It’s (not) shite being Scottish

It has come to my attention that not everybody knows that the title of this blog and the text quoted in the header are taken from the first novel written by one of Scotland’s greatest living writers and intellectuals.

Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting follows the adventures of a group of friends from Edinburgh as they negotiate the squalor and depravity of heroin addiction, poverty and urban deterioration. It is a groundbreaking book at many levels: it confronts many of the issues faced by working class youth abandoned by authority and the state; it is predominately written in phonetic transcription rather than correct English, faithfully representing the actual language people use with extensive use of words that only a few decades earlier were considered so shocking they broke the law; the grammar and punctuation are idiosyncratic; there is no strict narrative but rather a series of tableaux or fragments which combine together to tell the stories of the characters; and, perhaps most importantly, in spite of the fact that the subject matter is often distressing, it is absolutely hilarious.

Arguably this book also inaugurated a shift in Scottish Culture away from a kind of cultural elitism, within which being properly Scottish involved connecting in some way with the landscape – whether actually, linguistically or only symbolically – towards something more relevant and demythologised. Certainly it stands as a testament to the troubled times these islands suffered during the transition from the 1980s into the 1990s. It is a book about progression, renewal and hope in the context of a world careering towards the millennium without any clear sense of purpose.

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Famously, Trainspotting was made into a film starring Ewan McGregor and directed by Danny Boyle, which manages adequately to convey the spirit and humour of Welsh’s writing without becoming trite or sensationalist. In the film, the scene in which the text of the header appears is filmed at a very familiar spot for mountain people, just to the west of Corrour Station on the path to Leum Uillem – a hill which fails only by a few feet to rise to the magic 3000 feet for its inclusion in Munro’s tables, but which is a favourite of Corbett baggers.

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At this point in the story, Tommy is not yet using heroin (the character will later die horribly from toxoplasmosis because addiction has compromised his immune system, while the actor will become typecast in a television drama series set in a Seattle hospital) and he is keen at this moment to get his friends clean. He has persuaded three or them – Spud, Renton and Sick Boy – to take a train out of the city to investigate the great outdoors. When he turns from marching purposefully towards the hill to see that his companions are less than enthusiastically still hanging around on a flat wooden bridge, nursing hangovers and taking a hair of the dog, Tommy remonstrates with them for their lethargy while sweeping his arms around and exclaiming: “it’s the great outdoors!” He then asks, almost rhetorically: “does it not make you proud to be Scottish?” At which point Renton holds forth with the above tirade. Tommy then gives up and walks back away from the mountain. Here is a link to the film version.

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It is a short, slightly absurd, scene that perfectly illustrates Welsh’s dark sense of humour and dense irony. The reader/viewer is suddenly transported to the middle of nowhere, without any context or preamble and in complete contrast to everything else that is going on in the story. The great outdoors is presented as something alien and irrelevant to the lives of characters who are suddenly thrown into it inadequately prepared. Commonplace notions about the benefits to health of being outside, of the challenges of both extreme sport and traditional Scottish recreation are rejected summarily. Representations of Scotland based on this empty land and its beauty are suddenly held in suspension. Any ideas we might hold about national identity that are based on this landscape, or on our ability to eke out an existence from its soil, or to climb to the summits its many spectacular peaks are dashed against the reality of Scottish consciousness. We are riven by sectarian conflict that is not of our making but which we allow to continue because it has become normal. We find ourselves at the rough end of an imperialist relation which encourages us to be servile and pathetic. But it does not matter because we can still get hammered or wasted and we will still be mates. And here is the irony. Welsh does not write this scene in order to celebrate this attitude, he does not support any positions these words might articulate, he does not believe the words that Renton speaks. He writes in order to display, to document and to reveal. So we are left wondering as readers or viewers why we see only this very short glimpse of the mountains, why Welsh took his characters to this place to give Renton this epic rant, only to have them all walk away, why he put in this scene at all if not to expose more of the hypocrisies that intersect our consciousness.

