''He's just a poor boy from a poor family''
That song is so contagious, if a certain person hadn't uttered those immortal first lines of Bohemian Rhapsody, we wouldn't have spent all weekend singing the confounded thing! To be fair though I have huge respect for 'Bohemian' please allow me to explain why. It was a very strange choice yet a masterstroke to select this track as a single, it was the age of the three minute pop song any longer and you would have no airplay, no Top of the Pops, resulting in the single making little or no impression on the Top 40. Queen gave you a breath under six minutes, yet Bohemian Rhapsody held the number 1 spot for a record nine weeks. The criteria in those days seemed to require the title to be repeated at least twice during the chorus, the words 'Bohemian' or 'Rhapsody' are not mentioned thus elevating the piece into the realms of the Avant-Garde of mainstream pop. Finally it is the zenith of an intelligently crafted song, there is the opening rhapsody followed by the central operatic showpiece and finally concluding with first class Hard Rock. All well outside the Vioux Normale of popular music at the time.
As a backcloth to the phenomena of Bohemian Rhapsody, I would like to take you back to the mid '70's when it was released, The '70's were bleak, it was characterised by such things as three day weeks, strikes and power cuts. Somehow I managed to eke out a happy childhood, we were the privileged ones in the street who went on holiday for a week to the 'seaside', most kids in the neighbourhood didn't see any further than the Arboretum at the top of the road. Nobody had any money, the only time we had Lemonade was at Christmas and Cup Final Day! Music was important in those day's, it was a peso of sun shining through another winter of discontent. It inspired hope, raised your spirits and made the lion within you roar!
As a twelve year old I remember queueing up at Woolies with two weeks pocket money for my copy of Bohemian Rhapsody. On purchase I could feel that I was holding something special in my hands. That lure that drew everyone into a spontaneous 'a cappella' rendition of the song was well in vogue at school in the mid '70's, all it took was for someone to feel the urge to sing "I see a little silhouette of a man" and the knock on effect swept through the place like a raging wind. We sang it on the way to school, we sang it on the way back, we sang it in the showers, we sang it in the corridors, we sang it in class, we sang it on the field! Nice to know that thirty eight years later, things haven't changed much.
Friday 12th July
''Is this the real life, is this just fantasy? ''
It's 1:15a.m, normally I wouldn't be up this early to go to the loo but although my body temperature and blood pressure have dropped nicely, making the bed feel cosy and warm, I daren't linger there. It's time to extricate myself from drowsy contentment, go and pick up my two friends, Christian and Speedy, for the 320 mile drive to St Helensburgh in order to catch the 9:40 train to Corrour. Great stuff adrenalin but it couldn't quite make up the deficit of the six hours of precious sleep that I was deprived of. Our purgatory was our recreation.
|making up the sleep deficit!|
|to sleep... perchance to dream|
I ought to mention at this juncture that the original quartet had to be adjusted. Tom and Jason had to relinquish the trip due to sudden and unexpected work commitments. We were all gutted to hear this but we managed to bring the erstwhile Speedy out of retirement to make a trio. With my abject stupidity, Speedy's unfathomable madness and Christian's abounding intellect I was quite sure we were all going to get along fine.
I managed to snatch some sporadic moments of sleep on the train but wasn't exactly relishing the fifteen mile hike from Corrour to Culra with full kit. Corrour is unconnected by road therefore not only the remotest stop but also the highest at 1,533 feet. On stepping off the train we were at our highest as well, buzzing on Highland air! With kits hoisted on and sticks in hand, the record was beginning to play. Felt pity for Tom at this point, he's stalked these hills for years, resulting in botched attempts only. Poor old Tom for him it's like a record that never gets played.
|Loch Ossian and Hostel nicely tucked away|
The first section of the approach walk was well structured, not quite silver topped walking cane and Poodle territory but very well engineered paths.We soon approached the gallant Loch Ossian, it was a delight to walk along it's idyllic shores. There tucked away in the corner is the remote Loch Ossian
Youth Hostel, it used to be the waiting room for the Steamer apparently but I think it's put to better use now. All of this is in the lee of the Olympian Beinn na Lap, one of the easiest Munro's you will ever bag, that is of course if you come in by train.
