A Fell Tale: Climbing the Peaks of the Lakes.

Until this week, my only experience with The Lake District was skirting the edges of it while driving along the A66 on my journeys south. I knew that it held the tallest mountain in England within, but I’d never really thought of the place as anything more dramatic than the bleak and atmospheric moors that I passed fairly regularly. Anybody else who knows the area would probably laugh heartily at me for holding such an image in my mind, and I am more than happy to poke fun at my ignorance now that I have finally spent a few days among the fells and dales that make up one of the most impressively compact series of towering peaks and breathtaking views that I have ever seen.

Overlooking Blea TarnDay One: Scafell Pike

At 2 degrees celsius, it was a cold start for mid-April. Granted it was 5am, but the plan of action for the first day in the Lakes was to climb Scafell Pike. I made the two-and-a-half hour drive to meet my brother at the Aira Force Falls car park, relatively close to the edge of the district. We had a short walk around the falls to stretch the legs, then got back in our cars and began the journey to Scafell Pike.

For the biggest mountain in England, it certainly isn’t very accessible. I’d say that this is part of the charm of the location, and while there is a slightly easier (longer) route to reach the mountain by car, we decided on taking the more epic journey that took us through Wrynose and Hardknott Passes. I had no knowledge of these roads prior to arriving on them, but I’m certainly never going to forget them, not after seeing the sign that greeted us:

Beware all ye who enter hereI don’t own the best car in the world, but it’s a fairly decent five-year-old motor. My brother was driving something a tad older that had barely scraped through its last MOT. The “Extreme Caution” at the beginning of Wrynose probably should have caused us to seek out a safer route, but we thought we’d go for it; you only live once! The road was wide enough for a single car, and the passing places weren’t exactly frequent. To begin with, working out how to pass oncoming traffic was the most annoying aspect of the drive. However, we soon caught up with a slowbee further ahead, just in time to reach those 30%+ gradients! These inclines needed a run up, and the cars struggled in second gear. At the top of the steepest chicane going up, the guy in front decided to slam his brakes on, causing both myself and my brother to have to come to a screeching halt on the hill. It was quickly established that neither the footbrakes or handbrakes of either car could withstand gravity at this angle, and we began to slide slowly backwards. To add insult to injury, the eejit in front carried on without needing to have stopped, possibly unaware of the awkward reversing that was going on behind him. We had to retreat far enough so that the road levelled out somewhat. We then checked for anything else out to get us and made a dash for it. Small engines roared, and tyres squealed as the two of us wound our way up the twisting, single track road. A short distance ahead was our nemesis, stopped in a layby. Being two sensible adults, we did little more than glare at him as we passed and made for the peak of the pass.

From here, it was downhill by the way of Hardknott Pass, the steeper of the two parts. Fortunately, downhill is somewhat easier, but picking up speed with the drops below was a terrifying prospect. I allowed myself to breathe once we reached the bottom of the road, and then spent the rest of the journey to Wastwater reflecting on the horrors of it all.

20150413_130151It was still fairly chilly upon arrival into the car park at the bottom. We took a look at the impressively deep Wastwater and the surrounding fells before turning our attentions to the biggest of the lot: Scafell Pike. On the lower paths of the mountain the weather was alright, and it looked like we could see the top. Ready for some impressive views, we soldiered on. I was genuinely impressed with the pace I was making, thinking that I would be a lot more tired than I actually was (all those local Scottish walks are having a positive effect!). My brother lagged a little behind, but he was carrying all of his camera equipment, a burden that sapped at his morale as the clouds descended and rain began to fall. We were around halfway up when the rain became more of an annoyance, but the tough stone steps were finally replaced by grassier options which made progress a lot easier on the both us. We passed a lot of people heading back down the mountain which made me wonder two things: was it really that bad up there now, and how early did these guys set off?

