Unlike Jacques Tati, not all the European film comedy stars of the 1950s and early 1960s crossed boundaries as easily as he did.
France’s Fernandel had a following in Italy, and Italy’s Totò had a following in France (the two made a film together The Law is the Law in 1958). Whilst Norman Wisdom’s star has faded in Britain, he is still loved in Albania, and his films dubbbed into Hindi are popular on the internet. But it was Jacques Tati who really crossed national boundaries, and still does in the 21st century.
In particular it his first two films Jour de Fête (1949) and Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953) that strike a continuing – possibly nostalgic – cord.
Jour de Fête (1949)
Pour La Poste
Despite a declining population – (1946: 1,135; 2009 (last published figure) 851) – Sainte Sévère still has a post office. The bar in the market square has gone, but there is a restaurant elsewhere in the village that seems to be popular with passing through tourists. Sainte Sévère also has a filling station, a ladies hairdressers, a boulangerie, a butchers and a school. It also now has a little museum dedicated to Jour de Fête and Jacques Tati.
Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953)
Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot
The Hotel de la Plage is now the Best Western Hotel de la Plage. The rooms have flat screen TVs, free Wi-Fi and there is a business lounge. The restaurant is now called La Plage M.Hulot.
Positive views amongst UK visitors to the Best Western Hotel de la Plage recorded on the hotel site include
– Could hear the waves as we lay in bed at night
-Location is excellent, right on the beach.
-Architecturally interesting in that the original character has mostly been preserved.
Average 3 star ratings reviewers on Trip Advisor complained that there was no aircon, that there was no hot breakfast, that you couldn’t get a beer at 5 pm, that the exterior needed a paint, that the room was cramped and small, and that the place needed a modern eye to overhaul it.
Part 8: The Cairngorms, Perth to Glasgow and a day and night hitch back to London.
The Story so Far…. Walking Aonach Eagach. The Warden’s husband with a penchant for blokes. A Tiger in his Tank at Fort William and at Glenelg an old woman with rags for shoes and a hat for a pixie. Trouble brewing with the first Sabbath sailing to Kyleakin. Four free-wheeling young wardens in the Kyle of Lochalsh and Kishorn area. Fresh baked bread at Lochcarron. A bumpy ride to Inverness. Aviemore under construction and a Rank “Road Inn” at Loch Morlich.
To Come: Walking the Lairig Ghru Pass. Expensive mince and tourists in Braemar. All at sea Civil Defence on the start to Glen Doll. A street upset in Perth. Glasgow again and day and night hitching back to London, with a Freddie and the Dreamers look-a-like driving madly over Shap. The brand new automatic service ‘Transport Cafe’ at Forton Services, and a better one at the dead of night at the Blue Boar Services, Watford Gap. Trudging around London’s North Circular at dawn. Home.
June 4. Friday. Inverey YH, evening.
I thought the 24 mile walk from Loch Morlich to Inverey, via the Lairig Ghru Pass was going to be difficult, but it was O.K.
Leave YH around 9.30 a.m. Sun’s out but a strong wind and waves are choppy on the loch. Walk along by the loch and take the track making for the Rothiemurchus ski hut. It’s a moderately new track – white crushed stone. Walking along by this characteristic undulating heather area, and then gradually ascend the slope until you reach the hut. Although built in 1951 it’s an awful mess, made of timber and falling to bits. It’s a shabby, jerry built thing. And so the path that brings you onto the Lairig Ghru Pass path. Follows the valley, ascending slowly, sometimes by the burn, sometimes above it and then crossing over by the Sinclair Memorial Hut. Big scree slops on either side, towering up there. I’m going fast, making good time. Pass a party of school boys and their masters, ask the time – one o’ clock. There’s a couple of patches of snow as you get higher, blinded by the sun and the whiteness, one of the few times I wished I had sun glasses. After the snow there are lots of boulders – easy going though, jumping from one to another and unbelievably make the Pass, thinking – this can’t be it, must be further. But it is and there are the Pools of Dee.
Stop by them for a packet of biscuits, a cig and a rest. In front of me the valley descends gradually.
Big sweeping mountain sides coming down to the Dee. Continue after the biscuits, cig and rest. The mountains on my right getting more definite in outline, especially Cairn Toul – snow capped and some interesting, beautiful shaped corries high up at around 4000′.
As you start descending from the Pass and look back you see Braeriach and in its corrie what looks like a small landslide, or scree, shifting.
Come to Corrour bothy hut on the other side of the river, and this is where I branch off. following the slope of Carn-a’ Mhaim.
A party of oldish nice looking, blouses open schoolgirls pass me on the path, we exchange ‘Hellos’. They’re led by ‘Sir’ who gruffly tells me it’s 3 o’ clock when I ask him the time. Onwards now in Glen Luibeg.
Looking back it looks like a hanging valley coming out into Glen Dee. Desolate, wild, barren rolling hills around here. Sun’s gone in but it’s still warm. When I come to Luibeg Bridge it is washed away, part of its concrete foundations lying in the boulders of the river bed. There’s a lot of boulders in the river bed – must be quite a torrent during the melts. There’s a new bridge further up the tributary valley but I decide to ford the stream, being told last night by two blokes in Loch Morlich that you couldn’t. They’d done the route from Inverey yesterday. It wasn’t a problem, so not sure what they were on about.
Along the valley until it starts to get wooded on the slopes, and on down to Derry Lodge.
There’s a big herd of deer, lots of stags, on the other side of the river. They look at me, undecided, move away slowly and as I go past on the other side they move back. Cross the river by the bridge at Derry Lodge and continue walking along the glen, now called Glen Lui, and thinking about Sima and Shula, Israel, and going out to see them and before I know it I’m coming up to the bridge that crosses the river. There’s pine forest on my left. There’s a couple with camera and binoculars and they ask me if I’ve seen any deer – “Yea -two miles down”. “That’s a long way, isn’t it” they say. “Well, that depends”, say I.
Continue until I reach the road near Linn of Dee.
Make for the bridge, some tents pitched on the common, but when I get there it has also been washed away. Cheesed off as I contemplate having to walk right round Muir, but think – blow it. I retrace my steps and cut down to the Dee through the wooded slope. Wander up and down until I find a place I reckon I can ford. This time I need to take off my boots and socks and roll my jeans up above my knees. Socks stuffed in my boots which I’m holding (no room in the rucksack) I wade in. Water’s not as cold as I expected, but the rocks, pebbles and boulders in the river are slippery and hurt my feet. Move slowly across, water up to my knees, strongish current, until I reach the other side. Feel stupidly pleased with myself as I put my socks and boots back on, cut through the wood, make the road, trot down it. Stop by the first cottage, not sure whether it’s the hostel, move along to the next cottage and yes, it’s the hostel.
Enter. The oldish couple with car, the bloke wearing a kilt, who were at Loch Morlich last night are here, and a young couple who were at Glen Nevis on Monday night are also here. Dump ‘sac, go along to the warden’s house and pay my overnight 3/6d fee (17 p), and return to the hostel. Great hostel – must be the smallest in Great Britain – 14 beds. Nant-y-Dernol, Black sail – 16 beds. Beautiful stove – hot oven. Cook pleasant meal for a change. Talk to the young couple – they’re from Croydon, he’s chairman of the Croydon YHA, he gave references for Anne – small world. The girl’s nice, nice and fruity.
The hostel’s on open common ground by the river, there’s trees, big patch of grass and some campers are in tents out there. Two girls barge in – “Is this the key for the bogs?” Tarts. They take it, go in the bog and probably fix themselves up for the night. I eventually go to bed. Outside you can hear people moving around, trying the back door. Fuck ’em. Sleep.
June 5. Saturday. Braemar YH. Evening.
Woke up this morning and sitting in bed patched my jeans by ingenious method of cutting a piece off one of the back pockets. Jeans patched, arse’ole presentable I emerge and have breakfast, porridge minus milk – haven’t had any fresh milk for three days. Bad. Raining heavily outside.
Leave at 10.30 when the rain had dropped off to a steady drizzle. The young couple from Croydon ahead of me, catch them up, walk together for a bit, then leave them as I cross the bridge over the Dee.
Boring walk through parkland, the drizzle eventually eases up
Eventually come to Invercauld Bridge, which is two miles further on from Braemar, on the north side of the Dee.
Cross the bridge and walk along back along the road into Braemar, past a vile looking Braemar Castle, open to the public 10 to 6, and it looks about 60 years old.
Into the craphole that is Braemar – there’s fuck all to it. Mostly Victorian hotels, gift shops and coach loads of old people. There’s nothing else – no beauty to it, no age, so why all these tourists, all these hotels.
The scenery around here’s OK, but it’s not that great. Withdraw £10 from the P.O. and sent a postcard to the warden at Glasgow YH, after buying some food – including ½lb mince that cost 2/4!!. (11p). Me walking out of the butchers murmuring with great feeling “Robbing bastards”.
Walk a bit out of Braemar, going south, past the awful looking Victorian hostel, along the main road with deer fence each side until I find a tight space to sit down behind a crumbled down stone wall on the roadway, deer fence a foot away and eat wads of bread and jam whilst cars zoom past. Eat too much.
Guessing that it’s around 4 I walk back to the youth hostel.
It’s full of jerks, and when it’s like this I can only agree with Willie about hostels – hostels are OK, it’s the hostellers who are a problem, is the way he put it.
A party from South Shields – 3 blokes, 3 birds, 2 cars, one pair of skis, one of the blokes a ponce. But to top it all a S.J.P. (School Journey Party), with a woman teacher who’s got no sense. They take over the self-cookers, and each took a frying pan to fry 4 sausages, when they could have fried the lot in two pans. Masses of lard spitting all over, the place a mess, and everyone else – including me – having to wait until they’ve finished and cleared out. I cooked the mince and had it with spuds, and it didn’t taste bad. (The grudging acknowledgement from Le Patron that it was O.K. was not surprising. Being ignorant, he wouldn’t have realised that the bought in Braemar mince was probably prime Aberdeen Angus, and worth the extra pennies to spend on it.)
More people arrive, amongst them Americans and a young couple with children. Oh accursed hostellers. Sitting at the table after my meal are the young couple, who are touring around in a car. They’ve put their kids to bed, and the bloke has got his National Benzole map spread out all over the table, over my things, and keeps disgustingly sniffing all the time as he pours over his map, mouth half open, looking mental, and these deep, take it down the throat, green snot sniffing, until I feel like smashing his face in. Which of course I didn’t.
June 6. Sunday. Morning.
A foul night. Small dormitory – too many blokes – that bloke sniffing, people snoring, stuffy, couldn’t get the window open. Yes Willie, you’re right about hostels being OK, and hostellers being the problem. Not all, though. The answer is be independent – a new tent, sleeping bag, a paraffin stove and Bob’s your uncle.
Gladly left the hostel at half past nine, and oh gladly walked away from it along the main road until Auchallater Farm, the glen getting more definite as I walk. Opposite the farm where the track starts for Glendoll there are a couple of Civil Defence lorries parked. As I cross the road and walk past them a bloke asks “Are you going to Alpha?” – “Do what?” – “Are you going to Alpha?” What the hell’s he going on about. “Have you got a map?” he asks. “Yea.” – “I’ve got a better one in the lorry, I’ll show you where Alpha checkpoint is.” He shows it to me. The map’s the same as mine. Then I point out I haven’t got the faintest idea what the fuck he is talking about. – “You’re a scout aren’t you?” – “No.” – “Ah.” I trot off after he tells me Alpha checkpoint is a good 3 miles down the track, when it’s only 2. Can you imagine after a nuclear attack relying on these people to organise anything? (In the early to mid 1960s Civil Defence seemed to be mostly involved in training for preparation for a post-nuclear Britain. As the Beyond The Fringe sketch of the time wittily put it, in an answer to a question from Dudley Moore (in a pre Pete and Dud voice) about when normal services will be resumed after nuclear attack, a plummy mouthed Jonathan Miller replies “Fair question, fair question. I have to tell you that it will be somewhat in the nature of a skeleton service.”)
The track along the Callater Burn is easy walking, scouts pass me every now and then, part of this exercise. Come to Lochallater Lodge which I presume is a shooting lodge. Stop and have a cig and then walk along the loch, steep hill side tumbling down and continue to follow the path up the glen until I start branching off to the left, by a broken signpost saying ‘Footpath to Glendoll’.
Start to climb up to near the summit of Tolmont, at the 3014′ point. I meet three scouts on their way down. It’s a sharp gradient as I climb. I stop, start, panting and suddenly, there I am, unexpectedly on top when I thought I had farther to climb. Roll a cig and look around. Incredible plateau top, the first I’ve seen in Scotland.
Someone comes up behind me, hadn’t noticed him. Older bloke with Dartmoor cropped hair and turns out we’re both going in the direction of the hostel, so we set off together. Notice a big boulder with ‘Home Rule for Scotland” painted on it as we walk along. It’s a straight-forward walk down Glen Doll. He shows me where when it snows it can pile up in 50’ drifts, and a plaque to the memory of 5 hikers who died in a blizzard New Year, 1955. So what seems an easy going glen can be very different in winter. Reach the hostel and put off by the number of cars parked outside, but it turns out it’s a SYHA work party. Go in, it’s an ex-shooting lodge.
Warden not in, make myself at home. When she does come in she’s a young at heart warden. Sign in and buy some food from the hostel store. There’s also a couple of elderly English touring around in a car, a Swede and a Scot in kilt with a dirty long whispery grey/white beard. The working party left soon after I arrived. It’s a nice hostel.
June 7. Monday. Perth YH. About 7 pm.
Whit Monday in England, but just a day here. A big breakfast of 3 bowls of porridge with sugar and sterilised milk which the warden sells at the hostel. The hostel’s in a good situation, up here at 1000′, at the head of the glen. Very green, plenty of trees, the mountain-sides sweeping down to the valley floor.
After taking empty crates of orange juice outside bought six heavy ones back in to the hostel, my duty, and then was off.
Walking down Glen Clova – quite a beautiful, green U shaped valley, a few farms – a coach load of kids passes me going up the road to Glendoll. I continue down the glen, Clova further than I thought.
Stop and sit on a rock and drag on a fag. Coach returns empty. I look up, coach driver points down the road, I nod. He stops. Great. I get in. Nice driving along in a big modern empty coach, sitting up front next to the driver, driving down to Kirriemuir. The scenery’s getting smoother, rolling hills, lowland and very green. Hedges, fields, ploughing. Kirriemuir is on the plain. Flat around here, not a mountain in sight and a lot of council houses.
Driver drops me off just outside Kirriemuir, and as he told me, was continuing up Glen Isle, up the Devil’s Elbow and on to Braemar where he’ll pick the party of school-kids up. Walk back a bit into the town. Into a shop and out with dinner – packet of biscuits, date bar and a 1lb of Canadian honey. Walk back out, past the garage on the corner, out into the country. Not many cars. Eat the biscuits and dates, hitch the occasional car. Spend some time there, then as a Vivia (Vauxhall Vivia) zooms round the corner I hitch and he slams the brakes on. It jolts to a halt, I run down the road, rucksack banging, get in and off we zoom. Got quiet a lot of power those cars.
And then I have a horrible feeling I’ve left my map case on the verge. (These map cases were ex-WD cases, usually from the Second World War, bought in Army Surplus stores.) Feel behind the seat and feel it’s strap. Am I relieved. Driver’s some sort of rep – nice bloke. Notice going dirty white shirt sleeve cuffs, slightly frayed. Tells me about the fruit around here – black currants, etc, that are grown and bought by Chivers, Robertson’s. Tells me about what happened when the ferry went over to Skye last Sunday. Apparently 8 were arrested for obstruction as the cars came off the ferry at Kyleakin. A minister got arrested. I can imagine Fred and Willy going over on the ferry out of interest, Willie drunk and shouting at the protestors about religion being the opium of the masses. That would have made him popular.
The driver drops me off at Blairgowrie. He’s off to Dundee.
Sun now hot. Walk out of Blairgowrie on the Perth road. Stand by a golf course. Bloke with shoulder length blond hair is cutting the grass with a lawn mower. On the other side of the road there’s temporary built asbestos sheet houses, and a woman with a small kid in a push chair waiting by the wooden bus shelter. I’m just up from a bend where cars come zooming round and then roar down the straight. It’s hot. Smoke a couple of cigs. Hitch, but no go. Opposite, bus comes, mother and child get on, and off it goes into Blairgowrie. Hitch, but still no go. Perth bus comes – yellow Northern bus – it stops, some kids get off and with a “Will I? Won’t I? – Ah fuck it” I run up and get in. 2/5d (12p) to Perth.
Watching the driver slowly chewing in the reflection of the window where I’m sitting. After travelling through flat green countryside arrive in Perth. Perth. Pleasant enough, although still very hot. Stacks of school children around, it’s just turned 4. School girls trying to look fetching in uniform. Actually, there’s something pleasantly provocative about 17 year old girls in school blouses and blue skirts and satchels. Yes.
A long trek to find a bakers, but when I find one no brown bread. Directed up a side street, that also sells milk. Two women, middle-aged, possibly pros (prostitutes) are crying and screaming at each other, one in trousers, cotton tee shirt, long straggly dirty flaxen hair, crying and waving her arms and saying “I’ve had enough”, and her mate trying to restrain her – she’s also crying, wearing a red 1949 type cut suit. The first one pulls away and goes in a telephone box. People stand on the sidewalk looking, shop keepers come out and look. A bloke slowly dragging on a fag. Some watchers are smiling, others have blank expressions. No-one seems concerned.
Hot sweaty walk up to the YH. Along a short drive off the main road, after a lorry driver passed me, leaned out and pointed up the drive. I nod. Victorian house but peculiarly pleasant inside.
It’s slightly on a hill and looking out of the big windows at the front there’s a view of Perth. 2 Australian women, a sour faced Scot, 2 Scottish girls, a Scottish bloke who’s boring, and tries to get in on everyone’s conversation. Spent a lot of the evening talking to the Australian women and the oldish bearded relief warden.
June 8. Tuesday. Perth YH.
Still early morning but it’s incredibly hot – probably going to be the hottest day so far this year. There’s a misty heat haze over Perth and the slate roofs are shining a brilliant white in the sun. Television aerials, spires and buildings.