|some wild Lupins|
|Bein na Lap|
|not quite silver topped walking cane and Poodle territory|
The good path thankfully didn't last long, it downgraded in true Highland style to a track engineered by hundreds of pairs of walking boots over many years. There were numerous wild flowers in abundance, Saxifrage, Campion, Wild Lupin, Scottish Primrose and tufts of fluffy Bog Cotton gently bouncing on scented air. We even had to do a bit of minor compass work to get into the next Glen, Uisge Labhair. Relax, unwind, get in the zone! Listen... the air buzzes with a kind of static, my dear friend you are now in the Motherland!
|think I saw one very similar to this before|
|Christian analysing water samples. Speedy looks on.|
|you shouldn't have to race over hills|
The joys of summer walking were all too palpable, you shouldn't have to race over hills, that's kind of missing the point. We even decided to have an impromptu meal, I figured that to lighten the load of the kit it would be better to carry some of the food internally. As we layed there sprawled out carefree by the river, any lingering stress was soon stultified by the sound of lucid running water chattering over the pebbles. Life was good.
I chatter over stony ways
In little sharps and trebles
I bubble into little eddying bays
I babble on the pebbles
I chatter, chatter as I flow
To join the brimming river
For men may come and men may go
But I go on for ever (Tenyson)
As we headed for the Bealach Dubh I was reminded of how tenuous the line can be between enjoyment and disaster. Although the Ordnance Survey have not been over generous with bog symbols, we were in a dry spell and I must have found the only bit of bog in the whole of the central Highlands but the way I located it was quite Ingramic. We were ambling along nicely, chatting away, when my foot just disappeared! Reflexes seemed to kick in quicker than rational thought, the upshot being I went flying through the air as if I had been thrown over by a judo expert! Only problem now, was I soon came to realize that my foot had become detached from it's boot, retrieving it was difficult due to all three of us being paralyzed by laughter. Question remains, what if I had lost a boot? You don't exactly carry a spare pare of boots with you on an expedition do you! I suppose experience is the sum of our near misses. Whipping Boy material? Nice try but I don't think so, a Golden Crampon barrister would have thrown that straight out of court.
Bealachs can sometimes have viewpoints that are as rewarding as the summits, Bealach Dubh was a classic example of this, belly folds of hidden glens adorned with shiny moleskin green carpets. Wandering bands of sunshine drew you to the distant hills of Glencoe, Cairngorms, Mamores and the Trossachs. Hills simply ranged off into a distant geometry of triangles. The massif of Ben Alder laid stretched out like a contented Lion basking in the late afternoon sun.
|stretched out like a contented lion|
|bealachs can have viewpoints as good as summits|
|the shadowed tweed of the Glen|
The frame of the Bealach Dubh had been visible as far away as the shores of Loch Ossian, now we were crossing it! We were stood looking at immensity, a river like blue thread tumbled down the shadowed tweed of the Glen and rolled onward as destiny called to the distant halo of Culra Bothy. To quote Homer's Odyssey " Past the gates of the sun and the hopes of dreams they went".
During this section I began to feel the acumalative effect of a day's hiking with full kit, without the backing of sleep, commonly known as exhaustion. It has to be said to, that we were not in a tame part of the country. My back felt compressed and my thigh muscles were about played out. My anxiety was that I wouldn't be in a fit state the following day to perform the Munro bagging sortie that we had planned. I tried to steer away from the 'woe is me' mentality, by engaging in meaningful conversation, one of the topics I clearly remember laboring was 'how many personelle should make up a Bothy expedition? ' We decided three was a perfect number because you could all travel up together, spread out in the car, keep an eye on what each other was doing, four would be maximum, five definetly too many, it could all begin to fragment and you wouldn't even know if you would all get in a Bothy. Yes five was definately too many.
I was rather hoping that we would get a glimpse of the Bothy from afar, it certainly would have been a good inscentive but it wasn't to be. What did impress me though was the bent and twisted Long Leachas ridge, it looked like a tectonic version of a crumple zone! Strata upended by a celestial plough. We didn't get a glimpse of the Bothy until we were a stones throw away from the door but it was worth the fight, a fine Bothy with a grubby atmosphere all of it's own. Culra snuggles nicely into the sweep of the landscape like good Bothy's do.
|Long Leachas... bent and twisted crumple zone|
|Culra Bothy... snuggles nicely into the sweep of the landscape like good Bothy's do|
A few yards down from Culra is the picturesque Allt a Chaoil Reidhe stream. It was invigorating to have a strip wash in it's restorative waters, definately not a winter pursuit. I felt like I was walking in the footsteps of Hamish Brown but drew the line when it came to walking up mountains naked by moonlight! After our ablutions it was time to hit the bed shelf but before that I took great pride in oiling myself down in order to give new life to those tired tendons and sore leg muscles for the Blitzkrieg to come. Onward!
