Friday 30 September 2016

Wild Country : Two Reviews.

Image: Vertebrate Pub
To business that we love we rise betime,
And go to it with delight.’

Despite an impressive back story, Mark Vallance has not figured other than rarely over the years in this country’s outdoor media. This despite the fact that he has been responsible for some of the activities major developments in equipment design, retailing and a lead role in the setting up of the first modern style climbing wall in the UK, The Foundry in Sheffield.

To start at the beginning of his book to set the scene, The Prologue, for whilst rock climbing in Spain at Pedriza north of Madrid, he first realised that he had  physical co-ordination problems, returning to the UK the symptoms worsened. This led on to a diagnosis of an early onset of Parkinson’s disease at the age of 54. For many this would have meant a retreat into a cosseted existence; a drug regime, pipe and slippers, but not for Mark. Despite the ongoing problems the condition imposed, he still managed some impressive climbs, particularly in the Himalaya over the next decade. But it has inevitably led to a long term physical decline, a real personal tragedy in that he had by the date of his diagnosis divested himself of his business responsibilities, with the intention of a long term active retirement, the diagnosis was in his own words a ‘bugger’. 

Vallance did have a silver spoon childhood, and schooling. His parents were Unitarian ministers, both mother and father, his maternal grandfather was a standout figure in that religion; who like Mark’s parents had graduated from Oxford, he even was the recipient of an honorary degree from Harvard. Mark was born in Cheshire in 1944, but the family moved to Chesterfield early in his life, and this was later to be crucial in his development as a climber. He was inspired in this by a viewing of the 1953 ‘Ascent of Everest’ film, and at his public school Abbotsholme near Ashbourne, his headmaster Robin Hodgkin had been an outstanding climber in the 1930’s, but who had suffered serious frost bite injuries on Masherbrum in 1938, yet he continued to climb despite having lost toes and fingers in a harrowing descent off that mountain in a storm.

Abbotsholme is seen as a progressive school, and Hodgkin ran as part of its curriculum outdoor pursuits, including climbing. At the school Vallance made friends with Nick Longland, the son of another outstanding pre-war climber, Jack Longland, and he like Mark was hooked on to becoming a climber. The early chapters of the book recount the days they spent developing their skills together in the Peak District, and further afield in North Wales. It was not like the working class introduction to the activity of the previous decade, ‘nowt but pluck, beginners luck, and his mother’s washing line’, but cycling out from Chesterfield into the Peak District, Mark was soon making some impressive climbs, leading such as Brown’s Eliminate at Froggatt Edge and later Cenotaph Corner on Dinas Cromlech whilst still a schoolboy in his gym pumps. These were very creditable leads in the early 1960’s. Through his friendship with Nick Longland, he became for a while firm friends with the latter’s father Jack, who welcomed him regularly into the family home in Bakewell, after a day spent climbing with his son. This friendship was to be badly damaged later over the Mountain Training dispute, when Mark sided with the BMC against a rival Educationalist group led by Jack. Longland did not speak to him again for many years after this, but in writing about this in his book, Vallance has the facts wrong about how this fractious debate was resolved. An independent arbitration group was set up by the Alpine Club, whose findings/recommendations were accepted by both sides to the dispute. John Hunt had no part in this as wrongly reported by Mark, but he had before the dispute escalated undertaken as head of a committee (of which I was the secretary) formed by the BMC, carried out an investigation into mountain training. This resulted in the publication of a booklet, known as The Hunt Report and it was the recommendations within this that so upset the educationalists, in that mainstream mountaineers through the BMC should play a much larger role in developing the policies surrounding mountain activities. The real reason why this had become such an acrimonious debate was there had been a succession of accidents involving young people on training schemes, culminating in the Cairngorm tragedy in 1971 when five young participants had died whilst taking part in an organised youth outing. This alerted the-none involved climbing world as to how serious in mountaineering terms some of these programmes really were.

We are all products of our environment and though Mark grew up in such a religiously inspired background, other influences persuaded him towards atheism. A great uncle had been Hermann Woolley, a pioneer climber at the end of the 19th century, who became a founder member of the Climbers’ Club and a President of the Alpine Club. In these early chapters he is honest in accepting he was privileged, and also that he was no great scholar academically, but the stubborn streak in him which was to emerge so strongly in his later business ventures and dealings, was honed by his early experiences as a young climber. This also led on to a desire to travel, to experience other worlds’ and so on leaving school he took a gap year in India. He was inspired to go there in part by reading Somervell’s autobiography ‘After Everest’, who after taking part in the 1922 and 1924 expeditions to that mountain, spent most of the rest of his life as a missionary surgeon in south India.

Through connections he obtained a post as a teacher at the Ramakrishna School near Calcutta. This was at a time in the 1960’s when the hippy trail and flower power led many westerners to visit India one of whom, the writer Christopher Isherwood fetched up one day at the Ramakrishna centre. Isherwood famous as a novelist recorded his views about meeting over lunch Mark and several others in his diary; about Vallance he wrote ‘met a handsome and sexy nineteen year old boy from Cheshire, named Mark Vallance who has come here to teach English-or rather, his no-shit Midlands accent’. Being an innocent abroad at that stage of his life, Mark had not realised Isherwood’s sexual orientation. India had a seminal influence on him and he found himself comparing the Unitarian faith with Hinduism, and having an enquiring mind attending with the students at the temple, their puja prayer ceremonies, but he concluded this was not for him. He also managed a trek up into the Kanchenjunga foothills, and the view of the Himalaya was to stay with him from thereon.

Returning to England in January 1965 he enrolled at Goldsmith’s College in London to read for a teaching degree. It was there he met his future wife Jan, a drama student, but the paths of true love were a roller coaster for them due to taking on subsequent challenges in far flung regions of the world, but a few years later they were to be married in the Falkland Islands. Whilst waiting to start his course in London Mark returned to his first love climbing. To do which he needed to earn some money, especially for a forthcoming Alpine season; he took a job drilling blast holes in a quarry, then another pouring concrete to help build a dam project in the Goyt valley. His alpine season was successful with routes climbed such as the Frendo Spur, the north face of the Lenzspitze and the north face on the Triolet, back then before the development of modern ice climbing equipment still notable ascents.