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Recently at another bit of the interwebs, within a discussion about anomalies in Munro’s classification, I linked a post from this blog about anomalies in Munro’s classification. This is a common practice on the interwebs. I did not feel that by linking my blog in the discussion at this point it would disturb cyber ethics or offend anybody. One person’s reaction though illustrated perfectly why it really is shite being Scottish. For the first time ever somebody reacted only to the header, describing it as “nationalistic tripe” and demanding that I remove the link, since this was a site about mountain climbing rather than politics, emphasising that if I wanted to talk politics I should go to a political site. It was pointed out by myself and others that this person had missed the irony, that it is a quotation from Trainspotting and that, if anything the sentiment expressed in the tirade is profoundly anti-nationalistic. And I tried pointing out that this imputation of the sense of “political” as opposed to “apolitical” was itself was a political move, which was of course summarily rejected as sophistry. As far as this person was concerned I was introducing politics into matters that are properly apolitical and I was thereby sewing division. Which is more or less what appeared from where I was sitting what the other was doing – at an actual material level by demanding that site administrators remove my post.

This is exactly why it is shite being Scottish and this is exactly the point of Renton’s tirade. It is also the mark of Irvine Welsh’s genius.

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It is possible for a person to pick up a mere snippet of any text or film, to denude it of its context, rip out its irony and take it to mean whatever purpose it can fulfil in some battle against an imaginary evil enemy. We have come to accept this as normal. It has perforce become necessary, from time to time, to engage with accusations based on absolute fantasy, dreamed up in the imagination of British patriotism and to endanger becoming sucked into pointless arguments. Events are presented deliberately to separate and divide while those standing on either side of division are unaware of what they are doing. Reason and logic are irrelevant to discussion. Discourse takes place for other reasons. Welsh himself always says that he writes in order to find out about his characters, to see what makes them tick and to understand why they believe what they do. I cannot think of a more honest, civilised and humane approach to writing fiction, nor a more compassionate attitude to the multiplicity of consciousness to which human being can become subject.

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The irony is that not everybody who sees us realises that we understand the irony of our own condition, that when we climb mountains we should really know that we are only able to do so because they are denatured and open, denuded of their natural covering of forest to make way for sporting estates to which we are granted only restricted access. The irony is that not everybody sees this condition as the direct consequence of political decisions made by those who in the past called themselves master, and those in the present who have taken on the responsibility of government and authority. And because some realise this and others do not, our culture remains riven.

I make no secret of my support for Scottish autonomy nor for radical land reform. But I am a civilised human being, I do not engage in sectarian argument and when confronted by accusations from people who should know better, I try to explain their errors and persuade using reason and argumentation. Which is precisely why it is shite being Scottish, for as Irvine Welsh so powerfully observed, people do not on the whole respond to reason, but are trapped inside sectarian conflicts not of their own making, without realising this to be the case. Renton’s tirade expresses this condition perfectly, while its setting in the “great outdoors” points to the fact that there are vast tracts of empty land out there, available to all, waiting for anybody with a mind to do so to discover that, on the contrary, it is not at all shite being Scottish.

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Munro with cancer #133

11:45 – Ben Challum (M106), 3363ft, 1025m

New snow and morning frost mean otherwise boggy approaches become frozen over and less challenging while the views from the summits more spectacular. What better conditions than these to climb Ben Challum with its reputation for very boggy approaches and spectacular views.

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Ben Cruachan

In spite of the cold, I worked up a sweat quickly and stripped down to only two and a half layers for the ascent. I was at the summit in little more than two hours, and as soon as I stopped, the cold caught up with me. I pulled warm clothes out of my pack and put everything on as quickly as possible, but my right thumb burned in pain with the searing cold, even under thermal gloves. Only when I was able after my ecstasy of fumbling to pull on thick mittens, having zipped up all down and windstoppers, did the pain begin to subside and warmth return. This is a bald open summit with no sheltering crags, where windchill is unavoidable and extreme, so I returned to the south top for lunch.

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Ben Nevis

The views were indeed spectacular, with the snow line at almost exactly at Munro level, making it easy to identify the peaks all around, and far into the distance.

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Ben More and Stob Binien

To the south, the Crianlarich Hills and Ben Lui are dominant; to the west Ben Cruachan; in the north west, Ben Dorain in front of the Mamores and Glen Coe melding into a complex layering of white ridges with Ben Nevis resplendent to their right.

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Ben Dorian

In the east, the Lawers group and the Glenlyon Hills with Scheihallion behind; far away, slightly south of east, the Lomond Hills; and on the northern horizon, just behind Beinn Sheasgarnaich, Ben Alder.

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Glen Lyon and Ben Lawers

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The Lomond Hills

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Ben Alder and Beinn Sheasgarnaich

The views on the return are dominated by the pointy giants of Ben More, Stob Binien and Ben Lui, with the ridges of the Trossachs silhouetted between them in the low winter sun.

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A very fine beginning to the winter season.

