Days like this, No 27: The Old Man of Hoy

ROBERT Louis Stevenson; John Buchan; Enid Blyton; Daniel Defoe; Jules Verne; William Golding; Arthur Ransome; CS Lewis: Jonathan Swift; RM Ballantyne. They had many things in common. But the link that draws this diverse scattering of authors into one archipelago is their love of islands, and their recognition that islands can be places of mystery, danger and adventure. What could stir the imagination of a walker more than a boat trip to an island and the chance to explore its hidden places? What could be more romantic than to navigate the legendary waters of Scapa Flow and disembark on the island of Hoy for a hike to its most famous feature . . . ? Continue reading

Posted in Archaeology, Camping, Childhood, Climbing, Environment, Hiking, History, Ruins, Second World War, Shipping Forecast, Vikings, Walking, Weather | Tagged , , , , | 23 Comments

An Uneasy Night on Cerro de la Salchicha

SPENDING a night on the summit of a mountain, watching the sun sink into a splash of gold and the constellations revolve in blue-black emptiness, does have a romance and a sense of adventure about it. There is something raw and primeval, and almost spiritual, about night-time in the mountains. Where the grit of the earth meets the majesty of space, senses are sharpened and awareness heightened. Up there, in high places when the sun goes down, our perceptions alter. And so does the world . . . Continue reading

Posted in Camping, Climbing, Environment, Hiking, Hunting, Mountains, Walking, Weather, Wild boar, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Rivers and Rocks, Tracks and Tunnels

DAWN in a river valley. Ink-blue shadows beneath tall mountains. A chill in air that is perfectly still. Smell of piny trees and the sound of rushing water. Pin-pricks of red lights as a truck crosses the Seven-Eye Bridge. Day is coming. Time to zip up the jacket and move off . . . Continue reading

Posted in Caving, Climbing, Environment, Footpaths, Geology, Hiking, History, Mountains, Rivers, Spanish Civil War, Walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Of Mice, Men, Mountains and Motors

The Sierra de Contraviesa with its head in the clouds

AS the celebrated Scottish poet Rabbie Burns scribbled in the year 1785: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley/an’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain for promis’d joy.” How true. In early July, amid the heat and dust of a Spanish summer, I made clear my intention to resume some serious mountain walking. Scarce had these words left my keyboard like chaff on the wind when the van broke down. It has been off the road ever since with a malady so incurable that four trips to the local mechanic have failed to address the problem. A shiny new set of spark plugs, replacement distributer cap, overhauled and retuned carburettor, and the testing of high-tension leads and various other parts, have failed to relieve its coughing and spluttering. Like Burns’ wee mouse it lies forlorn and incapacitated. But there is, at last, promis’d joy . . . Continue reading

Posted in Camping, Climbing, Hiking, History, Mountains, Poetry, Walking | Tagged , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Days Like This, No 26: Following Footsteps in France

CHILDREN. We encourage them to be like us and share our interests. We expect them to grow into the shoes of their parents and reach for the heights we failed to attain. Sometimes they become images of ourselves. Sometimes they don’t. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing . . . Continue reading

Posted in Butterflies, Camping, Childhood, Climbing, Environment, Footpaths, Geology, Hiking, Mountains, Napes Needle, Rivers, Walking | Tagged , , , , | 22 Comments

Days Like This, No 25: The Constant Mountains

JUNE 2000: The most noble of plans sinks into dregs outside the Bridge of Orchy Hotel. I’m walking the West Highland Way, and today I’ve hiked the few miles along General Wade’s military road from Tyndrum to the scattering of buildings that is Bridge of Orchy, with the intention of pitching the tent on the riverbank and climbing Beinn Dorain (pictured) before recommencing my walk tomorrow. But having downed several pints of beer and a beef sandwich on arrival, I now feel like dozing in the sunshine. So I do. Take no notice of Hogarth. Beer is the ruination of the productive classes, not gin . . . Continue reading