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As we entered the cloud cover, it stopped raining quite so much and instead turned to snow and icy wind. The thicker hoodies came on, as did the gloves and hat, and we pushed on through the mist using the frequent cairns as markers to find our way. It didn’t take long before the the fog thickened to the point where we couldn’t see the next cairn. More exciting that worrying really, as it meant we had to use the surroundings to look for clues as to the routes other people had taken; there wasn’t a trodden path at this point on the mountain, at least not with the snow cover. This made for a much more enjoyable trek to the top than Snowdon had made (another climb that came free with terrible weather and no views), and it didn’t seem like too long at all before we reached the peak of the Pike and looked upon the triangulation point and the monument to men of the Lakes in the First World War. As expected with the fog, the scenery was less than stellar:

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As is the case with most mountains I’ve been on, the return journey took a fraction of the time. The only detractor here was that we met up with the rain again, and it was much heavier.

Thoroughly soaked and exhausted from our mountain trek, we headed to The Bridge Inn, not too far away. Turns out that the Innkeeper thrice missed the memo about a twin room being required and we were greeted with a double bed. Soon sorted out, but not without some heavy blushing from the woman showing us to the room! We consumed a couple thousand calories and drank some tasty local ales before spending the rest of the evening moaning about the aches in our legs from the twelve miles of uphill and downhill.

Day Two: Ambleside, Blea Tarn, and Rydal Water

In an effort to swiftly work out the knots, we got up early, ate a fairly small breakfast considering the “Full” in Full English Breakfast. We first went to Ambleside so that my brother could try and get his fix of reflection photography. He got some pictures, but I’m not sure the wind was really playing ball, and the short walk around the lake was ended in favour of a trip to the more sheltered Blea Tarn.

The plan here had been to walk around the small Tarn before heading off, but as soon as I saw the bulbous Side Pike in the middle distance, before Raven Crag, the aches in my legs from the previous day’s climb seemed to magically disappear. We walked around Blea Tarn, following the path that took us to the edge of the unique looking peak.

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Being little more than a third of the height of the previous Pike we climbed, we made it up Side Pike in short order, though this one presented us with some welcome scrambling given that there was no real defined route up the hill. Even without being the tallest of the peaks in this area, the top commanded an impressive view over the surrounding valleys (see the first image for the view back over Blea Tarn. I spent much of my time at the top scouting the nearby peaks for potential treks on a return visit, and spied several tiny dot-like people making their own way up the distant hills. Side Pike was a relatively busy little peak, being a waypoint for many walkers making their way through the district. We decided that food was the best option at this point, and made the journey back down which turned out to be more taxing than descending Scafell as we chose to go down by a different, completely made up route rather than return by the way we came.

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After a bite to eat, we headed to Rydal Water (I think for more reflection pics to be honest…). The general path was a tame loop around the lake, but offered the adventurous several routes into the imposing hills that embraced the water. With a fair amount of walking behind us already that day, we stuck mostly to the path with just a brief scramble to reach a slightly higher one. Following this path that was most definitely not suitable for anything but feet, we came across a fantastic cave, marked only as “The Caves” on the map board at the beginning of the walk.

The cave itself was a huge, jagged mouth that arched over a large, enclosed pool of water (complete with fish, somehow). Deep on the left side, the shallower right side had numerous large rocks left as stepping stones to allow access into the depths of the cave. The masses of water droplets falling from the ceiling of the cave were almost as heavy and frequent as a fair rainfall. I gave up avoiding them as I got further into the darkness. From the back of the cave, the views outside were incredible. The reflections in the water made the mouth of the cave appear as just that, a vicious set of sharp teeth ready to swallow anything that dared enter.

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I think I understood my brother’s fascination with them for the first time. The general view outside was good as well:

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It was getting on for 6pm after visiting the cave, and the next hotel was about an hour away. We made our way back to the cars again and aimed to make it there before the restaurant stopped serving. This meant driving straight past a host of other impressive looking locales…

Another twelve miles walked.

Day Three: Buttermere and Honiston Pass

The last day in the Lakes was upon us and the rainfall was heavy. My brother suggested a fairly sedate walk around Buttermere while the weather got over itself. The drive to this area featured a slightly less treacherous hillside drive, but did provide us with a good twenty minutes worth of wasted time waiting for a lorry to sort itself out while facing another car on the single track road. I guess signs that say “Unsuitable for HGVs” don’t mean much to these guys.

Barely a minute into the car park at Buttermere and I was set upon by the local National Trust rep, trying to get me to spend £60 on membership. I tried to explain that I’m all for the outdoors, but in Scotland there aren’t many places I go that are National Trust owned, and plied the fact that most places were in fact free! He was having none of it, so I let my brother deal with him when he asked about the area.

