To Hatch a Crow, having featured on the site in the past 18 months.It is part of a re-jig of the aforementioned site and Footless Crow with it's overwhelming emphasis on rock climbing and mountaineering would seem a more natural home for the articles.However, this site will continue to slot in occasional articles on art and the environment.Features which I feel compliment the climbing side of things and which make FC unique in the field of mountain/climbing media.

Andy Kirkpatrick's Cold Wars..Review


There's room at the top they are telling you still,
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill.


John Lennon

First of all a confession. In recent years I have become increasingly bored with what has become an almost cliched genre; the mountaineering epic.Inevitably set in the Alps and Greater Ranges. I realise that judging by book sales and prizes handed out at mountaineering literature/arts festivals that this appears to be a minority view but there you go. In my eyes, there are only so many creative ways you can describe derring-do and purgatory on a big wall.

I have a theory. Take a selection of mountaineering writers. Take a chapter from each of their works. Toss them in the air and then slot them together into a 250 page work. Change a few names and you would be left with a coherent work with readers none the wiser!

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Something in the air

Mark Weir outside The Honister Slate Mine

The first programme in the current BBC4 series National Park Stories, brought into sharp relief the conflicting interests which inevitably are brought into focus when economic development and conservation issues meet head on within an area of natural beauty. In this instance the controversial Honister Zip wire application in the Northern Lakes of England. An tourism initiative which more than any recent issue within the mountain environment, highlighted the deep divisions between those who see the natural environment as a resource to be exploited and developed in the interests of profit and employment,and those who would see economic activity such as this,sacrilegious and a dereliction of the National Park Authorities' duty and obligation to protect and preserve our wild places from exploitation.

An issue which is given greater significance within our national parks by virtue of the fact that despite attracting millions of incomers each year, unemployment,particularly in this period of economic instability,is a massive issue with serious social implications within the wider area.

The Story so Far......

Tony Howard's Troll Wall..Review


Like most climbers who came into the game in the 1970's and 80's, my first encounter with the name Troll in a climbing context was when I was  casually flicking through the pages of the UK climbing magazines- Climber and Rambler and High. Troll'...they make climbing gear right... Like Clog, Wild Country, Mo Anthoine's Snowdon Mouldings and Mountain Technology up in Scotland? In fact, I'm sure my mate's Whillans harness is made by Troll. Come to think of it- I think my Mark 6 job a Troll ?'

Welsh climber Ben Winteringham killed in Morocco

 Ben Wintringham:Photo Chaplog

North Wales based climber and owner of the now defunct Wintergear outdoor equipment manufacturer, Ben Wintringham,has been killed in an abseiling accident in Morocco. Ben, a member of the UK's Climbers Club,was climbing with  his wife Marion and  fellow club member Mike Mortimor.After completing their route,Marion and Mike had apparently abseiled down the route and as Ben followed  the anchor point failed. A brief biog on the Wintringham.Com website offers the following information...

"Since hi school days Ben has had a abiding passion for climbing and this has determinded his working life. His career has been very varied. He started work as a shop assistant at the then premier outdoor shop in London "Black's of Greenock". Very soon rising to become assistant manager. After serving his apprentership in the outdoor trade, and finding a wonderful house in north Wales, it was decided to move out of London and start our own company. Wintergear was born, using the then new fabric 'Gortex' to make climbing bivouac sacks. This led onto tents and Wintergear's designs are still current even after 30 years (Quasar for instance). Wanting to move on he sold the tent designs to Wild Country, and for several years ran a small mail order business making and selling otdoor clothing. The resession at the end of the 80's put paid to that.

Jim Perrin protests in prose to protect Pumlumon

Jim Perrin..the caped crusader: Tom Hutton

Jim Perrin, writer and climber, led over 250 people on a walk up into the Pumlumon mountain range, in Mid Wales, to protest about the possible desecration of this magnificent mountainous upland by a proposed wind power station. The stunning views across the Nant y Moch reservoir, enhanced on the day by beautiful sunshine, emphasised only too clearly the what would be lost should the development go ahead, covering the rolling hillsides with 64 giant turbines, each 485ft tall.
The area, the most tranquil spot in Wales, and classified by the Countryside Council for Wales as a landscape of outstanding quality, is also steeped in history as the place where Owain Glyndwr won the first battle of his great uprising.

The Cambrian Mountains Society is campaigning for the area to be designated as an AONB, a title it clearly warrants, that would be impossible if it were to be covered in industrial giants.
The march was attended by people from all across Wales and well as the Midlands, the South West and greater Manchester, who then followed Perrin as he rode, in true Glyndwr fashion, to the top of one of the hills targeted by the development. Here he addressed a seated crowd.

