It was the year 2,370 B.C, Noah looked up to the skies, turned to his family and said those immortal words. . . ''it looks like rain! '' On the 18th December 2015, just after tea time, after looking at M.W.I.S, I turned to my two friends (Christian and Jameso) and said '' it looks appalling and tortuous!'' Why is it that bad weather forecasts are always right?
Names like: 'Suilven' 'Conival' and 'Quinag' will always whistle fresh wind into appreciative hearts, they were all going to be part of our original sortie but now have to be shelved. I know a certain amount of challenge is essential to human well being and the words of James Yoghurt ring in my ears when he said ''rain wont kill you'' but with hurricane force winds, torrential rain and poor visibility. I think it maybe could. It was a good job we had a plan B.
Saturday: Strathan Bothy and Parph Hills
I have long relished the utter remoteness of the Parph peninsular and I think it's true to say I feel a sanctum of belonging to the area. The Parph, also sometimes referred to as the Cape Wrath peninsular encompasses the area west of the A838 and north of the B801. An area of about 125 square miles, apart from a track to the Light House it is roadless and completely uninhabited, that is Blue Ribbon Wilderness!
The track to Strathan follows a vague alluvial strath intertwined with bogs, ditches and undulating ground, it was not unusual to hear raucous laughter following the shout of ''man down!'' Yes we were a cheery enough platoon.
Almost immediately one cannot fail to notice the predominant aspect of this wild area, that is it's savage farmless moorland. As the mighty green hand of the glen spread it's fingers towards the hills, Strathan Bothy peeped over a small rise, a red and white, black roofed crouched building, overawed by a panorama of deep green and caramel coloured slopes. I was filled with insatiable curiosity, how could anyone exist in such emptiness and isolation as this?
Experience has long taught me to view every bridge on an o/s map with suspicion! This was a concern because Strathan was guarded like the ancient city of Babylon, Strath Shinary provides an imposing moat, while it's feeder stream, Abhain an Strathain provides further defense and just to be 'in character' the bridge had been washed away! This is a place where nature still has the upper hand.
Wey hey don't I just love river crossings! The first river although quite wide, had a languid flow, we found a good pitch and sloshed through about knee height. The second river albeit only a quarter in width of the first one, had a malevolent spirit! Myself and Jamesy made a crossing and were thrown on the opposing bank like hopeless Break Dancers. Christian didn't fare so well, he decided to throw his Rucksack across but it failed to reach it's intended target, left to the mercy of the stream, it was whisked away like it was on an out of control conveyor belt. Christian morphed into a screaming Banshee, raced down river and rugby tackled the erstwhile Rucky. I don't think I've ever seen anybody move so fast!
The Bothy lies on the only flat piece of land in the whole glen! It rises about twenty meters above the snaking River Shinary like a lone Sentry with nobody to watch over. The saying '' a good Bothy doesn't manifest itself without a fight'' comes to mind, applying that standard this is indeed a fine Bothy in all respects.
We reached Strathan around midday but couldn't sit still with around four hours of daylight left so we had a womble around the jostle of peaks that climb from the back of the Bothy. On the map some aspects appeared intimidating with bunched up contours making navigation a challenge but in reality the hills were stolid, like Viking warriors that had lost the will to fight. The summits gave away one or two secrets too; Sron a Grobhair has a line of small Torrs descending in size that from side on look like a set of Russian dolls! Creag na Ranich has some bigger Torrs with some layers only stratum thick. At one point I was overcome by the Polar exploration feeling, I pointed out that due to the remoteness, some of these hills may never have been climbed but on reaching the summit of An Grianan there was an enormous edifice of a cairn! Oh well maybe the age of Polar exploration has passed!
Mountains and music, I find have close affinities, as I observed the grey crumpled geometry of Sutherland's mid riff on the horizon, there was definitely a pastiche of a Dvorak Symphony and when the wind picked up there was Shostakovich in it's roar! The wind did pick up too, we were like Butterflies being blown around in a gale! Due to the fact that we were safe i.e we weren't going to get blown off a ridge, for the first time in our lives we actually enjoyed being in a gale! You could fall backwards or forwards into it and not hit the ground, it was as if we were defying gravity.
