I have just spent a lovely weekend on a ‘Mountain skills and navigation’ course. I decided it was time to refresh some of my long forgotten skills- which I have lazily discarded over the 20 years since I last did a similar course.
The course was very well led by Keith, who has a lovely relaxed way about him that I very much appreciated, and I very much enjoyed the company of the other course members. In fact, the conversations took over from the learning at times (sorry Keith!)
We spent two days in the Cowal hills- above Loch Striven (to Cruach nan Capull- 611m) on Saturday, and from Lock Eck up to Clach Bheinn (648m) descending down to Benmore via Creachan Beag (545m.) We managed to find a lovely airy ridge today too.
Anyone who has ever walked these hills will know that the slopes are steep and pathless, and the peaks hard won. But I have been reminded again that they are very much worth it. Our maximum height was less than 700m, but the rough terrain had its challenges. Enough to make us feel a sense of achievement anyway.
So here I am. Bathed. Well fed. Big blister burst.
Some photies. (Click to enlarge.)
Another couple of drives around Argyll in the last few days. On Tuesday we drove to Oban to see William sing in the Mod. This is the annual festival of Gaelic language, music and culture. Will was entered in a solo unaccompanied singing competition, and did himself (and me of course) proud, finishing just three points behind the eventual winner.
Yesterday was a bad day for photography- the weather was poor, and I was too nervous to photograph William. Sometimes, it is best just to be in the moment, without the enforced detachment of a lens between you and the action.
But today, I drove to Lochgilphead on a day of Autumn mists and still reflections. I left for an early meeting, and had no time to stop, but on the way home I slowed down.
And took some photographs.
Which set me thinking about why I do it, what the practice of photography brings into my life and how it interacts with the spiritual side of who I am.
I mentally made a list-
- It allows me to be creative, and in creating, we encounter the Creator
- It allows me to be appreciative- of the wide vistas, but also of the tiny small things- like the catch of dew on a leaf, or the light falling on yellow sea weed at low tide
- It makes me look deeper, and that the more I look, the more I see
- It slows me down and forces me to be more aware of the interplay between sun and scene and settings- the where I am, and the moment I am in
- It teaches me patience- good photographs rarely happen in a hurry
- It teaches me discipline- the need to understand how to do something
- But it also teaches me that despite the acquisition of skill, there is still so much room for spontaneity and the seizure of opportunity
- And that out of 500 attempts to capture something beautiful, then you might have just one photograph that captures the essence of something…
- The rules of composition are useful, but are always meant to be played with
- The capturing of images is a futile pursuit unless shared
Any more suggestions? Sit down a while and think…
Just back from a little jaunt out to Lock Eck with the Canoe. Will, and my mate Simon and his son Andrew came with me. I a,most did not go as I have been feeling a bit under the weather this week- all headachy and migrainy. But the restorative power of wild places did me a power of good I think.
The autumn is progressing. Some of the old beech trees and oaks are already turning. And the stags were practicing their rutting calls in the early morning…
We launched at the Coylet Inn and camped on the other side of the loch. Weather was mixed, but we managed a campfire and a scramble up to explore the Paper cave and a couple of others. Always good fun- particularly for people like me who are six feet five inches tall and, shall we say, well fed ready for hibernation.
Also hit on some new campfire food- some basic bread dough mix (some flour and powdered milk with a bit of salt) mixed with a bit of water into sausage shapes, wrapped round a green stick, and toasted over the fire. sprinkle on a bit of ketchup- and you have a lovely smoky bit of bread-cum-pancake. Lovely.
So- a few pics. (Taken with my new Pentax KM camera.)
Nick and I took the canoe over Loch Eck this evening to go and explore some caves in the mountain on the other side of the Loch. It has been a beautiful early spring day, with sunshine burning off the mist early on, and temperatures climbing up to 13 degrees centigrade.
We were scouting the paper caves as a possible venue for some meditation. The paper caves were so called as the place where apparently the Campbells hid their family deeds and documents in the 17th Century- and so hold on to their land. There are several different caves, many of them challenging for people of my proportion.
It was 6.30 when we set off, and almost dark. By the time we were climbing, we needed head torches.
After sliding and inching our way into the main cave, we eventually climbed into the middle cave, where we settled down, lit some candles, and played Mozart’s Requiem mass on a small MP3 player. An awesome and surreal experience.
After spending a good while in the caves, we set off back down to the canoe, taking care as the route is steep and the path very poor.
And as we pushed off into the dark, we switched off the torches, and were treated to a moonless sky full of stars, reflected on the glassy still surface of the Loch. We paddled slowly and silently, the wake of the canoe cutting the reflection…
We headed for the lights of the Coylet Inn, where muddy and blessed, we met Michaela and Lindsay for a meal and a pint.
Life does not get much better.
A storm rattled the old house through the night, and the skirl and howl of the winter wind took away sleep. Or perhaps it was rather the swirl of stuff in my head- but either way, the grey of the dawn brought a headache and a developing awareness of the inevitable head cold gifted no doubt by William, who has been stretched out on the sofa for a few days.
But today is a Saturday, and Saturdays are special.
They offer the possibility of all sorts of meeting and greeting and adventuring. But above all, they offer time away from the worries of work and school, and I can share them with my wife and kids. There is nothing better in this life I reckon.
Having said that, perhaps because of the fallen nature of this wonderful but flawed world, things are rarely as easy as this. Saturdays are often stolen by a thousand obligations.
Michaela, bless her, will often introduce the subject of another ‘task’ obliquely. Or perhaps it just seems that way as I was not listening properly. But she knows that every second filled with tasks, no matter how blessed, I easily resent…
Today was a case in point. A day filled with DIY, trips to the tip and the collecting of kids and then a trip to fetch a Christmas tree… which turned out to be an absolute joy.
It began with a drive in the early winter dusk as the mingling air misted at the level of the lower branches.
Past Loch Eck, a glassy smooth reflector of the mountains lined with bones of snow.
And a friendly man at the Glenbranter forest station who helped us pick out a tree with humour and a genuine warmth with the kids.
Crunching over the muddy ground half concreted still by insulated ice.
Then a tea and mince pie in the ranger station, whilst the kids were drawn like iron filings to the magnet of the piles of ploughed surviving snow- too hard now to compact into balls, but magical just the same.
And I walk out on my own for a moment, in the middle of Argyll Forest in the gathering dark. Mist still hanging in the trees, but just enough light to make out the white of the mountain tops beyond.
A suitable advent moment- all the better for being unexpected, in the press of a curmudgeonly day.
I had a tough meeting yesterday- one of those where you suddenly find yourself isolated and scapegoated by people who appear to be out for blood.
But the drive to Lochgilphead was stunning.
I spent some time thinking and chewing and grinding my teeth on the drive home, forgetting again the peace of the Spirit, losing my anchor for a while. Forgetting to bring these things to God.
Not that I believe that God waves a wand to make all the tough stuff go away. But I think that the possibility of a deeper and more loving life is present within all our encounters- and the seeing of these is the work of the Spirit, should we allow this.
As for me, i am blessed by landscape- by the stunning perfection of the Highlands in late autumn.
It is no small compentation