A Glasgow Corporation park, around 12 noon. Burning hot, sitting on a green painted bench. So hot you can smell the paint, even though it’s old. Boating type lake in front of me. Several people sitting on the benches, or wandering around, main road outside, heavy traffic. (This was probably Haggenfield Park.)
Left hostel 9.30 am, walked along the road and pursuing a policy of hitching everything it worked – a Jag stops, 1959 type but well kept, shiny black, automatic transmission, feel it pull under you. Quiet engine, sun roof open, radio on. Cruising through the sun burning countryside – very green and somehow foreign, could easily be in Germany or France and strangely there happen to be Mercedes and Fiats passing us on the other side – and even a continental train crossing with the bars up and the warning notice that are all over the continent.
Cruising along, driver’s OK, but says little. Going to Manchester – Jesus what a lift, if I wasn’t stopping overnight in Glasgow. Go through Stirling. Look out at a girl on the pavement, she turns her head and smiles back. If I had an E Type I couldn’t go wrong.
He drops me off on the outskirts of Glasgow and continues for Manchester. I walk in a bit, and come across this park by the main road. Write this, and will find a bus stop in a moment.
Glasgow YH Yeah-hey. I’ve got the job as assistant warden. Although I sometimes thought I didn’t want it, now I’ve got it I’m looking forward to it. It’s a dusty old hostel – the Glasgow dirt. Got a small, rather dingy room in the finance office cum annexe 2 doors along. Top floor, looking south and a magnificent view of the city, should look great by night. Warden hearing I can do posters wants some for the hostel – directions for where the self-cookers are, common room, dormitories, etc.
So, from the park. Decided to walk into the centre rather than get a bus as still mid-day. Hot, hot day and Glasgow’s a dirty city, but a nice dirty city. Seems to be a lot of poverty – dirty and soiled clothes, dirty tired faces. (Le Patron was walking through the East End.) Bloke’s in boiler suits, women, kids, a few bomb sites, pros, big black dirt grimed tenements. Get to the centre and big shopping streets. Down Sauchiehall Street to Charing Cross. Only 2, walk further on. And remembering that Glasgow has no bogs, I come across one, for Gents only. Green painted iron railings, on an island, circular staircase winding down to it. Have a pee and ask the attendant where the nearest Ministry of Pensions and Insurance office is. Maryhill, he says. Uh-huh, and it’s quite a walk, dropping into a tobacconists, asking if I was near it. “Aye well, you’ve got a wee walk yet” and given directions.
Made it. Exchanged my card, just like that – no comments or questions about why it’s only got 20 stamps in it. Wander around until four, then go up to the hostel in Park Terrace – get the news, shown vaguely what I have to do, then upstairs to their quarters and a cup of tea. Then to next door and the room I’ll be sleeping in and a clear out. My Struggle by Adolf Hitler and Albert Moravia’s Two Adolescents in a drawer. Carpenters have been in to replace the window. Swept out all the chippings and filings but can’t get the window open.
June 10. Billericay.
Got a lot to catch up on and try and remember. Left hostel around 8.30 am, and decided to get the bus to Rutherglen – the warden had suggested that as the best way to start hitching south. Warmish cloudy morning. A lot of people around and traffic, all going to work. Walk to George Square and can’t see bus stop for Rutherglen.
Go into the Information Centre. “Get a No.18 in Argyll Street” bloke says. Find Argyll Street and the bus stop and get the No.18 to Rutherglen – outskirts of Glasgow.
Not much chance of a lift so start a long walk out to Hamilton, hitching as I do. No go, walk, hitch, no go. I’m standing opposite a school, iron railings. Derelict expanse of ground, weeds, pylons, industry and houses in the distance. Now very warm. A woman waiting at a bus stop opposite. Hitch and at last my first lift. Bloke in an Anglia, going to his office, takes me out of his way onto the Carlisle road the other side of Hamilton, youngish bloke who’s done camping, hiking in his time.
Don’t have to wait long. Hitch and get a lift to Carlisle in a brand new sky blue Morris van, youngish bloke – some sort of photographic salesman, only I mistook him for an engineer. Van pretty filthy. Doing a steady 40 back along the route I came into Glasgow by. Driver going to New York for his holidays, taking wife and kids, got relations over there. Seems to be making some money. Carlisle about 2 o clock.
I get dropped off at the same spot I was dropped off when I hitched from Cockermouth in May. Into that small round bog where the cars are parked. A pee and a walk through Carlisle – about as hot as it was when I did the same walk to hitch to Penrith. Walk out of Carlisle, sit on that bench by the big ad. board and eat a packet of biscuits. Walk on, past the garage, and hitch. No go for a time then a lorry pulls out of the garage, just misses hitting an office. I don’t hitch but driver indicates down the road. I nod, he stops, the Austin behind nearly going into the back of him, and overtakes with an angry blast on the horn. Driver and his mate. “Where yer going?” Penrith way, I say. He tells me to climb up into the back of the lorry, low-loader. I’m thinking he’s only a local lorry, at first it’s OK but when he picks up speed slate dust starts whirling around, blowing in my eyes. Keep my head down, eyes closed – and oh, what a driver.
Really belting that Morris lorry along, getting impatient when he gets behind a lorry and can’t overtake. Feel the engine, hear the engine start up for a spurt, then relax, start up, relax. Get stuck in a jam in Penrith. Driver’s mate leans out the window. “Where yer going?” – “Lancaster”, thinking they’re not going further, “Well Manchester, actually.” Mate talks to driver then leans out. “Here”, he says, “get in cab, we’re going there.” Oh, fucking great.
Get in cab, sitting on the engine, my back to the windscreen – driver puts a heavy coat over the engine as it’s pretty hot. “Aye, we’re going past Manchester, Sheffield way.” says the driver. He’s a youngish bloke, late 20’s, early 30’s, black curly hair, rough textured face, oily almost, needs a bit of a shave, wearing glasses. He looks like Freddie of Freddie and The Dreamers.
He’s sun-tanned, tattooed arms on the wheel, his mate, Pop, old bloke, wearing a sweat rag. He speaks. “‘Ee, it’s fooking marvellous up here, eh?” They’re great blokes. Been out 2 days, delivering a load of slate to Carlisle. We belt along and then get stuck behind a lorry and trailer on Shap Pass.
This is Shap – a narrow road with bends. Driver: “Look at that fooking lorry, fooking hell.” Then makes a break for it, gripping the steering wheel, the engine revving madly and start to overtake, driver jerking backwards and forwards frantically in his seat trying to make the lorry go faster and pass the wagons before he smashes into something coming the other way. We make it, but bloody hell. Pop hands Woodbines around. Then he hangs a damp dirty white shirt out the open window to try and dry it. Crazy. We’re now on the M6, belting along, Pop hanging his shirt out, hanging on to it for grim death, hauling it in every time we pass a lorry, clicking of lights lorry to lorry as we pass and pull back in.
Pull off the motorway at a newly opened Rank cafe. (This would have been the newly opened Foxton Services, between Lancaster and Preston. Wikipedia says it was opened in November, 1965, but it was open in June, 1965. November may have been the official opening. The nearest other M6 motorway stop in Lancashire was run by Forte.) It says above one entrance ‘Transport’, so up we go, up the stairs and go on in. Transport? Everything’s money in a slot to get your food. You have to buy your tea from an automatic machine – 6d. I go out and down, to buy some Woodbines. Go in the bog – Christ, I look like a coalman – face black, from the slate dust when sitting in the back of the lorry. Buy the Woodbines from yet another automatic machine. Coaches in, coach crowds. Back to the cafeteria, the so-called ‘Transport’ section. They’re sitting there, looking suspiciously at all the ‘nice’ dressed people. Join them and hand round the cigs. “Ee, this is a fooking place, 4/- for fooking salad.” We get egg and chips for 2/- but a slice of wrapped bread and butter is 6d. Fucking robbery.
There’s a bloody stupid woman going around, sort of manageress, going around asking everyone if their food’s alright. Comes to our table. “Everything alright, sir?” It’s fucking ridiculous. Pop looks at her as if she’s from outer space, but doesn’t say anything about the prices. None of us do, sort of shifting around uneasily in our seats. I nip out to have a wash and brush up. Run across to the lorry. Climb in the back. Rucksack’s covered in black dust. Take out my towel and washing stuff.
Into the washroom. Spend a couple of minutes trying to work out how to get water out the tap. Start to dismantle the tap when a bloke comes in, starts to wash his hands, can’t see where the water’s coming from. Ask him. He indicates the floor. A-ha. Underneath the sink there’s an oval rubber thing you press with your foot, and it works. Wash. Return to lorry, cleaner. They return. Check oil. There’s a lorry parked next to ours, artic with a J.C.B going to Staines. Driver tells me to go and see its driver. Do. – “Are you going to London? Could you give me a lift?” – “I would, yea, but I’m not allowed to.” Fair enough. I get in our cab. Artic. driver comes round to inspect his back tyres. Talks to my driver. “No, I can’t take lifts, we have spot checks, insurance, you know.” They have a friendly chat. Artic driver: “Burnt my breaks coming down Shap.” – “Did you?” And then we’re off again, belting down the motorway.
I’d be wondering if I should get dropped off to where they’re going on their way to Sheffield, but decided to get dropped off when they turned off the motorway at the Manchester turn-off. I do. Friendly waves and thumbs up all round as they pull away. Good blokes.
I’m where the main Manchester – Liverpool road passes underneath the motorway approach roads. Plenty of traffic. Get my fawn socks out of the ‘sac and start to brush off the dust. Got most of it off when Anglia stops. I look up. And get a lift. Within 5 minutes. Great. Quietish bloke going down to South Wales. Dropped me off in Wolverhampton around 8 pm. By now I’ve decided to push on regardless.
On Birmingham road – built up, factory type area. Birds dolled up for the evening. Cars with young couples. Hitch and green Ford Prefect stops. Irish chap – looks like a typical Irish labourer – and there is such a thing as a bloke looking like an Irish labourer. Quiet, soft spoken. It’s all built up between Wolverhampton and Birmingham. Drives carefully. Pleasant chat – he’s a ganger for Wimpey. Just about to cross some lights and they turn red and he protectively puts a hand out over my chest as he brakes to a halt. (UK car manufacturers had to fit seat belts from 1967 models onwards, but it was not compulsory to use them until 1983.) Drops me off outside Birmingham, apologising he can’t take me further.
Hitch and a new dark green Zodiac stops. Youngish well dressed smooth bloke, smelling of aftershave. Must have plenty of money as he gets 8 gallons put in the tank at a petrol station. Goes out of his way to drive me to the other side of Birmingham. Now getting dusk, even though it’s only 9.15 pm. Go through the centre that’s called The Bull Ring and surprised me – all mod, underways, overways, looks really mod, lights, colours. Yes, I like it, then back to industrial areas. Drops me off near a sign that says ‘Birmingham Airport 5 miles’.
Start walking. Past a bingo hall around 9.30 pm. Women, nearly all women pouring out, some to get buses, others being picked up by their husbands. Keep walking. A couple of cubs (Junior boy scouts) ask me where I’m going. Walk on and on, never-ending built up areas – no let up in houses, shops, pubs, fish bars. Now getting late – 10.30 p.m, and no lifts. Put 6d (2½p) in a Walls Ice Cream machine, only don’t get an ice-cream or the 6d back. Narked. Into a fish bar, just about to close for the night. Buy a ‘Hubbly’ coke. Further 9d down the drain.
Sit on a bench by a bus stop, a big ghostly empty looking cinema opposite – everyone gone home. Bus stops at the bus stop as I spread honey on my sliced brown bread. Three girls giggle – “Can I have a bite of your sandwich?”. Bus pulls way. Get up, keep walking, keep hitching the occasional motor. Now nearly out in the countryside, of sorts. Lorry stops. Cockney, says he’ll take me to the Blue Boar (Watford Gap). Great lift. Chat in the cab. He’s not going into London, hence why he’s dropping me off at the Blue Boar. Which he does. There’s a specially built transport cafe, proper cafe, beside filling station, a posh cafe for others and large parking space. Around quarter to 1 a.m. Warm night, cloudy night sky, a lot of lorries on the motorway, headlights streaming past, huge amount of BRS (Motorway: The M I and BRS: British Road Services), and a tremendous amount of haulage parked. Go in the transport cafe.
It’s modern, but it is a proper transport cafe. Crowded. Drivers sitting at tables. A young tart sitting by herself. A very young couple – mod couple, can’t be more than 15, at another table. Otherwise, solid with drivers, smoking, drinking tea, talking, arguing, laughing. Two West Indian women serving behind the counter and one white.
Buy two cups of tea and saturate them with sugar, tea like syrup and hot. Idea is to keep me awake. Half eaten plate of egg and chips opposite me on my table. Juke box occasionally plays, pin tables going. Go out to the bogs. Have a wash. 1.15 am.
Outside, walk between the lorries down to where they drive back onto the motorway. Hitch the occasional few that start up and set off, but it’s a car that stops. Austin Cambridge. Young bloke going to London. Casually dressed. Tee shirt and slacks. Gives me the boot key to put my rucksack in. There’s golf clubs in there. Lock the boot, get in and we’re away. 80 – 85 mph all the way. Try not to fall asleep and wondering how it is that the driver doesn’t, as he has the heating on, the windows are up and it’s a warm night. I’m sweating. Pass plenty of lorries, roaring, grumbling along in the night, red tailboard lights. Flicker of acknowledgement lights from one to another when pulling in after overtaking. From picking me up until near the North Circular he doesn’t say a word. Near the North Circular he offers me a cig. Half smoken, he drops me off, him going into central London.
Ah great, cool air after that car. London 2.15 am. Left Glasgow 9 am. Not bad. So a walk round the fucking N.Circular – oh so many times walked. Past familiar landmarks – Hendon Dog Track – making for Edmonton 6½ miles.
The traffic has melted. Hitch the occasional lorry. Stop for more bread and honey. Continue, hitching now and then when something passes. Birds are starting to sing. It’s getting lighter. Cars parked outside houses. A few lights start to go on in flats and houses. I’m now 2 miles from Edmonton and it’s completely light. See a first, early morning red London Transport double decker. Go into a bog and have a wash. My back aches. I’m pretty tired. Hear someone in one of the bogs, paper being ripped at spasmodic intervals. As I pack my washing gear a down and out emerges with his bundles. Stands around aimless after, I guess, spending the night in there.
He’s still in there when I emerge. Sit on a bench. Roll a cig. Go across and ask a bloke standing at a bus stop the time. 5.30 am. Wood Green’s only a mile, so I walk there, passing a couple of coppers. No one else. Near Wood Green a couple of old women off to their early morning office cleaning. Find the Eastern National bus depot. Small inconspicuous place. Get on a 151.
Sit upstairs at the front. Two other blokes on it. Around 6.15 am we move off, and it’s ridiculously cheap to Billericay – 3/3d (16p). I’m asleep most of the journey. There’s a pause at Brentwood and I nip off for a pee and then back on. Some blokes going to work have got on. Brentwood 7.15 am. Nearing Billericay from the top deck I see Dad belting like mad in his Austin 1100, overtaking – and think, Christ what a life. Get off at the Green. Walk round the back of the house. Mum’s making the bed in the bedroom. Doesn’t see me, must be deaf. Go in the kitchen. Pour myself a cup of tea, pot’s still hot. Mum enters – “Oh, hello.” And that’s it. Back again. I could have been just round the corner, popped out and come back. And even though I left when the trees were bare when it was March, it seems time’s stood still, it’s just the same as when I left. Yes, I’m back.
What Happened Next?
Le Patron worked at the Glasgow youth hostel during the summer of 1965. He never got to see Sima and Shula in Israel. In early 1967 he returned to Glasgow and got a job with the Glasgow Parks Dept. Whilst working there he met what became a life-long friend who tipped him off about a job with the Forestry Commission on Arran. He got the job and moved to Arran, September, 1967.
Part 7. Glen Coe, Fort William and Glen Nevis, Kyle of Lochalsh and Kishorn. East to Inverness.
Part 7 is dedicated to the memory of Fred, Kyle of Lochalsh warden, Willie, North Strome warden, Anne, Kishorn warden and Dave, Achnashellach warden, summer 1965. If you’re still around do get in touch, or if you know of them, let me know. Use the Leave A Reply facility at the bottom of this Chapter. Thank you.
The Story So Far… Liking sooty Glasgow, mysterious MOD development near Garelochhead, Loch Lomond. Frogs at 3100′ in a peat pool by Beinn a’ Chroin and the Crianlarich hostel warden (at the old original hostel) with a sense of humour. Loch Awe and Ben Cruachan before the dam and power station, (but nearly completed). Oban railway station before it was demolished, and on to Glencoe.
To Come Walking Aonach Eagach. The Warden’s husband with a penchant for blokes. A Tiger in his Tank at Fort William and at Glenelg an old woman with rags for shoes and a hat for a pixie. Trouble brewing with the first Sabbath sailing to Kyleakin. Four free-wheeling young wardens in the Kyle of Lochalsh and Kishorn area. Fresh baked bread at Lochcarron. A bumpy ride to Inverness. Aviemore under construction and a Rank “Road Inn” at Loch Morlich.
May 19. Wednesday. Around 9.30 a.m. Glencoe hostel.
To finish off what happened last night. I finished the paper work the warden had given me, but realised he wasn’t the warden after all, but the warden’s husband. When I started on the paperwork he disappeared with the young bloke who’s staying here, to the pub, and then turns up later. He says “Would you like to be the Assistant Warden” and drags me into their living quarters. It’s coming up to 11 p.m. His wife, the warden, is there and a sexy bird – her daughter I think – plus a bearded walker and two other oldish blokes, all of whom I think are local. They’re all drinking whisky and watching the Queen in Germany on the TV.
“This is Peter, he’d like to be Assistant Warden.” “Hello Peter” says the warden who I think has a German accent. “Go out to the wee shed and get yourself a bottle of beer”. I do and return, sitting on a cushion on the floor. It’s not too bad, as we sit there watching the TV. I think the warden is interested in watching the TV as it is the first time the Queen has visited Germany.