The pace now quickens in his book, with a compelling chapter on his two years experience working for the British Antarctic Survey, in Halley Bay, first as a general assistant, but ending as the Base Commander. He admits that living in the Antarctic changed him, with its raw beauty in such a challenging environment and in managing a group of dedicated individualists, mainly scientists from several different disciplines. It was to be for him truly educative. Finishing his BAS sojourn and en route to the USA via the Falklands, there he met his wife to be again, and Mark and Jan were married in Port Stanley. But climbers like Vallance need to move on with life, and leaving her there to finish a work contract, he took off to Colorado and the Outward Bound School for a post as an instructor. During which he also managed a lot of climbing in Colorado, and later in Yosemite where his wife joined him at the end of her contract. It was in Yosemite that the event occurred that would eventually change his life, the meeting and climbing with Ray Jardine the inventor and developer of the camming device which he named ‘Friends’. Jardine reads like a very brilliant but demanding character, in his day one of the best rock climbers in the world, pioneering the first 5.13 climb Phoenix, and a computer engineer who had worked in the aero space industry.

Returning to the UK with his wife, after a three years absence, Mark needed to find a job, and to his surprise after applying he was appointed to a post working in the Peak District National Park. I remember him well in this period, for he not only chaired the BMC’s ‘Access and Conservation Committee’, he also working with myself organised a symposium on these topics in North Wales. He seemed very happy in this work, first as schools officer then as the volunteer organiser, but an incident which happened on one of the latter courses soured his view of the work and he decided to move on. Undecided what to do next unexpectedly a letter arrived from Jardine, offering Vallance the possibility to manufacture his camming devices in the UK. I know from other sources that this was no act of charity on Jardine’s part, for he had arranged with Bill Forrest to manufacture them in the USA, but the arrangement fell through at the last moment. Forrest was also involved in developing outdoor equipment, but others such as the Lowe brothers had tried to design unsuccessfully camming devices, and this had led to a view in the USA which rather coloured against them. And so Jardine who had been impressed with Mark decided to try to persuade him to take this on, which he did with enthusiasm, obtaining a bank loan and a second mortgage to do so, and eventually setting up Wild Country to manufacture Friends.

This was in 1977 and few such innovations can have taken off so quickly, although the setting up of the manufacturing processes, were fraught with difficulty for a none engineer, but within six months sales had rocketed. Later to be assisted by an appearance on the BBC’s popular technology programme ‘Tomorrow’s World’, where Mark so confident in his product dived off the top of Millstone Edge to be stopped by his belayer, held by Friends placed as protection devices in a crack after a fall of many feet.

In an effort to globalise his business he took part as a member of a six man party of British climbers to Japan, fulfilling an invite to the BMC to send such a group to that country by its climbing Federation. In his book he describes near the end of the meet an incident on the killer mountain Tanigawa, on which almost 900 climbers had died in the years before this visit, but he has not go this quite right, for the Japanese climber who fell was away across the flanks of the mountain, and did not fall past Mark as he described. I know because I was there on the stance alongside him, climbing with a Japanese companion, Takao Kurosawa, but we did all go to the rescue of the injured climber and we all did agree that this was the most dangerous mountain any of us had ever been upon because of its looseness and constant rock falls. However the visit worked out well for Mark, for he set up a Japanese distributor for his products.

Much of the rest of the book is dominated by Vallance’s business story, for Friends were the platform for Mark to go on and build the ‘Wild Country’ brand, eventually developing into several other areas of outdoor equipment manufacturing tents, nuts and some clothing items. An illustration of his ability in this field was his design of another climbing protection aid, which he named Rocks. Probably the most successful range of nuts ever produced in this country. Business is an obsession like climbing, and over the next decade Vallance became the man with the Midas touch, developing further the Wild Country brand into the USA, setting up the Outside retail shop in Hathersage, and being one of the moving forces behind the setting up of the first modern indoor climbing centre in this country, The Foundry in Sheffield in 1990. An innovation which has now spread the length and breadth of the UK, and no one can forecast presently how this will affect the long term development of climbing. Vallance is sanguine about this, and writes that ‘if some participants wish to solely climb indoors this is OK by him’, but I am not so sure that this is a wise decision, for the recent debacle at the BMC over a failed attempt at re-branding, was caused I believe in part by an attempt to cajole into membership an ever growing number of indoor wall exercisers, with a swinging new name change, ‘Climb Britain’.

And writing about the BMC, surprisingly despite his diagnosis of Parkinson’s, Vallance took on at a time of crisis, the Presidency of the Council in 2002. He was a reforming figure head, and needed to take a firm line with the staff and members to achieve some of his goals. One, which I could never understand why he made such a big issue of was his wish to give the individual members a vote; he called this doing away with the ‘block vote’, but in any major issue in which a vote was demanded, the clubs still have votes to the size of their paid up membership. The Alpine Club 1400, the Climbers’ Club a 1000 and so on, that is if you have a one man, one vote system. The majority of individual members join the BMC for its services, and to support its aims, but few wish to involve themselves in the Council’s committees and such as the AGM. The current membership is over 80,000 more than half of which are individual members, if these did all of a sudden become politicised and keen to attend such as the AGM of the Council, it would need to hire Old Trafford for the event, but as it is, just a 100 delegates attended at the last such meeting. Mark did make a great contribution during his Presidency with a development along with Harvey’s, the specialist maker of maps, especially for mountaineering to popular climbing areas, e.g The Lake District. These have been a big success and have come to be used by many other groups besides climbers.

Although business dominated his life for the next two decades, Mark did keep on climbing whenever he could get away, including trips to the Himalaya when he ascended Shishapangma ( 8046m) and some other mountains and the Nose route on El Capitan. The latter with the late Hugh Banner; but once again in buttering up his companions climbing CV before their ascent, Mark repeats the old canard that his companion had made the first ascent of Insanity on Curbar, a route that Rock and Ice leaders had failed on. Whillans climbed this on sight in 1958, in the same year as Banner, the only matter in dispute is who made the first ascent, Brown had been part way up the route and swung left to create the harder climb L’Horla, and Martin Boysen and myself both led the route on sight in 1959 as recounted in his recently published autobiography, so all the Rock and Ice leaders involved were successful on that climb, Whillans, Brown and myself.

The chapters in the book dealing with the machinations around running his businesses are enough to put anyone off starting out on a similar road, sometimes they are so involved they are difficult to follow, as to who was taken over, who sold their shares, who sued who. The litigations, the lawyers, the argumentative falling outs, it all could make for a gripping TV drama series. Talking to others who have been in a similar position, running a medium size business, it seems de rigeur in an era of litigation that inevitably you will meet such challenges.