New Horizons

It is now more than five years since I was told in no uncertain terms by a senior urologist working at the Diakonessenhuis hospital in Utrecht in The Netherlands that if I did not take the medication he was prescribing me, I would be dead within a year, and that even if I did, I would likely be dead within three. Another urologist, working at the Wilhelmina Hospital in Nijmegen, who some weeks later offered a second opinion, suggested that three years was maybe a bit pessimistic, adding that five was more likely.

It is not easy to describe the feeling of bursting through the prognostications of medical science. This is my third now. The first when I was still alive a year after refusing to take the aforementioned urologist’s advice; the second two years after that, having received a more careful assessment from urologists at The Edinburgh Cancer Centre and a more tailored treatment; and now this third, having lived for nearly a year free of pharmaceuticals, looking after my health using only natural remedies and supplements, nutritious food, stimulating interactions with interesting people, climbing mountains, writing about my adventures, Buddhism and love.

Ever since my remembering of the future in the glen between Beinn na Lap and Chno Dearg in the summer, I have been gradually coming to terms with the fact that the determinism of medical prognostication is more statistical than actual, thereby pulling myself away from an internal abyss and looking forward to a new life with new adventures. For the last two months my better half and I have been organising our wedding, which happened last Saturday, almost five years to the day since the second opinion gave me only five more years to live. I cannot think of a better way of smashing through that particular prognostication; for it was the most wonderful day of my life!

On the Sunday before the wedding, the first day of the return of GMT to the clocks, there was a weather window coinciding with nothing in particular to do, and so I took a trip to Argyll with a trusted mountain buddy, into the heart Campbell country to climb the big mountain there. Some men have stag dos in foreign countries involving huge amounts of alcohol and outrageous behaviour, some do the same thing at home. Given that I have never been much of a drinker and that now for reasons of health I take no alcohol at all, climbing Ben Cruachan with a mate and whoever else we would undoubtedly meet along the way, seemed like the perfect preparation for the future with my lovely woman, who is after all a Campbell.

What a magnificent mountain this is. And what an auspicious journey!

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I had arranged to meet my companion at a car park en route, sometime between 7:00 and 7:15. We arrived at exactly the same time and left again promptly. At the parking spot on the road near the Cruachan Visitor Centre, we squeezed into the last space and began climbing through the woods at about 9:15. We clambered over the dam just after 10:00 with very muddy boots, and a sense of relief that we would be walking on the level for a while. The great bowl of the corrie, bright and benevolent, hanging with wispy cloud, opened up before us. It was already a great day out.

 

We stopped for our first break at 11:00 by some rocks on the path up to the bealach, along which in both directions parties of happy mountain people wended their way. It is a straightforward climb from the bealach along what tuns out to be the most rounded ridge to the summit. We arrived at about 12:15 to a veritable crowd of folks sunning themselves with lunch in the still autumn air. A pair of ravens wheeled and cawed at each other, playing in eddies and updrafts, plummeting past the edges of crags and cliffs, showing off to the humans watching how awesome it is to be a raven.

The views from the summit of this magnificent mountain are incredible and were to me unfamiliar. Since I returned from The Netherlands in 2013 and my first sojourn into the hills in July 2014, I have been looking at peaks I could now see in the north and east, only from the north and east. This summer I concentrated on bagging everything in Laggan and round Loch Treig and I have nearly completed the peaks of Glen Coe. Throughout, I have been looking at the Etive Hills on the western horizon; from Cruachan, Etive was behind me renewing the view of the east, while the horizon before me was filled with a glistening mosaic of low hills, lochs, coastlines and islands under sunlight filtered by wispy clouds. From this angle, the length of Loch Awe is crimped to a short squiggle. Mull and the might of Ben More are far away on the horizon, Sunart shimmers into Lochaber. The Nevis ranges, Mammores and Bidean nam Bian meld into a great jagged lump in the north to the left of Ben Starav; likewise Bredalbane and the Trossachs to the south and east, with Ben Lui and Beinn Buidhe prominent in the foreground.

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After lunch we took the path off the summit along the ridge towards Stob Daimh and soon discovered what an absolute delight and privilege it was to be here on this mountain on such a beautiful day as this. It is nowhere near as scrambly as the Aonach Eagach, but there is section of traverse over slabs that requires particular care, and it is as precipitous on both sides. It is nowhere near as randomly stony as the route between Conival and Ben More Assynt, but there is very little earth and it is a much longer walk. Along the way there are a number of subsidiary tops from which the drama of the ridge is palpable, the last of which – Drochaid Ghlas – affords splendid views back to Ben Cruachan and forward to Stob Daimh.