Hoods up, we walked to the calm waters of Buttermere. Reflection photos again. In the ten hours (minutes, really) it took to get a few photos, I was joined by a local dog who wanted to play. The rain also stopped, and the clearer skies beckoned further exploration again.

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We made our way towards Crummock Water, which was fed by Scale Force waterfall – the highest fall of the Lakes. The path that led us to Crummock was a fun, waterlogged route. Numerous makeshift stepping stones were needed for the parts that were just too deep for my water resistant boots (more on that in a moment). We made it through that trial to find that the path leading to Scale Force actually didn’t exist, and we had to pick our way through a long stretch of bog, where an accidental slip proved to me just how barely water resistant my boots actually were. It also showed me that they looked better brown than grey.

Navigating the bog was quite the task, but with the weather warming up it wasn’t really too bad. We made it to a bridge that crossed a smaller fall and stream, making quips at literally every subsequent fall and stream that that one was actually Scale Force, the biggest fall in the Lakes. When we did actually make it through the mire to main attraction itself, it seemed that the rumours were indeed true.

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While photos were again being taken, I spied some red stones that seemed to be arranged in a makeshift path, snaking up the hill by the falls. Rather than sit and wait, I leapt up the steps and found a wondrous path that I can only really liken to the Hidden Valley in Glencoe. It really was a fantastic route, and I pressed on perhaps a little too far to see what lay around next corner and over the next hill. It seems that this particular trail led on a vast circular route around and onto the impressive peaks that formed the sides of the valley we’d been walking through in the morning. The destination was a fell named Haystacks, which we planned on going to later anyway. I left this route for exploration another time, and carefully picked my way back to the steps that led me up, careful not to trip over any roots and send myself careening into the inescapable ravine below. Unfortunately my video is too big to upload on my rubbish internet, and looks terrible compressed, so the image below is the view out from the path.

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As you can see, the weather was becoming pretty good, so our initial plan to visit Haystacks was firmly back on the agenda. We picked our way back through the bog, and I earned another wet foot for the trouble. Back at the car, we had a quick bite to eat and made friends with a local robin…

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Haystacks wasn’t particularly far away, but we chose to approach it from a slightly easier angle given that it was already mid-afternoon, and the standard journey up it was a day’s job. We drove through Honiston Pass (another treacherous, though more picturesque route, largely thanks to being at the bottom of the valley for the most part and not having to worry about driving off an edge while gazing around, gobsmacked by the sheer awe of the height on each side) and parked up in the Honiston Slate Mine car park. £5 each, pretty sure we could have got away with it as well, as after paying there was no ticket or anything to say we’d actually paid…

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This walk started with a steep ascent from the mine visitor center up a route that reminded me heavily of the climb up Cairngorm, with the large, pale rocks forming a path. After three solid days of walking (up to about 30 miles at this point, rarely over anything flat), the climb was taxing, and early on we took a few stops to let our legs rest. However, at the second stop a Labrador trotted on by, ran back down, and ran back up. Not to be outdone by a hound (and aware of the owners watching us climb ahead of them) we pressed on and tried to take few breaks. We soon hit the first peak, but that only revealed another long, straight path ahead of us. The people at the top were barely more than dots from this perspective, hammering home the effort required to carry on.

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Of course, we did make it, soon taking the flatter part of the journey in our stride.

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Once again, the views were astounding, but even these heights hadn’t escaped water (despite the glorious sun) and boggy ground claimed everything, including the path. Given the amount of time we’d spent in quagmires that day, the squelchy ground didn’t prove to be much of an obstacle in between the rapid photo taking. In the distance stood the Great Gable and Scafell Pike, notably without any cloud cover this time! While we took a moment to lament our misfortune at having clambered up the biggest peak in poor weather, we consoled ourselves with the knowledge that the views probably couldn’t get much better. Haystacks was not so far ahead, but still a decent walk. With the day wearing on, we came to the agreement that even reaching that was probably too much to do given the time that we had left, so we settled for exploring the hill that we were on, and drank in the sights of the fells that we didn’t have time to explore in greater detail.