Before the lantern of the sun went out and darkness drew it's veil over this wild sequested country, I sat outside with a dram in my hand and poetry in my heart. Amidst inconcievable solitude I felt compelled to knock out some lines. Life was good.
Bothy and Soul
sitting here alone
with a dram in my hand
overlooking the moor
and the beauty and the bland
someone lived here once
who, I can't quite remember
the sun shines on Strathan
on the 20th of December
a clutch of knobbly hills
like a great giant's fist
battered by the wind
through ethereal mist
clouds romp overhead
casting imperious shadows
driving rain pounds away
all thoughts of tomorrows
sitting here alone
with a dram in my hand
huddling the fire
garnering heat so grand
warming my body
and soul to the core
the rain lashed my spirit
but I'm going back for more.
Wonderful places Bothy's, they can even make Wayfarer meals taste good. I once bought a deluxe self heating Wayfarer, it was packaged with a plastic knife and spoon, a napkin and wonder of wonders, a sachet of salt! For Pete Thompson's sake isn't there enough salt in them anyway! Actually I think the key to making Wayfarers taste good is some fresh air and a large ingredient of hunger!
We spun away the last hours of a great day huddled around the Bothy fire exchanging humorous stories. Refined by telling and re-telling. I'm sure there were a lot of repeats and some maybe even vary a bit from time to time but it's still great to indulge in such a pastime.
Sunday: Sandwood Loch and Bay circular
I've found a new way to combat other peoples snoring in Bothies, just pretend you're on a ship! That's right, that is all you need to do. The pounding of the sea and the rise and fall of the ship synchronize into the pattern of the offending Snorter. Over in room 2, Chtistian and Jamesie have also thought up a formula, just imagine that the Bothy is being consistently pounded by stampeding Wildebeests!
Tradition behoves me to give a rendition of 'Morning has broken' as a kindly wake up call to my fellow Bothiers. On this occasion I was moved to go for something slightly different. Remember this one from 1978, Ian Dury and the Blockheads...
in the deserts of Sudan
and the gardens of Japan
from Milan to Yukatan
every woman, every man
hit me with your rhythm stick
hit me, hit me
je t'adore ich liebe d'ich
hit me, hit me, hit me
hit me with your rhythm stick
two fat parsons
click click click
hit me, hit me , hit meeeee!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Before dawn arrived, walking along Strath Shinary was hard work ( not tortuous ) streamlets criss crossed like veins on a Bodybuilder's bicep! When the darkness faded we had a dawn of distilled beauty, the atmosphere was suffused with a neon glow of violets and rose petals and lingered in delicious repose for some time. A deep pervading calm made the walk along Sandwood Loch a sheer joy.
Joy changed to wonder as Sandwood Bay approached and the view positively exploded in scale! An expanse of one and a half miles of perfect shell sand in an alluring golden arc, graceful to the eye and nourishment for the heart. A small tingle on the musical triangle of winter and the sheer absence of people made it feel like the whole of nature was in a trance. In the near distance, sea and rock continually argue between themselves throwing surf way up into the air. In the corner an 'old man' looks on impassively.
The walk back was a case of brutal persistence in the face of Atlantic anger ( was tortuous ). A prolonged squall funnelled in straight from the Atlantic and pummelled us to the point of exhaustion. On the wee Lochans waves were marching ashore with military precision, all we could do was shuffle along like obeisant Monks! Jamesu seemed to have a more truculent gait, he powered on ahead and picked the car up for us, a feat of which we were extremely grateful.
It is not normally in my remit to voice doubts, despair or anything that could be deemed as negative but as we adjusted our horizons to the Smoo Cave Hotel Bar, we realized that although we had a Plan B, we had no Plan C ! A quick look on the beloved M.W.I.S revealed that rain was still in waterfall mode ( definitely tortuous ), our jaunt was over.
At the superb Smoo Cave Bar we eat mightily, at the delightful Tongue Hostel, we showered lengthily. As memory gilds it's crafty frame I'm sure there are many poignant moments that are filed away in the draw marked 'yesterdays', one of them I can't resist to mention- on our journey to Lochinver it was 14 degrees and yet it was snowing! How can that possibly happen anywhere else on earth but in the Motherland!
To be quite candid Blogfans, I hate endings.
Terminat hora diem, terminat auctor opus,
as the hour ends the day, the Author ends his work,
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