Harold Drasdo reviews John Redhead's 'and one for the crow'


To compliment the forthcoming John Redhead related material on Footless Crow I'm pleased to be able to republish Harold Drasdo's original review of John Redhead's and one for the crow. Originally written for and published in the UK's Climbers Club journal of 97 and not available in any other media or format until now. My thanks to Harold for permission to publish his original work online...

This is an easy book to describe or to talk about but a difficult book to categorise or to value. It's a sumptuous large-format production which would show handsomely in the book displays of the art galleries the author despises. It consists of text, artwork and photographs. It's loosely cen­tred around forty of Redhead's first ascents in North Wales, 1979 to 1989, all near or at the limit of the time. The lifestyles of the hero and of the climbing community in Llanberis provide a background. The author's thoughts as climber, artist and moralist range more widely.

Black outdoor instructor targeted by Cornish racists


The lack of black activists within UK mountain activities is a notable and much debated issue within the climbing world. For one young black man from Liverpool 8- better known to the outside world as Toxteth- escape from these mean streets came via a self funded outdoor instructors course in N Wales.

Using his skills and experience as an instructor, Samuel Farmer eventually moved with his family to St Agnes in Cornwall to set up an outdoor charity project to enable young people, particularly young black people from the inner cities, to experience activities such as rock climbing,kayaking and horse riding.

Despite enjoying great success with his mission, Samuel and his family began to suffer sustained racial abuse from neanderthal elements within the local community which culminated with a horrific arson attack. The following is an interview Samuel gave with The Voice journal. At the time of writing no one has ever been arrested or charged.

A year in the wild....Snowdonia: review

 Johnny Dawes on 'natures' porcelain':Photo: BBC

While the whole world and his wife were glued to the London Olympics opening ceremony. Quietly tucked away on BBC2 was a natural history programme which had already generated interest within the climbing community through the appearance of legendary rock athlete-Johnny Dawes. However,the appearance of JD strutting his stuff on Llanberis slate, Cloggy rhyolite and Gogarth 'weird stuff'- I think Johnny called it-was just one succesful element of what was an outstanding well made programme.

David Craig remembers 'Bradford Lad' Pete Greenwood

Bradford Lads in Action: Pete Greenwood on belay watches Harold Drasdo inch across the steep expanses of Gimmer Crag in the English Lake District. Photo Drasdo Collection©

Peter Greenwood, who has died aged 78, was one of the boldest and most agile rock climbers in Britain in the 1950s. Joe Brown and Don Whillans, from Manchester, attracted the headlines,especially for their feats in Snowdonia and the Alps. The finest Lake District climbers – Greenwood and Arthur Dolphin, Harold Drasdo and Paul Ross – were their equals. They mostly came from Bradford and made it to Cumberland after hair-raising motorbike rides from Yorkshire.

Steve Dean reviews Alpha Males-The story of the Alpha Club


The Story of the Alpha Mountaineering Club.
ISBN 978-184426-906-8 Fastprint-274 pages.Also available direct from Al Parker Tel:  01457 855240 )
£10-99 PB/£16-99 HB.

Richard's climbing improved week by week and pretty soon he and I were climbing at the same standard. Around this time we got to know a group of climbers from the Rotherham area, some of whom were coal miners. They were a tough bunch with some good climbers in the group. One climber who was outstanding was Len Millsom, who later did the first ascent of Millsom's Minion at Stanage. When we first met them Len climbed all manner of things in pit boots with metal studs in the soles. I remember he once traversed from Robin Hood's Cave to the Balcony Cave wearing pit boots and with a lighted primus stove in one hand!

Iron in the Soul..The Pinnacle...Review


Readers of Footless Crow will have enjoyed...I trust... a couple of recent articles related to the legendary Scottish climber Robin Smith. Steve Dean's excellent 'Adventures of Wheech' followed by 'Wheech' himself- Robin Smith's- best known essay first published in the SMC journal of 1960...'The Bat and the Wicked'.
Steve's comprehensive piece includes a section detailing events in one remarkable week in February 1960 when the young pretender,accompanied by 'The Old Man' - the legend that is Jimmy Marshall- launched a series of impressive first ascents from their lair under the Ben..As Steve explained...... It was to be a week that re-defined the art of Scottish winter climbing and the pressure was on as Jimmy was to be married the following month!