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Stranger in Paradise

A STRANGER emerges from the dawn shadows and threads his way through banks of oleander and olive trees towards the hidden settlement of El Morreon. The sun colours the Sierra Nevada and surrounding mountains an indifferent blue, while in the valleys and rocky barrancos the coolness of night lingers. Not even the bark of a dog cracks the silence. This is a perfect dawn and the stranger is part of it . . . Continue reading

Posted in Environment, Footpaths, Hiking, Life, Mountains, Rivers, Ruins, Stone Circles, Threshing floors, Walking | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

Karst Adrift

karst-1LOTS of interesting stuff happens when you go walking without a map in a strange country. You see things you didn’t expect to see. Conversely, you don’t see the things you expect to see because you can’t work out how to get to them . . . Continue reading

Posted in Archaeology, Caving, Climbing, Environment, Footpaths, Geology, Hiking, Industrial archaeology, Karst, Mountains, Potholing, Rivers, Ruins, Walking | Tagged , , , , , | 31 Comments

Day’s Like This, No 24: Beinn Alligin – Horns and All

alli 1BEINN Alligin lifts itself out of Upper Loch Torridon with the casual assurance of a big beast among a clan of big beasts. With walls of bare striated sandstone and ridges that slice the wind, Alligin is a monument to brutal mountain architecture, eclipsed only by its immediate neighbour, Liathach. The sprawling Beinn Eighe, away to the east, completes the triumvirate. Some mountains are beautiful and serene but these three are menacing and hostile. They dominate and intimidate. If you like your uplands green and flecked with bleating sheep, steer clear of Glen Torridon because this is a land of fossilised dinosaurs of the stegosaurus and triceratops varieties. Big unfriendly giants . . . Continue reading

Posted in Camping, Climbing, Environment, Fish and chips, Footpaths, Geology, Hiking, Mountains, Walking, Weather | Tagged , , , , | 22 Comments

Days Like This, No 23: Slioch – The Unseen Mountain

slioch 1A LONG drive through the night to a lay-by on the shores of Loch Maree. A snatch of sleep broken by an airless dawn. Noodles and tea for breakfast while midges sting eyelids and ears. Then to gaze into an impenetrable clog of greyness searching for a mountain that isn’t there, in a world that isn’t there . . . Continue reading

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In the Valley of the Toril

The 3,000-metre summit of Pico del Tajo de los Machos rises above the valley of the Rio Toril and the ruins of Cortijo Antonio Domingo

The 3,000-metre summit of Pico del Tajo de los Machos rises above the valley of the Rio Toril and the ruins of Cortijo Antonio Domingo

PATHS. They begin at our door and run through our lives. They rise and buckle and lead us to unknown places. They appear in all guises: woodland paths; coastal paths; moorland paths; paths of righteousness; paths of destiny. Sometimes they are little more than faint runnels crossing wasteland along which bent men plod and dogs follow. Sometimes they are enchanted ribbons where poets linger. Most were made with purpose though some without consciousness. They link places and experiences. And they all lead somewhere . . . Continue reading

Posted in Climbing, Environment, Footpaths, Gerald Brenan, Hiking, History, Industrial archaeology, Mountains, Rivers, Ruins, Spanish Civil War, Threshing floors, Walking, Weather | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

The High and Mighty Mines of Lújar

lujar 1LET’S recap. Five minutes ago I blundered into a herd of wild boar and seriously scared myself. That’s history, but if you’re interested you can read the account here. Now the clock is ticking. It’s 7.20am and a whole day lies ahead. My original excursion disrupted, I opt for Plan B – a long, hot trudge to the ancient mines of Sierra de Lújar, in the south of Spain. It turns out to be a Plan B with knobs on. And more wild animals . . . Continue reading

Posted in Caving, Climbing, Environment, Footpaths, Geology, Hiking, History, Industrial archaeology, Mountains, Potholing, Quarrying, Ruins, Slate quarries, The Romans, Walking, Weather, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments