88,89 & 90 Beinn Eibhin, Aonach Beag, Geal Charn
I live my life by certain maxims; one of which I picked up from Neil Young’s Decade sleeve notes. His biggest hit is ‘Heart of Gold’ of which he says "This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there." So, wherever possible, I have edged outwards towards the margins in an attempt to keep it interesting.
Even after the teenage years of rebellion, I’ve long felt that I operate in different spheres to many others; musically, I can remember the joy of finding a girl in my local village pub wearing a Pixies t-shirt and thinking ‘A girl – I can talk to – about stuff I like - wow!’ and to this day I still only know one other person who owns Boards of Canada and Christ CDs. I follow Stirling Albion because it’s a good afternoon out with your mates, as opposed to chasing glory with the Old Firm- a pastime that is omnipresent in Central Scotland. And so on.
Occasionally, there are life affirming moments (the girl in the pub with the Pixies t-shirt), but I think key one was going to Glastonbury Festival in 1987. Growing up in rural West Perthshire, my world view was fairly narrow, and going to college in Derby in September 1985 unearthed a whole heap of political, social and cultural differences I could only previously have guessed at. I went to school where in my second year of high school a black brother and sister joined us and were the first non white pupils in a school of 600 pupils. It was so highly unusual as to be noteworthy.
I also remember a pupil with particularly progressive parents trying to start a school CND group; it initially attracted a lot of attention because although everyone knew what CND stood for in terms of the words, but no one had any real idea as to their aims and methods. Sure, I went along, but was largely nonplussed by the experience; my folks were politically active, but in a very central area of the political spectrum.
And as for music – in the early 80s hip kids were digging the Smiths, New Order and Joy Division; my 6th year buddies were harking all the way back to the Doors and Cream. I’d seen the Miner’s Strike on television, but pitching up into the heart of England, you actually felt the struggle in the aftermath rather than watched it; I’d read the sleeve notes on Crass albums without really experiencing alternative lifestyles.
So, after a couple of years of a steep to near-vertical learning curve, I ended up at Glastonbury in June 1987, for some beer drinking and hell raising. As with anything boring old people tell you, I have to start by saying it was better 20 years ago. This also applies to the beaches of Bali, snowboarding in New Zealand and punk rock. There will always be someone there saying ‘aye, but it was better when I was a lad’. But really, it was. Glastonbury was not the commercial exercise in hoovering money out of the pockets of youngsters; it’s never been about seeing bands; it’s about hanging with 40,000 of your mates, drinking, smoking, tripping, grooving, laughing, getting rained on and finding out that there are thousands of people up and down the country who are equally as alienated as you. And that’s quite a powerful thing to have pointed out to you.
And so it was with the 3 northern peaks of the Ben Alder forest. Bob and I set off on a grey Monday morning to tackle these three remote peaks. Why a Monday in September? Because that’s when Edinburgh’s autumn holiday is and we both had the day off work.
Armed with bikes, we drove to Luiblea and rode up and in to Lubvan. Grey, drizzly, and cold. Still, the forecast was for it to brighten, so we chained the bikes and set off round the western end of Beinn a Chlachair, got our feet wet crossing the Allt Cam before we were finally faced with a stiff climb up the north ridge of Beinn Eibhen. So, up we went, slowly and surely and eventually stumbled out onto the summit.
After drawing breath, the next section along the ridge to Aonach Beag and onto Geal Charn is as pleasant a walk as any other in the country. For me, the high level traverse across these summits was immensely satisfying. Very easy on the eye, no route finding difficulties, and further afield there were views you don’t often see, especially towards the Grey Corries.
As we prepared to descend (we figured that adding Carn Dearg would make the return journey too long to manage by nightfall), we were treated to a sandblasting – a hail / snow storm whipped across the summits, performing some sort of dermal abrasion treatment to any exposed skin, but lent a nice white sheen to everything for a few minutes.
Then – sharp descent, more wet feet, trudge back around Ben a Chlachair, followed by a nice run down the hill on bikes to the start point. (Actually, we got soaked and it was a stiff headwind, so it wasn’t the most exhilarating bike descent ever, but certainly preferable to a 4 mile trudge down a landrover track.)
And so - back to work on Tuesday after a Monday in the hills is always a bit of a challenge. I sat there for large chunks of the day thinking ‘this time yesterday, I was 14 miles from the nearest public highway, this time yesterday I was getting snowed on’. And try to convey the thrill of having spent the day in a remote corner of the country, getting a bike / hike completed was met by complete indifference. My colleagues all countered with tales of retail experiences in soulless shopping malls, lying in bed for the morning and gentle days in front of the TV. I'd had the most fabulous day and everyone else almost without exception figured I was mad. Oh well.
I sighed at the tales of my colleagues public holiday exploits and slipped on my headphones, then cued up Different Drum by the Lemonheads.
“You and I
Travel to the beat
Of a different drum….”
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