Tuesday 5 April 2011

Ben Wyvis

Action Man 53

Throughout my school life in Dingwall Ben Wyvis loomed over me, its mass serving to act as a barrier between the known and civilised world to the south and the wild lands to the north. To the south the farms were green and lush then heavy with barley. To the North wild rolling moor land filled with small crofts and red nosed deerstalker tooting men with hands as craggy and hard as the countryside. Its cap of winter snow often lasts until mid June white gully shaded patches an ever present reminder of harsh winters a ahead and behind.

I had never thought of walking up it, its mass to imposing, too significant, too grey, a dominant feature of my childhood, kind of a spell which many excuses in early adulthood had kept me compressed in the valley under its shadow and unable to embrace its challenge. When I did find myself with time to play in the mountains when staying in Dingwall, I always escaped to the glorious west where sparkling sea, meets rocky coasts cliffs and mountains. To me the west coast represented a crossing of a physical and emotional watershed, to the east a childhood in a small northern town, restricted familiar and dull, a place where I was never fully comfortable, too many eyes and tongues. The west was freedom. It is the place where I discovered pubs, folk music, and love; Sheildaig, Applecross, and Skye, magnificent and shoulder widening. Bolstered by the youthful arrogance of the climber, Ben Wyvis seemed featureless, a lump of heather with no mountaineering value, almost an east coast disappointment. I used to bemoan the fact that the best of Scottish climbing was in the northwest. What a shame it was not nearer home, the hunger for rock and ice inexorably pulling me west, leaving the brooding mass of the east sitting in the clouds.

But I think the time has come. My car stops, almost of its own accord in the pull out where the main path starts from. The board walk floats over the soggy peat and leads to the huge rounded shoulder, where the mountain path begins to toil to the twin summits of the hill.

To walk on Ben Wyvis is a very monochromatic experience, there are no huge cliffs, gullies or towering peaks to animate and amuse your senses. Its just you on the mass of the mountain, one foot in front of the other. The details, of the walk are in the crunch of the snow under foot, or the grinding of a quartz crystal on an gneiss pebble. What strikes me is how ancient it seems, how ground down the landscape is, the movement of history, glaciers, frozen lochs and tree felled and cleared crofts. To walk on this mountain is not to celebrate the picture perfect beauty of Scotland, but it is a walk, which is about appreciating its solidity its ancient mass, it’s a subtle enjoyment. One foot in front of the other moving over history into the present. For me I am walking out of the shadows and the veils of youth, judgement of place, people and home, school memories and feelings of being somehow restricted. On the summit ridge I breathe in the air of the mountains of our magnificent land, the view is clear and vast, acceptance of what has been and what will be.

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