But within ten minutes the warden’s husband creates a scene – he’s pissed, making unpleasant remarks. People pretend to ignore him but there’s an embarrassing atmosphere. I excuse myself and leave. I didn’t need that. It’s 11.30 p.m. The electricity in the hostel itself is off, so find my way up the stairs to the dormitory in the dark.
This morning there’s a blue sky outside as I write this, just a few clouds, the Common Room windows are open and the air’s warm. I’m about to set off for the Aonach Eagach.
Am Bodach – on the ridge. Left the hostel around 10. Blue sky, some cloud. Warm. Walk along the road until joining the main road at Loch Achtriochtan, small loch at head of Glencoe Pass with the River Coe running into it, and several smaller streams. Walk along and the Three Sisters really impressive, especially Aonach Dubh with layer after layer of crag going up, and trees on these crags and the grain seems to be running down to the valley. Three big buttresses sticking out into Glen Coe.
Walk along the road – some transport passes – until I come to Hamish MacInnes’s cottage – a delightful low white-washed cottage at the Meeting of the Three Waters.
Eat a packet of Glen Garry biscuits and then take the path along, up the stream. There’s a little electrical generator for the cottage, worked off a wheel with paddles that the water turns. Ingenious. So up the steep slope, keeping to the left of Am Bodach. At Am Bodach, 3080′ there’s a view over to the north of Ben Nevis, still quite a lot of snow over there.
From Am Bodach it looks like a challenging walk along the ridge of Aonach Eagach.
Glen Coe Hostel, evening. Yes, from Am Bodach it was challenging walking along the Aonach Eagach. It was more a mix of climb/scramble/walk. At first it doesn’t seem as challenging as Striding Edge, but by Christ, it turns out doubly dangerous, and this is in good weather. In bad weather it would be suicidal. At places it’s a foot wide with sheer drops either side – and that’s no exaggeration. At times the path comes up against solid rock, so it’s a case of crawling up, gripping on rock, luckily there are plenty of hand and foot holds. Then at times it’s a case of carefully working your way down a gully. The ridge is like spire after spire, so it’s not fast or easy going. And fresh white snow sprinkled all over the place. Soft to tread in. Beautiful compared with the other old stuff.And on either side there’s more spires and pinnacles coming up and big, deep gullies going down. Magnificent, but frightening. On my left the Three Sisters and occasionally the valley and road below when you catch a glimpse of it between the pinnacles. And on the right Ben Nevis all the time and Loch Leven. After 3080′ it’s plain forward green grass and wide ridge walking, and you see Loch Leven widening out into Loch Linnhe, and in the distance the sea.
Come to trig point at Sgor nam Fiannaidh which isn’t marked on the map. Yes, there’s a lot of inaccuracies on this map.
Built around the trig point is a round stone shelter and some bloke with a misplaced sense of humour has stuck a small Union Jack on the trig point – but I laughed. I continue and all of a sudden I see Glencoe village and Ballachuillish.
The street down there in Glencoe looks dead straight, with houses lining it, and the main road, looks all planned. And there’s a Sikh wearing a turban going door to door with a suitcase. Probably a Betterware salesman. And the green valley flat, flat and fertile, and the Loch. I can also see the hostel and the wood by it. All very small, like a model. I start the descent, but make a stupid mistake – the descent is steep with loose scree hidden by heather. Treacherous. Try going down a gully, but that’s too steep too, with rocks shifting under my feet so climb back up, swearing gently. Walk further on and descend on the lower, greener slope – running down it, a kind of exhilaration, and at the bottom come right out by the hostel.
Take my boots off outside and enter. The warden’s husband’s there, and so begins the cat and mouse game – only I don’t know who’s the cat and who’s the mouse. “Would you like some soup?” “O.K.” So I have some very peppery home made soup. He’s lurking around. Wash the bowl in the self-caterers. “Come out for a drink, around 9, Peter?” “No thanks.” “Have you read Lawrence of Arabia?” Makes a variation of the usual “Have you read Giovanni’s Room” approach. (Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. In the UK in the 1960s the title of this book was used by many male homosexuals to test out the sexual orientation of other men. The former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe used this approach. T.E Lawrence wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Lawrence of Arabia, a biographical film of his life with Peter O’ Toole, directed by David Lean was made in 1962.)
No, I haven’t, I respond. He tells me he was captured during the war and it shocked him to realise he was a masochist – (he pronounced it ‘machochist’). And then “Did you go public school, Peter?” Presumably he thinks all public school boys are queers. And then I started remembering things from last night – he’d said his wife wanted a male assistant, yet later in their quarters she had said they had a girl assistant in mind. She will know what a young male assistant would be in for. Hence a girl assistant. He continues for a bit with me and I act cool throughout all this. He’s not getting anywhere and takes the hint. The pestering stops, and he makes some excuse about having to check something, and pushes off.
Make myself a meal. Quite a few in tonight, including a couple of Scottish girls, a couple in their thirties, two English girls and a male Canadian and a bloke called Lou. Around five to eleven the warden’s husband comes into the Common Room where we are and gets stupid – nasty. “Lights out in two minutes, folks.” One of the girls asks him where she can hang her washing and he says “Outside”. “How can I get out there?” “Through the door”, not smiling. He follows us upstairs to the dormitory. I’m brushing my teeth, he hangs around. And before we’ve had a chance to get into our beds, he turns the light out.
May 2o. Thursday. Late morning. In the valley of Allt Coire Gabhail.
Leave the hostel about 9.30 a.m, along the road that leads to Meeting of Three Waters, until I leave it, taking the track from Achtriochtan which runs at a lower level. The track follows the small gorge where the River Coe gurgles and rushes through. It’s wooded and pleasant. Cross by the bridge at the Meeting of the Three Waters to the other side and climb up, following the burn to Allt Coire Gabhail, otherwise called Hidden Valley and it’s really something. Looking at the map you’d think just another V shaped grass sloped valley. But no. It’s a beautiful wide gorge going up to Bidean nam Bian 3766′.
Cliff face on one side of Gearr Aunach and on the other side the wet dark cliff face of Beinn Fhada, water running off it. But there’s more to it then that – the gorge is full of large slabs of rock, boulders AND trees, trees, trees, seemingly growing out of the stone. Beautiful delicate green fresh leaved trees – ash and sycamore – and then the scree and boulders and the sun’s so warm, the sky’s so blue. As I made my way up following the stream I thought “Aha – pitch a tent here for sometime”. And I may do if I get the job at Glasgow, and get a break for a week. I’m writing this at the point where the stream emerges, comes pouring out like water from a tap, from the dry stone, boulder filled stream bed.
Hostel, night time. The boulder filled stream bed was quite a scramble, and suddenly and dramatically it opens out into a flat valley, no trees, no boulders with Bidean nam Bian up there, and the flat valley looks like a big arena with three mountain sides, and the wooded valley I’ve just come up below.
Start climbing up the pass between Bidean nam Bien and Stob Coire. It’s a steep climb through snow fields. I’m surprised there is so much snow, it really is extensive, one hundred, two hundred yards up to the pass, where it hangs over, as if it were going to break off. Slowly make my way up, digging my toes in – occasionally my foot goes right through, but it’s mostly alright. Make the pass.
The other side is extensive scree, nothing but scree. Descend, at times sliding with the scree that in places is the size of chippings.
Get down into the valley and a fairly easy descent along a sheep track to near the farm. I think I can cross the River Coe, rather than go the long way round by the road to the hostel, but after trying to cross twice unsuccessfully I’m forced to go by the road.
Make myself a meal at the hostel. A Scottish couple arrive, we talk. Some other new people too, but not crowded. One of the new blokes, and Lou who came last night have gone down the pub with the warden’s husband. Lou seems to be his attraction for the moment.
May 21. Friday. Glen Nevis Hostel. 9 p.m.
Walked along to Glencoe village from the hostel this morning and stand on the Kinglochleven road and hitch, but no go, so walk to Kinlochleven. The road follows the loch, above it, looking down.
And down there at the head of the loch is Kinlochleven surrounded by mountains. Orange roofs amongst green trees.
Kinlochleven is a pretty horrible 1930-ish development. Unpleasant council looking houses, grey with green or orange/red roofs. Probably developed with HEP (Hydro electric power) pipe line that comes down the mountain side. (Kinlochleven was built earlier than the 1930s. It was built when a hydro electric power scheme was built by the British Aluminium Company to power an aluminum smelter in 1907. At its height British Aluminum Company employed 700 people at the smelter. Kinlochleven was the first village in the world, in 1907, to have every house connected to an electricity supply. The smelter closed in 1996, with subsequent loss of jobs. In his ignorance Le Patron did not realise that the grey external cement rendering over brickwork on most twentieth century Scottish social and company housing was a necessity imposed by the adverse weather of Scotland – rain and frost in particular).
There’s the inevitable Co-op, but it’s closed, but there’s a grocers that’s open and I buy some food and matches and find out that it’s 1.45 p.m. I ask about a bus in the grocers and am told there is one to Fort William at 20 past 6. Outside I eat a packet of Fruit Shortcake biscuits and decide to walk it, along the old Military Road. A steep sweaty walk up the hillside out of Kinlochleven to the “road”.
The Military road is murderous to walk along, pebbles, boulders, crushed rock. Difficult under foot. It follows the valley Allt na Lairige Moire. Pass a couple of derelict farms. Turn the corner and follow it down to Blau a’ Chaoruinn, a derelict cottage.
Grey/black clouds suddenly forming. Along to Blarmachfoldach, now a properly made up road under foot. Turn to the right, up a track to a small loch and by now it’s raining heavily, and descend down the hillside, through a very dense coniferous forest, until emerging out into a field and the hostel. Hostel is fairly full with school parties and walkers. There’s a youngish Australian bloke here and a Scottish couple, John and Betty, and the four of us natter away in the self-cookers.. I’ve just paused to write this up, whilst John has put the kettle on to make us all a cup of tea.
May 22. Saturday. Glen Nevis hostel, evening.
The day starts with a downcast, downcloud morning, and John and Betty – who’s attractive – and Barry the Australian and me walk down to Fort William. Barry’s OK, great to listen to. So we walk down to Fort William, the hills covered in white misty cloud.
We wander aimlessly around Fort William, looking in at shops, a Scottish crafts exhibition, 1/- admission (5p.). Into a coffee bar. Whilst we’re in there I nip out to buy a packet of biscuits. First shop I go in there’s this girl assistant packing groceries into a cardboard box, taking no notice of me as I stand at the counter, and then goes into the back and that’s the last I see of her. I say “Excuse me”, but no one comes out to serve me. “Anyone there?” Still no-one comes out, no-one’s bothered, so saying “Sod it” I leave and buy 3 packets of biscuits in another shop.
Go back to the coffee bar, but it’s a curious place – not really a coffee bar – two old women in a small space pouring out miserable cups of 6d. tea. We’re sitting by the window, looking out onto the street. We haven’t got much to say, place is depressing. Finish the tea, leave and into a pub for a pint. First pint I’ve had in Scotland and it tastes sweet. (Scottish beer – “heavy” – is not hoppy like English bitter.) Barry talks and he’s entertaining to listen to, beautiful soft Australian accent and makes Australia sound interesting.
Mostly locals in the pub. Old blokes drunk, arguing amongst each other about nothing. Some very drunk. One bloke concentrating on slowly picking his pint up, and trying to match the glass to his mouth without pouring it down his neck.
We emerge and go into the museum – another 1/-, not that good, and after shuffling round it, emerge, slowly starting to make our way back. Pause to watch a shinty match. Hockey for men, sticks swinging high, looks dangerous.
So wander back to the hostel. Alan joins us, who was there last night, a Scottish bloke who’s a laugh with his yellow cape and “I’ve Got a Tiger in My Tank” sticker on the back, as we walk down the glen back to the hostel. (“I’ve Got a Tiger in My Tank” were stickers that many motorists stuck on the rear window of their car. They were part of a promotion campaign by Esso.)
I cook my tea, but made too much spaghetti and put too much water in the tomato sauce. However. Never mind. We’re sitting around afterwards at a table in the self cookers and a Chinese/American turns up from California, who Barry says he met in Glasgow a couple of days back.
Later in the evening we decide to go back to Fort William for a drink, and I went with them as I was bored. Try to find a quiet pub, going from pub to pub, and Alan’s caught up with us, still wearing his cape, with two bloody awful girls he met in the hostel. And as Barry says “What are we doing?” Yea, what are we doing, so I turn around and start to walk back to the hostel with a mate of Alan’s. We buy some chips from a mobile fish and chip van. Plenty of local drunks around. Half way down the glen road we get a lift and the driver drops us off at the hostel.
And a phoney bloke – a con man – who we’d seen in Fort William earlier in the day seems to be staying the night. Well, he’s hanging around the hostel. He dresses up as a sort of Bonny Prince Charlie, kilt, berry, feather, the whole works like something out a Walt Disney film. He was charging tourists money to let them take photos of himself. And he’s English.
May 23. Sunday. Glen Nevis YH. Evening.
Today it was overcast and occasionally it rained. After breakfast eleven of us set off to the waterfall at Steall. Myself, Barry, John, Betty, Tom – the Chinese Yank – Alan, Ian his mate and four girls who remained nameless but two of them were worth looking at. Along the road to Achriabhach.
Where the road finishes there’s a coach parked and lots of tourist cars. Cross the bridge, now on the track.
Onwards. Mountains towering either side and a mountain in front so that it looks like a cul-de-sac. The track ends and it’s now a footpath that runs into the gorge, the River Ness frothing through it. Me and Barry ahead, Barry taking the rucksack. Along the path and the gorge opens out into a valley and there’s the waterfall, falling down the mountain side.
And Steall Cottage. A tent is pitched by the wire bridge that spans the river. Go over the bridge – swinging around – V – that’s how it looked – one wire to walk on, two to hold. Barry and me work our way across OK. The cottage is locked and belongs to some climbing group. Eventually the others catch up, crossing the wire bridge OK too, and we sit in the woodshed attached to the cottage. Alan’s primus stove going and my coffee, as no-one – who? – remembered to bring any tea. We had five cups – enamel cups – that we took it in turns to drink out of. Eventually we all leave and Alan and I return by the other path, on the other side of the river only when you come to the gorge you’re amongst the boulders and rushing water, so we climb up and over the hill, rejoin the path, continue, cross the river, join the other path and catch up with the others. Barry’s talking to the Swiss girl and her father, who turned up at the hostel last night. As we walk along the road a RAF Mountain Rescue Landrover picks us up and drops us off at the hostel. I spend most of the night talking to two warped Catholic girls.
I don’t feel like writing anymore at the moment. Could write a lot more but won’t.
May 24. Monday. On the path to Ben Nevis.
Up 8, left 11. In between had breakfast, collected food people didn’t want, said goodbye to Barry as he left with his heavy rucksack. Yea, nice bloke. The Chinese Yank left too, after doing his job. When asking the warden what his hostel job was he said “Sir”, which I’ve notice all Americans say. Hung around until John and Betty left, said goodbye. And then set off, crossing the bridge over the Ness Water, up the slope and along the path for Ben Nevis summit. And at the moment, sitting here, writing this I feel I’m just standing still. I can’t define how I feel. I’m just not using up my energy. Felt it very strongly at breakfast. I’m drifting and I’m fed up. I want to write. One thing I want to work into a play is the way when you’re listening to someone you look at his girlfriend and she looks at you and he doesn’t notice. It’s a nice touch.
There’s four girls coming up the slope towards me, as I’m writing, and there’s one in tight black tights and tight red jumper that I’d like to screw. However, that’s not going to happen, is it. Cloud again, like yesterday – mist and low cloud on Ben Nevis, so there’s no point in going to the summit. Totally pointless – I won’t see anything and I’ll get wet. Snow capped peaks behind me. Overlooking Lochan Meall an t-Suidhe – a loch perched, or rather, in the saddle between Meall an Suidhe and Carn Dearg. Sweaty walk up to here, boulder pebble path, pass an oldish couple, me still feeling useless, bit of blue sky now, but it won’t last.
Hostel, evening. So, I continue round to the cliffs, although you can’t see them to their full height as low cloud was swirling around, rather interesting and terrifying. Jagged, rising up, like fairy tale mountains in a cartoon Walt Disney – mountains where wicked witches live in castles. The mist’s swirling around and small streams are running down the face and disintegrating into spray with the fierce wind. There’s a mountain hut for climbers. Go past it, smoke a cig, return. It’s now pissing down and I’m getting wet. Walk back and down to the hostel.
The Bonnie Prince Charlie con man is hanging around again this evening. He’s talking phoney nonsense to anyone who will listen, but most can see through him.
May 25. Tuesday. Near Ratagan YH. 3.15 p.m.
Yes, near Skye – great luck. But first the story. It’s sunny and close when I leave the hostel this morning and walk along the road towards Fort William. Last half mile into Fort William I’m accompanied by one of those insufferable “guess where I’m from” blokes. A very boring bloke from Rotterdam who’s telling me how he spent 25 days in Edinburgh waiting for his passport.
Fort William – that none too pleasant town and turn right and walk along the Inverness road until I get past the turn off for Corpach. I stand just past a filling station and the “Ben Nevis” distillery opposite, and the British Aluminum factory up the road. The leaves on the trees are very green, and there’s something about where I’m standing that reminds me of the Continent – reminiscent of times spent by roadsides waiting for lifts. And I wait a long time. Most traffic turns off for Corpach – big pulp mill there – and I reckon any lift I get will be going towards Inverness. Hitch, smoke, watch a lorry get loaded with barrels of whisky and then driven to the store sheds just down the road and back again, and gravel lorries and contractor’s lorries – “Logan” – going backwards and forwards. They’re widening the bridge into Corpach. So I’m standing there thinking “Where the hell am I going to be tonight – Will I have to get a bus or train?” But they’re so infrequent – MacBrayne’s Royal Mail Highland buses – but Mini stops. Young bloke with little wispy Edwardian moustache, tweed jacket, old school tie, trousers, socks up to knees and shoes. From Berwick upon Tweed. Smoking Silk Cut and, AND he’s going to Kyle. Real luck – and off we go.