The book ends in a fine winding down sort of way, looking back on a life so vigorously lived, for I have missed out so much of the action including his later membership of the governing Peak Park Board, a successful completion of the Bob Graham round in the Lakes, the ultimate 24 hour challenge in that district, other long runs such as following the Marsden to Edale route, and a charity bike ride from the Lizard to Dunnet Head in north Scotland and continuing on to ride from the northern most tip of Ireland to the southern-most to raise funds for Parkinson’s research. 

For me reading a book in which so many of my own friends and acquaintances appear was a joyful experience, Dez and Ann Hadlum and John Evans in Colorado, Eric Beard, Johnny Cunningham and Eric Langmuir in Scotland; Peter Boardman, Steve Bell, Robin Hodgkin and Jack Longland and so many more. This is an outstanding book by an outstanding personality and it is a tragedy that it needs to end on such a sad note with failing vigour, decimated by a presently incurable disease, however he assures us that he is ‘still fighting gravity and always will’.

Dennis Gray: 2016
Original 'Friend'.Image Wild Country

Wild Country - The man who made Friends

Mark Vallance – Vertebrate Publishing

People had been telling Mark Vallance for years that he should write the ‘story of Friends’ – I know, because I was one of them. And what a story it would be, telling how a somewhat esoteric mechanical engineering concept was explored by a hotshot American climber who, by chance, met a climber from Derbyshire who was able to turn this into not just a commercial success, but probably the most influential climbing ‘gizmo’ since the rope was first used.

However Mark, being Mark, went several steps better than that and wrote the story of Mark Vallance – the man who made Friends. It’s a good thing that he did as there is far more to Mark’s story than the ‘simple’ development of Friends as a commercial product.

He is the slightly dyslexic son of a family of Unitarian Ministers – grandfather, mother and father all being in this profession, and all highly intellectual, gaining degrees from Oxford. He failed to match their prowess in his early academic life and didn’t ‘make the cut’ into his father’s old school, Sedbergh. As Mark notes - if he had gone to Sedbergh, he would have spent his school time unsuccessfully playing catch-up with those to whom academic learning came more easily. Instead, he won a bursary to Abbotsholme school near Ashbourne where an alternative approach to education and an emphasis on outdoor pursuits suited him better.   Here he formed a friendship with fellow pupil Nick Longland that is still close today and, through this, an entrĂ©e to the social and climbing world that Nick’s father Jack inhabited. When Mark applied to join the British Antarctic Survey some years later, the interviewer asked “How the hell did you manage to get references from Jack Longland and John Cunningham?”

His referees and BAS were astute – Mark excelled in the post and completed his time in Antarctica as Base Commander at Halley Base!  His time in Antarctica was followed by work at Colorado Outward Bound School and a meeting and much climbing with Ray Jardine, at that time one of the best climbers in America. Over the next few years Ray fiddled with and tweaked various home-made camming devices as potential assets for improving his own climbing through better protection. It was at this stage that Ray’s bag of secret prototypes acquired the name that was to change rock-climbing – a coded “Have you got your ‘Friends’ with you today?” Nudge..nudge…   when met at the crag. A much better name choice than Ray’s which was ‘Grabbers’.

Mark moved on from Outward Bound to return to the UK and took a job in a National Park, but it seems that he had been the only person who Ray believed to have understood both the functioning of Friends and their potential for changing climbing. Eventually this appreciation led to an offer from Ray of a world-wide manufacturing licence – a challenging prospect for a full-time officer in the Peak District National Park! What followed would indeed have made a good book in its own right as many technical design problems were overcome, patents acquired, sub-contracts arranged, marketing and sales begun and, eventually, a company name, Wild Country, was selected that, today owned by Salewa, is still one of the strongest brands in outdoor equipment.  Other ground-breaking [not literally!] products followed – ‘Rocks’ off-set nuts and ‘Quasar’ geodesic tents amongst them.

But there is much more to Mark’s life than this. Outside the demands of Wild Country, he started Outside gear shop in Hathersage, opened The Foundry climbing wall in Sheffield [the first of the modern walls] and continued to climb at a very high level. His fell-running too was serious stuff and he completed the Bob Graham Round. He climbed an 8,000 metre peak – Shishapangma – and, years after the onset of Parkinson’s Disease, got almost to the North Col on Everest. Later he cycled to the geographical extremities of Britain and Ireland in a one 1,600 mile push in order to raise awareness and research funds for this debilitating disease. Somehow, in between these activities, he found time to serve on the Peak District National Park Board, to become President of the Climbers’ Club for our Centenary year and later to take on the Presidency of the BMC. 

The man himself:Image- Wild Country

Mark writes with fluency and humour, even about the devastating diagnosis and consequences of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at the age of only 54. This, for anyone, would be a crushing disaster and Mark’s sometimes brutal honesty puts his later achievements into a perspective that none of us would wish to face.  The story of his life flows quickly and engagingly – he has achieved much, but attributes his many successes largely to ‘luck’.  It is a good inspiring read which covers not just the life of a remarkable man, but gives a unique view of some of the developments in our world of climbing that these days we take for granted.

David Medcalf: 2016

David's review will also feature in the forthcoming Climbers Club Journal. My thanks to Dennis and David for their contributions

Wild Country is published and available to buy from Vertebrate Publishing



Friday 23 September 2016

Voices from the Past

I stand and peruse the multi-faceted stacks, each calling for me to go to them and expose their treasures held therein. They look tired, dusty and have been ignored for far too long. They yearn for the touch of human hands, they long to be of value again, and they have a need to be seen, wanted and loved. I notice that some stacks are leaning to the left whilst others to the right but was relieved to note, that some were standing firm and resolute after all their years of being ignored. It was always my intention to visit the stacks to sample their delights in whatever shape or form that may be, yet every time I set off to carry out my intentions, I talked myself out of it and went off climbing somewhere.

One particular Sunday, I was not feeling too good and decided that this was the day I would go and visit the stacks and do what I had promised myself all these years to do. So there I was, standing in front of the stacks, shades of brown, rough, smooth edges, some higher than others and whilst others were more inviting than some, I forced myself to go to the one that was always the one that I thought about; standing alone on my far left with its wide base tapering into the small block that was its summit.

My hands started to shake at the expectant desire and fear that could well be my reward for daring to be here once again after so long an absence. Desire because I knew what delights I could experience and fear because of the possible outcome if I had made the wrong decision all those years ago.

I took a series of long deliberate breaths before reaching out my hands to the stack standing before me, it appeared to be leaning towards me as if to greet and old friend. I lifted the top cardboard box off the stack and blew off the dust that had slowly accrued on its summit surface, it had begun; the attic was going to get its first clean out and the contents of the boxes, would once again be revealed to my eyes. Excitement levels rose as I ripped off the sellotape, wondering why I had placed there instead of putting them in the bin as I was asked to do by my good lady wife who said my study resembled a magazine warehouse that had been hit by a hurricane.