 

On the way down from this top, just as the path begins to level off, the ground changes from predominantly rocky to predominately earthy. It is a clear difference on the ground that justifies Munro’s insistence that only mountains with a separate character should be classified as separate summits, even if they are lower than the minor tops of immediate neighbours. The path to Stob Daimh is straightforward with a wee steep bit just at the end. We reached the summit at about 15:00 – my 50th summit of the year, 132nd since the diagnosis and 142nd during my lifetime. So I am now half way to compleation. We did not hang around for long here though, for we soon realised that we would have to make good time on the descent if we were to get back to the car before dark.

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It is a relatively easy descent along a variety of paths that come together at the edge of a deep slanting ravine, followed by a walk out over the boggy slopes above the reservoir. But it is a long walk after a long day. There is brief respite from mud on the road from the dam, before the return to the path through the forest. It was not completely dark when we reached the car at 17:30, but almost.

The final week of wedding preparations presented a number of challenges, but everything happened more or less as planned. We had a beautiful day, and our guests all enjoyed themselves. A sudden squall of hail appeared at the venue just before the ceremony began, creating rainbows. Later a raven flew over – which is not a common sight in Fife.

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I do not like to use vocabularies of struggle and battle in relation to the disease that is allegedly going to kill me, or at least, if there are battles to be fought, these are rather with the consequences of the diagnosis and my own responses and reactions, not with any disease. For the fact of the matter is that I am increasingly and absolutely doubting the prognostications of medical science, gradually understanding the wisdom of the Lama who suggested I give the disease no solidity. Getting married was the greatest affirmation of this. For I feel better now than I did five years ago and have no intention whatever of leaving this life for the foreseeable future. I am enjoying it far too much for that. I still have many more mountains to climb and new horizons to experience.

Prostate Cancer Warriors

I met a man on Braeriach last Sunday who I recognised from the Facebook, where he has shared his experience of prostate cancer. The next day I got a message from an old school chum, living now on the other side of the big water, seeking advice about his recent diagnosis. Each of us has a very different experience of the disease and our circumstances are very different, but we share something.

Prostate cancer is the most common male cancer. It has a similar pathology to breast cancer, which is the most common female cancer. Both are hormone based and as yet there is no cure for either. My oncologist told me not so long ago that a Nobel Prize awaits those who can find a cure for hormone based cancers. Current medical parlance allows prostate cancer nevertheless to be managed, and if it is caught early enough, it can be destroyed, either by resection of the gland or by focused radiotherapy. And here is the nub of the problem. If it is caught early enough.

In spite of the existence of many support and campaigning organisations and charities – Prostate Cancer UK, Prostate Scotland, Maggie’s Centres, Macmillan – it remains much easier for women to discover and discuss the first symptoms of breast cancer than for men to find out about what may or may not be developing in a gland they probably do not realise they have. Without wishing to be vulgar, breasts are more prominent than prostates and are more frequently examined. Anomalous tissue growth in breasts is consequently more quickly identified than in prostates.

Undoubtedly, there is more to this than the physical location of the prostate, its obscure function and its insignificant size. It is not easy for men to talk about how it feels down below or at the back, and men – at least of my generation and older – are not very good at knowing about what is going on inside their own bodies. It often takes the emergence of a cancer for a man to begin this journey into bodily consciousness, this confrontation with a disease that can be managed but as yet has no cure, this awareness of how precious and precarious life is.

Not everybody realises this about prostate cancer, largely because in general, it develops slowly in men over the age of about sixty who have by this age other, more pressing, medical issues. Most men who die of old age have some sort of prostate cancer. In most cases, its growth can be thwarted with hormone suppressing medication, surgery and/or radiotherapy. But the aggressive, malignant varieties – at least according to the statistics – are more swiftly fatal. Statistics are notoriously difficult to use as any kind of estimation of what is really going on in the world, but the best estimates are that between eight and twelve percent of men have prostate cancer – whether they have been diagnosed or not.