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Seal

Jane and Nick Darke

Jane Darke is an artist,writer and filmmaker who was born in Wales. Married to the late playwright and environmentalist,Nick Darke (1948-2005) she lives on the wild North Cornish coast near Padstow. An area where she draws inspiration from the roaring seas, ochre cliffs and vast skies.
Jane first came to wider attention through her film The Wrecking Season which chronicled Nick's attempts to return to health after a crippling stroke. A struggle set against the backdrop of their passion for 'wrecking'. A traditional Cornish term for beachcombing. An activity which brought them a rich bounty of flotsam and jetsam which the couple often utilized for artistic purposes.
The follow up film 'The art of catching lobsters' which was first shown on BBC4 was originally intended as a continuation of The Wrecking Season story. Tragically however,Nick had by now developed a terminal cancerous condition and the film became an incredibly moving account of their last months together.The following piece is an extract from Jane Darke's 'Held by the Sea'. A full and frank account of her latter years with Nick and their shared creative passions and environmental interests.

Spring tides are always lowest at around midday. During warm weather the sun beats down on the full length of beach from noon. As the tide comes in the water picks up heat from the sand. So the warmest sea here is in the evening. Then the sun is in front of you, hanging over the horizon.
Sometimes, when there are no waves and the long narrow beach is full to the top, you'd be mad not to go out in a boat, floating up near the cliff edge then out to sea for fish. And you'd be mad not to swim too. The fishing used to win every time but now I'm not so sure. It's so easy just to float.
In a swimming pool you need to keep moving but salt water carries you. Swimming as a means of travel is freedom. like taking a walk. If I need to rest I stop and float. I lie in the water, my arms and legs outstretched, sound muffled by the water in my ears.

All I see is the sky above me as I drift. Loneliness was a gaping hole at first, I had so much time and it was all my own. I had to work to fill it. Get through the time. Loneliness is just a state of mind.
I have time to work, to relax, to think. I treasure the quiet and the calm. Time has changed again. And because Nick didn't have much time I'm glad he had so much of mine.
Could I have been this me with him? Our time would have been different, two people living separate lives, side by side, instead of one life together. We shared everything, we were one person. Those women who watched the film, that's what, they saw. Not many women want to do what their partners do, or are allowed to. He included me because I was interested. He wasn't really interested in what I liked to do, though he loved to walk around galleries and discuss the work with me.

In my heart I couldn't understood why a man needed a wife, he has it all mapped out, she is uncharted waters. I wanted Nick to achieve things that I needed to do for myself. And all that disaster of my childhood that I carried as a 'burden, thinking myself less for having such a past, I realise now was just experience. It was an achievement to get through childhood, adolescence, motherhood, to find a way through. I ran on instinct, emotion with knowledge. I was a late developer, distracted by my family until now.
Nick understood what mattered, he learned the lesson when his mother died. And now I understand his patience with me. I only hurt myself.

I had it all at the beginning but I didn't know until I lost it. I kept looking for something. I thought it was security I needed, that 'security' was external but anything can be lost. I had to learn to find security within myself, the strength not to be afraid. Rely on myself for most of what I need not someone else. I still have time. I've done a lot but there's more to do and I'm taking Nick with me,in me.I no longer rush to the future, memories are a refuge, not a torment. This has been an exploration. It was strange to put myself first. To write from my viewpoint. To be at the centre.. That was his place.I've been a painter, a film maker and now writing, it's all the same.

About eighteen months after he died I went to an exhibition of work by the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. She painted self portraits throughout her life, all affirmations of her 'Self'. I wandered through the gallery in a trance. In a small room were a group of drawings and lithographs. One made me dissolve. Frida had polio when she was six, then at seventeen her body was almost cut in two in a bus accident. She started to paint then, when she couldn't move in bed. At twenty two she married the artist Diego Rivera, he was forty two, and in that year she became pregnant. But this pregnancy would have killed her so the child was aborted. Three years later she drew The Abortion, signed it Frida Rivera.

It's like a diagram, her naked body in the centre, beads round her neck, tears on her face, one side of her body light, the other dark. A string leads from an embryo in her belly to a child in the foreground, the arms and legs too small. Cells divide above her babies head. Blood falls from her and fertil­izes plants to her right. One plant has fruit like a teat, another leaves like tiny hands. Above these, sperm enter an egg. Her arms are by her side but a third arm holds a pallet with no paint, no brush. The moon is over her right shoulder.
I understood her grief. And just now I've found the draw­ing again and it's all there, I hadn't realised.
In the same gallery on the same day, I went around the per­manent collection. A painting by Lee Krasner caught me. `Gothic Landscape' was painted in the years following the death of her husband Jackson Pollock, the great painter and alcoholic. A large canvas, black and white paint with a con­stant, moving, twisting line cut by broad black verticals. I could see it but I didn't feel it, the grief, it didn't work for me, it felt more like anger.