Along Loch Lochy to Invergarry Hotel and turn off left for Skye, driving along Loch Garry, Loch Loyne and Loch Cluanie. Good scenery – getting wild, barren, rocky around Loch Cluanie, the road becoming single track with passing places. Stop at an Inn which has a complete monopoly on this stretch of road – hence 7/- (35p.) for 8 small cheese and ham sandwiches, and I mean small, really tiddly. 7/-. Fucking robbery, only I wasn’t paying. I bought two Mackeson’s – 4/- no draught. Another oldish couple in the place. Edward Gardner, Conservative, Round Table sort, and his wife. (Edward Gardner, Conservative MP for Billericay, Essex 1959 – 1966.)
They leave and we leave. Driving along a rough, unmade road – it’s rough as it is being widened, with Ed. Gardner and wife in front in a Rover. I get dropped at Spiel Bridge and again, luck of luck, there’s a petrol station, cafe and store and manage to get OS 26. (OS Map 26: Locharron.) So I’m all set.
Ratagan YH around 8.30 pm. The hostel’s bang on the shore of Loch Duich.
I’m sitting in the common room cum kitchen, small friendly, little window directly in front of me with the loch and the opposite hills. Beautiful, but the place is spoilt by some insufferable inmates. A sun-tanned Englishman with a moustache – looks like a 1928 colonial tea planter – who drove me up the wall making a foul noise eating his meal, slurp, slurp, and two cyclists, a male and female (in electric green glasses) plus the warden, all talking shit, passing bitchy comments. Feel like mowing the lot down. But if I had the place to myself, if it was quiet in here, it’d be as good as Nant-y-Dernol. The men’s dorm is a warm attic in good repair. It’d be a beautiful place to live in.
As I walked by the side of the loch to the hostel from Spiel Bridge there was a strong smell of salt in the air – it’s a sea loch, seaweed on the shore. Instead of being in the hostel with this lot it would be nice to sitting in a tent by the lochside, and have a scooter. Be really independent. If I get the job at Glasgow I’ll probably buy a scooter.
May 26. Wednesday. Glenelg YH. Evening.
Before I set off for Glenelg this morning I left my rucksack at Ratagan and walked back to Shiel Bridge to get some more provisions. The 1928 English tea planter accompanied me as he was returning eggs he had bought there, which he said they were “Off”.
Low cloud on the hills but lovely day and the Loch very, very still, and again the strong smell of salt in the air. Plus the coconut smell of the yellow gorse in bloom. The coconut cake pointy hills opposite. One has a forest on its lower slopes and the rest is bare – looks as if it’s had a shave. Provisions bought I return to YH, pack them into my rucksack, have a pee in the Gents at the back of the building and set off along the little road that follows the loch.
Nice little road, grass growing in the middle of it. And yellow gorse bushes growing everywhere, and long grass and bluebells and nettles and primroses. Lettterfearn is the hamlet along this road. A collection of small cottages and a school with about five kids playing football with a red plastic ball. (The school is now closed.)
A lot of the cottages have tin sheet roofing. There’s rowing boats on the shore. It’s nice.
Walk on to where the ferry once operated from a cottage with a slipway called Totaig across to Eilean Donnan. Eat a packet of Rich Abernethy biscuits, drag on a cig. Walk on. The road, as such, ends here and from now onwards it’s a footpath. It goes into a Forestry Commission area, only it’s not regulated coniferous trees, but a glade and there’s a cove down there with three white boats, no one around. Peaceful. Continue on the foot path to Ardintoul.
Ardintoul is an interesting place. You look down on it from the footpath, a small peninsula, if you can call it that, nestling amongst the hills. It’s flat with very green fields, about five at the most. Drives of trees and a few cottages and one big Georgian farm house. What’s interesting is that it is completely cut off. No road or track to it. Just this footpath. There’s a tractor down there, so they must use a boat to bring stuff in. Cross Allt na Dalach and sit on the remains of a cottage. Go down passing an empty cottage, with a red oxide paint tin roof, along a drive of trees and then along a stone wall by the shore. Past a second empty cottage and past the big inhabited farmhouse, bottles of butane gas out on the verandah and a friendly black sheep dog accompanying me. (The “farmhouse” was built in the 1700s by the MacRae family about the time of the destruction of their hereditary stronghold Eilean Donnan Castle across the water. The farmhouse building was destroyed by fire August, 2012. It was uninhabited at the time.)
And between the farmhouse and the shore there’s two big gas looking cylinders – like you see at a gas works, one built of bricks and there’s military fencing around them. Interesting. (They were oil storage containers built by the Royal Navy during the Second World War. They were decommissioned a while ago. There is little now to indicate that they were once there.)
Continue to another cottage and a byre for tractors. Plenty of sheep and lambs around. Skye is directly ahead of me, go round Garbhan Cosach, the headland, and walk along the shore of the channel between the mainland and Skye.
Climb up the hill. See the ferry and the slipway. Not many cars. (The Ordnance Survey One Inch Map 26 Locharron, “Reprinted with minor changes 1961” shows the Kylerhea – Glenelg ferry as foot passengers only. It also shows a track from the Kylerhea slipway, rather than a made-up road. In 1965 the Kylerhea track was tar-macamed and the ferry vessel could take approx. four vehicles.)
Walk to the hostel. Dr. Johnson is reputed to have stayed in it when it was a cottage. It’s locked, so wait around as I’m not sure about the time. Watch a Ford Anglia turn up at the ferry, then change its mind and go back, and then a GB Mercedes turns up. Hear the door of the hostel/cottage being unlocked and enter. Old couple, bloke looks like a fisherman. Friendly. Have the place to myself. Have a reasonable meal and I’m writing this sitting at a long table by the window of the Common Room, which has one of those old iron ranges that nearly all these small SYHA’s seem to have. From the window I have a view of the straights, Skye and over there the hamlet of Kylerhea. All the cottages are white-washed and spaced out and the fields are open and unfenced. Looks foreign. Unusual. Pleasant.
May 27. Thursday. On a bench outside Kyle (Lochalsh).
Made myself breakfast of porridge, Quick Quaker Oats, instead of the usual Crofter or Scots oats, cup of coffee with diluted evaporated milk and away after warden’s wife gave me my card. She’s a funny little woman, wearing a peculiar sort of pixie hat and on her feet what looked like two rags tied at the ankles.
(In the above photo of Isabella MacDonald at Glenelg her children are barefoot. The baby on her back is approximately one year old. In 1965 that baby would be 76 years old. Would she be wearing rags on her feet?)
Wait by the slip, smoke a cig – the ferry’s at Kylerheah. Ferry comes across, car goes on, then me. Ingenious thing. It’s a revolving turntable on the boat. Boat comes up by the side of the slipway and then swings the turntable onto the slipway, the ramp is let down and away you go. So across I go, for 6d. (2½p.)
Land on the other side, on Skye, and turn right and scramble along the hill-slope until finding the path. So along it, passing the small lighthouse and after that the path flakes out, despite it being marked on the map. So it’s up to your initiative. Until you round the headland it’s not too bad. But after that it’s bloody murder underfoot. You wouldn’t know from looking at the map – there’s trees, fern, bracken, heather, rocks, boggy spots, everything to make it uncomfortable underfoot, stumbling from one spot to the other. There’s a wreck down there, sticking out of the water and on the shore some blokes dismantling a large piece of it. Rusted brown metal. Looks like a frigate.
Stumble, stumble on, at times descending and walking along the shore, and then having to ascend where it gets impossibly rocky and sea’s lapping up against the rocks. And so it continues until I descend to the cove Loch na Beiste and I’m glad to reach the head of it, and then have to climb out of it and – ah moorland! I stride across it, soggy, squelchy, until after this murderous walk the beautiful sight of Kyleakin down there – shops, and the ferry.
Descend down into it, ducking underneath a washing line with washing on it. Cottages that back into the hill slope. I’m hungry. Go into a shop that has “General Stores” written on the outside but just sells paint. Go into another shop near the slipway and buy food, including a packet of rich tea biscuits and a date bar. Eat the biscuits by a wall, seagulls flying around. Packet half eaten get on the ferry and over to Kyle. Landed and ho-ho, what do I find – most of the shops are open. SYHA handbook says Thursdays are their half-closing day. Stuff is cheaper, like eggs. Oh well.
Buy some more food and find out it’s 3 and trot out of the town and sit on a bench near the old, tin roofed Victorian school which is the hostel – which looks ghastly from the outside. Iron railings and dead looking.
Kyle YH. Evening. The hostel is better on the inside. Whilst I was waiting asked a passing woman with a young child the time. She said she thought it was four. Go up and try the door, and it’s open. Met by a zooty young cockney warden with ginger hair, beautiful white teeth, and friendly. Keen cyclist/hosteller and a good bloke. He’s called Fred. Older woman cyclist turns up, who when she started talking went on and on and on but she was OK. Later, around 8 p.m. a Belfast college bloke comes in. A good evening. Fred the warden, the woman cyclist and me talking, having a laugh. Fred’s been wardening 3 years in Scotland – during the summer. North Strome last summer. A real cockney from Hackney and active with the Central London YH group.
May 28. Friday. Kishorn YH.
Wake up at Kyle YH and it’s a good day outside and the Cuillins looking clear, seem to rise up out of the sea. It’s a promising day. As I was packing my rucksck to leave a couple from the SYHA turned up. They seem to go round checking things are OK with the wardens at the smaller hostels around here. Fred was talking to them as I leave at 10.30 – gives me a wink – and start what turned out to be one of the best walks I’ve done for a long time.
Trot along the main road, the sea out there, the air warm and I’m already feeling good. Hardly any traffic. A view of Skye and small islands. The single track railway, the yellow gorse bushes, the telegraph poles and hummocks and hillocks. Turn off onto the minor road to Drumbuie and Duirinish. Beautiful road. Drumbuie is a collection of crofts, off the road to the left. Most have tin sheet roofing, presumably replacing heather thatch, or nailed on top of old thatch. The cottages are in a general area, no road between them, just together with chickens running around, scratching in the dust. Cows grazing, sheep, and its flat down to the sea – open fields, no fencing. Strip cultivation – one strip ploughed, another for grazing, another fallow.
Continue along road and come into Duirinish and coming into it there’s several leafy big beech trees and a farm, farm implements. Cottages on either side of the stream which runs through the village and cottages lazily arranged, strung along the road. A couple of young children playing, an old man, the sun’s out, quiet and warm. Over the bridge and take the minor road through a wood that eventually runs by Loch Lundie. There’s a beautiful smell of greenery in the wood and the loch’s beautiful and distinctive. Further on, on my left is a view looking over to Plockton, cottages along the coastline, whitewashed cottages, sea looking beautiful, and the shore of Loch Carron over in the distance.
Walk on to Craig, a couple of cottages and then along what must be the most beautiful stretch of coast in the British Isles – the sea below you, the single track railway line and cliffs above you. The warm air is heavy with the scent of the yellow gorse and there are crimson/red flowering wild rhododendron and trees and long lush grass, the islands in the distance and the sun on an intensely blue sea.
Further on pass a derelict cottage just off the track. Go and look at it. By a stream, beautifully situated with this wonderful view. Gorse bushes and sheep grazing by it. Inside it’s in good condition, although the farmers let his sheep in. There’s the old range, and I hang around, dreaming. I’d like to live here, work the land. But oh well, and on I go, joining the A890 – small road, little traffic, through Achmore – a recent Forestry Commission village. Not too pleasant as the houses are, or look like, post war council type houses except built with wood.
Out of Achmore and up the hill, over the hump and down to Strome Ferry. Post Office on the station and by the ferry a small kiosk selling sweets. Buy some chocolate and go across on the ferry for nothing.
It’s warm, the water is deep and inviting. Land on the other side, and off again, noticing the SYHA couple are now at the Strome hostel talking to I presume the warden, who looks young.
Follow the coast and take the footpath through a wood, up the slope, and then a steepish descent to Reraig. There’s a new house being built by the edge of the cove. Cross the stream and up and over the next slope, and from the brow there’s a fantastically beautiful view of mountains rising vertically out of nothing on the other side of the loch.
Descend into Ardarroch, white-wash houses on the shore, pass a couple of old blokes, afternoon, afternoon, lovely weather, aye. Round the bay to Kishorn hostel – it’s an old school. Dump my rucksack and try and find the shop. Ask two small boys, they direct me, find it and it’s a great shop – buy bread, milk, spuds, everything I need and return to the hostel. Enter and in the small kitchen there’s litter strewn over the floor. Apparently some dog got in and had a field day with the litter bin. Clear it up.
The warden rolls up on her Lambretta. Young girl, can’t be much more than twenty, pretty, with a nice disregard for her appearance. A shy, retiring Tom Boy and she’s nice – wearing a worn, torn pair of climbing breeches and a pair of broken plimsoles. Her name’s Anne. The SYHA couple roll up, the bloke mends the door the dog got in by, ask if everything’s going alright and they push off. Me and Anne spend most of the evening talking. She does temporary work in the winter – typewriting. She told me that when she started as the warden at Kishorn, on her first week-end on the Sunday she started her Lambretta up and rode out of the village. On the Monday she got told off by a couple of villagers for starting her Lambretta up on the “Sabbath”. So she now wheels it out of sight and out of sound on a Sunday, and then starts it up. Also told me that there is expected to be a demonstration this coming Sunday at Kyleakin as the ferry is going to run from Kyle, the first time it has ever done this on the Sabbath. And so to bed at 11.30. Just me in the place tonight. Good, good day. Good hostel, beautiful place
May 29. Saturday. Sitting on a bench by the hostel, 4.30 p.m.
It’s been a glorious day – the weather, the superb scenery – Sguur a Chaorachain, Meall Gorm and Beinn Bhan rising up as I write this.
The weather was beautiful when I set off this morning – still is. Along the B857 road – but just a country road, has the feel of an unclassified road. Through an avenue of trees and out by the small estuary. Tide out, walk along, turn off to the left at the head of the estuary and then up the hill-slope.
Pause to finish off my notes for Friday, long pause. No need to rush. Taking it all in. A tractor ploughing at the head of the loch, the sea, the sun and a car parked down there. So a gradually climb up the slope of Beinn Bhan until reaching the 2232′ point. Sgurr a Chaorachain over there, looking impressive. Flattish on the shoulder of Beinn Bhan as I walk along to the 2505′ point, having taken off my sweater, stripped to the waist, as it’s getting hot. Say hello to some blokes sunbathing at the 2505′ point. Ask them the time – it’s 1.30. Continue making for the trig point, 2936′. The cliff face to my right that juts out is quite something. Wouldn’t like to be up here in mist and take a wrong turn. Opposite Sgurr a Chaorrachain, a great buttress sticking out, casting a shadow over the hillside opposite.
From the trig point I start to descend, a long steep descent, a herd of deer below me. When I get to the 500′ contour line, or thereabouts, it’s easier and I follow it, walking along, above Loch Coir nan Arr and eventually down to the unclassified road. Cross the estuary – the tide’s out, walking across firm sand. Sea weed and pools, and back onto the B road. Walk along to the P.O. looking forward to a meal of bread, tomatoes and cheese – but no bread, so bang goes that. Walk down to the hostel and on the way meet the woman cyclist who was at Kyle – she’s going to Achnashellach. We spend five minutes talking.
Dump my rucksack outside the hostel and sit on the rocks. Anne turns up and joins me. We sit in the sun talking, and go inside when it starts to get chilly. Have a meal of Chow Mein followed by tinned apricots and rice. Afterwards me and Anne spend the evening talking and around 10.30 p.m. young bloke comes in and I recognise him from North Strome – it’s the warden there, Willie is his name. He’s half cut and a laugh. Been drinking in Kyle and decided to come over and see Anne as he reckons she’s lonely, he says. She just smiles. I think he’s got other designs, but he’s so half cut it would take him half an hour to get his flies undone, by which time, even if she had been interested, she’d have lost interest. He takes ten minutes to roll a cig. The surprising thing is that he’s 28, doesn’t look it, looks more Anne’s and my age. He finally finishes rolling his cig. “There”, he says “Cary Grant couldn’t have done better.” I give him a light as he can’t find his matches. We go on talking – it’s mostly him who goes on talking, telling us about a bloke who climbed one of the Swiss Alps wearing plimsoles.
It’s quarter past midnight and we go to bed – Willie and me to the mens dorm. He’s forgotten why he came in the first place. He still talks in the darkness of the dorm as we lie in our bunks. Turns out he’s a Communist, so we have a general argument as he doesn’t think much of anarchism and I’m not a fan of the CP (Communist Party), and then we get onto literature and Gorki and Chekhov. He works at labouring over the winter and blows the lot. He’s broke at the moment. I roll him, and me a cig. It’s two in the morning – I know the time as he’s got a watch, and as I’m smoking it I’m starting to feel peculiar. Soon afterwards I’m sick three times and crap twice. I’m ill – probably sunstroke. Willie is deep asleep.
May 30th. Sunday. Next morning.
I’m still groggy when I wake up. Willie’s bunk is empty. Put some clothes on. Anne is cooking Willie a meal of bacon, fresh tomatoes, bread and butter. She says there’s enough for me too, but all I can mange is a cup of tea. Willie asks what’s wrong with me. I shake my head and go back to the dorm. And slept till 4.30 p.m. when I hear someone moving around outside. Get up, get dressed, go out. It’s Anne. I make a pot of tea, feel a bit better, drink three cups, she has a cup too. Eat some Rich Tea biscuits and one of Anne’s cakes and write this. A middle-aged couple in a V.W have rolled up. I’ve got a headache and feel like going back to bed. Feel bad again.
May 31. Monday. Shore of Loch Carron.
Up around 8.30 a.m. and feeling quite reasonable after going to bed at 10 p.m. last night – after sitting in front of the stove in the kitchen with Anne reading Readers Digest, my jeans, her anorak and breeches hanging on the string across the stove.
The couple in the car went first, then me, depositing my milk bottles at the P.O. and walking along the B road to Lochcarron. Pleasant low, craggy scenery descending into Lochcarron. Buy groceries including cheese, tomatoes and bread – fresh warm bread and a fruit loaf from the baker/grocer recommended by Fred and confirmed by Anne. The village faces the loch, all the cottages on one side of the road.
Walk just out of the village and sit on the shore. Hear children playing in the school playground. And what was I thinking about? Well, how I’d like to be a warden around here next summer, if there’s a vacancy.