20150415_170855_Richtone(HDR)We made a quick stop at a slate house that formed a stopover for weary walkers, and then made a beeline for a ridge that would allow us an impressive view of Buttermere and Crummock in the valley we had been wandering around that morning. Everything around us here dwarfed us: the plunging cliffs, steep slopes, peaks above, and sheer distance between everything. The immediate feeling was the need to explore every inch, with each and every destination in sight looking to be a unique stop off with lots to see and find. Once we had made to it the ridge, we had to climb down a steep slope to get to an accessible path. My brother went first, and although I watched which rocks he used to step on and take his weight, I found that I either weigh a hell of a lot more than him, or he loosened one of the rocks up just enough to send me tumbling down the slope. I had barely put a fraction of my weight onto a large, grey boulder that was jutting out of the hill when it simply came loose and rumbled down the hill, with myself falling almost headfirst right behind it. Fortunately for me, the strong heather and squishy ground saved me from anything worse than a brief shock and the belief that that was it, but it showed just how quickly and easily you can get into trouble, even with a degree of confidence. Shame brushed off, we carried on down and got a few more photos.

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And that was about all we had time for. We made our way back from this point to the cars, slightly dehydrated and a bit deflated that our time in the Lakes was up. We parted ways at the Penrith roundabout joining onto the A66, and I headed back up 103 straight miles of motorway towards Scotland. I almost fell asleep at the wheel… ready to dream about mini-Scotland, already planning the return journey.

I hope this was wasn’t too boring! I wrote this instead of the next chapter of my story XD

2014: Results

It’s getting dangerously close to being too late for a look back over my accomplishments of 2014 (I had meant to do this last week but a certain Bioware RPG decided to intervene), so I’ll rattle it out quickly!

I’m one of those types that likes to keeps records of shit, rather than just doing and forgetting. I like stats! I’d like to put maybe a decade’s worth together at some point. Generally I record the games I’ve played (see http://www.backloggery.com/Extra_Life), but I’ve done a bit more over the last year so there’s more to add. I’ll begin there though.

Games

This was not my most prolific gaming year (see 2010’s 60 finished games and over 1000hrs of playtime for that milestone), but given that there is a lot more that I want to do these days, I think I actually managed more than should have been possible…

  • Ys: Memories of Celceta (PS Vita) – 28hrs
  • Resogun (PS4) – 8hrs
  • Game Dev Story (Android) – 5hrs
  • Super Mario 3D World (Wii U) – 10hrs
  • Tales of Xillia (PS3) – 35.5hrs
  • Bravely Default (3DS) – 52hrs
  • Mario Kart 7 (3DS) – 20hrs
  • Street Pass Squad (3DS) – 5hrs
  • Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros (3DS) – 42.5hrs
  • Dark Souls II (PS3) – 113hrs
  • Shin Megami Tensei IV (3DS) – 45hrs
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PS3) – 80hrs
  • Etrian Odyssey Untold (3DS) – 40hrs
  • Mario Kart 8 (Wii U) – 10hrs
  • Stranded (Steam) – 1hr
  • Theatrhythm Final Fantasy (3DS) – 20hrs
  • Star Fox 64 3D (3DS) – 10hrs
  • Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call (3DS) – 20hrs
  • Minecraft Projects (PS4, PS3, PS Vita) – 100hrs + (not 100% on the Vita times)
  • Dust: An Elysian Tail (PS4) – 10hrs
  • Lords of the Fallen (PS4) – 15hrs
  • Geometry Wars 3 (PS4) – 20hrs
  • Never Alone (PS4) – 2hrs
  • Tales of Hearts (PS Vita) – 30hrs

24 Games for around 720hrs of gameplay.

  • 3DS – 9 games, 254.5hrs
  • PS4 – 6 games, 105hrs
  • PS3 – 4 games, 268.5hrs
  • PS Vita – 3 games, 68hrs
  • Wii U – 2 games, 20hrs
  • Steam – 1 game, 1hr
  • Android – 1 game, 5hrs

This is telling me that I need to get far more use out of my Wii U… So many good games on it, but I’m frequently distracted by my PS4 now, and I’ve recently bought in a host of PS3 JRPGs on the cheap during the winter sales. I wonder if/when I’ll get round to playing them. Despite the 3DS being the platform where I finished the most games, the PS3 was where I spent most of my time (with only 4 games!), largely on Dark Souls II. Wonder if I’ll get the same out of Bloodborne and the Dark Souls II re-release on PS4 in 2015?