Every man who is diagnosed with this disease is confronted suddenly with his own mortality. Each of us then travels a different path, depending on the stage at which it is diagnosed, but we have this in common. The man I met on the mountain has taken a very different journey from me, but we both continue to suffer side effects of medical intervention; my old friend from school is moving into a different future, but most likely his disease will be manageable for a long time to come. It was important for me and for each of them to be able to share knowledge and experience of the disease, not only for the exchange of technical information and tales of bodily dysfunction, but because these exchanges have a quality that places them outside conventional male discourse. The great tragedy of maleness is that if such exchanges were brought into everyday discussion, there would be greater chance that prostate cancer might be more frequently nipped in the bud, identified at an early stage, before it has had a chance to spread beyond the gland itself.

Trying to imagine what this inclusion would look like, I see mates out on the piss and taking a leak together, one noticing that the other is a bit dribbly and having problems squirting out the last drops, and who asks if this has been a recurrent issue and if so suggests his mate get his PSA checked. Or on a building site, one bloke seems to spend too long in the toilet, to emerge looking pained, and who reveals when asked by a mate that it feels as if he has something permanently stuck up there, some sort of blockage that has nothing to do with his digestion. Often these are the only signs that there might be something developing; the next clue is the generalised sickliness of metastasis, or some inexplicable pain deep inside, by which time the process of management – at least according to current medical understanding – will have been already limited.

We all have to get on with our lives as best we can under the circumstances of our diagnoses. These are too often viewed entirely through materialistic reductionist lenses; the processes of the disease are seen as entirely physical and mechanical, while the emotional and spiritual elements are pushed to the periphery, excluded from its pathology. Consciousness of the disease is reduced to knowledge of the facts as presented by the medical establishment.

We prostate warriors know differently, for the experience of living with the disease is very different from understanding how it “works” ….. each of us knows inside perhaps how it all started and can remember when his life became so stressful that cancer could more easily take hold of a minor insignificant gland. Perhaps not. Each of us knows that the effects of medical intervention are never only the suppression, resection or burning out of the disease, but also a whole raft of side effects and consequences, which bring along a new series of challenges and consequences, not only for ourselves, but for our nearest and dearest.

I would like to think that one day it might be possible for men naturally to talk to each other about what is going inside their bodies, so that if a man begins to notice something untoward going on he will be in immediate contact with a culture that can advise, with access to technical discourses that recognise emotional and spiritual elements of disease. If the imperative to be the change you want to see in the world has any meaning at all, exchanges such as the ones I had recently are already a contribution to making this so.

It’s shite being Catalonian

Sometimes things happen in the world that make a difference to all of us, irrespective of our political leanings or affiliations, and which therefore expose more substantial political forces and powers at large. I have always wanted to keep politics in the first sense out of this blog, but I have no problem engaging directly with the latter.

For the last few days I have been extremely troubled by films and images I have seen on newsfeeds of heavily armoured thugs beating up Catalonians for staging what the Spanish state describes as an illegal referendum. These men are clearly highly skilled at what they do, and seem genuinely to enjoy their work. The governing powers of Spain moreover are evidently not at all bothered that their servants have been filmed so openly carrying out their business and upholding the law with such violence. Allied governments from Brussels to Washington, but not including Edinburgh, regard these events as an internal matter and regurgitate the propaganda shat out from Madrid; these are police upholding the law and preventing the staging of an illegal vote.

As the phrase “illegal vote” should indicate, democracy is a notoriously meaningless concept, possibly even oxymoronic, and I have never really believed it to be practical with groups of people larger than about a dozen. It is a Greek concept, signifying more or less rule of the people, that came into existence in a culture that excluded women from all serious discourse and relied upon slavery and conquest for social stability and economic prosperity. These days we are led to believe that each individual is in possession of unique opinions that she or he can compare with the programmes and manifestos of political parties which compete for political power in order then to vote for one of these. This voting is the core of the democratic process that creates governments, which then carry out the duties of the state, using institutions that have been developed over history to do this. Sometimes too, states offer choices to people on matters that cut through party lines. Each nation state and country has its own way of organising its democracy and each tends to believe its own to to be the ideal form.

Humanity is facing a profound existential crisis. On the one hand, in the name of democracy, people are given the opportunity to vote to decide whether the region where they live should become autonomous from a larger state. On the other, in the name of democracy, that same state employs extreme and public violence to ensure that the vote is disrupted and voters made aware of who is actually in power. This is not a problem confined to Spain – although it is perhaps appropriate that these struggles emerge into prominence in Catalonia, which has always been a hotbed of radical ideas and often had to defend itself against imperial domination – it is becoming more obvious that the concept of democracy has developed two absolutely incompatible meanings.