Kyle or North Strome or Kishorn, as I say, if there’s a vacancy, but that depends on what plans Anne, Willie or Fred have. If I get the Glasgow Assistant Warden job I should have a good chance of being my own warden somewhere next year. If I don’t get the Glasgow job I’d spend this summer labouring, saving hard and spend the winter in north Africa and Middle East.
Achnashellach YH. Evening. The road out from Lochcarron is good – unfenced. The earth’s shimmering with heat. The road’s quiet and there’s a shepherd up on the hill with his dog, shouting and blowing his whistle as the dog’s running around sheep, crouching, holding them steady. A car stops to offer me a lift. I say no, but thanks. It’s so lovely and peaceful and apart from the occasional car I have the road to myself as I make my way along to Achnashellach. Come to a level crossing on the single track railway and wait as a funny little motorised trolley comes along with three railway workers on it. Ask the level crossing operator the time. 25 past 4. Walk past Loch Dughaill, a freshwater loch and the road is lined with brilliant crimson, purple, red flowering rhododendron. Hillside opposite crashes down into the loch.
Past Achnashellach Forest and so the hostel. A mess to look at from the outside – old Forestry Commission hut, round the back a lot of old bare cement foundations and weedy grass. But it’s OK inside. Dave, the warden, is a short bloke, with beard and guitar. He looks as if he’s been tall at one time and someone’s cut his legs so that he now walks on the stumps of his knees. A couple of his mates are knocking around. No one else. Had a meal of bread, cheese, tomatoes and that fruit loaf. The fruit loaf was great, only slightly burnt on top. Big Common Room cum kitchen with a big black iron “No 48 President” range in the middle of the room and the ceiling is covered in posters – including that B.R “Fog, Snow, Ice & Rain – trains get you through” one, which is one of the best visual posters I’ve seen for a long time.
June 1. Tuesday. Mid-day. At the pass between Sgorr Ruadh 3142′ and Beinn Liath Mhor 2849′
Up early and washed some clothes and hung them on the line and had a breakfast of porridge, bread, cheese and tomatoes. Filling. So left and took the track up to Achnashellach station, on the slope, clustered in by the forest. Warm. Small station. West Highand country station. Along the track for 20 yards and turn off through gate and along a path, despite a notice saying this is not a right of way, that shooting goes on. Follow stream. Pretty straight forward up to the 1250′ contour – where there’s a shelter built last August, built by Dave, the warden, and some “layabouts” as he called them last night. Crawl in, it’s well built, about the best shelter I’ve experienced.
From there it’s a case of following the River Laire between Sgorr Ruadh and Beinn Liath Mhor and when you look back it’s like a hanging valley. Tremendous amount of scree. Both sides of the mountains are bare, the strata jagged, on the left hand side jutting at 50° and at places sticking up like columns. On the other side, severe folds. Interesting.
Climb up to the pass. And suddenly an unexpected, dramatic view of Liathach – a ridge comprising three summits over 3000′.
This massive cliff like wall facing me, four miles over there, rising up into the clouds. It looks as if it is going right up, touching the ceiling of the sky. (Mullach an Rathain 3358′, Spidean a Choire Leith 3456′ and Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig, part of Torridon Forest. Stuc a Choire Dhuibh Bhig is officially 3002′ . The height isn’t given on the Ordnance Survey One Inch Seventh Series Map 26 Lochcarron, but Le Patron worked out it was at least 3000′ from the map contour intervals.)
Start the return walk to the hostel round by Bealach Ban and follow the stream Fionn-amhainn down to Coulags, a couple of cottages on the main road. And so back to the hostel.
June 2. Wednesday. Just out of Achnashellach forest.
Left hostel and walked along the road to Craig, cottages, a small school, cross the railway line walk down to and cross the wide wooden bridge over the River Carron and follow and follow the Forestry Commission track this far. The sweet smell in the air – like coconut, of yellow gorse growing by the track.
I fucking detest flies. Buzzing around my head as I write this. (These were not midges, but flies, about the size of house flies, that can detect the faintest moist pore of homo sapiens from a mile off and home in on the face and hair in a unpleasant black cloud. Often found in coniferous plantations in Scotland.) They’re flying around in a cloud and irritating me to insanity. I’ll roll a cig and see if that fixes the fuckers.
The Hostel, evening. The cig didn’t work, but the further behind I left the trees, and the higher I got, the better it became. Continued along the track until leaving it, I stumbled down to the burn and crossed the ropey old bridge – wires slung across with boards but most of the boards are missing, and when you get to the other side there is no footpath, despite one shown on the map.
Start climbing up and suddenly there it is, or it seems to be, rather than a sheep track. Despite planning last night to swing round to the south of Sgurr na Feataig I follow the path zig-zagging up and just before Loch Sgurr na Feartaig there’s a marvellous view of the mountains all around, lochs and the sea in the distance. And it’s very quiet and peaceful. Walk on and there’s frogs in the water, like at Crianlarich and yesterday high up there were newts in one of the pools. Extraordinary.
Resume and Sgurr na Feataig has an impressive cliff/crag face, and walking along the top it’s almost like a ridge in parts. The slope from here is sweeping down to the road and the railway. Yes, I like it up here.
Continue walking to Coire Leiridh, steep in places.
Golden Valley on my left, a curiously English name, given that everything else – hills, mountains, lochs have a Gaelic name. I wonder why. Follow the path through the wood (conifers). Pause on one of the wooden bridges over the river. It’s wide, white bouldered sun drenched. Big river bed with a small stream – presumably it gets swollen when the snow on the mountains melts in the Spring. Which reminds me, I went through some snow fields higher up – and it’s June 2.
When I got back to the hostel Dave was not back from seeing Fred, which he said he was going to do last night. I cook an indifferent meal of Vesta Beef Curry – I’ve gone off it. Gone off food. Youngish couple here tonight, cyclists. Dave turns up later.
June 3. Thursday. Loch Morlich YH. Evening.
It’s been a day of great luck and glorious weather. The luck: leave the hostel saying good-bye to Dave and am hardly a hundred yards from the hostel when I hear a car coming. I’m just about to walk under the railway bridge on the Z bend.
Look back, it’s a Land Rover, raise my thumb and then think Fuck It and give the idea up. But I hear the Land Rover screech to a halt – long wheel base Land Rover painted blue. Man and wife, tweedy, cap, and what’s great is that they’re going to Inverness.
I get in the back and off we set. But ah what a ride along that narrow twisting pot-holed road, and I’m sitting sideways on one of the bench seat that’s on either side and trying not to get thrown around. The driver’s belting along, jamming on the brakes, pulling hard into Passing Places, starting off again, jostling, thumping around and it’s starting to have an effect on me – like making a cocktail of the breakfast I’d just had – slipping around – so I’m beginning to feel sick as we pass from wild barren country into the more green rolling hills and estuary towards Inverness until mercifully we make Inverness. They drop me off, and I’m very grateful, despite the husband’s hairy driving.
Buy a birthday card for Dad and Cairngorms Tourist OS that is fucking awful – shitted up with vile contour colouring and uncoloured roads, so no quick way of knowing which is A, B or unclassified. Who ever designed it should be shot.
Walk out of town by the high cement wall by the railway and railway sidings and stand by the A9 for Perth and Aviemore. Have a look at my map, car toots, look up, blue Mini, driver nods in that direction, I nod, car stops, and another lift without hitching. To Carrbridge, six miles from Aviemore.
Zooty, plumpish, dark haired wide boy from Glasgow, plastic flowers on dashboard, radio, some sort of salesman, belting his Mini along. Radio loud – some crummy programme called Mac’s Back – Ken MacIntosh Band with a bunch of lousy singers. Zooming along through scenery that’s a great contrast from the West Highlands. Here it’s rolling hills and deciduous trees, very fresh and green leaved. Pass a peculiar Swiss looking church and there’s the snow capped Cairngorms in the distance. There’s bits around here that remind me of Bavaria and Switzerland.
His driving was hairy too, in a different way – dangerous. He overtook a lorry on a dangerous corner. We’re behind it, he was hesitating, starting to go, pulling back and then blowing a fart in a – Ah fuck it, if I get killed, I get killed mood he overtook and nearly killed us both as a car came around the corner the other way. He managed to nip in between the lorry he’d overtaken and one in front. Surprised they didn’t blast their horns at him. Drops me off at Carrbridge. Which was a relief. Went into a cafe and had a piss. Had a tea and bought some tobacco and a packet of biscuits.
It’s nice and warm and sunny and a pleasant walk along the road to Aviemore, except you have to watch for the cars that quite often zoom past and you nip onto the verge. Aviemore is in a wide green valley. String of houses, moderately new council type looking houses, Victorian hotel, the railway station opposite and a Lipton’s store where I buy a lot of groceries. There’s also a lot of development going on – new ski slope, new string of shops and the most fantastic thing is a big development site going up – sponsored by a couple of breweries and Shell and BP, which includes a cinema, swimming pool, bowling alley, artificial ski slope – the lot.
Start on the road to Loch Morlich – walking underneath the railway bridge and then over the army type steel bridge that spans the River Spey – wide gravel bedded river here, lined by delicate green tinted leaves.
Then on a wide road until Rothiemurchus, a hamlet – a school, kids playing rounders, a forge. On to Coylumbridge, a camp site, stream, trees, looks pleasant.
A stout, tweedy woman with a big old Humber Snipe offers me a lift. I say Thanks, but I’ll walk. It’s warm, the scenery’s good, so I’ll walk, but thanks.
And so I do. The scenery’s interesting – flat plain of heather, pine trees, hills rising up. Yes those wonderful pine trees, not the trees the Forestry Commission plants. They remind me of the pine trees on the coast at Paksostan where the tent was pitched. (The summer of 1964 in the former Yugoslavia). Heavy smell of warm pine resin and pine needles in the air. Reach the loch.
Quite a longish walk along by the lochside making for the YH. Tourist cars pass, and I pass a big Rank ‘Road Inn’ being built. Yes, there’s money in them hills, skiers money. Further on there’s a shop, mostly catering for a camp site. Go in and buy some porridge oats. Finally reach the YH. Run by a Manchester bloke, glasses, pipe smoking, seems to be in a daze half the time, and there’s an Arts Conference (whatever that is) happening at the YH, so I decide to move on to Inverey tomorrow. As it is, it’s pretty full with Scottish school kids tonight. Eat an overpowering meal of omelette and chips and had an urge to drink water all night.
Walking to Scotland 1965
Part 8: The Cairngorms. Perth to Glasgow. A day and night hitch back to London (with a Freddie Garrity look-a-like driving his lorry madly over Shap).
Part 6: Into Scotland. Glasgow, Loch Lomond, Crianlarich, Oban, Loch Awe and Cruchan and on to Glen Coe.
The Story So Far… The Lake District: Wonderful mountains, but frightning in bad weather. A hound on Hellvellyn and a hairy, heart stopping time in low cloud on Lord’s Rake 3162′. Magnificent deep U shaped valleys and pictureseque hamlets. And rain, and rain, and rain, enough rain to turn the Sahara green. And three Mod girls.
To Come Liking sooty Glasgow, mysterious MOD development near Garelochhead. Loch Lomond. Frogs at 3100′ in a peat pool near Beinn a’ Chroin and the Crianlarich hostel warden with a sense of humour. Loch Awe and Ben Cruachan before the dam, (but nearly completed). Oban station before it was demolished, and on to Glencoe.
May 10. Monday evening. Glasgow YH.
To catch up on the day – Left Cockermouth YH at 9.45 am, after shave and dubbining my boots. Chatted to the warden last night – just me and him in the hostel, as he cooked his meal in the self-cookers along with me and classical music blaring out of his sleeping quarters. Later we got talking in his sleeping quarters. He’d been in electronics in the GPO, but four years ago chucked it in and has been bumming around ever since. We ended up talking about life and art and literature – nice bloke. When I left this morning Memphis Slim was belting out of his living quarters.
Walked along the river into the town – old mills, narrow alleys, nice town.
Walk out to the roundabout for the road to Carlisle, and one of the first vehicles that stops is going there. Great.
Bloke in a Thames Trader van. He’d been around and therefore thought he knew everything. So I got told a. about his intended holiday camping with the family in France, b. 35mm cameras – he was a photographer not a snap shooter, c. how the bloke in front was driving badly, d. what happened to him when he was in the Himalayas and the marvellous photograph he took of a tiger’s victim – a young girl, and as we entered Carlisle – e. where he was born. Still, he wasn’t too bad and grateful for the lift. Dropped me off at the road for Scotland on the other side of Carlisle.
Hitch but no go, so move further up the road to Kingtown, where there is a branch in the road off for Edinburgh, and walk a hundred yards along the road for Glasgow. Hitch but still nothing stopping, even though it’s a week-day. Munch a packet of biscuits. Hot, sunny day, hitch again and a small Austin stops and it’s two English students returning to Dundee University who give me a lift nearly all the way to Glasgow, bar ten miles.
The driver wasn’t bad, but his friend/mate Joe was a cold, sneering bloke. The driver studying chemistry and Joe studying social science. Both were pretty mindless as blokes go, but grateful for the lift. They drop me at Newhouse, to the east of Glasgow.
So Newhouse, 10 miles to go into Glasgow. Have a cig, hitch and an Austin 1100 into Glasgow, the east of Glasgow, from a youngish English salesman – “I detest Surrey and Essex” he says.
Where he drops me off is a big WD & HO Wills cig factory across the way. The weather’s still sunny and I go into a Co-op to get toothpaste and some provisions and have to stop myself smiling at the Scottish accent – reminds me of my Grandmother. Yes, I like Scots – warm, friendly people. (Le Patron’s family was from Scotland on his Dad’s side.) Outside the Coop it’s warm and women and prams and young children – “Och, he’s a wee little rascal” and tasty looking school girls. It’s 4 o’ clock. Get a No.10 bus that goes into the city centre and on to Charing Cross. Glasgow buses are really rough – really bumpy – and a bus conducteress who reminds me of Aunt Edith.
Off at Charing Cross.
Consult the SYHA handbook, ask directions, and make my way to Woodlands Terrace which is beautiful, overlooking a big park. (Kelvin Grove Park).
The youth hostel is Victorian. Enter and sign in. Pleasant enough inside and a seemingly clueless warden, but he’s pleasant too. Cook myself a meal in a near empty self-cookers in the basement of spam, beans, chips. Sit in the common room trying to decide where to go tomorrow. Decided on Loch Lomond. Warden and wife came in, lit the gas fire, we got talking. Turns out they have an assistant warden vacancy during the summer. Later three Australian girls turned up. Then some Australian blokes, a couple of Finns, Germans and a Canadian, who rolled up at 10.30 p.m. (In 1965 the international flights airport for Scotland was Prestwick on the Ayrshire coast. All flights to and from North America took off or landed at Prestwick. For North Americans and those from Australia and New Zealand, Prestwick was the starting point for hitching around Europe, and once landed the train would bring them up to Glasgow. In 1960 Elvis Presley had touched down for two hours and stretched his legs at Prestwick, on his home trip from Germany after serving in the army.)
May 11. Tuesday. Glasgow YH, around 10 am.
Up 7.30 and after breakfast saw the warden and he’s got my name and address as assistant warden for July/August/September. He’ll confirm in mid-June. I hope he does.
Yes, you definitely feel that Scotland is a different country – for a start – ah, that clapped out phrase – for a start, for a start the police are different – black and white chequered bands on their peak caps and the cars look American in style – flash Fords with Glasgow Police on the door and the crest of the city, and several Police Landrovers.
Then there’s the “Licenced Grocer”, plenty of those, and potato and soda scones. The one place to go if you want to find out how areas differ is the baker’s shop. In the west of England/Somerset lardy cakes, in the Peak District large pancakes, in Bradford long buns, but no doughnuts like you get in the south. Here, soda scones, potato scones and pan loaves.
8.30 p.m. Loch Lomond YH. Left the Glasgow YH about 10.30 and did some supermarket shopping, coffee, Vesta meals, jam, bread and then spent some time trying to find a place that sold the Loch Lomond/Trossachs Tourist O.S. Eventually got it.
I’d asked the warden the best way to get to Loch Lomond and he said to head for Great Western Road. Between Charing Cross and the Great Western road there were no bogs and I was dying for a piss. Ridiculous so ended up nipping into the Botanic Gardens and having a pee behind a bush. (In fact, there were public toilets, including in the Glasgow Botanical Gardens. Le Patron just did not see them.)
Re-emege and back onto the Great Western Road, heading out west. It’s starting to drizzle. I look back and Glasgow is grey and the streets are wet and shiny and the green/orange/cream coloured buses roll past, and crimson Central buses, and heavy transport – and I don’t know why, but I like Glasgow – really looking forward to getting that assistant warden job. Hope I get it.
Walk along hitching, but no go. Keep walking and come to the outer suburbs. Buy some potato scones and some biscuits. It’s still drizzling. Munching on the biscuits and hitching and at last a beat up old lorry stops, going into Dumbarton. It’s a real crate on wheels – 30 year old Dennis lorry – “Aye, the Rolls Royce of lorries”, says the driver, who’s got a fiery ginger Scottish moustache. It really is an old slogger. Square window windscreen, side windows grimy and one broken, and the engine between me and the driver. And Christ, did you get jogged around in that cab – bump, rattle, bump – as it slogged on down the road, the engine roaring. This is supposed to be the Rolls Royce of lorries?
Drive past Clydeside on my left, ships being built, see the white glare of oxy-acetylene torches. The driver drops me off where the road branches off to Loch Lomond and he continues to Dumbarton. Try and buy Cadbury’s Marvel (dried milk), but no go anywhere, so wait for the Alexandria/Balloch bus and get it into Alexandria.
Alexandria – big naval office building there and as you walk out of Alexandria there’s a block of prewar flats – dull dark red brick tenements on wasteground. Just them. Nothing else, except rubbish and at the bottom of them, on the ground floor small dark shops and most of them have bars and shutters or reinforced wire behind the glass. Reminds me of places I’ve seen in Italy – Foggia, for example. Then a boring walk from Alexandria until the drive off to the YH.