Travel

I don’t really manage to travel very far (I rarely leave Britain), but I’m a firm believer that there is a huge wealth of places of to see and things to do within the British Isles. So much so, that as much as I want to travel north to more or less guarantee a view of the Northern Lights, I find there is enough to attract me within the (relatively) local vicinity to keep me occupied for years to come.

Sadly, my longest car journey this year wasn’t to any place new, but to Lincoln. It was to see family though, so there’s that!

  • Longest overall journey – 431 miles (home to London)
  • Longest car journey – 308 miles (home to Lincoln)
  • Longest walk – 15.41 miles (I walked to see Godzilla. It was averaging 25 degrees and was quite the workout)
  • Overall distance walked – 1079 miles

I also visited some new places:

  • John O’Groats
  • The Isle of Skye
  • Glentress
  • Loch Lomond
  • Tongue and Ben Loyal
  • Glencoe

I had hoped to have walked more last year, as 1079 miles averages at a smidge under 3 miles a day. I was on track for doing a lot more, but the second half of the year was spent on a nightshift working some long (but necessary) hours.

Writing

My first post on WordPress was the beginnings of the book I’m writing. I’ve since learnt that writing a book is a time consuming process and not something to be taken lightly! My initial story idea blossomed over the first few months of the year. I made lots of notes, developed protagonists, antagonists, locations, colloquialisms. It was great fun! After I had put together a mass of work, I started writing the story proper. It was actually really difficult to write that first chapter. Not because I didn’t know what to write, but because it meant that I was finally committing all of that thought to (digital) paper. My characters started to take on a life of their own, and I even began to worry about leaving them alone for too long. I became surprised when my characters showed me aspects of themselves that I hadn’t yet been aware of, and worried slightly that I may have schizophrenia when this happened. Any other writers reading? Do you find that your characters reveal things you didn’t know about them?

I’m still a way off finishing the story (I believe my initial plan is about a third complete). I’m hoping to self-publish it when I’m done. Nobody has really read anything by me before, and it feels to me that asking someone to read the entirety of my story could be a big ask. Therefore, I decided to break my story down into a couple of parts (well, more than a couple, but the others are a plan that follows on from my first story): Part one is now named “Bleakendom Slumbers”, while part two is called “Bleakendom Stirs”. I am really looking forward to having someone read the full story, regardless of the resulting opinion.

  • 175932 words written (53879 notes, and 122053 story)
  • 32 Chapters written
  • 14 chief characters created (that are currently involved in the story
  • 18 WordPress posts

With all the work I’ve had to do this year, I’ve recently not been able to write as much as I’d hoped. Despite this, I think about my characters every day, and add notes here and there for dialogue ideas in the coming chapters. In case it seemed that way given my fewer posts recently, I haven’t forgotten about my story, nor do I plan to give up!

Others

There are other things, such as a seven months working nights, my 5th title change at work and so on. I added the areas I’d like to carry on keeping track of though!

Anyone else have any mini-stats (or full) to share?

Happy New Year!

An Inspiring Holiday (Part Two)

So, I’ll continue from where I left off. Abject terror, eh?

Well, we began the day not knowing quite what to do, so whilst I was in the shower, my partner decided to look for a place to go. She knows I like a bit of an adventure so she suggested a place called Spar Cave. She hadn’t found much information beyond it being a cave, with some pretty impressive flowstone inside. The cave had been ransacked of stalagmites and stalactites by Victorian visitors and so the place seemed to have quite a bit of history.

