Sunday, 7 May 2017

Lucky seven

Despite appearances on this blog, I've had quite a busy and eventful few weeks in outdoors terms - and varied too. At the end of March I was down in London and headed out to the Medway for a walk through the marshes. I followed the Saxon Shore Way from Rainham to Swale opposite the Isle of Sheppey. It turned into a bright and blowy spring day of huge, fast-moving skies and often brilliant sunshine.

I have conflicting feelings about the marshes, because these are conflicted places - semi-industrial, not pretty, yet teeming with birdlife. There's raw ecological value here in spades. Who cares about my offended aesthetic sensibilities? Yet the intrusion everywhere of pylons, bridges, container terminals, power stations... it's hard for the mind to unwind, you're always reconciling jarring contradictions. At one point I see a ship ahead, seemingly cruising over dry land. It takes a minute to realise it's navigating the still-unseen channel between the mainland and the Isle of Sheppey.

And before we rush to hold up these edgelands as proof that we can do what we do as a civilisation and nature will find its way, let's remember that a couple of centuries ago none of this industrial detritus was here. Indeed, much of it was still not drained - it was real saltmarsh rather than grazing marsh. How much richer was the ecology then? Let's protect and appreciate the life that still thrives here, but let's not pretend this is or should be as good as it gets.

Back in Scotland, two half-day walks followed. There was a wander up a suitably obscure Corbett, Stob Coire Creagach, just north of the Rest and be Thankful on the A83 road. Stoopid here forgot the camera for that one which was a shame as a claggy misty morning transformed into a bright and warm afternoon. The Corbett is the highest point of a long ridge with great views. There are also some serious crags here if the UK Climbing website is any guide. On the track back down to my starting point in Glen Kinglas, the north ridge of Beinn an Lochain filled the view. It looks an exciting climb and I've filed that one away for a winter trip.

The following week there was another half-day walk to Ben Chonzie, a southerly Munro that I last visited in December 1988. It's one of the easiest Munros and viewed as a bit dull by some, but I caught it on a good day with spring warmth in Glen Turret later on contrasting with an icy wind and snow showers up top and big, bright and windblown views to the snow-capped Lawers and Glen Lyon ranges. I descended steeply into Chonzie's lovely eastern corrie, a sun trap of heather, broken crags and old rockfall lushly upholstered with moss. Ducks fussed on Lochan Uaine where I picked up the track back to the Loch Turret dam. There was a ring ouzel too and, setting off in the early morning by the loch, numerous skeins of geese arrowed overhead.

The main event of the month was a three day trip with David, Mick, and (for the first day) Fraser. On the Friday we took a long walk along a short ridge to Buidhe Bheinn, an awkwardly placed Corbett overlooking Loch Hourn and Knoydart. Dave summed it up beautifully here.

We camped high and woke next day to low cloud and snow on shelters. Our weather window materialised though and Dave, Mick and I traversed the South Glen Shiel ridge. Somewhere along the way I climbed my 200th Munro. Summit bagging isn't the be-all and end-all for me, far from it. I don't even know if I'm totally committed to finishing them, there are many daunting challenges still out there (most of the Skye Cuillin for example) and many places other than Munros I want to visit. But it was a special moment nonetheless. Not because I'd bagged an arbitrary round number of hills but what it represented, a consistent thread through life and all its changes. It's a link back from the middle-aged me to the fascinated teenager. Even during all my years down south I'd still always return to climb at least a couple of new Munros each year.

It was also great to be there in company. We even had a couple of random meetings with others along the way previously only known through social meedja. I love my solitary trips but as I'm sure is the case for many others, the Munros are also the story of connections made and experiences shared. Learning, developing, pushing the envelope and having a laugh - that's what companionship in the unmediated environment of the hills can be about. It's almost a cliché, but there really is no room for egos here, no spin and no hype. And what a relief that is. Thanks all, and here's to next time.

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