The mountain at the end of the street…

I read somewhere – and for the life of me I can’t remember where – about the visual and sensory impact of mountains where they are visible from the streets of a town or city. I recall the article mentioning some of the obvious examples – Seattle, Kathmandu – but also referring to the views of The Peaks from Manchester and Sheffield. I’d credit the author if I could remember who it was; it might have been Robert Macfarlane.

This shot was taken looking south-west along the high street of Kingussie: the looming presence dominating the skyline is Creag Dubh – a two and a half thousand footer which is actually beyond Newtonmore but almost looks within touching distance…

 

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Just a thought…

Redundant railway siding reclaimed by wild flowers – Kidderminster

“The wild prefaced us, and it will outlive us… The ivy will snake back and unrig our flats and terraces, as it scattered the Roman villas. The sand will drift into our business parks, as it drifted into the brochs of the Iron Age. Our roads will lapse into the land.”

Robert Macfarlane: The Wild Places

 

 

 

Hay Festival 2016

SONY DSCThe Hay Festival isn’t an annual pilgrimage for me, even though, after every visit, I promise myself it will become one. That’s really because every time I do make the effort to attend, I leave already looking forward to the next time. But sometimes life – that unruly, incoherent mess of other commitments, conflicting priorities, disarray and (when time permits) even a little inertia – conspires against returning quite as quickly as I might have hoped. And of course there always has to be an event or two worth attending; it would be an unusual year when that wasn’t the case.

My overriding impression of Hay during festival week is that it would be very difficult to spend time around the place and not find yourself in a good mood. Artists – some of them familiar faces, others less so – mingle comfortably with the crowds, whether it be inside the festival grounds or simply meandering around the town. On a previous visit I exchanged affable nods and greetings with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour as if we were a couple of neighbours passing in the street. This year I bumped into George Monbiot taking some time out on the river bank. Obviously good weather helps, and it was certainly a riverbank kind of day.

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A High and Lonely Place

A High and Lonely Place

It’s the title of a book: a good one, by a good writer (Jim Crumley); first published in 1990 and it’s as relevant now as the day it was written, possibly more so. I re-read it a few weeks back, just before a visit to the highlands (although those two things had no deliberate connection) and much of it reads like a present day commentary; you have to remind yourself that it was written a quarter of a century ago, raising concerns which went largely unheeded, much as they still do today.

The high and lonely place of the book’s title is the Cairngorms – the mountains of course, but also the forests and valleys, rivers and marshes, which feed, drain, shelter and, in innumerable other ways, enhance each other and the whole. Some will say, and with valid arguments, that we have better hills and more evocative landscapes. In the end it’s all about opinions: there’s no definitive best mountain, or most magnificent glen, particularly when none of them are the same from one day to the next.

As early in the book as page 22, I came across this passage, where Jim is expressing his anxieties over the future of the remaining forests of Rothiemurchus and Abernethy: “Stand in them, and know that when you do, these same trees were brushed by wolf and Jacobite. Stand in them, feel the past and fear for the future. [Man] has long since passed the day when he could say with any honesty that he never knew”.

All of this was written before the the funicular; before the re-branding of the mountain; before the proliferation of onshore wind; before the ‘need’ never to be without a mobile phone signal.

On one of our outings we crossed the summit plateau of Cairngorm; partly to take in the outlook to the south and also with a view to some reconnaissance for future outings. Scanning around and taking in the views of Derry Cairngorm, Ben Macdui, Cairn Toul, Braeriach (and that’s just a few to be going on with), we were immediately struck by the difference between looking into the heart of the mountains and what you see when you stand near the summit cairns and look outwards. The difference bestowed by national park protection; let’s hope that holds firm when it (inevitably) comes under pressure from speculators and developers.

Low cloud moving across Cairngorm summit. In the distance and just visible, some clearer weather down in Glenmore.

It’s true that Cairngorm itself is an untidy clutter on its northern side: mostly the consequences of ski development. I know there are arguments in favour of skiing as a leisure pursuit; not least the economic benefits in the winter months and, equally importantly, the fact that, for some, it’s an enjoyable activity. There’s no denying though that skiing is greedy for land and creates an awful mess on the hillside when there’s no camouflaging blanket of snow. Of course there are equally instances of spots (Snowdon summit, Ben Nevis as examples) where the accumulated effects of tens of thousands of walkers can leave the place looking far from attractive. The difference on Cairngorm is how quickly, if you choose your path well, you can leave behind the crowds and their debris.