We set off off for a place called Glasnakille, near Elgol, and we only knew that it was on a road out of Broadford. It soon became apparent that it was the *only* road that went in that direction. Settlements were few and the moody Cuillen Hills gained dominance on the horizon as we neared our destination. I’m sure many of you have driven on a single track road before. They can be quite quaint, with their passing places for meeting vehicles, generally desolate landscapes and of course a few rogue sheep claiming the road for themselves. It was a novelty at first, but let me tell you now that this road was a long one, something of an endurance test. The further we drove, the more treacherous the road became. The quality dropped, the passing places were fewer and those that did exist were merely muddy drops off the side of the road. The winding nature of the road meant that every corner and hill became a lottery of whether we would rush headfirst into another vehicle coming our way. We slowed to about 20mph, taking each corner like a timid animal. Sure enough, we only ever came across someone driving the opposite direction on a blind summit (often with a cliff and the sea below us), even when they weren’t visible on the straighter stretches prior to the hills. This lent further credence to my idea that we really are all living in a computer simulation, and the machine running our simulation is only able to spawn other people in when we are’t looking at them (it’d be weird if they just dropped down in front of us, no?). Leaving that tangent behind, all I can say is that for the majority of this road we were verging on a heart attack at every turn. The locals drove fast, and there seemed to be far more of them than there were houses in this seemingly uninhabited land.

After about 40 minutes on this road, we came to Elgol. The road to Glasnakille looked even less safe, if you can imagine that. Despite remaining a single carriageway, it was somehow thinner. Not too far from either side of the road lay a drop into a low field, pond, or better yet, the sea. The hills weren’t just simple rises, these were epic drops. The kind of hill that you’re going to need first gear to get back up. God forbid you’re required to do a hill start on one. Fortunately, the Glasnakille road was much shorter, and we had soon left that rollercoaster and arrived in Glasnakille. Glasnakille is about four or five houses. Given the time it took to reach it, I can’t imagine any of these guys leave the house to go to work any day, much less brave the roads in the treacherous weather that is known to brace the lands. We parked up at a telephone box and the most amazing thing happened: I had 3G signal on my phone for the first time on Skye. We were at the very South of the Island, so perhaps we’d encroached on the mainland’s signal. It was here that we did a little more research (yeah, we should have done this before), and found that the Spar Cave was a sea cave! It was almost directly below us, down an interesting route to the sea. It turned out that the tide was in and the cave was inaccessible. More than a little deflated, we decided that we couldn’t wait 8hrs for the tide to recede, but were also slightly glad that we found out about the tide situation in this way, and not whilst we were in the cave, trapped for at least 12hrs!

Alas, this meant we had to make the journey back. We’d only just had our pulses settle at 60-80 after taking the road to get here, but back we got in the car and made our way onto the road again. Straightaway we hit the “first gear” hill, and sure enough, even in first it was a struggle to make any progress on the hill. The road was so gritty that tyres spun and slipped getting up the hill. Behind us the road swerved to the right as there was a small garden then a cliff (which wouldn’t take much crossing after building up so much speed should we slip backwards). Just as we were about to crest the peak of the hill, the shadow of a much larger vehicle blanketed the car: a fuel lorry. A fuel lorry?! I couldn’t believe one would be risking this road, but he seemed so used to it he didn’t quite notice us creeping up the hill and only just managed to stop in front of us, leaning over the edge after a sharp blow of the horn. Handbrake on and in first, we waited for him to reverse. He just sat there, before looking at us and then shaking his head. Presumably he didn’t feel reversing on flatter land was easier for him than it would be for us to fall back down the hill. I shook my head back at the driver, and it seemed as though we were at an impasse. Eventually, he relented and slowly backed up. With a clammy hand, the handbrake was released, and although we tried to press forwards, the car instead slipped one the gravel as the rev was to strong. We must have slipped back only a few metres before gaining grip again, though it felt like miles. With several expletives we managed to force our way back up onto the top of the road, the smell of burning clutch thick in the air.

The drive back to Broadford from there was silent. Every corner brought more panic, once again. I didn’t even take any photos at this point, as I was spending too much time clutching at various parts of the car. Arriving back in Broadford, we had a drink and calmed our nerves once again before deciding that a place with a name like “The Faery Pools” couldn’t be anything like as treacherous as Elgol and so we headed off in the direction of Glenbrittle Forest. This road was easy, fairly sedate and offered up some fantastic views of the mountains, rolling hills and the sea. We parked up, wrapped up, and set off on foot by a dodgy looking sign that claimed the fairy pools were in the direction of the eerie looking mountains in the distance.

