Saturday, 2 October 2010

Returning to the Summer Isles and some lost memories

I stopped at Ullapool on my way from Loch Hourn to Achiltibuie. I was still trying to live off the sea as much as possible by eating the fish that I caught and collecting berries and shellfish to supplement my “seagull diet” however the smell of the Ullapool chip shop was too much for me. I bought a bag of chips and sat with the other tourists beside the harbour.

I mused at the seagulls now known locally as “Fish’n’chip gulls. They have long lost their natural instincts of feeding by catching fish. Instead they wait patiently for the tourists to throw them the leftovers of their fish suppers. The gulls certainly look healthy enough on their high cholesterol diet but I couldn’t help wonder how long it would be before they eventually forgot how to fly ? I guess its all part of the wonders of evolution.

I stopped at Ardmair Bay for a photograph of Ben Mor Coigach rising steeply from the other side of the water. This area has long been my favourite region in the whole of Scotland.

I stopped for another photograph of Stac Pollaidh from the side of Loch Lurgainn. Its not the best photo I have taken of Stac Polly but seeing the mountain before me again started recalling some long lost memories.

A little further along the road I stopped to admire its steep rugged eroded plateau as my mind started to drifted back to thirty years ago.

It was a bitterly cold December day. The mist swirled along the summit ridge and the wind howled through eerie pinnacles that looked more like gargoyles than rock spires. I imagined I was approaching the Lost World, an inaccessible plateau where time stood still. A place where dinosaurs still roamed, devouring anything and anybody that managed to scale the cliffs. I had never seen such an awe inspiring mountain before in my life. Was that an eagle I saw circling looking for carrion, or was it a pterodactyl ?

In those days few people ventured into the remote highlands. There was no car park or signs informing that the mountain was suffering from erosion. There was no obvious path to follow and certainly there was not a stone stairway accessing the northern slopes. My brothers and I abandoned the car in a passing place and made our way across the heather slopes. We were hoping to access the summit ridge by the scree gully that held the lobster’s claw.

We had seen pictures of it in one of WA Pouchers photo books of Scotland and decided we wanted to see it for ourselves. The top three or four feet had already fallen since Poucher’s photo. That part was two little spires which looked like the pincers of a claw, hence the name given to the pinnacle. This is the photo I took of the remaining part in 1980. Sadly… I believe it has long gone so, anyone who ventures onto the ridge now will no longer see it

I guess people like myself who clambered all over the soft sandstone ridge would have accelerated the natural erosion but in those days we never gave it a moments thought. We thought mountains lasted forever, in fact at that age we thought life lasted forever. This photo taken amongst the pinnacles suggests we were nothing short of posers.

We didn’t care for weather forecasts as they were very unpredictable in those days. It didn’t bother us as we ventured out in all kinds of weather. We hadn’t heard of gore tex clothing or shell suits. We climbed in jeans and jackets that were no better than todays pac-a-macs, but we knew the benefit of layers and wore oiled woollen balaclavas and mitts to keep warm. We feared nothing, we even tried to climb the lobster claw ..but it was smooth and featureless. Perhaps the lead in the water pipes that fed our houses had given us brain damage ?

We never stopped to think of the consequences our actions would have had on the hillsides. The only rule we followed was to take all our litter home. The best part of the day was glissading down the scree slopes on the way home. Im sure we raised clouds of dust on the steep fast descents. I have not done that in years, I guess all the decent scree slopes have long ended up at the bottom with generations of walkers using them to get off the tops. I couldn’t help feeling a little sad that those days were long gone too. Perhaps evolution isn't so wonderful after all ?


blueskyscotland said...

That brought back a lot of great memories.Thanks.Love your post.I like someone who can carve out adventures on the doorstep.All you need is imagination and a desire to explore.Bob.
Good on you.

Donny Wilcox said...

Thanks for your kind words and interest Bob.

I guess if I compared my life to beachcombing, then my inflatable boat journeys and adventures would be like finding the pearls in the oyster shells