Now we are all cognizant of the fact that Bothy life is not for the idle but neither is it four star accommodation, I was therefore a bit rattled when we received a bang on the wall from our neighbors, this was clearly interpreted as "keep the flippin noise down". This is just not playing according to the rules, we had a similar instance several years ago at A Chuill Bothy in Knoydart, two humorless incumbents trying to stifle our happy spirit. My advice to the lads though was, do our best to keep the noise down, avoid confrontation at all costs, after all we're going to get our heads down soon anyway. Don't worry about it, nevertheless a stilted atmosphere obtained.
After having a Wayfarer mixed with Uncle Ben's Pilau rice, which I must say was up to Bothy standard, I finally began the gradual unbelayed descent into the oblivion of sleep. How gratifying to sleep the sleep of a tired walker...
To be over (Anderson)
We go sailing down the calming streams
Drifting endlessly, by the bridge
To be over, we will see...to be over
Do not suffer through the game of chance that plays
Always doors to lock away your dreams
Think it over
Time will heal your fear, think it over
Childlike soul, dreamer
One journey, one to seek and see
In every light
Do open true pathways away
Carrying closer, go gently
Holding doors will open, everyway
You wander true pathways away...
"Mark have you got your boots on?!!!" This was Christian!
"No I'm in bed" Now bolt upright.
"Well get them on, we need you out here!"
It would seem our puerile neighbors who couldn't tolerate even a small amount of noise at the earthly hour of 8:00pm were now letting off fireworks! Christian, whilst goose stepping round the room like the Headmaster from 'The Wall', informed me that he was going to take them to task about it! I tried to reason with him that you just can't do that, you never know who you're dealing with, anything could happen but it all fell on deaf ears, he was back out the door. As I was pulling on some clothes and trying to shake off my tiredness, I was thinking to myself "what on earth am I going to be faced with on walking out that door?" My only hope was that at least I would be a steadying influence.
I walked out, bleary eyed, into the balmy night air, to face two strange dudes that resembled Albanian Noblemen more than Mountain Walkers! The disguise wasn't bad but there was no hiding the voices. This was Tom and Jason!!! What a great gag, it had been months in the planning and it was executed perfectly, it must have been to get it past me, they all know they don't get many past this lad but they did this one and all credit to them. A bottle of sparkling wine was on hand to celebrate which was duly poured out before we all retired, this time in the same room!
|looked more like Albanian nobleman than Mountain Walkers|
|I don't know how they got it past me!|
Saturday 13th July
''open your eyes look up to the skies and see''
Well for all my aches and pains, I crawled out of my sleeping bag like a new man, like a new dragonfly creeping out it's old shell. Bring it on! Sometimes when you rise early in the morning to do a day's hill walking you look at the sky and instinctively know that it's going to be a belter of a day, today was one of those day's, just a few tattered clouds that weren't going to hang around long considering the power of the ascending sun. The five of us set out in high spirits to conquer the Lancet Edge. Five being a perfect number for these jaunts, any more than that and the whole thing begins to fragment.
|bounding up towards the Lancet edge|
|Tom on the edge|
We seemed to gain height almost magically on Sgurr Iutharn, I can't make my mind up whether this was due to the fact that we were all super fit or we were so focused on remembering every line from Bohemian Rhapsody that everything else went out the window! Whatever the case, 'Bohemian' was put on hold as we came face to face with the Lancet.This really got the electric going, it gave some pleasant scrambling with a fair amount of exposure but on good safe holds all the way. My only complaint was that it was all over a bit too quick, not to worry 'thought lengthens it in the heart' as the saying goes. I will never forget looking down at the green arc of the valley beneath us, it gave it a real Alpine flavor.