The Beach: Oil on paper: Jane Darke

Grief is personal, a different mix of emotions for each of us. I searched to see the contrast between this and her work before he died. I found changes throughout her life, she could adapt herself, she found a way through, she was the twisting line. Now I know the value of painting. It's of the moment, an ,unrepeatable single object. You see the brush strokes, a hair from the brush, a grain of sand, a finger print and thought.
And a painter's life work put together in a retrospective shows a human mind tied to History.
And paintings can hold power. Picasso's painting `Guernica' became a symbol of his country's freedom. This huge painting of the violence of war which he would not permit to enter his native Spain until it was no longer fascist. He made it personal. Sometimes the story behind the painting makes it greater. Painting was the art form of his age, he was the artist of his century. So many great films were made but a single vulnerable object still has authority.

David Nash makes monumental sculptures with raw wood from fallen trees. He cut a wooden boulder and followed it's course on film, in words, photographs and drawings, for twenty-five years as it was taken by melt water down a mountain to the sea. If I found his wooden ball I'd roll it home.

Drawing with the brush on primed paper or canvas. A white base, to let the colours shine.
Working fast.
Sap green, Burnt Umber and Prussian blue.
The sea is blue green.
In Cornish there is one word for blue and green, `glas'. And `dulas' for a deeper shade.
The paintings which I have around me now are from my life, with Nick. He caught the fish. I picked the flowers as we walked back across the field.

I lived with him then. I've read that it's more difficult to love someone when we're with them than when we are apart. When we're away from them, we live in our imagination, reality doesn't get in the way.
`Absence makes the heart grow fonder.' It's not always so, it wasn't so for Nick and I, when he was alive. Is it so now, do I love him more in retrospect? I loved him, it was simply that, how could I love him more?
In love our imagination projects our own needs onto the subject. They don't always match up. With time you learn to love someone for what they are. If everything goes well, you readjust imagination, change your finer categories of need. If someone provides you with something, like tenderness, you start to love them for it, then you start to like other things about them, things you never liked before, a love of fishing, Bob Dylan. Never rule anything out.

And if you don't readjust you get stuck wanting something from someone that they can't give. If you had a wonderful father who you idolised you could look for someone just like him and be dissatisfied. If you had a violent father who you loved, you could always look for violent men. I've heard that we fall for our parents first of all, that we need sex to lure us away from them, we look for sex and find love. I must have been loved as a child but it all went wrong. I went looking for love and found sex.
Difference, chemistry, mutual attraction, sometimes not mutual, sex can lead us in and dump us. But I was lucky, I found a father, mother, lover, friend in Nick. He was what­ever I wanted him to be and I did the same for him most of the time. I learned how to share my life and to love. I tried to forget that need for someone, I worked to fill my thoughts.

What if I met someone else? I'd changed so much. I hoped I could hold on to it, not forget the lessons that I'd learned. I thought about having someone of my own again and I had to tell myself to stop it. I lay in bed and thought about my work and anything else instead. When the tide is very high, only a few yards from the gate, I don't need a towel. The bank is steep and the waves slam in at the last minute, they pile up and swirl across. I have strong legs so I stand firm as they hit, like Colossus. I take it steady and hold on until there's a little calm, then swim into the waves, go with it, pull as required by the force of water.
I get out beyond the surf to float on my back, facing the setting sun, like a cork. My feet rise up in front as a wave rolls under me.

Seals do this too, the grey seal, the most common here. They twist and turn through kelp, through gullies, between the islands and into sea caves, picking off crabs and lobsters as they go. I think they wait above my pots and take the lobsters. Sometimes one is there, head and shoulders out of water, as I pull up the empty pot. I talk to them but their black eyes don't give anything away.
The pups are weaned at about three weeks, at six weeks they have their adult fur. As winter sets in many starve or die of exhaustion. They come ashore to rest. Leave them alone and keep your dog away, the beach is theirs not ours.

Sometimes a seal sees a wall of net with fish caught in it, they only eat the heads, the best bit. Fishermen shoot them. I've measured seal bodies decomposing on the beaches, a record for the Wildlife Trust. There aren't many fish in the sea and when all the fish are gone and we can't grow food because the climates changed, we will eat the seal.
I brought some wood back from Rowan Cove, towed it behind the boat. As I entered the bay a seal came alongside and followed me in, flopped up onto the beach next to the boat, `OK what now?' It's rare to meet a wild animal, face to face, which has so little fear.



Jane Darke: Held by the Sea
All Images courtesy of Jane Darke

Details of Jane's films,paintings and book available through the Jane Darke Website

Souvenir Press

Friday, 10 August 2012

A climb on Stac Polly


Godfrey Solly (1858-1942 was a Merseyside solicitor who was at the heart of technical advances in the sport,throughout a long and remarkably successful mountaineering career. Amongst his more notable achievements was an ascent of the UK's first VS(US 5.8) climb-Eagle Nest Ridge on Great Gable; the first ascent of Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis and explorations in the Alps, Caucasus and the Canadian Rockies His long career spanned the unfolding epochs and he continue to evolve as a pioneer and climbing innovator until into his ninth decade.