A grin that would shame any self-respecting Cheshire cat, spread across my face as I saw the pile of old climbing magazines. As I sat down beside it, I knew this would be the only stack that would see the light of day, the rest would have to remain where they were for another forty odd years!

Excitedly as a child opening their Christmas or birthday presents, I lifted out the first magazine and flipped through it. The next magazine had a picture of Everest on its front page which invoked a memory going back to 1953 when I was nine years of age.

The school took us all to the local cinema in Fareham to watch a film of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, which included a few minutes of the first ascent of Everest. It was at this point that my life suddenly that day, had purpose – to be a climber.

As it turned out, within two weeks of seeing the news film, I was climbing on the rough walls of Portchester Castle and exploring the local area for rocks to climb, which came in the shape of old military installations and chalk quarry walls.

A few more magazines later, there was a picture on the front cover of the Eiger and I recalled that on 15th birthday, I got a copy of The White Spider by Heinrich Harrer, and after reading it, I wanted to be the first Englishman to solo climb the Eiger North Face. My heart rate had increased as the tsunamis of childhood memories came flooding back, not just the good, but the bad through the loss of so many good climbing partners and companions – Chalky White killed in the Alps – Tom the Milky Bar Kid killed in Snowdonia – Geordie Brown killed in Cyprus – and recently, Rup killed on Ben Nevis in Scotland. At this point, I decided I had had enough of clearing out the attic and what was needed, was a quick drive to Headend Quarry on the Caldbeck Hills to celebrate the lives of those friends I had lost, and of course, to satiate my desire for climbing rock.

As I started to pile the stack of boxes back up, one slipped out of my hands and fell to the floor where it spilt it contents like the Langdale Scree slopes. I got a plastic box and started to put them in. The last item I picked up was a toned copy of a 1975/76 Durham University Mountaineering Club Journal which I had totally forgotten I had. I carefully stacked the boxes back up, shut the attic door and with the booklet in hand, went down to my study where I intended to read it to refresh my memory banks of my time as a student at Durham when I spent more time climbing on the Belling, Causey Quarry, Bowden Doors, Shittlington Crags, Crag lough and Peel crags, Simonside crag and a host of others, rather than in lectures.

Sitting in my study with the coffee machine spluttering into the pot, I started to read the Journal. Names of my fellow committee members invoked smiles, grins and images of them and what we looked like back in the 1970’s with our long unkempt hair and couldn’t-care-less attitude.

I immersed myself in a world of memories as I read every word that was typed, smiled at the matchstick images that represented the world of climbing mishaps, and felt very nostalgic when I read my own articles and and interpretations of the psyche of the ‘student climbing scene’.

Then towards the end of the small A5 stapled Journal, two articles struck a chord and which related to my earlier mentioning of the loss of so many good climbing companions. The first was an article titled ‘Alpine or Siege’ by Pete Boardman (pages 23/24), and the second article was titled ‘The Dinner Climb’ by Trevor Jones (pages 48/49).

I had forgotten that they had contributed articles to our small and insignificant Mountaineering Club journal, and realised that these were lost gems of voices from the past. I decided to share them with you, by reproducing them exactly as they were written.

Frank Grant: 2016

Pete Boardman:Vertebrate
Alpine or Siege
Climb Everest in September, be at home by October’. So read the graffiti on the boudoir walls of the camp II superbox. and all the climbing team of the British Everest Expedition South West Face 1975 were agreed – we were there because it was Everest and we wanted to climb it soon and go home. Alpine style is the ethic for the Himalayas of the ‘70’s, and the ascents in 1975 of Dunagiri and Gasherbrum proved this. Nick and Chris thought of their ascent of Brammah I, Doug thought of Baffin, Tut and Ronnie thought of the Pamirs, I thought of my climbs in the Hindu Kush and Alaska. It’s a matter of as much how you climb as the peak that you climb, how you draw the line between the possible and the impossible, between adventure and safety, impulse and planning, irresponsibility and spontaneity.

And yet there was the South West Face of Everest,8,000ft looming up to a plumed summit. Access to its secrets had only been achieved after a 2,000ft ice fall and a two mile walk under the dangerous flanks of Nuptse and up the Western Cwm at 21,000ft. Yes, in September 1975 looking up at the Face we felt humbled and that our big expedition was justified and that we were only capable of puny ant-like scratchings. For I was to discover that, beyond the end of the fixed ropes, there is a sense of total alpine commitment. It seems worthwhile to describe that sensation.

“Mount Everest, the Highest Point of Earth”. As a child I had two favourite picture books. One was written in the 1930’s and was called “The Winder Book of Wonders”. It had a picture of Everest, white- an ethereal rising in the distance out of the great brown plateau of Tibet. The caption beneath it briefly, enigmatically, described the disappearances of Mallory and Irvine on the summit slopes in 1924.

 The second book, “Adventure of the World” had a painting of the summit of Everest as the only peak visible, thrusting out of an endless sea of clouds, with the tiny figures of Hillary and Tenzing standing on the summit.

The 26th of September- the day I reached the summit with Sherpa Pertemba- started with a scene just like that second picture – it was as if a forgotten bell in a distant room in the picturehouse of my mind had been rung. We were moving across the great traverse of the upper icefield above the Rock Band, towards the gully that led up to the south summit. We had left the end of the fixed ropes and were now moving free and unroped, committed to our attempt. The cloud layer was up to 27,800ft, for the weather was changing. Below us there was an infinite cloud sea. Above us the wind was blowing ice particles off the summit ridge that were shimmering in the sunlight.

Our summit day ended in the tragic death of Mick Burke and Pertember and I having to get back in the dark to Camp 6 – a painful memory. But that morning traverse for me held the key to Everest magic.

Peter D. Boardman
December 1975  


The Dinner Climb

“You are old Father Jones” the young maiden said “and do you really expect to lead our young heroes up Praying Mantis?” “Of course dear child for I have 28 years of skill, experience and bullshit”.They twirled around the dance floor, alcohol slopped into his eyeballs and caused a qualm about trying a hard climb after a five month lay-off.

 By this time the young heroes were wrestling on the dance floor. Father Jones remembered the two bones he had broken whilst fighting. The broken leg over a disputed 17 year old beauty. The broken nose over being in bed with a young lady in circumstances which probably should not be explained in a journal as pure as this. Next morning, Fred, Chris and Andy together with Father Jones looked up at the leering crack of the first pitch of Praying Mantis, a rotting bootlace sling hung limply half way up.