|good scrambling on firm holds|
|a fair amount of exposure|
|an Alpine feel|
|curved arc of the valley below|
The Geal Charn group have a delicately balanced beauty all of their own. A fine narrowing ridge connects Geal Charn to Aonach Beag which then dips down before rising again, curving round gracefully to the summit of Beinn Eibhin. The ridge provided a bit of entertainment but there again so did the 'air guitar solo's' in Bohemian Rhapsody!
|even got a signal!|
|Gael Carn group... a delicately balanced beauty|
|the antithesis of a winter jaunt!|
What we had to do now was retrace our steps as far as Geal Charn, before venturing in a North East direction, down a steep descent and re-ascent to the summit of Carn Dearg, the citadel for Culra Bothy. Finally a brutal descent, for my knees anyway, deposited us back at our base. What a superb summer's day. The lads enjoyed a game of poker while I relished the tonic of loneliness and dilly dallied by the river. I recall Speedy garnering some finely polished stones for chips from the stream as I sat on a grassy knoll writing a few lines.
|permanent snow field|
|brutal descent... for my knees anyway|
What more can I say
One word say's it all really
A season, a feeling, a memory
The vibe of our yesterday's
Did I really sit by a stream
In a fledgling sunbeam
On a silver lined cloudless day
On a book that ne'er ends
Thru impervious bends
On a grassy knoll that's here to stay
Our children's laughter
Peels forth threafter
Gone but again holds sway
As my mind reviere's
Thru glorious days
In the sun's illustrious haze.
Mmm I was going to ommit this following incident but thought better of it. High above the inky blue pool of Loch an Sgoir, between Geal Charn,and Carn Dearg, an interesting sideshow developed. A promontory juts out like one of the bare bones of creation! As Tom went out to inspect it he slipped and fell to what would have been certain death had it not been for the iron grip of Speedy! Unbelievably the same thing happened to Speedy and Christian repeated the process. In the end I think everybody saved everybody else's lives. Phew! You never know what's around the corner do you?
|inky blue pool of Loch an Sgoir|
|an interesting sideshow developed|
|if it wasn't for the iron grip of Speedy...|
|everybody ended up saving everybody else's lives!|
Now my dear Blogfans, a situation has developed wherein many of you have requested that I publish a book entitled 'Bothy Stories'. This has arisen, I think, due to previous Blogs mentioning how we tend to be regaled with each other's humouros stories whilst sat round the Bothy fire. To be honest, the book is a long way off but what I will do, by way of compromise, is insert one every now and again in a standard Blog. So there you have it.
Moving Targets! (Bothy Story no.1
''any way the wind blows''
As a youngster of about twelve to fourteen, one of the crazes and phases I went through was a spell in the Air Cadets.Towards the end of my two year tenure I became very cynical and just saw it as grown ups playing soldiers, nevertheless I have some fond memories, one of those was an opportunity to achieve the highly esteemed accolade of the Marksman badge. Imagine the pride of having that on your armband.
After a few weeks of weapon training we were hauled off to Scampton to trade off our newly found skills. Two were set up in the tunnel at a time. It came to my turn, for reasons unbeknown to me, high expectations were on my head but on presenting my target card to our Commanding Officer, a very abrupt man, he bellowed "I expected better than that from you Cadet Ingram". I didn't think it was too bad but I suppose all five rounds spread all over the card was nothing to shout about, the badge requires all five shots to be within the compass of an old Ten Pence Piece. Next time I was determined to do better.
Me and my friend Richard were called up again. I pulled the rifle snugly in between my shoulder blade and clavicle and concentrated with all my might and mind. Anxiously I walked the walk to retrieve my card but to my abject horror I had missed the blinkin lot! I was looking at a blank card. I walked sheepishly back to where a group of lads were stood chatting but the C.O's voice pierced through "Cadet Ingram, let me see your card". Somehow I had the presence of mind to put my card on the blank card pile and furtively pick up any old card at random belonging to one of the lads, it had to be better than mine! On presenting it to the C.O, I couldn't believe it, it was the best one of the lot!
The C.O was in raptures about it "hey lads come and have a look at this" he exclaimed. Before long a group was huddled around my bogus card, several pats on the back ensued. The obligatory 10p was produced and offered up to the five rounds on the card, the Marksman's badge was missed by a whisker. I was beginning to feel a bit uneasy at this point when someone said "that's just like Jacko's" I thought to myself " that's maybe because it is Jacko's" and there on the back left hand corner neatly inscribed was P. Jacklin! I stealthfuly put my thumb and forefinger over the name and said "well lads, if you don't mind".