Firstly, there are those who take it to be a process. That the objective of rule by the people is never complete; that continuing dialogue, discussion and good faith are required in order to organise any social body that recognises the authority of individual reason, experience and opinion; that these processes are the essence of democracy.

Secondly, there are those who take it to be a competition to choose who gets to wield power. As if the outcome of an election were like the result of a game of football, where there are winners and losers, where the winners get to party and shout about how right they are to have the opinions they have, and the losers have to shut up and suck it up.

The powers that be really do not give a fuck any more. It does not matter to them that their violence is on public display, against which moral outrage is about as much use as chocolate teapot. It does matter matter that their propaganda is bizarrely false, transparently self serving and idiotic, because it has been fed into the headlines and soundbites of the press and media to be beamed around the world before the more complex truth can be discovered. This is the structure now of world events. It is how we are kept docile and obedient. By consuming the stories we are fed on the news, subliminally accepting the morality of power, believing always in its legitimacy.

In the name of democracy.

Time to wake up.

 

Munro with cancer #128 and #129

13:15 – Spidean Mialach (M146), 3268ft, 996m

14:45 – Gleouraich (M097), 3396ft, 1037m

The meanings of the names of these mountains refer respectively to wild animals and the noises they make. As I gained the huge corrie that lies between them, I began to hear it – the unmistakable roar of stags. The cloud was down to just above the summits, but moving past very quickly and not completely obscuring the light of the sun. The ground was dry and the colours of the land dulled, so it was difficult to locate the source of the roaring. I disturbed a group of young hinds sheltering in the peat hags. Later as I scrambled up the gully of a burn in an effort to keep out of the wind, nearing the summit ridge, I was surveyed by a large heavy antlered stag and his harem. When the ground flattened into grasses and shattered rock, I passed over the tracks of where they had walked and the scent of his musk still hung over the ground. I was evidently witnessing the first of the rut.

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The northern slopes of this pair of Munros are a chaos of broken rock, crags, sheer cliffs, steep corries and unstable peat. Its sharp buttresses are a familiar view to anybody who has walked along the South Glen Shiel Ridge and seen Ben Nevis in the distance behind them.

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The path along the ridge is very good and it affords views of everywhere, but today these were diminished by haze and cloud. More is made of these aspects in walk reports than the resident fauna – in particular the zigzag stalker’s path by which I was planning to descend. After a very tasty lunch in the lee of Gleouraich’s handsome cairn, I descended the walker’s path onto the south shoulder of the mountain and discovered the end of the stalker’s path – the place that the path goes, its purpose.

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Behind a low wall, dug into the mountainside, partially paved and with ample room for supplies, an emplacement for those whose pleasure it is to slaughter animals, looking down on a vast corrie of peat hags and rutting grounds, still echoing from time to time with grunts and roars. Stalkers are after all those who know where the deer are to be found, so they can carry out their duties for the owners of the land, their guests and clients. The paths they use are often very ancient and their lines are not necessarily the ones a walker would choose, primarily because horses are also employed in the task of killing deer – although the gentler gradients of zigzagging no doubt makes it easier for those who do the actual killing to get to places where they can get their best shots. I tarried a moment to reflect upon this realisation – that my access to these mountains is granted by my complicity in this elision of land management and canned hunting. Not that I am unaware of these things, but this simple shelter scooped out of the ground brought me back to reality. I thought for a moment of taking a photo of it, so I could display it here, but I decided not to make use of this facility in any way, not to acknowledge it and to walk on.

The path down is of course excellent, a remarkable feat of engineering, paved and drained all the way from clinging high on the edge of the precipitous west shoulder to zigzagging through crags and bogs, always looking down on the mess left at the shores of Loch Cuach by water no longer used by the dam and beyond to the hazy peaks of Knoydart.

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The line I would have taken coming off this hill, if there had been no path and I were looking only at the contours on the map, would have involved following the crest of the south shoulder so I could look back to the left to survey the ridge I had walked, and then fnding a way down back to the road in a more south easterly direction. The stalker’s path does more or less this except for one crucial detail; it is very carefully constructed on the leeward side of the ridge that encloses the corrie so that any deer going about their business will be sheltered from all sight, sound and smell of any human beings on the way to shoot them from above. Not that I am ungrateful for the path; if I had wanted, I could easily still have followed the crest, and it was a relief to be out of the wind following a well trodden route that was going to take me safely back to the car without having to navigate nor ploughter over complicated ground before driving for another three and a half hours. But the experience of stags and the place at the end of the path reminded me of how it is possible for me to be here at all.