Father Jones rushed at it in a bridging sort of layback. Just before the bootlace his dentures became dislodged. A vast National health bill seemed possible. He retreated. Fangs in position, he rushed again and lodged in a niche with a compression on a quarter of a cheek; feet flapping and trembling aimlessly. A high step and it was done.

Fred, Chris came up like wing gazelles but Andy lost interest and decided it was butty time.The last pitch was overhanging in its middle part the holds were all wrong. Suddenly he remembered Joe Brown’s advice “when its ‘ard, get yer leg right oop about yer ‘ead”. This Mancunian advice resulted in Jones's foot shooting off. The resultant heavy breathing was heard in Carlisle. It started to rain on the final few moves, but with one quick bound he was up.

Sunday night conversation:-
"Did you have a nice time with the young people dear?'....'Yes.'

'Did you hit anyone?'.....'No.'

'Did you crash the car?'....'No.'

'Did the police get you again?'....'No.'

'Were you sick?'....'Certainly not'.

'Where did you sleep?'....'In a tent.'

'What about your arthritis?'....'No reply.'

'Were there birds?'....'Er, can’t remember.'

'Did you climb?'....'Yes.'

'Did you fall off?'....'No.'

'Sounds as though it was a bit of a bore. Oh and by the way, I left the dinner dishes for you to wash up.'

Trevor Jones

The sorrow of death is not in the passing, but what could have been in life

Friday 16 September 2016

Napes with the Singer

Remember the 70's man!....Advertising feature in the 1975 Climber and Rambler magazine.
After an appallingly cold day on Scafell Shamrock where we found Silver Lining too wet, too mossy and altogether uninviting, I viewed the clouds gathering over Hollow Stones with some distaste. The usual "Morning after" feeling of a night spent in the Wastwater Hotel did nothing to improve my flagging level of enthusiasm, nor did the chilly wind blowing across the campsite. Pete's face appeared at the rear window of my van and the door was pulled open to admit the cold breeze. "What are we doing then?" The Singer was his usual irritatingly cheerful self but as yet unmelodic. "Not going to Scafell, that's what," I answered, then added with little keeness, "But Gable's clear and I've never done anything on Napes." Wigan's answer to Donald Peers doesn't need second bidding and was off to fetch his gear while I dug about among the dirty breakfast pans, ropes, clothing and assorted "useful items" that no climber can afford to be without and eventually came up with the Gable Guide.

After some minutes spent thumbing through the pages on the Napes, doing my rain dance and voicing my various "ploys for not climbing" my boots were on and we tramped off across the campsite with the Singer in fine form as soon as we began to go uphill. A quick discussion at a point on the Styhead path immediately below Napes and we turned to ascend the fellside directly. Jean, who had accompanied us this far, took one look and set a resolute course for Styhead. What a shattering slog up, almost 1500 ft.; but for once it put a stop to Pete's singing except for occasional bursts. Someone once suggested that he should be made to carry a hundredweight sack to slow him down to a more human pace.

"Right, Tophet Wall for starters is it?" I could only collapse and manage a breathless gasp by way of reply and a full twenty minutes expired before we were roped up at the foot of the Wall. My delaying tactics of disputing the point at which the route begins had worked well! I started up the pitch, a wall followed by an over-hanging crack. It looked horrifying but with a Severe grade it had to be O.K. Feeling weak and lacking confidence I fixed two doubtful runners then a good one in the crack and moved up, then down, up and down again almost in time with the rhythm of the vocal from below.

After ten minutes of this I cheerfully handed over the lead. Pete did not hesitate but agreed that it was a bit awkward before turning on the strength to pull up the crack and on to a narrow ledge. A lull in the vocals occurred for a few moments as he did so. The top rope made all the difference and instead of straining up the leaning crack I moved out left when the previously awkward hand-holds became good jugs. A small foothold on the wall to the left and I was up easily although I thought that it merited hard severe. Leading through the rising traverse of the second pitch proved very pleasant, mostly due to an abundance of places for my favourite aids — big, safe looking runners. I never miss an opportunity to make sure of staying alive to enjoy another day, even on Diffs. Apart from stops to extract my well bedded runners, the voice all but ran up the pitch and led through up the next little wall without protection to belay in a comfortable corner.

I followed making my own line in order to be more directly below the belay since the holds were rather small and sloping. From this point we could see the so called Great Slab and vaguely discussed doing the Demon Wall traverse of it before I started up the corner. There seemed no point in belaying 25 ft. further on, so dropping a good runner over a spike continued along the semi-hand traverse. It appeared to be considerably longer than the 30 ft. stated in the guide but has excellent holds, and need I say, plenty of runners. The corner at the end is furnished with some fine loose rock and is in a delightfully exposed situation. I took a belay on an uncomfortable ledge, having failed to spot a bigger one a few feet higher, and called for the Singer.

I noted a lack of vocals from below as the rope came in rapidly and quickly had an answer to this puzzle when Pete's face appeared. "Bloody 'ell that wind's cold. Let's get this finished and get down out of it." The next section looked interesting, to say the least. A fist wide crack formed by what seemed to be a pinnacle silhouetted against the sky with no indication of what lay around the corner to the right. Pete mounted a smaller pinnacle and was at once blasted by a cold wind. A few unprintable comments later he reached the top of the crack and reached round, left hand followed right, two steps in a sensational position seen from my viewpoint and he disappeared upwards into an apparent nothing. "Good pitch that." The usual cheery voice. "O.K. taking in." After a crotch splitting stride to the crack I soon reached the impressive skyline position and reached to the right. An enormous jug came to hand, right foot round, left hand, lean out. So that was it! The pinnacle was actually the end of a flake and round the corner good holds led to a large ledge quite hidden from below.
The final scrambling remained before we unroped for the descent to Hell Gate. On the way down we came across three people and a boy of about five trying to ascend the scree in the face of a shower of debris being sent down by sheep. The boy was in some danger and though his mother was trying to help she was having a difficult time herself. We were joined by two other climbers and the mother called for assitance. After some struggling on the loose steep scree we managed to get the boy to a safer grassy rib. Had he slipped he would undoubtedly have gone a long way down resulting in injuries that don't bear thinking about. These people should have had the sense to avoid such a place since relatives of theirs were climbing on the crag and should have explained the dangers.