When we were dismissed as a Squadron the C.O commended us all for doing so well but singled out Cadet Ingram for special praise! My friend Richard was having a tussle with the Green Eyed Monster at this point, you see he knew I was up to no good because we both collected our cards together down the tunnel and he saw that I'd completely fluffed it. He was ready to gloat when I was summonsed by the C.O to present my card, what a shock he must have had when unexplicably I was the Blue Eyed Boy! I teased him about this on the way home with comebacks like " Richard did you not here what our Commanding Officer said?" And "do I detect a note of envy here?" Mind you when I told him what I had done he was in stitches!
So it goes when you're young, you win some and you lose some. Not so much is at stake at that age. You climb a tree, you fall out and break your arm, so what, you have a week off school, life flows sweetly on. Any way the wind blows. Isn't it a pity that when we become adults we have to stop climbing trees?
Sunday 14th July
''Gallileo, Figaro...Magnifico!!! ''
It looks like another sun smitten day, I honestly don't know how we do it! There never was a foul weather alternative. I was designated the Prophet of Doom for rambling on about such anomeles as rain, gales or even those pirhanas of the insect world, midges. None of the aforementioned made an appearance.
On these expeditions our Gameplan is more or less cast in stone yet our tyntax can change on the spot, for example, here we are deep in the Leachas corry, we were going to take the long dancing ridge of the Long Leachas up to the shoulder of Ben Alder but we seemed to have missed the turning, instead, jutting out like a totem pole we have the Short Leachas in front of us. This was no consolation prize, rather an exhillerating scramble deep within the beautiful green bowl of Scotland's Mid Riff.
|ascending the Short Leachas|
|deep within the beautiful green bowl of Scotlands mid riff|
En Passant we met a walker on the way down and got chatting. It's always nice to compare notes with like minded individuals. It turned out he was staying at Culra Bothy but he bemoaned the fact that he had a dreadful nights sleep, he went on to relate how in the room next door were a bunch of rowdy Queen fans who were all night trying to sing Bohemian Rhapsody! I consoled him concurring that we too had, had some cantankerous neighbors!
Ben Alder is a whaleback of a hill but whatever approach you take it is always embellished with the production of some geological maelstrom. It has ridges, crags, corries, clints, grykes the lot! On the summit plateau, grey shafts of light and banners of gentle mist vied for attention, giving it a tone poem of a view.
|long and dancing ridge|
|banners of gentle mist vied for attention|
|tone poem of a view...|
|Ben Alder summit... a whaleback of a hill|
Rising in bold propinquity to it's Sister hill is the double Camel humped peak of Bein Bheoil ( literally 'the one in front' presumably of Ben Alder). It was here that we had the realization that unbelievably everything on this expedition had gone according to plan, we had bagged all six peaks, in effect we had walked half the map! For me though Loch Ericht stole the show, it stretched from here to Timbuktoo and not as much as a wrinkle on it's placid depths.
|camel humped peak of Beinn Bhoil|
|me on summit of Bein Bhoil, the sixth summit!|
|Loch Ericht stole the show... not a wrinkle on it's placid depths|
Epilogue- Tying up all the loose ends!
Sunday 14th July PM. Monday 15th July
''body's aching all the time! ''
Hamish Brown would have been so proud of the lads, near the confluence of the Bhealeidh Bheithe and Chaoil Reidhe burn there are some small rapids, the boys were straight in! I would have loved to have dived in myself but knew it was the course of wisdom to abstain, the heat exchange I knew only too well would have accelerated the process of exhaustion, besides I was aware that the walk out was going to just about finish me off, a fact in which I was not to far wrong.