The record of the Easter (1907) Meet at Inchnadamph has already appeared in the Journal and the climb described in this paper was briefly mentioned, but perhaps it deserves a longer description. To most of the members the district was new, and one of the allurements held out to induce the Club to go so far was the prospect of new climbs, particularly on Stack Polly. In this we reckoned without our Honorary Secretary, who spent part of his previous summer holiday there.After Dr Inglis Clark has wandered over a district for three weeks with motor and camera, the search for new climbs is harder and descriptions of the scenery unnecessary. Ignorance as to Stack Polly may be pardoned, for the index to the first eight volumes of the Journal does not mention that mountain, nor is it named in " Anderson's Guide to the Highlands," published in 1834. It is named on the map of Black's Guide for 1875, but even there it is not referred to in the text.

As has been stated, it is only the advent of the motor that has placed it within practicable reach of mountaineers during the short days of early spring.

On Monday, 30th March 1907, a party of six left Inchnadamph at 8.10 A.M. in the motor. We had a beautiful drive through Elphin and past Drumrunie Lodge, arriving at the foot of the hill near Loch Lurgain at 9.40. On the way we had magnificent views of the snow-clad Teallachs.

Leaving the car and driver by the roadside, we all ascended  the heathery slopes above us. Then, while three made direct for the summit ridge by one of the gullies in the centre of the mountain, Messrs W. N. Ling and G. L. Collins and I turned westwards. We skirted the fine cliffs, passing under the starting points for the  climbs made by Messrs Collie and Inglis Clark  and rounded the western extremity of the mountain. The cliffs on the north-west buttress are tremendously steep. There had been a snow- storm during the previous night, and the rocks were cold  and wet in places, although firm and good. I know of no serious attempts to climb them in former days but Mr C.  Pilkington tells me that some years ago he was there and made two or three starts, but after ascending about 15 feet each time found the rocks so steep that he came down.

That was in mist, and he had no opportunity of looking out a route as he could not see the upper rocks. We roped at the foot at 10.45, the aneroid showing 1,600 feet. Then came the question of leadership. It was obviously an occasion where if youth were on the prow there would be pleasure at the helm, so Ling as the junior was sent first,.

I went in the middle and Collins last. We climbed straight up for some distance on what might be called the principal ridge, but were soon forced by overhanging rocks to turn towards the gully on our left. A narrow ledge, which required care, and with one rather awkward pitch in it, led us some way towards the gully. Just where the ledge became impracticable we were able to traverse back again to our original line above the overhanging rocks.

The next obstacle was a leaf of rock but by steadying Ling's foot until he got jammed in, this was surmounted and it was easy work for the second and third. Then came the most difficult part of the climb. A narrow ledge led to a small platform on the extreme edge overhanging the cliff. ' Just below the platform was a kind of letter-box where the third man could get his shoulders wedged and be secure. From the platform ran a short shallow chimney which bulged outwards so as to throw the climber out. Ling cleared out what holds there were, but they were not good. I was able to kneel on the platform and Ling got on my shoulders, and after some hesitation as to the wisdom of an advance he went ahead. As he struggled up I raised myself so as to help him for as long as possible, first with shoulders and then with hands holding his feet, but of course he had to do the last part alone.

From my shoulders he got into the chimney, then hanging by one hand he swung his right foot on to a hold on the edge of the chimney, and grasping some heather pulled himself up to a large platform. He was then quite secure and with what a novice calls the moral support of the rope we quickly followed. Some very steep but good rocks led to the top of the buttress, where we built a small cairn.



The height was about 1,950 feet. It was then 1.15. We soon reached the top, where the other party were waiting for us,and joined us at table. It had been a most enjoyable climb, but a very difficult one for the leader, who deserves all the credit that attaches to it.

It is difficult to generalise upon the climbing of a district after only one visit, but my first impression is that,except on Stack Polly, few distinct climbs of much difficulty will be found. There are many magnificent ranges of cliffs and steep mountain faces, but the climbs seem for the most part to be either impossible or too easy. A party may go out and get as much climbing as they wish in disconnected pieces on the mountain faces, but probably an easy route could be found a few yards away on either side, and no two parties would be likely to take the same route. One or two gullies on Quinag may perhaps be successfully wooed, as Raeburn's party showed, but the great buttresses on that mountain are perpendicular in places and apparently impracticable. I saw nothing at all comparable to the distinct ridges and gullies of the north side of Ben Nevis.