Sit by the drive on the grass, two pairs of females pass me going up to the hostel so I reckon it must be getting on for 4 p.m. (Scottish youth hostels opened at 4pm, not 5pm like the English youth hostels.) Having rolled a cig I trot after them, puffing away. And ye Gods – it’s a whacking great Victorian castle/mansion monstrosity, turret towers, the lot.
It’s not quite four and there’s a small group of us waiting at the entrance. After a while hear the door getting unlocked and a young Englishman lets us in. I’m given Dormitory C. Four flights up. The place is just right for a 1930 Hollywood melodrama or a 1965 Hammer horror film – heavy wood panelling, neo-Greek dames, sculptures on the walls, scrawlings and Victorian cloth dark green wallpaper. Eventually make C. Nice view up there. Make up my bed and descend to the self-cookers.
Cook a Chow Mein dinner and have a really beautiful cup of coffee – really tasted good, and only cheap supermarket stuff. It turns out the big cold dining room is also the Common Room which is quite shattering – no books, no heat, no nothing. Later a young blond Cockney bloke turns up in shorts and then two of his Scottish mates, and two Danish girls, two New Zealand girls and three girls from Australia who were at Glasgow last night.
May 12. Wednesday. Just past the farm “Highlands”.
Just past the farm “Highlands” on unclassified road. Up at 8.30 am, out at 10.45 after talking for some time to the young assistant warden – the English bloke who opened up yesterday afternoon. As he said, he’s bumming around and doesn’t know what to do. If I get the job at Glasgow YH I might see him again. Set off on the A road which is quiet, that runs along by the side of Loch Lomond. Loch Lomond pleasant and calm and it’s close and sweaty. Try to get some tobacco at the Arden P.O and petrol station, but no go. Turn off onto the B831 and now onto this unclassified road that takes me along Glen Fruin. Moderately pleasant, marred by a dull ache in my left foot from a knock I got in the Lakes. Skylarks, pee-wees and curlews singing above me and near me.
Dinner-time. Walked along Glen Fruin. A few farms, a stream and about to start up the track to a small reservoir, marked as Auchengaich Reservoir. Just eaten the rest of the potato scones which were alright, and some biscuits.
Inverbeg Youth Hostel, late evening. To catch up where I left off. Walk up the hill to the reservoir, a small little affair, and then along rough sheep tracks up to the watershed and start to go down the other side. View’s pretty good – Beinn Lochain and Beinn Eich and the ridge between them towering directly in front of me. It’s warm up here with a slight breeze.
Following the descent it’s a steep climb up the small stream that runs off the saddle between Cruach an t-Sithein and Beinn Lochain, and then drop down the other side – view of snow clad, craggy pinnicle mountains over to the left. As I descend I come to a big Howard site – lorries, diggers, cranes extending over three miles of the valley and big, and I mean big fencing all around. God knows what the site’s for. I followed the fencing all the way along, thinking I’d get access to the Douglas Glen. But I saw that it extended all the way down the valley. (This was part of the Garelochhead Training Camp. Wikipedia notes that it became a military training area in 1940. The 1965 construction work that Le Patrol stumbled across is assumed to have been a significant extension of the area, with an increased infrastructure of service roads and facilities, and a high security fence. Wikipedia correctly notes that the area extends from Glen Fruin to Glen Douglas in the north, covering over 8000 acres. This detail is omitted from the Ordnance Survey metric Landranger Map 65, apart from the Danger Areas marked to the south west of it. Also note the roundabout marked to the south east of Gairlochhead railway station, with no roads radiating off it. The Garelochhead training area is also identified in Fortress Scotland by Malcolm Spaven, Pluto Press, 1983.)
Cursing I retraced my steps, the hillside wet and slippy and crossed a stream, asking the time from a bloke doing some curbs on the new road, with a young mate. Nearing 5 pm. My foot is now hurting like fuck. Descend to Douglas Water by a forced alternative route, walk along it as it falls towards Loch Lomond. Find a place to ford it and get on a track running by it, which turns into a made-up road that doesn’t help my foot any. It’s a pleasant valley. Stop for a cig, foot throbbing.
Get to the hostel. It’s nice and cosy, timber built in a great situation, the Douglas Water running into Loch Lomond and wooded banks overlooking by some 100′ the Loch and Ben Lomond over on the other side.
The warden’s a young bearded, cricket sweater, tartan trousered and bed slippers bloke. No-one else here tonight, and a load of left over food in the self-cookers. But I’ve run out of tobacco – no shops, no pubs, nowhere to buy it, except a P.O. so I may get some first thing tomorrow morning when it opens otherwise I’ll be a nervous wreck until I get to Loch Ard. (Le Patron’s plan was to get the foot ferry across the Loch to Rowardennan and walk to Loch Ard in the Trossachs.)
May 13. Thursday. Crianlarich YH. Evening.
Told late last night by the warden that the ferry across to Rowardennan wasn’t running so decided to hitch up to Crianlarich.
I woke up early to a beautiful, beautiful day – the best easily since I started out in March – really hot right from the start and the Loch and Ben Lomond looking serene. Left after breakfast and there’s a caravan park by the lochside on a great site. Reminded me of some of the Continental camp sites – there’s a shop and proper toilets, and trees. I go up the drive and into their shop and to my relief and delight they sell tobacco. Buy two ounce tin of Sun Valley.
Roll and smoke a cig at the water’s edge, looking across to Ben Lomond. Water clear and still and the opposite hills are reflected in it. Walk back to the main road – well it is the main road, but it is quite narrow, and not much traffic. Start walking, heading for Crianlarich. The road tightly follows the shore of Loch Lomond, wooded slopes on the land side as the hills sweep up and wooded on the narrow strip by the Loch side. Road is narrow, winding and with Z bends.
Hitch the occasional passing traffic and a pleasant bloke going to Oban in a Ford Anglia stops. He belts along and drops me off at Crianlarich and I discover it is only 11.30 a.m.
Buy some food in the village store. It’s still very hot. Decide to climb Ben More 3843′.
Crianlarich is on the edge of the hills, on the bend in the valley of the River Fallan, a flat bottomed valley, very tranquil and foreign looking (again, reminds me of the Continent) with the river meandering about and a brand new black tarmac wide road running along the valley and by the side the single track railway as I start out for Ben More. As you walk out of Crianlarich the river broadens out and gets called Loch Dochart – a small lake, a few islands of sand and weed and a more substantial island of rock with the remains of a castle on it. And to my right is Ben More rising up from the valley, doesn’t look anything like 3843′.
Start the climb from Benmore farm and it’s a straight forward trudge up a steep grassy slope. Zig-zag walking to take out the gradient, stopping often, so that it’s not hard, but tedious. See a rock above me and keep making for that thinking it’s the top, but it’s not. Eat some biscuits and continue, heading for a crag that I think is the top. Make for that, more trudge, trudge, trudge, but when I get there it’s still far from the top, so more slogging over the grassy slope, until, yes, the summit. Dead boring mountain. Quite a fine view though – jagged mountains all around, as far as the eye can see, and nearly all snow covered, the valley below and to my right in the distance a large loch. Close-by the only exciting thing to look at is the ridge between Ben More and Stob Binnein, it’s face covered in snow. Sat and wrote a postcard to parents and then started murderous descent down, just the steepness that got me, nothing difficult, exciting or challenging. Cross the Benmore Burn and make my way down to the road.
Back in Crianlarich I buy some more food from the store and find out it is 5.30 p.m.. Weatherwise it’s been a glorious day. Trot up to the hostel by the railway station. Timber building.
Enter. Take off my boots. No warden around so go into the dormitory, unpack my rucksack, make up my bed, as I come out with my food the warden comes in. Old bloke. “Now my lad, who said you could wander in? This is how trouble is caused, people wandering in and out.” So I think, this bloke’s going to be a bugger, but he turns out to be OK. Just his way of having a joke and keeping a stern face. Buy a tin of Goblin Beef Stew and as I’m cooking it I suddenly feel very sick – too much sun today? – and go and lie down and then have a crap and feel better. Back to the kitchen and serve the stew with spuds.
Later. Later in the evening a middle-aged cyclist comes in. He has a peculiar shrill little laugh and the two of us make an effort at conversation. Later still a young bloke turns up, and when he’s unpacking his stuff in the dormitory the warden tells us that he met him coming up the road and told him the hostel was closed as the warden had been taken away with an acute attack of diarrhoea – and I laughed. Yes, a warden with a sense of humour.
10.30 p.m Young bloke’s mate turns up. Both school lads taking exams. Now for bed.
May 14. Friday. Mid day/early afternoon? Near An Caistel 3265′
Oh, it’s been a great glorious day so far, weather superb. At one point I was about to curse as it was getting too hot, but I just sat down and took my sweater off, sitting in my shorts and boots. And a great walk too. When I woke up this morning the sun was coming through the dormitory windows and was already warm.
Before I left I went down to the village store to buy food, and to the P.O. to get a postal order the warden wanted. He gave me the money. Left the hostel and trotted down the quiet A82 for about two miles until coming to Keilator farm, up a track on my right. On the left a gate into a field. Climb over it and make for viaduct going under the railway line. A shepherd shouts and directs me to go through a gate further along and get on the right side of the river.
Taking his advice, I do, passing under the railway further along and cross the wooden bridge over the River Falloch and then onto a track that runs by the river – rough track, rough moorland pasture. Leave the track and make for Sron Gharbh 2322′ which takes some time getting up. It was on Sron Gharbh that I stripped off and sitting not quite ballock naked ate a packet of Royal Scot biscuits, had a cig and day dreamed, stretched out, the big blue sky above me. The beautiful glorious heat. A panorama of pyramid, triangular snow capped peaks all around and a slight heat haze. Ben More looked a bit more impressive from here, like a big cone with crags. Stob Binnein looks good too, looks like a volcano.
So from Sron Gharbh along Twisting Hill to An Caisteal. Twisting Hill is a magnificent twisting rocky ridge. It really is great to walk along, not as narrow as Striding Edge, but it’s the twisting that makes it a so good. Valleys below, streams in their early stages and nothing else. On the edges of the slopes on Twisting Hill some extensive snow-fields. Crazy, where I’m sitting, where I’m writing this in full sun, by my side is snow. Scrape off the top layer and taking the cleaner ice crystals underneath, suck them. There’s several pools of water with flies, mosquitos or something buzzing over them. There’s a continual buzzing, humming sound. The rock’s pretty crystalline, sparkles and large pieces of white crystalline rock in places too. Otherwise a grey sparkly rock and if you have a close look at it you can see that it’s been under some stress. And up in that oh so lovely blue sky – wispy, puffy white clouds, like blobs of cotton wool.
So continue along to the cairn, the rough pile of stone that marks An Caistael. A steepish descent down to the col between An Caistel 3265′ and Beinn a’ Chroin 3104′ – a bit of crag as you climb down to the col. There’s a great view here, nice craggy mountains all around, and – extraordinary – in the col there’s a peat pool with frogs in it. I sat by the pool and waited for one to surface and caught and inspected it – the Common Frog – and put it back, then another one surfaces. Walked around the pool. There are some dead bloated ones lying on the bottom. It’s only a foot deep and dead clear, brown peat bottom. Nearby is another smaller pool with a load of misty white spawn – dead by the looks of it. But crazy, frogs up here, at this height. How do they make it? And what happens when the snow comes? Really was crazy, and great.
Scramble up Beinn a’ Chroin, a lot of crag to negotiate, then on, dropping down below Stob Glas and on to Meall Dhamh, a crag outcrop and Grey Height. Go down the valley of the R.Falloch, back towards the A82, and then descend between Hawk Craig and Grey Height. Pause to have a cig, looking down at Crianlarich station, a diesel at the platform and the station surrounded by trees. It looks like some Bavarian station, with the trees and the hills all around. As I descend I thought of an idea for a play – “The Day Trip” – about a day trip to Calais – it passed the time as I walked along the road, and laughed out loud at a couple of scenes that I thought of as I got near the YH. Came in the back way, over a fence and there’s the warden, this old strong boy with snow white hair at his garden, and his alsatian greets – barks – at me, which he tells to shut up, as he grins at me.
And surprise of surprise, as I’m taking my boots off guess who turns up – “Oh I say Timmy, isn’t it fun”. Yes, unbelievably the couple who were at Glascwm way back in Central Wales. They took some time to really work out who I was, even though I told them about Glascwm, and when the penny finally dropped she said “Oh, how jolly marvellous”.
Besides them, two dumb cyclists turned up – I’m NOT being funny, literally dumb, using sign language.
May 15. Saturday. Oban Railway Station. 11.30 a.m.
Left hostel about 9 a.m and start down the road for Oban. Not much traffic but just outside the village I hitch a car and it stops just ahead of me. Run up to it. Vauxhall Velux with three American girls.
They’re going to Glencoe and drop me off at Tyndrum. Still not many cars, walk along, hitch the few that pass but no go. Low cloud with patches of blue sky that looks as if it may clear up. Barren looking hills on either side.
Hitch and a Mini van stops, youngish bloke going to Oban. Great. Pass Cruachan – lot of disruption and activity from building the power works, H.E.P they’re building. (H.E.P: Hydro Electric Power.). The road runs partly along Loch Awe. More plant, Nuttalls lorries, etc.
Road into Oban is peculiar. Some jerry buildings and pylons. Scenery peculiar as you come in, running by the Loch Etive estuary – little hummocks, hills, then larger ones. Yes Scotland is an interesting, foreign country.
Writing this in the Oban railway station, very light, glass roof, it’s a terminus. Bright place only as I sit on this bench there’s a faint tang of urine, and there’s match sticks and spit on the floor. Over there is a John Menzies book stall and Gentlemen. On the other side, Ladies Waiting Room, parcels office and in the middle two benches and a couple of trolleys. And the strange thing is that as I sit here I’m aware that everyone looks shabby and scruffy – their clothes just don’t fit and hard unpleasant faces, old men, old porters and quite a few down and outs. And a couple of old-timers sitting next to me on this bench are speaking gaelic. In a way it reminds me of those people at Maribor station, sub-standard, ill fitting scruffy clothes too, with unpleasant faces. Not the expression – the face. (Le Patron was in Maribor in the then Yugoslavia in 1964.)
Bought the Tourist Map for Glencoe and Fort William, which was the reason for coming into Oban. Now to start thinking about hitching back to Cruachan YH.
Afternoon, Kilchurn Castle. Before I left Oban I bought some groceries, including a 2lb (1 Kg) Christmas pudding reduced from 5/- to 2/6 to get rid of them in the Oban Co-op. Aye, an exotic pudding to go with my Vesta Beef Curry. Stood on the corner of town and started hitching. View of the sea down there where I’m standing, rocky wooded cliffs, looked alright. Two girls come out of the town in my direction and stop 15 yards before reaching me and start hitching. Highly unethical amongst hitch-hikers to do that. I packed in hitching, waiting for them to get a lift. Two Wimpey lorries pass them and the driver in the first lorry is grinning and sticks his finger up and down in an imaginary fanny. I laughed, man. And laugh now as I write it. Car stops for them, but pulls away and they’re still there. Thinks – serves them right. 2nd car stops and they’re away. I start hitching again and luck of luck a van stops, going six miles past Loch Awe. I get in, sitting between the driver and his mate. They drop me at Lochawe village. It’s around 1.45, so I decide to make for Kilchurn Castle.
Cruachan youth hostel, evening. After getting dropped off I trot along the road, past the hostel, round the bend, passing two monstrous Victorian turret tower mansions – hotels, on either side of the road, then over the bridge that goes over the River Strae and River Orchy where they join and empty into Loch Awe. Look at my map, trying to locate the footpath to Kilchurn Castle when another hiker/hitch hiker from Edinburgh trots towards me along the road. Have a chat, a cig, a laugh. He shoots off, going to the hostel.
Find the footpath. The castle’s on a small peninsula protruding out – a flat green peninsula with some cows grazing, with a pleasant little wood to the side. The castle was a tower built in mid fifteenth century with a big extension in 1693 the notice says. There’s also a notice saying it is closed to the public awaiting repairs but there’s nothing stopping you getting in. So enter a dark room. Get my torch out and follow the steps going up. On the first storey I look down on the grass courtyard below me. Another flight of steps up to the turret tower. Whole place to myself. It’s great – the loch all around, and I’m having trouble trying to imagine anyone ever living here – someone coming up the same steps I’ve just climbed up. What was he doing on May 15th, around 4 p.m. in 1693? What was he thinking?
Descend down into the grassy courtyard. Two other turret towers still in reasonable condition and outer walls O.K. Rest of the castle is in an advanced state of falling down. Little holes in the towers for muskets. Walk around the castle on the outside. It’s good. Notice their sanitary arrangements – genuine seventeenth bogs in the turret towers: little stone seat with a hole, it just drops straight down onto the grass.
Trot back to Lochawe, go in the shop, find it’s 4.30 p.m. buy some cigarette papers and matches – “Scottish Bluebell” – go to the hostel and check in. Two girls, three blokes, climbers of sorts from Edinburgh University. And the bloke I met on the bridge, only his mate and two Australian nurses didn’t turn up, so he’s on his tod. Makes some soup, gives me some, trots off to the pub, returns, makes some coffee, again gives me some. In the end he plays cards with three cyclists who turned up. Warden here is a youngish woman.
May 16. Sunday. On the way to Ben Cruachan 3689′
At the cairn, very small pile of stones at 3163′. On the ridge to Ben Cruachan 3689′. Coming up to the cairn I came through a snow field, digging in, scrambling up a cliff face, vertical strata jagging upwards. There’s cloud all around, but it’s very clear. The cloud is just above all the peaks, like a curtain not quite touching them. No heat haze and the mountains, the small lochs, estuary out to sea and the islands are all clear and it looks good.
No wind, either. Very quiet and peaceful up here. Some great snow-capped peaks in the distance and Ben Cruachan over there to my left. Nice triangular shaped mountain with two ridges leading off it.
Cruachan Hostel. Towards 10 p.m. From the 3163′ pile of stones cairn walk along the ridge to the 3273′ point marked on the map. It’s curious – a wooden box with bright neon orange paint peeling off. Continue the ridge walk along to Ben Cruachan, on one side looking down at the new dam and works, right down there. Can see a new road leading up to the works and on the other side – the north side – of the ridge a cliff face dropping down and extensive steep dropping very thick snowfields.