The walk out to Dalwhinnie to be candid was dull! If it was a piece of music I would describe it as shapeless. The only point of any significance were some big fancy houses, Tom thought they were incredible, Christian described them as being 'architecturally vulgar'! I thought that was a bit severe, my only take on it was that they were 'misplaced flambouyancy ' . In the future do you mind plonking your fancy houses in Switzerland or Bavaria, not in the Scottish Highland's please.
|incredible, misplaced flambouyancy or...|
The nine mile walk with full kit, on the back of fully exerting yourself for three days was, for me, a feat of endurance I'm proud to look back on but at the time it was a case of really grinding it out, endeavoring to stay positive and focused, not easy though, in this state things easily conspire against you, my back was giving me some stick, my body just wanted to give up, even the revered Berghaus Rucky was cutting into my shoulders. That fine line between fiery optimism and disenchantment was getting thinner.
Not even Bohemian Rhapsody could enliven my spirit! The flower of optimism was fading fast, in truth I had about had it! We entered a Hotel cum restaurant, which for propriety's sake will remain nameless. We were all mentally and physically exhausted and in no mood to play the placid tourist. What looked welcoming and impressive from the outside was anything but on the inside. It looked like Posh nosh without portfolio, their manners pitched between rude and obnoxious, ettiquette was non existent. Hencewith it was put to the vote whether we stayed or moved on, time was not on our side so we had to be decisive. Old Ingo misfired by suggesting that we stayed, backing his resolve up with that awful maxim 'we've made our bed now we've got to lie in it' , a phrase that will haunt me for many a jaunt to come. It was a four to one majority and we were out the door before you could say Jack Robinson! Paradoxically never has there been anyone more delighted to be outvoted than me!
The Glen Hotel at Newtonmore was the antithesis of the one we had left behind, friendly, atmospheric, hospitable, quirky. I'll never forget my first pint of lager, it was like pouring water on a dying plant, isostatic recovery had taken place. Old Ingo was back! A good meal can make amend for many things and we buntered down a three course meal and were absolutely on top of the world. The Landlord even knew someone who lived in Nettleham!
|a good meal made amend for many things|
By now humor was bouncing off us in all directions, it was in this state of mind that we had to secure a nights lodging at a nearby Youth Hostel. The Gaffer was a bit of an Odd Bird really, we stated our requirement that we needed five beds, he said he had a room with five beds but then went all neurotic on us and had to have a private audience with his wife because he was at a loss as what to do! I think the way forward seemed pretty obvious! Speedy compared it to going into a Fish and Chip shop, ordering Fish and Chips and the owners are that perplexed that they ask you to stand outside for a few moments while they unravel your request!
|by now humour was bouncing off us in all directions|
This incident only intensified our bouts of hilarity that were now becoming unrestrained, even the thought of being ejected from a Youth Hostel was beginning to sound quite appealing! Thankfully the Headmaster made another appearance, this time goose stepping round the room going shhh! This had the gradual effect of appeasing the merriment. On the way back from the showers I had some communication with our nearest neighbor, it was a bit like the initiation of an ancient tribal ritual, we stood still facing each other, he shook his head, I shrugged my shoulders, he raised his palms to the ceiling, I shook my head. Mellifluous strains of Bohemian Rhapsody could be heard in the distance.
There was no new Dragonfly crawling out the shell the following morning I felt downright rheumatic and ungraceful. We all walked down the Town to draw out some money, I thought I had got into a methodical gait, even crossing the road with a youthful burst of speed, that was until an old lady with a shopping trolley weaved her way through us with the dexterity of a Footballer!
The Funny Show continued merrily on, when being dropped off at St Helensburgh to pick up my car, it might as well of had a comic strip GONE written in the vacant space where it was. My thought process was nudged back to the journey out when Speedy made out he had left his phone in the car, I of course gave him my keys and he moved it round the corner. I didn't believe the car had been towed away or stolen, you have to get up pretty early in the morning to catch this lad out!
Of course there never was a train back from Dalwhinie to St Helensburgh, that was all part of the cover up but allegedly I had been hampering Christian for details to such an extent that his conscience was prodding him when he had to continually keep fobbing me off but I just wouldn't go away. I forgave him...
...Deb should be back in a minute she's just gone to get some beers from the Mini Mall. Oh! sorry I was just thinking out loud, totally forgot where I was. Kind of needed a holiday after that escapade so we popped off to Crete, that's where I'm writing this from. It's ninety seven degrees, I'm sat here on a sun lounger watching the waves crash on to the shore. It's just occured to me you will be wondering who the Whipping Boy was, well you'll never believe it, it was...
''goodbye everybody I've got to go! ''
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