The walk was fairly easy, albeit muddy. The pools were created by a river that flowed from the mountains. Even in this weather, the water was a brilliant blue, especially in the large pools that collected where the river changed direction. The closer we got to the mountains, the faster the river became, and the more river crossings we had to make by way of impromptu stepping stones. While the river and pools were meant to be the attraction here (and they were impressive), more astounding still were the mountains that surrounded the area. Chief among them was a pyramid like peak that took center stage, and was surround by a slightly taller semicircle of peaks. A large ridge ran down the middle of the triangular formation and it looked very much like a doorway to another world, as if reaching the source of the Faery Pools would take you somewhere magical.

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As we neared the mountains, a thick mist swirled around us and covered the peaks. It almost seemed to be on cue, and so taken in were we by the magical nature of the area, that half expected something very weird to happen indeed. As it happens, it was only hail! Very large, freezing stones of hail. Pulling up our hoods and facing away from the wind to shield ourselves, we huddled for a good five minutes before the stinging chunks became a softer rainfall. We had been at the pools for a couple of hours at this point and decided that now was the time to turn back. It was the same route back to the car. As we traipsed back, we bumped into several groups of people, and none were dressed appropriately. I wonder if they looked at us in surprise in the same way we did them. Our walking boots and trousers, all-weather coats and hats compared to their converse and expensive looking jeans, a light hoody and no head wear. Perhaps though, they were locals and were just double hard!

So that was that day pretty much done and dusted. I had a very Scottish meal of cullen skink and haggis, and we then packed for the next day, which was a trip out of Skye and over to Ballachulish, near Glencoe.

I’ll come to that day later as I’ve just thought up (what I think is, at least) a brilliant ending to the book I’m putting together. It sent chills down my spine to think of it, and I believe that might be a good thing. I think the best part of my holiday was yet to come, so hopefully I’ll get time to write of it soon – the wondrous sights of Inchree Falls, the sheer disgust of the Ballachulish Hotel (don’t stay there), and the otherworldly, lonely brilliance of Glencoe’s Lost Valley!

An Inspiring Holiday (Part One)

I’m not sure if anyone will ever come to read this (on purpose or by accident), but if nothing else it serves as a way for me to get the ideas I have floating around that I am trying to pull together into a story, novel, bin liner, whatever.

The previous post was where the idea began. An idea for a story about a young man named Wilbur who, having lived in relative confinement for all of his life, has decided that he wants to see what lies beyond the high walls of his home. Confinement is not a term that applies just to Wilbur here, but rather all of the inhabitants of Bleaken Keep. The keep is fairly large by building standards, high walled and protected well from whatever it is that dwells beyond the walls. Still, from the tops of the walls of the keep, the surrounding walls and structures can be seen stretching off as far as the eye can see: certainly a tantalising prospect for a young man who is aware that his roots lay beyond the walls he lives in. However, the only people that can ever leave the keep are the Hunters, a broad term that refers to a job that includes fending off anything that would approach and cause harm to the citizens of the keep as well as being charged with sourcing anything that the town can make use of, including but not limited to food, materials, weapons, livestock and so on.

So, I’m not going to give much more than that away yet, as I’m still piecing together various chapters and a flow, but suffice it to say, Wilbur leaves the keep on a lonely journey that will take him from the keep, through many hardships, discoveries and experiences to a destination further than he thought possible.

I was looking for more inspiration for this story, and I took a holiday with my girlfriend to the highlands and islands of Scotland, which despite being much more open than the claustrophobic nature of what I am writing, certainly gave me plenty food for thought with the remote places we visited…

Old Man of Storr

 

We began our holiday with a long drive to the Isle of Skye. Despite living in Fife, it was still a five hour drive from home to the heart of the Isle. The rain wasn’t “pleasant” as most people would put it, but I found the moody lighting, clouds and rain to be the perfect mixture for conjuring up ideas for what I wanted to write. The huge amount of rainfall was creating massive waterfalls in the mountains that we passed through, many cascading onto the road itself rather than running alongside or below. While the rain poured, there were still some impressive views on offer. It wasn’t until we reached the strikingly steep bridge over to the Isle that the weather caused an almost complete blackout in terms of visibility.