Several youngish blokes pass me, returning from the summit, and a middle aged couple. Have a talk with the middle aged couple – they’re going to Yugoslavia in the summer to do some hill walking near Dubrovnik. I continue up to the summit, to the trig point, thinking I’ll have it to myself, but two blokes and two birds up there with cameras out. Chat a bit.
I descend. Taking it slow. Been taking it slow, been taking it whimsically slow all day. Thinking about things in general. Eventually I’m descending near the dam works. Quite something. Lot of equipment around. A big Euclid lorry, massive thing, cranes. Big metal pipe – about 20′ high, 30′ long and blokes with oxy-acetylene equipment on one inside a big sort of prefab hanger. BICC offices and stores. (BICC: British Insulated Callender’s Cables.)
Several workman walking around with helmets – and there’s a properly made up road leading from the works down the two odd miles to the main road, road blasted out of the hillside. Special passing places, “give way to uphill traffic” notices, metal fenders on the open side and a beautiful view of the loch below and the gorge where the lake cum river and road to Oban go, and above the gorge, perched near the edge, Lochan na Criag Cuaig which looks peculiar, a loch perched up there.
Pleasant descent down the constructors road, and nearing the bottom, before it joins the main road, caravans fenced in by the roadside, near trees, for the workers and their families, dogs, young children, two middle aged couples sitting on a bank, laughing, talking. Great feeling of informality. A good, pleasant feeling.
(The Cruachan Hydro Electric scheme was, at the time, one of the biggest civil engineering schemes in the UK. A significant number of the workforce were from Ireland. The construction started in 1959 and Queen Elizabeth 11 opened the scheme in October 1965. Thirty six workers were killed during its construction – an extraordinary high number compared with Health and Safety standards in the Building and Construction industry at the time of writing, 2017. The Forth Road bridge had opened the year before in September, 1964. During its construction – 1958 – 1964 – seven workers had died. In 2015, fifty years on from the completion of the Cruachan hydro-electric scheme there was a gathering of some of the surviving workers – including those now living back in Ireland – at Cruachan to mark the anniversary.)
May 17. Monday. Cruachan YH, around 9 p.m.
It’s drizzling outside when I wake up and there’s low cloud on the hills. Still drizzling when I leave at 10. Walk along to Nuttall’s camp, along the B8077, all cut up and pot-holed by heavy lorries, until the bend and I go straight on over rough track following the River Strae.
Cross over the wooden bridge to Duiletter Farm and try to assist a lamb who had its head stuck in wire fencing, but because I was trying to help, it made more frantic efforts to escape, and finally managed it, me being watched nervously by its mother. I continue along, singing like mad, come to waterfalls and then have to climb over 12′ high deer fence and into unpleasant ploughed up Forestry land, difficult walking, with 9″ planted trees. (Three years later Le Patron was planting 9″ – 12″ sitka spruce working for the Forestry Commission on Arran. The Forestry Commission carpeted – or so it seemed – the whole of Scotland with the quick growing sitka spruce – in bulk, not the pleasantest of landscapes.)
Keep walking along, up the glen until I come to a cottage, alone in the valley. Possibly an old shepherd’s cottage, but the amazing thing is that it is in perfectly good condition.
There’s a piece of wire over the front door. I lift it and walk in. Moderately clean floors – no shit or dead sheep. Two main rooms, ceiling’s O.K. Fireplace in each room. Two small rooms at the back in less good condition. No window frames. Sit in one of the big rooms – window frame with the glass still there. Sit on a short plank spanning two upturned buckets in front of the fireplace. Empty milk bottles, sauce bottles, tins of coffee on the mantlepiece, and a petrol stove in the corner. Slight unpleasant smell of damp burnt wood – a bit gloomy, but otherwise in perfect condition.
Eat a packet of Rich Tea biscuits sitting on the plank. The view out of the window is the hillside opposite, the river, sheep. Scrawlings on the wall – “USAF Air Police Prestwick April 13 – 17 1962”. And so on. Someone calling himself the head shepherd of Duiletter Farm has scrawled “Leave no litter, please shut all doors before leaving”, and in a more comical mood “There is a nest of young haggis in the front of the cottage, please do not disturb.” And in his handwriting “Glen Strae cottage”.
Biscuits eaten, cigarette smoked I leave, pulling the door to, and securing with the wire and continue on my way, following the Alt nan Giubhas burn up until coming to the watershed. It’s still raining. Suddenly I see a dozen deer standing on the brow, silhouetted against the sky – a striking sight, the males with large antlers. I’m about 150 yards away. They turn their heads, spot me and as I move, they move – and how. Serene in a pack, gliding over the hill slope.
I continue over the brow down to near Lochan Coire Thoraidh and follow the contour along Glen Orchy and then down to the River Orchy.
Walk along a track that’s used by Landrovers, going by the tyre marks, but it’s not marked on the map, until coming to Craig Lodge – a farm and big house and so down to Dalmally Bridge which is in quite a beautiful setting – green trees, the wide, very wide swift flowing river, and the stone bridge. Cross it, pass the church and into Dalmally. Withdraw £10 at the P.O. and enquire about shops. The only shop, a Co-op, is closed I’m told. Closed at 5.15. It’s 5.25.
Trot hurriedly along to Lochawe, past the No Bases on the Clyde, Ban Polaris paintings slap bang on the main road faded now, perhaps done several years ago.
Into Lochawe but shop’s closed so no spuds. Ah well. At the hostel I buy a tin of soup and a tin of rice. (Ambrosia Creamed Rice.) Pleasant enough meal – which reminds me – I had a great meal last night. Goblin hamburgers in delicious gravy with cooked just-right spuds followed by successfully steamed hot Christmas pud sprinkled with sugar and evaporated milk, the evaporated milk left over by the girl and boy climbers from Edinburgh. An oldish woman in tonight – smokes a lot, nice woman, plenty of spirit, is a warden, on her holidays. And an oldish bloke with fishing rods. Pleasant evening, the three of us chatting. Glen Coe tomorrow. I hope.
May 18. Tuesday. Just out of Lochawe, making for Tyndrum and then Glen Coe.
Just out of Lochawe, making for Tyndrum and then Glen Coe. Kilchurn Castle just over there. It’s a beautiful morning, fantastic, just like Switzerland last summer – the air is chill but the sun’s warm, the sky’s blue and there was snow last night on the hills. Looking towards Ben Lui and Ben Oss.
Not many cars on the road. Two blokes further back hitching, oldish, with suitcases, nodded to each other as I passed them.
Glencoe Village. Around 2.20 p.m. Ah yes. So after passing the two blokes with suitcases, the bloke with the fishing rods at the YH last night walks up, on his way to Kilchurn Castle to fish for trout in the loch. We have a chat, both agreeing the weather’s great. The two blokes down the road get a lift in a Nuttall lorry.
After they’ve gone I start to hitch and a Consul stops.
Two flash dressed blokes going to Glasgow. OK they were. The driver nonchalantly driving, one gold ringed, gold braceleted hand on the wheel, the other hanging loose out of the window. And his mate in a bright blue jacket with a black wool shirt. They drop me at the turn off for Glencoe at Tyndrum.
Buy and eat a packet of biscuits. Stand on the grass by the Glen Coe/Fort William road. Ben More and Twisting Hill covered in snow in the distance, what a change from when I was up there. The sun goes in for a while and it’s really chilly, but comes out again. A few cars pass, up the winding bend and around and out of sight. Then a new blue Commer van passes, I hitch, didn’t think it was going to stop but it does. Get in. A lift to Glen Coe. Inside the warm cab there’s a delicious smell of warm bread and buns. Stacked, trayed in the back. We drive along through some great scenery – towering, cliff face, snow covered mountains, flat glens, big lochs and moor. Young ginger haired lad, working for himself. Picks the buns etc up at Airdrie at a cheap price and flogs them dear to bakers in Fort William area. Go along, smoking Embassy tipped, his. Approaching the Pass of Glen Coe. Getting narrower, steep, terrifying mountains.
We stop by a mobile cafe – a caravan, with the mountains towering above us. I buy the teas, 6d. each (2½p.) and a snotty nosed filthy little kid grinning at me through the open hatch, sticking his finger in an orange, the juice running down his filthy jumper and onto the plywood hatch as his dad serves me. The teas are served on a small metal tray. Take them back to the brand new blue van and me and the driver drink the tea – not bad (I’d feared the worst) and both of us eat two sausage rolls and an iced bun each, kindly supplied by him. Really nice bloke, we smoke, chat, and a few cars stop for a tea. And then a lorry. We pull away. Through the pass, past the lake and then Glencoe village. The village is just off the main road. He drops me off at the turn-off.
Walk into it. A bit spoilt by shanty town buildings, or buildings that don’t mix, but still retains some charm. It has two shops. Did some shopping – bread, milk, spuds, etc. Sitting on a wooden seat writing this, and looking down the village street. No-one around, apart from two blokes sitting on the same seat as me, talking. If the weather’s OK tomorrow it’ll be a ridge walk. Warm here. A jet has just passed over.
Glencoe YH. Towards 10 pm. Beautifully situated in the Glen, mountains towering all around, and the sun’s just gone down – behind the mountains the sky is a watery orange, and there are purple clouds.
The hostel is a wooden building, nice feel to it, with a central wood panelled common room with flags and pennants on the walls and ceiling. A big old stove placed centrally. Yes, a nice feel about the place. In tonight is a big chubby youngish woman who wouldn’t have been out of place at the anarchist camp at Beynac. (Le Patron was at an anarchist summer camp at Beynac-et-Cazenac in the Dordogne in 1963. Most of those at the camp were anarchist exiles from the Spanish Civil War, some with their French born teenage and early twenty year old children. They mostly came from Bordeaux. )
Also an oldish bloke, then a pretty young woman who arrived in a Mini by herself – shy, retiring – my idea of a kind of beauty – and a bearded bloke who walks around in climbing trousers, the undone buckles below the knee ringing. And a young bloke about my age.
Warden gave me some paper work to do when he heard I was going to be – or may be – the assistant warden at Glasgow. Apparently there’s a job going here too. Pity, but I did promise Glasgow , but then it may turn out Glasgow may not need me. Who knows. (The “warden” was not the warden at Glencoe, but the warden’s husband. And he had a sexual orientation that revealed itself the next evening. For what happened next, see Walking to Scotland1965 Part Seven.)
Walking to Scotland 1965.
Part 7. Glencoe, Fort William and Glen Nevis, Kyle of Lochalsh and Kishorn.
Story so Far… Co.Durham and Northumberland: Dirt Pot and Acomb youth hostels and abandoned railway lines. Teesdale, Weardale, Hexham, and Bellingham. Brewing up in a GPO cable repair and location van, and a horny dog. And lots of rain, and more rain. But the sun shines along Hadrian’s Wall, and Mac the legendary warden at Once Brewed youth hostel…”Get up, you lazy bugger”.
To Come The Lake District: Wonderful mountains, but frightning in bad weather. A hound on Hellvellyn and a hairy, heart stopping time in low cloud on Lord’s Rake 3162′. Magnificent deep U shaped valleys and pictureseque hamlets. And rain, and rain, and rain, enough rain to turn the Sahara green. And three Mod girls.
May 2, Sunday, near Tirril. About 10.45 am.
Yes this pen is a good 9d worth (3p) considering how much I’ve used it. A pleasant morning, overcast but warm. So starting on the long ascent – it’ll be uphill for ¾’s of the way to Patterdale, I’m at about 500′ at the moment. Lowland, very green grass, long and lush, cows grazing.
Later, having passed Stone Circle, marked on map but not tall standing stones. From Tirril to Winder Hall, a large farm and from there along the track of the Roman Road – “High Street” – only the track isn’t obvious and after a while I realise I’ve lost it and spend some time getting to the pox-eyed Stone Circle, and continue along the track, it’s not the track, a sheep track, there’s so many of the buggers. Writing this having stopped for lunch of Bournville chocolate and bread – “I’m a plain girl, I like plain things, etc etc”. (An advertising slogan used by Cadbury’s for their Bournville chocolate in the early to mid 1960s.) Some clouds are coming up.
Common Room, Patterdale YH, after my tea. After I said some clouds are coming up, it starts to rain, and the clouds come down even more, but then lift, and I’m on the definite track, and the rain goes off. The track is easy to follow along the ridge, climbing, climbing steadily until I reach Loadpot Hill 2201′. And yes, the Lakes are a great range – dramatic is the word. Look in the grey hazy distance and dark outlines of pinnacle mountains – mountain after mountain – and deep U shaped valleys, fantastically steep sides and very green uninhabited ½ mile long valleys down below. The Lakes really do come up to and surmount all expectations (and the misgivings after the Peak District).
So. Walk along the ridge, yes like a whale back and then when I got to High Raise 2634′ a really great view of Rams Gill – one of those U shaped valleys – really marvellous. Just sit there marvelling at it, almost ecstatic. Then onto The Knott 2423′ and along the steep valley side, past Angle Tarn, and looking down the deep valley of Deepdale – very steep descent and the fields below are a fantastic green and the trees have fresh green leaves.
As I descend further, a few mod expensive looking houses built of local stone.
And to the YH.
The hostel is filled with excitable and some very attractive girls, 16 – 18 years old. (Le Patron was 19 at the time.) I made myself a meal of Bachelors Chow Mein – quite pleasant. I tried to decide what was in it. Definitely red peppers and Soy Sauce. I find it hard to concentrate with these girls around me in the Common Room. A bloke was trying to chat some of them up, but they ignored him, and he’s gone off. Where? There’s also a couple staying here – in their 30s/40s?
May 3, Monday. 11 am. Grisdale Brow on way to Striding Edge.
When leaving Patterdale hostel this morning I heard a cuckoo – so spring or summer is here. So, sitting on Grisdale Brow, approx. 1500′, heading up for Striding Edge. Looking down below me – fantastic, dramatic – typical glacial mountain scenery, almost Swiss looking. Below me the flat bottomed valley called Grisdale with Grisdale Beck flowing through it – Grisdale Beck coming down a V shaped valley, typical early stage development. The main valley bottom flat and green, a few small plantations of trees, some farms and then these magnificent valley sides. Higher up the sides, scree, crags and lumps and tiny streams, so that it looks as if lava has spilled over the top of the mountains and solidified on the way down.
A lot later, approx. 2.30. “In memory of Robert Dixon, Rookings, Patterdale, who was killed on this place on the 27th day of November 1858 when following the Patterdale Fox Hounds.” Written on a rusted metal plaque.
I started writing that behind the stone wall shelter near Helvellyn 3118′. I’d reached the summit and was returning, but it was too cold and it was raining. So to catch up. I’m writing this looking down on Grasmere and Grasmere lake. Anyway, back to slogging it up the rocky path/ascent to getting onto Striding Edge, passing the couple who were at Patterdale hostel last night, and then they passing me, as we take it in turn to catch our breath.
Just as I was getting onto the start of Striding Edge this skinny hound starts following me – appeared from nowhere. No collar, blood near her ear. And she follows me along Striding Edge. In front of me is the sheer wall of Helvellyn, and down there on the right hand side the corrie called Red Tarn, and on your left hand side a U shaped valley. At one point the cloud came rushing up from the left, and I mean rushing up, and over. The path along Striding Edge is about 18″ wide at certain points with sheer drops downwards on either side. That really is a ridge, and at certain points having to climb up, or down rocks where there is no path, and the hound still with me. It’s like walking on top of the earth.
So at the end of the ridge, the edge, I can’t see any definite path up to Helvellyn so it means some very dodgy scrambling up the face – and the dog still with me. I’m now in low cloud. Climb up between two slabs of rock, scree, loose tufts of earth. And when I get to the top the dog’s up there and as I come level with the ledge where she is, she starts going mad and licking my face – which any other time I wouldn’t have minded but as I was trying to haul myself over the ledge I objected and pushed her away. Got on to the ledge.
So on the face of Helvellyn. Follow a track, snow fields above me and I’m looking for a break so I can scramble up and over the brow above me but the track comes to a sheer drop. Sit and eat two packets of dates – yes, packets of loose dates, not blocks – 60zs, 7d (3p) – and they were the best dates I’ve tasted so far, bar the dates you get in boxes at Christmas. Retrace my steps and think I see a break, go up, but it’s slippery, treacherous ice, solid ice. Get back onto the track and walk further back where I’ve already been. Contemplating part of the snow field where it looks narrow when out of the mist below me comes – “Hello?“. I hesitate and then return the call – “Hello“. Them: “Are you on the path?” Me: “No, I’m bloody lost“. And out of the mist they emerge – it’s the couple and another bloke. I say that the spot in the snow field I saw seems the best place. We go up to the edge of the snow field and aha! – the brow, green grass and a cairn.
It’s just this snow field now. It’d not high, it’s just the steepness, and the steepness below us if we slip. So with our boots make, kick, dig steps into the snow and scramble up. We made it. And on the cairn is a plaque for another bloke who copped it and whose dog stayed with the body. We go to the O.S. trig point, and I go to the shelter and have a cig, start to write the notes earlier, abandon it because of the cold and rain. The couple and bloke are coming off Helvellyn a different route from me.
I start along the path for Grisdale Tarn.
It’s a steep descent, the rain gets stronger and somehow the wind gets colder as I zig-zag down.
From Grisdale Tarn follow the track that will take me to Grasmere. The rain has stopped, cloud above me but the sun is shining on Grasmere and the lake which I’m looking down on. Flat bottomed broad valley, very green, sides not so steep, wooded sides. With the sun it looks pretty. Nobbly stick out crags all over the place. Looks a bit Swiss.
Grasmere (Thorney How) YH. Around 8.30 pm. Picking up from where I left off – descend to the main road and into Grasmere. Some mod houses – mod art gallery and a mod hotel, built of this great local stone – greys, browns, chocolate, fawns, deep reds and small stone like slate so that you get the impression the wall’s built without cement.
