I’ve been lucky enough to have two ‘mountain-themed’ stories published recently, with Cloudburst finding a home at The Wild Word and Sacrificial Lamb making this April’s Retreat West micro-fiction shortlist. I’ve also been reading Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain as part of Robert Macfarlane’s Lockdown Reading Group on Twitter. Nan Shepherd knew and loved the Cairngorms, and wrote beautifully about her frequent walks in different weathers and seasons.
Being East Anglian born and bred, I can count my own ‘mountain’ experiences on the fingers of one hand. A college ‘Outdoor Pursuits’ overnight camping trip on the Cairngorms (bleak and hungover), a train trip up Snowdon with friends (me itching to be walking, not sitting down) and two summer holidays in Austria (fantastic walks, views and cable cars in beautiful weather) were pretty much the sum of it.
Most recently in 2018, I walked up Ben Lawers (the tenth highest Munro and the highest mountain in the Southern Highland) with my son during a Loch Tay-side holiday and this provided the motivation for both stories. When I say walked, we started from the car park next to the nature reserve which meant a lot of the climb had already been done (“undermining the height of the mountain” according to the guidebook). This aside, it was still an impressive expedition for us. I’m certainly not used to quite so much uphill…
We set full off in blustery sunshine, full of enthusiasm. We were going to ‘bag a Munro’, and by following a circular route, we could descend via the slightly lower Beinn Ghlas and bag two Munros in a sneaky bogof walk. The fenced-off National Nature Reserve we passed through en-route was undamaged by sheep or deer and the volume, variety and growth of flora – how the habitat really should be – surprised me and gave pause for thought. Soon above the tree line, the beauty and solitary nature of the mountains was impressive.
As we reached the summit, the clouds swept in. We experienced ‘a sea of cloud … lapping and rippling’ at our feet (Cloudburst) and exchanged exultant texts with my daughter who called us ‘The Cloud People’. We trudged down, through the cloud in drizzle, cold and wet, and that’s when I started to think more about the cloud people. We walked pretty much in silence, feeling alone and slightly anxious (me anyway) about hidden cliffs edges which I knew were just beyond our sight. As we finally returned below the cloud line, I took the photo of the bedraggled thistle as colour returned into our world. The sun shone again over Loch Tay and it was just the mountain top shrouded in cloud, but it had felt like an entire and secret world.
Photos: Mainly taken by Tom Chambers