My initial impressions of Skye were somewhat muted. I didn’t actually realise that the reason for this land seeming so barren was actually down to the suffocating cloud cover that took away any landscape and vistas from view. Sadly for me, the five hours in the car left me with a somewhat full bladder, and although only twenty or so minutes away I couldn’t take it any longer and had to make a stop by the side of the road. It was only then that I came to discover just how strong the wind actually was. Not only could I barely stand, but there wasn’t much cover either, so I had to spend a few moments gauging which direction was going to be the best to let fly. It wasn’t a pretty sight, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone, somewhere north of my location may have had some slightly polluted rain land on them – certainly nothing hit the floor. Of course, a car came around the corner and embarrassment got the better of me so I stepped back in the car, now realising that I was soaked to the skin after less than a minute. Shortly after, we made it to The Bosville Hotel where we were staying for the next few days. We took a quick walk around Portree, and I mean quick, as once again we were sodden within seconds. My supposedly waterproof coat failing miserably. Back in the hotel, we ate well and decided to spend the evening in our room with a couple of drinks. At that point, the storm reached a crescendo and the power went out. A cut so severe it transpired that it effected the whole of the Western Isles and had to be fixed with generators the following day. With darkness everywhere, we went to bed. Around 11pm, a woman tried to break into our room, thinking our door was hers…

The following morning saw the back of the storm, more or less. There were still showers hitting every now and again, but the breaks in the cloud prompted us to set out to find the Old Man of Storr. It turned out that that was not a particularly difficult task, as now the clouds had lifted, we were greeted with tremendous views all around. Raasey to our east, and the majestic Cuillen Hills to the South. The Old Man himself was sitting somberly on the Northern horizon and we made our way there.

Wrapping up and making sure our walking boots were tight, we trekked up the boggy path to a more solid approach that made up the hill to Storr. Upon reaching the pillars of rock, the mist swirled around the peaks and lent a dramatic, otherworldly presence to the location that was also used in the filming of Prometheus. It certainly felt like a place that immense discoveries could be made. The wind was the only sound around here, and the distinct lack of roads in the region meant that looking out from on high gave the impression that we were truly alone in the wilderness here (in reality we were twenty minutes from the hotel).

The illusion was somewhat broken by the arrival of four Chinese guys that wanted us to take a photo of them standing on a rock. I’m still wondering how on earth they fared after we met them. Not one of them was dressed for the occasion, wearing new looking white trainers, sweatpants and jumpers. Nothing to keep out the mud, chill, or indeed the rain and hail that was fast approaching us. As we made it back into the car, hail so large and heavy crashed down upon us that we actually checked for damage on the car afterwards.

Now a little warmed up, we took the road a little further north to Kilt Rock. The Rock is the top of an impressive waterfall that batters the seafront below it. The strong winds blew through the metal fencing that surrounded the edge of the cliff and created a fantastically magical soundtrack for the moment, whistling in and out of the various holes. I tried to record it but the wind itself drowned it out upon playing it back. If you have ever chanced upon watching a rather good anime called Mushishi, then you may know the sounds I speak of, as that whistling sound is used frequently throughout the series.

Kilt Rock

After peering gingerly over the edge, the stormy weather returned again and we were forced back into the car. It also seemed to get worse the further north we went, so we instead returned to the hotel for lunch. After eating and seeing the weather clear once again, we decided to take another walk along the Scorrybreac path that ran around the north of Portree, along the seafront and up through the wooded hills before winding back into the town. The path along the edge of the coast was unlike anything I had been on before, a twisting path, home to many sheep that didn’t seem too pleased to see us. A solitary seal swum along the shallow sea watching us and making us feel quite the invaders.

As the path along the water came to an end, it turned into grassy area and wound its way up some steep makeshift steps in the towering hills that now lay before us. Climbing was quite a trek for office-accustomed physique but we made it up and were certainly glad of wind on our backs when hit the top. At that point several buzzards began circling us, and we half wondered if the buzzards of Skye were actually a bit more opportunistic than the rodent loving ones that we were familiar with.

That walk largely ended day two for us. We ate in the local Cuillen Hills hotel (a feast, and my first taste of Cullen Skink, which I now have the recipe for). The next day held a mixture of abject terror, disappoinment,  and amazement in that order, but I’ll come to that soon.