One other memory of a most enjoyable Meet is perhaps worthy of record. I was lodged in the manse a short distance from the hotel, and one morning about 5.15 I was aroused by a most unusual disturbance amongst the birds. I thought it meant that some beast or bird of prey was about. I got out of bed and looked out of the window. All the small birds were twittering and chirping and on  the move, and innumerable gulls were circling around in every direction screaming their loudest. In two or three minutes I saw three eagles almost in line sailing in the air high up above Loch Assynt. They came from the direction of the foot of the loch, and when nearly opposite to me made a short turn and then went on  and disappeared beyond the head of the loch. It was a magnificent sight, and it is, I believe, unusual to see so many hunting in company. They were evidently looking out for their breakfasts, but the smaller birds did not wish to be present at the meal, and by their screaming induced the eagles to look elsewhere. I went back to bed, and the noise of the birds soon ceased.


Godfrey A Solly: First published in The Scottish Mountaineering Journal 1909

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Diversions

Harold Drasdo

This is an account of one of the most popular hill walks in Mallorca: the Archduke's Path from Valldemossa. It is outstand­ing for its historical associations, for its theatrical changes in terrain, and for its panoramic upper views. For Maureen and myself it is an indelible memory through a rash impulse on my part which held us in suspense for an hour.
It was November 1997 and we were based in the town of Soller on our first visit to the island. Our apartment had been recommended by Peter Hodgkiss, and belonged to an American adventuress called Lou Landreth. She had proved herself an invaluable source of informa­tion. We'd not found it useful to hire a car, which would restrict us to returns to starting points, since the bus services gave widespread access. We were using the guide to Mallorcan walks written by a CC club member, June Parker. Already in its second edition, it had been revised only three years previously.

Any general guidebook will tell you that George Sand and Chopin spent the winter of 1838 in the monastery at Valldemossa. George Sand was the pen name of Aurore Dupin. At eighteen she had married Baron Dudevant, abandoning him nine years and two children later. Moving to the Bohemian quarter of Paris she took up socialist and revolutionary causes, wrote erotic novels, had a succession of famous lovers, and thoroughly scandalised polite society. In 1837 she met Chopin and a liaison developed in which she was probably more carer than lover. Not yet thirty he was already afflicted with the tuberculosis that was to kill him. The Baroness decided that a spell in the warm south would improve his health and in the November of the following year they took the little steamer from Barcelona to Palma, almost the earliest tourists on record there.

Anyone interested should read Sand's book- A Winter in Majorca, or at least Part III of this fascinating memoir. The island was then in a condition somewhere between feudalism and the England of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The Government had recently expelled the monks from Valldemossa and was now letting their bare cells to visitors. These were in demand in the scorching summers by wealthy people from Palma. In winter there were no takers. In mid-December, 1838, Sand and her small party installed them­selves. The only other occupants of the enormous building were a few villagers who had settled in and claimed some custodial function. In fine weather it remained an idyllic spot. In bad spells it was a survival test, a time of privations, of icy winds blasting through cells, corridor and cloisters, with scarcities of food, pilfering of the little they could get, and a general hostility towards them. (They weren't married, then} didn't attend the church, the man had a much-feared illness worsened by his stay here, the woman wore trousers and smoked cigars and her children were running wild.) Yet it was here that Chopin wrote the 24 Preludes and when his treasured piano finally caught up with them they were able to listen to the new music.

That was Valldemossa 170 years ago. This is the Archduke's Path. We set off up the Cairats valley... delicious. The track rose steadily through mixed woodland with successions of trees,many of which we couldn't name.

We were moving in dappled sunlight, the temperature refreshingly cool. At intervals the evidence of activity from earlier time was on display - the hearths of charcoal burners, a kiln of the lime producers, a pit for compacting snow to produce summer ice supplies.
Above the tree-line at the Font d'es Poll the ascent eased and we diverged north-east to take in the western summit of Teix. This rising only as a cone on the high plateau here was already occupied by a few groups of contented walkers soaking up the sun. It's the culminating point in this block and looks across toward the high peaks – Puig M;Dqor. Massanella. Here we ate our lunches and enjoyed the slight breeze. I noted that Teix is just two metres less in height than Carnedd Llewe­lyn, the centre-piece of the view from the windows of our own house.

Back on the main path we picked our way generally westward across the high ground. The area was almost bare of trees and the scatters of spiny bushes had the character of desert vegetation. It was the perfect location for a Spaghetti Western.
Beyond this the sensational part of the walk begins, the Archduke's masterpiece. The Archduke was Ludwig Salvator, a descendant of the Habsburg-Lorraine emperors. He first came here in 1867, aged twenty. Shortly afterwards he returned, bought a huge swathe of land and remained until the First World War called him back, a year before his death.

