It was in the 70's and the 80's that I did most of my mountaineering, following in my elder brother's footsteps. He taught me the ropes climbing the crags of Loudon Hill in Ayrshire before moving onto some of the classic scrambles and climbes in Glencoe, Ben Nevis and Skye to name a few places.
I was a heavy smoker in those days so puffed my way up the hills behind him then watched him run down again as fast as he could go. He often mentioned that smoking was unhealthy and that in later years, I might toil to get into the hills that we both loved. Sadly, fate can often have some strange twists and deal cruel blows. I quit smoking seven years ago and still get into the mountains with easy. Unfortunately my brother damaged his knees with the constant pounding of running down the hills with heavy loads in his rucksack.
Around the same time that I quit smoking, he quit walking when his knees started to regularly dislodged themselves. He underwent a very painful operation on the worst leg, where the surgeon cut tendons from the back of his thigh, threaded them through holes in his kneecaps then tied them to screws inserted in his leg bone .. all in an effort to stop the knee dislodging. He was given a 50 to 50 chance that it may work again or it may not. If not, it could mean amputation. He retired from work last year on medical grounds because of his knee problems.
On the Alisa Craig, I was delighted to follow in his footsteps again. Together.. for the first time in years..we were going to attempt to climb a hill again. Although the Ailsa Craig is only 1100ft high, for my brother it was a remarkable achievement. It was his first proper hillwalk since his operation.
Its a steep climb that starts at the lighthouse area and heads diagonally up the cliffs to the ruined castle. My brother used a couple of walking poles to keep as much weight of his knees as he could. I followed behind, hoping his knees would hold together.
We gained height quickly and got great views looking back over the gasworks. I could clearly see the two holes in the ground where the gasometers would have been when it was operational. The tour boat was returning to land at the jetty as we climbed higher.
Although my brother said little .. I could sense his determination .. he was going to the top. It didn't take long to get to the castle which is around a third of the way there.
The path steadly steeped with slippery sloping footholds on the section after the castle. I could now sense the pain as my brother tried to take most of his weight on his arms, but still he moved onwards and upwards
We passed the old well that was built to supply the castle with water. We were both very hot and thirsty, but didn't stop. Too many gulls have dirtied the well water.
The path was steep and exposed. I was surprised to see so many wild flowers flourishing on the rocky ledges.
Far below, I saw the point where the kayaks and boat were parked. I prayed my brother's legs would hold as it was a long way to carry him back down again if they gave way
The path eased a little but walking was still difficult. The ground sometimes gave way because of the many rabbit holes underfoot. We had to watch every step with care.
Then we came to a little colourful hollow with two pools of water. I read that one is almost 17 feet deep and this is where the rainwater collects to feed the well further down the hill.
The path seemed to disappear at this point so it was another steep scramble straigh up the rest of the hill to the top. I was delighted and very proud that my brother made the summit. I never thought that we would ever stand on top of the world together again but we did... and we made it safely back down the hill. My brother did it all under his own steam too.
Well done Douglas ..I hope it is the first of many more hillwalks :-D
To be continued...