Anyway, safety point made, so back to the climbing. The weather had greatly improved in the previous half hour so we moved along to the Needle where with all due respect to Mr Haskett-Smith we decided that Uncle Tom Cobleigh and clan had swarmed over this spire through the years and duly left it to the three who were about to stand on its hallowed summit. At the extreme right of Abbey Buttress I was feeling confident enough to set off up the first easy rocks of our next effort. Plenty of runners as usual and somewhat higher than the guidebook's fifty feet a good ledge on the right with a fine view of the Needle. My brief investigation of the ridge above caused Pete to pause in his latest refrain and ask if I was going on.

"No mate, I'll leave it for you. Looks good though." Deliberate casualness to hide returning lack of confidence. Pete came up and the guidebook was consulted. It proved to be misleading in suggesting that parallel cracks should be used to traverse left as the cracks are best used to move directly up to join the ridge about 25 ft. above the ledge. Silhouetted on the edge the Singer would have made an impressive picture from the top of the Needle, but no photographer was at hand nor a sound recordist! Tin Pan Alley doesn't know what it is missing. Vocals were temporarily interrupted. "Ah, this must be the Eagle's Nest." Another couple of musical moves up then, "And this is the Crow's Nest." Further crochets and quavers from the Minstrel Boy and rope movement ceased. "How are you doing Pete?" The refrain stopped for a moment to let me know that he was taking in. It proved to be a pitch worth singing about. Always a hold when it was needed, steep, delightfully exposed and just about deserving the M.V.S. grade.

Nevertheless one is bound to have respect for the efforts of Solly and Slingsby who made the first ascent as long ago as 1892. I wouldn't have liked to try even seconding in the big nailed boots of their day. Clouds were scudding in along Wastwater by the time we finished the route, which continues by way of Eagle's Nest Ordinary, so after returning to the bottom we enjoyed a fast descent of the scree directly to the Styhead path leaving billows of red dust in our wakes. No sound from the Singer; must have gone through his entire repertoire. Maybe he'll master some downhill songs one day.

Tony Sainsbury: First published in Climber and Rambler November 1975 

Lancs MC Tony Sainsbury Obituary 

Friday 9 September 2016

The Pennine Way: The Path,the People,the

In the world of outdoor literature, a book entitled ‘The Pennine Way: The Path, the People, the Journey’ is not at first glance, likely to set one’s pulse racing with anticipation. Its not going to make the Boardman Tasker shortlist and Tom Cruise is unlikely to purchase the film rights. And after all, books about the UK’s longest trail are not exactly thin on the ground. Apparently there have been over fifty books written about different aspects of the ‘PW’ and hundreds of articles published in various outdoor publications over the years.

So does author Andrew McCloy-experienced walker and contributor to outdoor media-have anything to new to add to the extensive PW body of work? Well an unreserved Yes would be the answer to that question.. Although like most people, I can’t say I’ve read and inwardly digested everything ever published about the 268 mile walk, and although I have to admit I haven’t had the inclination to walk it myself, I did find ‘The Pennine Way’ a pleasure to read and one of those books I looked forward to getting back to.

Unlike so many long distance trail books which simply detail ever minute aspect of the journey..’at this stage my water had long since run out and I was reduced to sucking my socks etc etc’ Andrew’s book skillfully combines his day to day peregrinations oe’r hill and down dale, with a comprehensive socio/political and cultural overview behind the Way's conception and realisation over the decades. Casting a spotlight on the appalling access situation which existed at the time. Particularly at the Way's southern extremities where the grouse stocked uplands were fiercely protected by crusty landowners and their servile goon squad of gamekeepers. A situation which of course led to the mass trespass movements of the 1930‘s and the politicisation of the great outdoors movement involving left wing organisations,political parties and feisty campaigners like Tom Stephenson, Benny Rothwell reinforced by establishment figures like Labour cabinet members,Fred Willey and Barbara Castle.

Well known as those political struggles may be (See Dave Cook’s article on the Kinder Trespass) another important aspect of the PW which is well covered here, is the environmental impact. An entirely predictable and natural consequence of thousands of walkers descending upon a fragile, upland ecosystem which is highly vulnerable to erosion. The early days of the Pennine Way saw the newly liberated rambler hoards unleashed upon peat bogs and wet moorlands which all to quickly were reduced to a peat soup. The powers that be faced a losing battle as authors like Alfred Wainwright increased usage through the publication of his popular eponymous guidebook to the trail. Incidentally, it appears that AW who never walked the Way in a single push but in bite sized chunks, didn’t actually think much of the trail and preferred his own creation, The Coast to Coast which crosses the PW in Yorkshire.

With those walking the Pennine Way at an all time high in the 70‘s and 80‘s it was ironic that this coincided with the Way’s ecological low point. Battered and bruised by over twenty years of foot fall -The Pennine Way officially opened in 1962 after decades of campaigning and planning- it became obvious that the authorities responsible for their particular section had no option but to up their game and introduce some drastic measures to save the trail. Sections were tweaked and re-directed, experiments into different types of duck boards across eroded muddy wastelands were investigated before finally, the use of re-claimed old mill flag stones were chosen as the most aesthetically pleasing, durable and ecologically acceptable way of transporting walkers across the battered bogs.

After all, the gritstone flags had generally been quarried ‘oop on’t moor’ and they were just coming home; albeit in a man made form.

Another fascinating socio/cultural aspect which is well researched and detailed herein is the growth and decline of hostels along the Pennine Way. At one stage, the walker could count on 14 YHA hostels along the trail to rest their weary head. These YHA hostels were supplemented by private hostels, farm B&B’s and the odd rough bothy or hut. As the Pennine Way approached the 21st century, the traditional hostel was becoming a thing of the past. Most were either closed down and sold off by the YHA or in some cases, demolished completely.

High Cup:Cicerone

The decline of the hostel mirrors the decline in popularity of the Pennine Way. In its early years, most walkers were in the under 40‘s age group. This included school and scout groups led by beery cheery leaders in breeches or just a gang of mates ‘doing it for a laugh!’. These days, most people doing the PW are the middle aged... the 50/60/70 and even 80+ who have sensibly eshewed buying a 750cc motor bike and who have decided instead to 'find themselves' on a long distance trail. Of these silver surfers, three quarters are men although the author comes across a fair few women who are doing the trail on their own.