The landscape sometimes pays a heavy price for our recreational activities

On the other hand, it doesn’t take long to escape any evidence of the crowds: a couple of twists in the path, a couple of folds in the landscape, is usually sufficient.

What all this means for us in the longer term is open to conjecture. One definite is that plans for future trips will probably involve walking deeper into the hills, rather than on or around them. More forays into quiet glens – places like Glen Einich – to avoid seeing the things we’d rather not see. In a way, it almost seems like an admission of defeat; albeit one with compensations.
 This was the view from Cairngorm towards Ben Macdui and Loch Etchachan
 
The Spey, assisted by some input from its tributaries, had flooded the Insh marshes and created a wetter than usual wetland habitat. Apparently this is not a typical August scene and certainly one we’d not seen before
 Ruthven Barracks, for a few days at least, gained a moat…
 
A different view of the extensive flooding on both sides of the A9. This was taken from Creag Bheag, a small hill which lies behind Kingussie…
 A roe deer in that peculiar ‘walk forwards, look backwards’ pose, which seems to be a speciality of theirs

From the vaults: Things of value (06/09/2010)

“The prejudice we exercise against such landscapes, imagining them to be primitive, stark and pagan, became sharply apparent. It is in a place like this that we would unthinkingly store poisons or test weapons …” – Barry Lopez

 
I’m reading ‘Arctic Dreams’ at the moment; it’s by the American writer Barry Lopez and was first published almost 25 years ago. It’s a hard read: not in terms of the writing, which is fluent and eloquent, but in the intricacy of its subject matter – a complex mix of the tangible and the conceptual. I’m frequently finding myself re-reading entire paragraphs; sometimes for the enjoyment of reprising the language, at others simply for better understanding of the content.
 
There are many recurring themes throughout the book, not least among them the value of landscape and our continuing responsibilities as the most exploitative of species. The passage at the head of this blog entry had a particular resonance for me; the abuse of wild land and the proliferation of man-made intrusions into wilderness being a frequent cause of both concern and exasperation. The siting of a wind-farm or hydro project might not seem to stand direct comparison with that of a plutonium dump or missile silo, but there are often elements of the same strands of dismissive thinking underpinning the decision making processes.

 
Politicians, planners, corporations, all seem to be informed by the notion that empty land is somehow wasted land; that our wild and sparsely populated areas are expendable and until a place has exploitable commercial value then it has no value at all. This is why we find our mountains disfigured by ironmomgery, our moorlands increasingly defaced with communications hardware, power-lines and clusters of turbines.
 
Barry Lopez again …
 
“What every culture must eventually decide is what, of all that surrounds it, tangible and intangible, it will dismantle and turn into material wealth. And what of its cultural wealth, from the tradition of finding peace in the vision of an undisturbed hillside to a knowledge of how to finance a corporate merger, it will fight to preserve”

From the vaults: Things of value (06/09/2010)

“The prejudice we exercise against such landscapes, imagining them to be primitive, stark and pagan, became sharply apparent. It is in a place like this that we would unthinkingly store poisons or test weapons …” – Barry Lopez

 
I’m reading ‘Arctic Dreams’ at the moment; it’s by the American writer Barry Lopez and was first published almost 25 years ago. It’s a hard read: not in terms of the writing, which is fluent and eloquent, but in the intricacy of its subject matter – a complex mix of the tangible and the conceptual. I’m frequently finding myself re-reading entire paragraphs; sometimes for the enjoyment of reprising the language, at others simply for better understanding of the content.
 

There are many recurring themes throughout the book, not least among them the value of landscape and our continuing responsibilities as the most exploitative of species. The passage at the head of this blog entry had a particular resonance for me; the abuse of wild land and the proliferation of man-made intrusions into wilderness being a frequent cause of both concern and exasperation. The siting of a wind-farm or hydro project might not seem to stand direct comparison with that of a plutonium dump or missile silo, but there are often elements of the same strands of dismissive thinking underpinning the decision making processes.

Politicians, planners, corporations, all seem to be informed by the notion that empty land is somehow wasted land; that our wild and sparsely populated areas are expendable and until a place has exploitable commercial value then it has no value at all. This is why we find our mountains disfigured by ironmomgery, our moorlands increasingly defaced with communications hardware, power-lines and clusters of turbines.
 
Barry Lopez again …
 
“What every culture must eventually decide is what, of all that surrounds it, tangible and intangible, it will dismantle and turn into material wealth. And what of its cultural wealth, from the tradition of finding peace in the vision of an undisturbed hillside to a knowledge of how to finance a corporate merger, it will fight to preserve”