His estates became his toy. Walkers are indebted to him for the marvellous excursions he created. Conservationists are grateful for his protection of old buildings, for his detailed studies of plants and wildlife and for his scholarly enquiries into every aspect of the island's life and culture. He also found time to indulge himself with a succession of local peas­ant girls so that a trace of the Holy Roman Emperors may run in many Mallorcan veins.


Now the carefully eased and graded pathway follows the spine of the ridge. To the south the wooded valleys wind back to Valldemossa. To the north-west there's the narrow coastal strip, not a mile wide, and the sparkling sea through half the prospect. Two downward steps and the limestone wall drops for what feels a thousand vertical feet and there are no breaks in it, and there are no vantage points from which it can be viewed. I wouldn't want to traverse it on horseback as the Archduke did. It is exposed enough by Shanks's Pony. Along the way we edged past oncoming guided German tour groups who greeted us cordially. Finally the arete ran out in a descent and we arrived at what I assumed to be the Coll de s'Estret de Son Gallard.

It was at this point that we, or I, changed the plan. "There is a path leading down to Deya here on the right," June Parker had written, using the old spelling. We'd only passed it by, one of the most pictur­esque villages on the island, on the bus. I wanted to set foot there. Nevertheless, I paused. A notice stated that it was private property or private hunting, I can't remember. The entry to the tight little valley was barred by a barricade of cut thorns stretching across to the ruins of an old hut. Beaters drive thrushes, a pest in the olive groves, up the ravines and the hunters pot them and anything else with wings.
June Parker had mentioned the unauthorised closure of old paths and confrontations with new landowners. Rather like the pied-noirs who'd gone back to France after Algerian independence, wealthy settlers from North Africa and other parts had relocated here more recently, buying large closely guarded estates. Gangsters, someone had called them.

However, in fading red paint on the hold shelter the word 'Deia' was visible with an arrow pointing down. A narrow gap had been forced between the barricade and the masonry. We squeezed through and set
off We found ourselves on a nicely graded path, an old mule track maybe, looping down through woodland as delightful as that of the morning's ascent. Rapidly we lost hundreds of feet until we felt we must be level with the foot of the huge wall we'd passed over. But even­tually we saw ahead, stretching from side to side, a ten-foot fence of tight, new, one-inch mesh topped by angled barbed wire. The coast road wasn't a half-mile distant.

A yard or two beyond the fence the track now led into thin air. A quarry had been blasted out and the path's resumption could be seen a hundred yards away. The ravine was quite narrow at this point. To the left the fence ran into steep rock with a vertical wall beneath. On the right it curled around the quarry and the shrubs weren't quite so dense. I followed it until it ended above steep ground. Maureen joined me and we lowered ourselves from saplings and their exposed roots until I was stopped, hanging down the sheared face without a foothold. It was a compacted clay, quite hard with occasional embed­ded pebbles, almost like a young conglomerate. We were thirty feet from level ground. Fifteen feet below there was a sloping ledge banked up with debris and dust. I could drop and hope I'd stop but I'd be covered in filth and might well damage myself.

Then I saw that Providence had intervened. Within reach of my right shoulder, protruding horizontally from the clay, was the fractured thigh-bone of some large mammal. Five inches of it was exposed and the break had given the end three or four sharp spikes. It wasn't exactly the jawbone of an ass but if I could free it, it would make a good tool for carving out holds. Working it one way and another I extracted it. The joint end made a good palm butt. I hacked away until I'd cut a deep slot or pocket to lower myself further. Then the same thing again and I reached the ledge, balancing myself as catcher. Maureen repeated the moves and moments later we were on the quarry floor.

We regained the track and followed it through the thinning wood­land. For some time we'd been hearing dogs barking continuously in the Deia direction but no buildings were in sight. My anxieties returned. We'd heard already that some of these estates were patrolled by loose guard dogs. Pausing under the last tree cover we saw that only four hundred yards of open ground separated us from the road. The path seemed to have petered out on ground tracked by vehicles. Then we saw that a fence like the one we'd circumvented ran along the road­side as far as we could see in each direction. And then, that to our right another fence ran from the roadside back up the slope toward the escarpment. Behind it, with concentrated rage, two Alsatians were howling at us. I'd fenced us in but the dogs were in an adjoining prop­erty. There was no sign of life in our compartment.

I studied the fence. A line of spaced trees stood on its further side. Eventually I saw a single point of weakness. One tree had a drooping bough reaching over the fence, curving within eight or nine feet of the ground. We sprinted across the exposed space. I hoisted Maureen, she dragged me, we shinned along in tandem and moments later we were on the public highway. Deliverance.