Its interesting to note that although the Pennine Way is the granddaddy of long distance trails in the UK, it is easily beaten-mile wise- by trails like the South Coast Path or the new Wales Coastal Path. As far as popularity goes, I was surprised to read just how far behind in terms of usage it was with the aforementioned Coast to Coast. Its popularity perhaps helped in no short part by Julia Bradbury’s BBC six part series and the continuing popularity of all things Wainwright. It also helps that the 190 mile coast to coast can be squeezed into a fortnight’s holiday but you’ll really need your skates on if you can do the PW in a fortnight. An example of the competing trails’ conflicting popularity can be gauged when the author stays the night at a hostel where the two long distance paths converge. The hostel's mine hostess informs the author that those doing the Coast Coast outnumber the Pennine Way walkers by twenty to one!

The Cheviot end of the Pennine Way.A few miles from Kirk Yetholm
I recently walked a short section of The Way in the Cheviots above Kirk Yetholm-traditional end-or start- of the PW- just inside the Scottish side of the border. Although I can’t say I was inspired to one day complete the walk, I could imagine the relief and elation of those stumbling down after 260 miles of hard walking, knowing that the end was in sight. A free half pint at the Border Arms awaited those completing the trail-a similar freebie awaits those finishing at the Old Nag’s Head in Edale apparently. Like the majority of outdoor folk, I might not ever walk the Way but Andrew McCloy’s well written and comprehensively referenced book has at least planted a seed and I’m sure that will apply to other readers. A good book to me at least, is one which you are sorry to have finished and perhaps surprisingly- given that I was expecting something of a dry read- this was one of those books.

Published by and available to order from Cicerone

John Appleby: 2016 

Friday 2 September 2016

To Wild Places

I was very sorry to miss a visit from my Lancashire friend Stan Bradshaw recently.The note he had slipped through the door told his own story:

“Called at 10 a.m. on my way home, after climbing
my last tops in Glen Affric. Wonderful days! Left
Alltbeithe at 6 p.m. and got to the top of Sgurr nan
Ceathreamhnan at 8.30 p.m. Watched the sunset
about 10 p.m. and the new moon set at 1 a.m.
Bivvied right down on the summit.

“Rising sun awoke me at 4 a.m. Set off and did the
nine tops and back at Alltbeithe at 11 a.m. Good meal.
Slept outside until 4 p.m. Climbed 32 tops this time,
22 to go. Will be up again soon, Knoydart this time,
maybe see you then. Trust you and your wife are both
well and enjoying life as we are.”

That peak with the difficult spelling—it’s usually pronounced Keranan—is the fourth highest north of the Great Glen, and in my mind’s eye I could see the wee man tracing and retracing his steps on the complicated ridges of this massive mountain with its inconveniently placed tops.I didn’t see him walking like me, for Stan is a noted fell runner and at 68 years of age is the youngest old man I know.

I wrote about him when I met him on the Cuillin.At 63 he wondered if he was the oldest man who had ever done the main ridge in a day, involving 10,000 ft. of ascent and eight miles of intermittent rock scrambling, some of it very serious. Curiously enough when I got Stan’s note on his latest ploy I had just been out with a climber who had celebrated his 70th birthday by doing the same ridge.He was Charles Warren who in pre-war days had been on Everest in the early attempts on the mountain. Charles and I had climbed what was a new Munro for me, Mullach Fraoch-Choire, 3614 ft., which looks directly across to Sgurr nan Ceathreamhnan.

There was an even greater coincidence, for another friend, John, who is coming up to 73, wanted to celebrate his birthday by climbing The Cobbler, so since it was to be an old men’s expedition I invited my friend Pat Sandeman along as well to share the fun. Off we went on a morning of such warm sun that I was glad of khaki drill shorts on a day of high promise with old man Cobbler, softened by heat haze, looking down benignly on a limpid Loch Long.

It was four years since I had been up on its rock prongs, and I had forgotten what a lovely approach it has by the Buttermilk Burn on a path rising swiftly past a succession of waterfalls shaded by rowans and birches, each rock pool an invitation to dip in its green depths. Then you are into spruce forest, following a steep ride to the plantation edge where suddenly the angle eases and the full splendour of the open corrie lies ahead, the jagged Cobbler to the left, and the bouldery Narnain to the right. John and Pat, who had never been here before, were fumbling with their cameras at the vision of wildness bursting on them so soon.

Warm sun, cool breeze, drifting cloud shadows, it was perfection, and underfoot everything was dry after weeks of fine weather.It was an easy walk to the Narnain Boulders and now that we were close in to the corrie floor it needed little imagination to see how The Cobbler got its name; the slender pinnacle—the highest point of the centre peak—resembles a man with a hammer bending over his last, with the bulkier hunched shape on the right, his wife, and on the left, shapely Jean, his daughter.We struck off for the north peak, rising swiftly on a well-trodden path through beetling slabs of wrinkled mica-schist which were a mere foretaste to the rock architecture to come, a world of overhangs and strange jutting beaks.

We thought we had it all to ourselves until we heard voices and the clink of steel on steel, and I spotted a party of helmeted and roped climbers in the vertical slit between overhangs known as the Right-angled Gully. We arrived on top to watch the second man of the party of four, edge up the final moves of the vertical crack which was led for the first time by Jock Nimiin in the ’30’s when it was considered to be the hardest climb on the Cobbler.The leader grinned when I told him this.

“Now, it’s for beginners,” he said. “None of this party has climbed before. They’re from Jordanhill College for Teachers and for them this is just another ‘activity’, part of their course as physical education instructors. It doesn’t follow they will be mountaineers. This is rock climbing, with specialised boots and safety aids that were unknown in the early days.”
Leaving them to their sport I couldn’t help reflecting on the difference in attitude between theirs and mine.Armed with gear and guided by a trained leader they were engaged in rock sport, a form of athletics shown now as television entertainment in which the star performers are described in extravagant phrases such as “the finest climber in Britain “.

They are men who train on indoor climbing walls and on rock outcrops to attain world champion boxer fitness. From our armchairs we watch a very first ascent up a blank wall, or not quite blank, for the star climber has roped down it to inspect the face and brush the possible holds clean. As well as looking for cracks to insert wire chocks, he puts in one piton, telling us as he does so that a lot of climbers will criticise him for it. He says he knows he might die, but he has to challenge the rock rising sheer for 160 ft. Well, it’s all very wonderful in a way, but does it make sense? Not to me, I’m afraid.

What we were looking for was a special place out of the wind, and in the sun, to have lunch in sight of the best rock scenery of all three peaks. And we got it on an airy eyrie with a mica slab as back-rest, while John got out his birthday cake and Pat poured a refreshment guaranteed to do his health good while not affecting the steadiness of his feet. John usually has a nap at lunchtime but not today. Soon we were packing up for the climb up to old man Cobbler himself whose bare rock prow is to be reached only by an airy traverse along a shoulder blade exposed to a big drop below. They were content to leave it to me and enjoy the absolute silence of the summit, where neither sound of bird nor of man could be heard.

“It’s very, very rare in this modern world to hear silence” This remark was from John as we scrambled on along the ridge to the south peak, Jean, on which the rest had no intention of making conquest. So while they sunned themselves I enjoyed the succession of little rock walls leading directly from the col to the sharp summit from which I looked clown on narrow Loch Long winding to the widening Clyde dimmed by haze. This summit also enjoys the noblest aspect of Ben Lomond, elegantly pointed, and it was good to reflect that, for the next few years at least it has been reprieved from the threat of “hydro-electrocution”.
When I rejoined the others John asked Pat and me to go on ahead as he wanted to linger and enjoy the marvellous rock scenery and atmosphere of the corrie, since it might be his last visit here.

Later we all followed the burn from the corrie down through the trees and past the waterfalls. Back at the car for tea out of the flask we left it had been a good birthday party.I had enjoyed that day on the tops immensely.I was at Balfron and I thought I’d take a walk along a stretch of the Endrick where it meanders below the conies of the north side of the Campsies, lovely rolling countryside of big fields and woods. Under blue skies and towering banks of white cumulus I had never seen it look better than on that day, except that the river was less than half its usual size.

There was plenty to see, however; a family of dancing grey wagtails, the young ones trying to ape the darting flights of their acrobatic parents; a somnolent dipper; two pairs of sandpipers and a family of redshanks. Then came the thrill of the day, as a kingfisher went whirring past in a flash of sun-brilliant blue- green. To my delight it curved towards a high bank and settled for about two minutes. No bird plate could have been more artistic than the sight of that beautiful creature, two feet above the water of a crystal pool reflecting the yellow of the flowers on its banks.

 Just nine years ago I bought a couple of folding bicycles for my wife and myself, so that we could use them in the glens on right of way paths where locked gates debar motor cars.Fitted with 3-speed gears, the bikes have been a splendid success, and we’ve taken them over to Raasay, the Outer Hebrides, and many other places with no more trouble than the occasional puncture. Now that Pat has one of these bikes, too, he’s become a fervid enthusiast for excursions that combine cycling and hill walking. I had done one trip with him, and now he unfolded the map to show me what our next trip should be.

“We’ll take the bikes to Stronachlachar on Loch Katrine, and cycle the private road round past Glen Gyle. The bikes can be left at the burnside and then we’ll climb the peak due north, Stob an Duibhe. It’s hidden by other peaks, but I’ve looked at the wee bit you can see of it, and it’s got a pinnacle on its ridge.” He’d said enough, but we hadn’t fixed a date. Came a vivid morning of hail showers following a delightful sunrise of soft gold, and I phoned him before he was properly awake. “I had a late night,” he apologised, but when I suggested we make the expedition that day he was more than ready.

We met up two hours later at Aberfoyle when the sun was still playing hide and seek with the clouds scudding before the north wind. It was a joy to leave the car and take to the bike along the shore of Loch Katrine, with frequent stops to look at mergansers, mallard and teal, watch whinchat and redpolls, and enjoy the fringing oaks above the mirror of the loch.

 Past rocky Glen Gyle, birthplace of Rob Roy, and in another mile we were at the deep cleft of our burn, overhung with natural woodland but with a comfortable ridge on its flank for easy walking.We struck on to the Meall Mor ridge first where we were in the company of the red deer. From up there we could watch the hail showers approaching and then rattling us with white pellets before passing on like gauzy curtains dimming the outlines of the Trossachs hills and the distant Campsies. Luck was with us for we arrived on the top of Stob an Duibhe as all the high hills cleared, from Beinn Chabhair to Stobinian, each peak a different shade of grey or blue.

Now for a go at the wee pinnacle which had excited Pat’s interest.I took it by its overhanging front and it was good fun, with a raven seeming to bark approval. Immediately below us was the River Lochlarig and by dropping north to it and walking its course eastward for about three miles we could have been at Inverlochlarig, where Rob Roy lived at a later stage- in his life.Between Loch Katrine and Loch Voil is still a very wild block of country, cut up by innumerable glens and still unspanned by roads. Down at the house we spoke to the shepherd who told us he was having his problems. Because of the dry weather, the ewes were being tempted on to the lusher grasses of the rocky ledges where they get stuck.

“There’s one now I’ll have to go up and see to, and take it out with the rope.” Over a cup of tea he displayed a real knowledge of wildlife and enthusiasm for it, which was echoed by his young wife. One of the early records of this bit of country came from the Ettrick Shepherd, James Hogg, who in his Tour of the Highlands in 1803 speaks of droving sheep from the head of Loch Lomond to Falkirk by way of Glen Gyle and Loch Katrine to Aberfoyle.

The present hotel of Inverarnan was a droving inn in Hogg’s time and a pass leads from it west to Loch Fyne, with another one just to the north for Glen Shira. Just three days after our trip Pat and I went off to examine the rather complicated topography of this area, and now we had the company of two ornithological friends. We were not out to keep to paths, but explore some of the normally very boggy bits peppered with wee lochans, haunts of golden plover, which at 1500 ft. were calling mournfully around us, piping from high knolls and running ahead of us to lead us away from their nesting areas.

It was Pat who spotted his favourite bird, the golden eagle, a mere speck in the sky above a distant ridge, but coming nearer and nearer and showing off the breadth of its long wings relative to the short tail. Suddenly we saw it swerve as a peregrine falcon attacked it. For fully five minutes we watched the finest peregrine aerobatics of our lives as the falcon whirled about, climbing and attacking from every angle, wings going like a swift as it came in again and again skirmishing with the much larger eagle.

After watching that we didn’t mind getting a wetting, crouching against boulders on the edge of a small lochan eating our pieces, and having a celebratory glass of red wine. Our boggy plateau had a wee surprise in store for us yet, when we nearly stood on the nest of a dunlin, the little wader going off with a “scrake” of alarm to reveal four eggs neatly tucked into a tussock. “It would be easy to imagine you were amongst the flows of Sutherland,” I said, casting an eye over the bog cotton moor with its moranic knolls where 10 red deer hinds stood silhouetted. The time was 3.30 p.m. and two of our party were back in their homes in Glasgow by 5.30 p.m., which illustrates how convenient our greatest city is to some of the best country in Scotland, small scale in the Trossachs but becoming bigger and more spacious with higher tops as you go up Glen Falloch.

Tom Weir: First Published in The Scots Magazine