Sitting on the bank, we composed ourselves, then set off to walk the two or three miles into Deia. There was almost no traffic on the road. Very soon as we reached the dogs they began to pace us, barking in a frenzy and hurling themselves furiously high up the fence so that it shook for a long way to either side. That was alright, but what if we arrived at a gap or a hole somewhere? After some hundreds of yards, however, we passed by the imposing ornamental gates of this estancia, some distance up the slope. Soon afterwards, having done their duty and seen us off, they loped back to headquarters with sore throats and tender paws.

Darkness fell before we arrived at Deia. The through road passes above the old village but although we'd ninety minutes to spare before the last bus, we felt like sitting down. Close to the bus stop we found a delightfully seedy bar with provocative murals on the walls and only a half dozen young locals in session. Here, in contented frames of mind we attended to our raging thirsts, talking in the bar and reviewing our day. Then we were in the beaten old bus, grinding over the high ground and straining round the hairpins into Soller. We'd done the best part of the Archduke's Path, we'd taken in Teix, we'd committed a wilful act of trespass or an assertion of ancient rights, depending on point of view, and we'd very nearly been into the old part of the village of Deia. We were ready for something to eat.

My plan on starting this piece was to end with a note on Ronnie Wathen, resident in Deia for many years though he also had a base in London. He'd died suddenly four years before our visit. Now I find he's too big to fit in a paragraph and can't be constrained on a page without a note on the poet and writer Robert Graves.Ronnie was the lucky inheritor of enough income to make working for pay unnecessary. He was a climber, Alpine Club and Climbers' Club, and one of the three founder members of the Newton Club which demanded an 80ft free fall as entry qualification; this at a time when most climbers tied on with a simple bowline. I'd first met him in 1957 when he joined our groups in the Pennines, the Lakes and in Ireland. In that year he made the first ascent of Pumasillo with a Cambridge University MC party. He followed up shortly with big routes in the Western Alps with Chris Bonington, who could recognise a strong porter when he saw one. And he was still climbing in Mallorca in the year of his death.

Ronnie Wathen:Photo-Terry Gifford

He was a serial traveller, sometimes a nomad moving from country to country, sometimes a householder making regular excursions back to old haunts or out to new lands. On all these journeys he lived very simply, picking up something of the language and making friends amongst the very poor. He was a family man with an Icelandic wife, a son born in Spain and a daughter born in Greece. He was a poet, producing collection after collection in the least ortho­dox styles and metres I've ever come across.

He was a musician. dedicating much of his later life to the mastery of the Irish bagpipe, the uillean pipes. (Lou Landreth had said that she'd occasionally taken a very early walk into the hills only to hear Ronnie playing the pipes from the summit of a crag a thousand feet higher. That may be the best distance to listen to the Irish bagpipe, an acquired taste.)

He was an incurable eccentric, arriving at quite formal occasions in skull-cap or fez. I'd last seen him at meets in Snowdonia not long after we'd been paired as judges on a Boardman-Tasker panel chaired by Livia Gollancz.Ronnie's reason for building a house in Deia lay in the intensity of his admiration for Graves. Graves was widely known in Britain as the author of Goodbye to All That and I, Claudius but he was massively productive. He'd long been resident in Mallorca and was greatly respected there, though each of his houses was a vortex of wildly unorthodox relationships. He'd even been formally declared a Son of Deia. Ronnie wanted to be near him, to make friends, to debate the world with him.

Graves even knew something about climbing. In 1914, in his final year as a schoolboy at Charterhouse, he had fallen under the influence of one of his masters, George Mallory, and a friendship developed which was to continue until Mallory's death. Graves was recruited for visits to Snowdonia and on one of these they joined a well-attended Climbers' Club meet at Pen-y-Pass. There he found himself sharing ropes with the great figures of' the period: Winthrop Young, Harold Porter and the O'Briens, amongst others. He climbed some of the most prestigious routes of the era and wrote lucid descriptions in a school essay. Within a few months everything changed and he was in the trenches of the Western Front or in hospitals for the rest of the war. He was critically wounded and became one of the small group of men who were to read newspapers reports of their own deaths in action.

Ronnie's plan succeeded for a while. Unhappily it became clear that the great man's mind was clouding and discussion eventually became impossible. By that time Ronnie had developed a taste for the company of the new expatriates settling in the village and he was still making journeys up and down the bagpipe belt from Ireland to Nepal. All that came to an end in September 1993.
Robert Graves: Photo-Peter Stark (National Portrait Gallery)

Harold Drasdo..first published in the Fell and Rock Journal 2010