In front of me I see a mob of S.J.Ps (School Journey Party) going up the road to one of the hostels. (Grasmere had two YHA hostels in 1965) Thinks “Oh-oh” Buy two stamps in the Post Office and to my surprise it’s 10 to 5. So playing on a hunch I make for Thorney How, it’s further up the road. (Thorney How is now an independent hostel/bunkhouse.) On the way I pass the hound – she’s had a great day, like me. A woman is about to feed her with bread. Get to the hostel and my hunch was right – plenty of room. As I sign in I notice three people have signed in before me, and they’re from Western Road, Billericay, big coincidence, called Chapman. (Le Patron was brought up in a road that ran parallel to Western Road.)
After I’ve made my bed and washed and started cooking my meal I’m thinking: I wonder if I know them, but when they eventually turn up in the self-cookers I’ve never seen them before. Rather peculiar looking bloke in glasses and little Hitler ginger moustache with his young son and son’s older girl cousin from New Zealand who’s stacked and bored. And there’s also two girls from Preston in the self-cookers. Cooked myself a really satisfying meal of bangers and mash with Surprise peas. (Batchelor’s Surprise Peas were dehydrated peas, light to carry in a rucksack and cooked quickly, compared with dried peas.)
May 4. Tuesday. Outside Coniston Coppermines YH. Around 4.45 p.m.
This morning walked back into Grasmere and bought some food, and as it’s pissing down with rain I decide not to go up onto the mountains and start to walk to Ambleside having decided I will buy a Black’s Nylon Anorak. I heard that there was a climbers equipment shop there. I walk along the track that runs by the side of the lake – Grasmere lake. The water is very calm with the reflection of the mountain sides, the fields, the trees. Pebble beach, water very clear and with the rain there is a hissing sound as the rain kisses the water. Walking in the trees, fresh green leaves, beads – drops of rain on them and last autumn’s leaves under my feet. Then walking along Rydal water and onto an unclassified road into Ambleside. Suddenly dying for a piss and go into the bogs at the Ribble Coach Station.
Before I get to the climbing shop I see an anorak shop and buy a Black’s Nylon knee length anorak – £4.7.6 (As a comparison Le Patron’s take home pay was around £10.10s, working as a labourer the previous winter.) Across the way is the climbing shop and I inquire about water-proof anklets – but helpful bloke told me there was nothing but nothing that would keep rain out of my boots. So that was that. Good climbing shop, plenty of nice looking, expensive equipment.
After buying provisions I set off for Coniston, along the A593, turning off onto the B5286 and stopping to devour ½lb of Morning Coffee biscuits and then take my old anorak off and put the new one on. Walking towards Coniston, along the lake for ¼ mile and into Coniston, and it’s only 3.45. Hang around, quite a pleasant village, and then up the miners track to the hostel.
So as I said earlier, now around 4.45 p.m. The hostel is in a great situation – a white cottage at the foot of a fell with steep fells and mountains nearby. Some grey stoned derelict buildings near it and small slag heaps. White streams tumbling seemingly vertically down the mountain slope. And as you come up the stony track to the hostel from Coniston there’s the fast running stream in a little gorge by its side, gurgling, splashing down – a white bleached rock and the water where it is deep a sort of blue – from copper deposits? – like water in s swimming pool.
8pm, in the warden’s living room. I’m the only one here tonight. Hostel front door opened a bit before 5 I think, by young, big anarchistic looking warden, big black beard, worn out climbing trousers, jersey – him, a dog, a cat and me. When I took my new anorak off in the dorm I was surprised to find it wet inside and my sweater soaked. Condensation? Sweat? It’s supposed to be waterproof.
Out into the separate self-cookers. A lot of the equipment is filthy, but cooked myself a pleasant meal of spam, beans and mash, followed by strawberry jam and bread, only the bread’s semi-stale – bought it new in the Co-op. They really are third rate – typical sub-standard food and packaging – just like the Yugoslavian stores. (Le Patron had been in Yugoslavia in the summer of 1964, known then as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.) Just imagine what it would be like if everything was Co-op in this country. Drab, ah drab. One up for private enterprise – “Fascist hyena” cry Southend Y.S’s. at me. (Le Patron had been a member of the Labour Party, and the Labour Party Young Socialists, until he resigned in 1963, having read a pamphlet How Labour Governed 1945 – 1951 published by the SWF – Syndicalist Workers’ Federation. Re. Co-op food, it has improved since 1965.)
Writing this in the warden’s cosy room as he said it wouldn’t be worth lighting a fire in the Common Room. Earlier Johnny Dankworth records on his record player, now classical.
May 5. Wednesday. On Walna Scar Road. Around 11 a.m.
Breakfast of porridge, bread and jam. Pissing down outside.
After breakfast go into the surprisingly mod common room and read a CTC Gazette (CTC – Cyclists’ Touring Club) when warden comes in – impeccably dressed – what a change from last night – says would I mind buzzing off fairly soon as he’s going to get the 9.45 bus to Kendal to get a haircut – and if I want, if the weather stays bad I can stay in the self cookers all day. So I take my stuff to the self cookers, he locks the cottage up after giving me some handy advice on the route I should take for Eskdale, and trots off down the track. I prepare to exit in the self-cookers.
Put on my anorak, then my new nylon Black’s anorak over it, wearing shorts and put a thick strip of newspaper in my boots and beneath my knees underneath my socks as an attempt to keep my feet dry. Emerge and go down the track to Coniston and buy rations and a Beef Stroganoff – now have enough food to last me till Sunday. I take the Walna Scar road out of Coniston on the warden’s advice. Because of the rain and low cloud he strongly advised I avoid the hill/mountain path route to Hardknott Pass and take the long way round to Eskdale. He reckoned the route I planned would be hell today.
Later. The Walna Scar road – a track – climbs steeply out of Coniston, green trees on either side and then the trees peter out and you’re on a track that goes through lunar, moon type landscape. All along, the brows of the hills are knobbly and pieces of what looks like jagged limestone sticking out of the earth. In front as I walk the track knobbly mountains with great upthrust vertical strata, and a track goes off from the one I’m on, curling up there. and I can hear machinery, men and loose rock, must be a quarry or mine somewhere.
Follow track up as it skirts Brown Pike 2377′ to my right. Ascending the track it gets pretty rough with boulders and there are great white crystalline fissures running down, straight through the vertical strata beneath my feet. Enter cloud on the brow, and then out of it 50′ below the brow as I descend. Below me I can see the hamlet of Seathwaite in the valley of the River Duddon, and in the distance the hills/mountains are really wild, black, lumpy, looking.
Getting on → Descending to the valley of the River Duddon and the scenery is extraordinary with these great slabs of rock 10′, 15′, 20′ high coming out of the ground and ten’s of small craggy knolls with a few cottages between them, by them. Follow what is now a lane to a farm, cross the footbridge over the stream and there’s this great cottage there, at the foot of a small knoll called Holling House Tonge.
The cottage is white-washed, rest of it is a barn which is falling to pieces and in front of it a natural green lawn, caused by the grazing of sheep, and a grey stone wall and trees. Follow the unclassified road to Troutal Tongue, the stream a beautiful greeny/blue colour and then a frothy white as it goes over a waterfall. At this point it is so narrow it is just the road and the stream, and Harter Fell to my left in the distance. The conifer trees are a mixture, with the fresh green of larches. And it’s almost a shock to realise you are in Lancashire, as you think of the Lakes as being in Cumberland or Westmoreland.
Leave the road crossing the stream on an old stone bridge near Hinning Ho Close – the bridge spanning a sort of miniature gorge and the water looks about 8′ deep and is this fantastic blue/green colour. And a couple are descending from Harter Fell and I ask them the time, it’s 20 past 3.
Walk by the river – wide pebble bed here and the valley opens out, and Castle How, only 891′ but sticking out from the slope like a castle. I leave the river and cross a field with a friendly playful sheepdog with me to Black Hall Farm and from the farm the path takes me to Hardknott Pass road, rough narrow road and when you get to the brow you see it curling down – steep S bend after S bend, and valley and mountains in the distance and just make out the sea – a grey murkey line in between the mountains.
Walk down the pass, pausing to look at have a look at the remains of the Roman Fort.
And then continue along the road to the YH. Looks modish on the outside, but 1930s on the inside.
The hostel has good self cookers – yet appalling lack of cutlery and crockery, and there is no decent drying room and I’m very surprised and disappointed that the Black’s anorak isn’t 100% waterproof. It’s OK provided it’s not pressed against anything, i.e. the front, but on the shoulders where the rucksack straps are and the back where the rucksack is it’s virtually no good. So not quite, but nearly £4.7.6 down the drain.
May 6, Thursday. Morning. Stony Tarn (I think, I hope).
On footpath to Scafell Pikes 3210′. Woke up this morning to blue sky and sun outside. It’s now clouded over but the mountains are reasonably clear except Scafell ahead of me which is capped in cloud. I left the YH walking to the Woolpack Inn and followed the path from behind the Inn, only after a while it’s obvious I’m on a sheep track, but keep going, heading north and I’m now looking down on Stony Tarn where I can rejoin the proper footpath. Mountains all around me, black, knarled, dominant. Outstanding, challenging and frightening.
Eskdale YH. Evening. Yes, certainly challenging and bloody frightening. I did manage to rejoin the proper footpath, only it’s virtually nothing and if it wasn’t for the small cairns it would have been impossible to follow. A steady steep ascent up to Slight Side 2499′ – a lot of the ascent on scree and even in good visibility the cairns are very difficult to see. Great mountains and U shaped valleys ahead and over to my left I can see the sea, but not too clear and two big chimneys, like cooling tower chimneys with smoke/steam coming out, and the visibility is closing in. (The towers would have been part of the Calder Hall nuclear power station on the Cambrian coast, near Sellafield.)
From Slight Side it’s up rocky, stoney scree to Lord’s Rake 3162′. There’s a big cairn there and a stone shelter but I go on, passing a fantastic, very frightening gully on my left – two great slabs of rock and the gully dropping almost vertically down for 100’s of feet. But then, ah then I run into trouble, which mistakenly I thought was only temporary. Lord’s Peak has a great buttress. Below it is a path going up to Scafell Pikes. I’m on the buttress – great slabs of rock all around. Looking down to the path I see two people going up it. Have a look around and realise I can’t get down to it from where I am – but not to worry (says me). Retrace my steps and follow the gully down as advised to me by two blokes who were staying at the YH last night.
It starts to snow but the visibility is OK. Watch 5 blokes in yellow oil skins coming down the path from Scafell Pikes as I light a cig and smoke it feeling – and God knows why – pretty good. One of the blokes stops and has a pee. OK, says me. Put my nylon anorak on. But as I continue, suddenly with, no warning, visibility closes right up. All I can see is the immediate rocks, everything else – Scafell Pikes, the path below me – are now gone, hidden by drifting white mist. Continue down the path in the gully and then it just flakes out. There’s a big slab of rock going down at 45°. Get on my arse and carefully work my way down – rocks wet and slippy, gully to my right dropping steeply, partly full with scree and snow. Gently find places to put my boots and get a grip with my hands. Eventually reach the bottom which is a platform/ledge. Look around me. All I can see in the mist is a sheer drop in front of me.
Dump my rucksack and scout around. Nothing but sheer drops, and then in a break in the mist I can see the path some 15/20′ below me. It comes up to the rock face and stops dead, dividing, going down each side of Lord’s Rake. So near yet so far – and never so true. It’s an impossibility to get down there unless you feel like jumping and I certainly didn’t with the weather, and the mist/rain was getting worse and my hands were getting numb. Get back to my rucksack and then I have to somehow get up this slab I came down.
Only it’s murder going up, and the rucksack’s no help, the frame bangs against the rock on my right as I try to work my way up and my map case keeps getting caught up with my knees and the hood of the anorak doesn’t allow me to look up and see where I’m going, unless you feel like straining and leaning back and with the drop below me into a misty nothing. And by now I’m not sure there isn’t a sheer drop below the glimpse of path I saw. I take it slow, most of the time huddled on my knees, my fingers grabbing pieces of rock – it’s all sheer rock, nothing else, and trying to find places for my boots. At times my body is nearly lying against the rock with one hand grabbing a projection. I slowly haul and push myself up. And BROTHER was I glad when I got to the top.
From then on I’m scrambling up with a few more nasty places to climb until I reach something that vaguely resembles a path. And I decide that the path, or what there was of it and the cairns marking it was either for climbers or for summer use because for a walker the route’s impossible. Even in summer or on a clear dry day it may be a possibility but it’s still murderous and highly dangerous.
I’m back on soil, well, of sorts and sitting behind a rock I munch a packet of Digestive biscuits. Never again will I sneer at Digestive biscuits – Christ they were good, and I notice the small hairs on the back of my hand are like tiny splinters of glass, glistening with the frosty rain/mist. I’ve never seen them like that before. Looked startling. Biscuits finished I go along the ridge, following a couple of cairns, theoretically retracing my steps – only as I soon discover, I’m not. There’s a great mound of big boulders, I clamber over them, following cairns, but all the cairns come to dead ends with sheer drops or steep gullies. I’m getting angry now. Keep slipping on the bastard wet rocks and the wind and the rain belt against me and can’t see more than 10 yards in front of me. I go back. Stop. Hesitate. Try a different route. Again something happens – there’s another big gully and I can make out snow. So back again. Stop and hesitate and I’m really angry now. Try a 3rd time and for some peculiar reason discover some cairns over to my left I’d missed before. I follow them – and yes – it’s a safe – well, fairly safe way down, scree in a lot of the route though, and the more I go down the more reassuring it is. Just the fact that I’m going down, and come to grass, and really happy now, really striding, at times running down the slope, past cairns – man I feel great – I’m safe.
Shouting, singing – almost exhilaration – as I race down, even though my jeans are saturated and boots are getting wet, and I know I’m not on the path I came up on, but who cares – and then, with my little eye, I spy one big lake and one small lake. Stop to consult my map. Have great difficulty getting it out of the map case – my hands are numb, no power in them. But get it out. And hooray. The big lake is Wast Water and the little one over to the left is Burnmoor Tarn, which leads to Bent near Eskdale YH. Great man. They’re about 600 – 700′ below me.
Belt down that slope, singing – absolutely crazy – I should be crying – I’m soaked through, but I feel great. Going down, down, ground getting boggy but I don’t care. Near the tarn there’s a sheep pen, the kind you get in hills, round, built of stone. Sit in there, some protection from the wind, and dry my hands with my handkerchief which miraculously is still dry and roll a cig. Sit there, hunched up, water dripping off me and take drags on the cigarette. And it’s about the best cig I’ve ever smoked. Take it in deeply, hold it, and then let it out. Beautiful – and I must have looked a picture as I drag it down until it’s burning my lips.
Continue along the reasonably well defined path that’s running parallel with Whillan Beck. Boots by now completely wet, water squelching out, but who gives a damn.
Descend into Boot. Funny little place. Farms, cottages in a dead end road, off the main country road. Basically it’s a hamlet, but with a P.O where I buy a tin of creamed rice and a packet of Cream Crackers and find out to my astonishment that it’s 5.15 pm.
May 7, Friday. Langthwaite YH (Borrowdale).
This morning at Eskdale YH after the hairy experience on Lord’s Rake. All my clothes dry after being in front of the wardens (two old ladies) big stove in their kitchen overnight. Breakfast of porridge and skimmed milk and tea and skimmed milk. My duty was to go down to the Woolpack Inn and get the hostel’s milk in a little two pint carrier. (In the 1960s hostellers were given duties by the warden before they left in the morning – it could range from sweeping out a dormitory, or the Common Room to cleaning the self-cookers.)
By the time I get back it’s just gone 10 am, but the rucksack’s packed and I’m ready to go. It’s not raining but there’s low cloud. Go up the track to Tow House, a farm, and from then on start following the Esk all the way up.
Skiddaw on my left. Stop by a sheep fold and eat biscuits and have a cig. It’s starting to rain.
Continue. The further I make my way up the narrower the valley gets, and up there the Esk is a beck tumbling down a V shaped valley, There’s low cloud up there and I start the ascent proper. Rain’s getting heavier. The path’s steep, cairn marked – right by the stream, at times in it, over the boulders. Stop. Stop. Stop for breath. Continue. By now boots contain plenty of water and the rain’s driving into me, from behind, into my back. Climb, climb. Reach Esk Hause in low cloud. There’s a footpath descending, but in the low cloud can’t see if it is the one that will take me down to Sprinkling Tarn which I should be heading for.
Getting lower down the path I emerge from the cloud – there’s a high valley down there, tracks, streams and right at the end of it where it seems to drop – a hanging valley? – Sprinkling Tarn. I’m alright, on the right path.
Follow the path down, turn off before I get to the tarn and a steep descent down, following a beck that cuts through a deep V valley and then through a gorge called Grains. On my right are fantastically high steep sides with streams tumbling down – streams everywhere rushing, splashing off the sides with the last 3 to 4 days of rain. Hasn’t been a good day since Saturday.
Continue on my way down to another Seathwaite (Borrowdale, not Duddon Valley!). A hamlet of a couple of farms at the head of Borrowdale. One of the buildings has B&B advertised.
From Seathwaite there is now an unclassified road going down to a junction with a B road. It runs along by the side of Styhead Gill. Rain still pissing down and I’m soaked through Get to the junction with the B road. If I took a turn to the left it takes you up to the Honister Pass, but no fear, I walk on. Surprisingly a red Cumberland bus goes up the B road. A school girl got off it and I ask her the time. It’s about 4.30 she thinks.
Try unsuccessfully to roll a cig but the cig papers have turned to pulp in the rain. Get angry and give up. Shepherd and his dog pass me. I squelch along the B road making for the hostel. As I squelch along a mobile shop is parked outside some cottages. A woman in there getting some stuff. I wait. She emerges with her shopping bag and son. “Terrible weather” says she. “Yes” say I, and into the mobile shop. “Have you got any spuds?” – “Yes.” – “2 lbs please.” – “Only 5 lb bags”, so I squelch on.
Looking at the map I can’t quite work out how to get to the hostel. Catch up with the woman who’s now lit a cigg – a tipped cig. and ask her. I was dying for that cig. Cig. still in her mouth she says “Down there” pointing to track. It’s the track going to Longthwaite, there’s a couple of cottages and then a bridge over the river and there’s the hostel in a woody glade by the river.
Sit in the porch and the slow business of getting my stuff off – hands numb. Eventually get most things off, including socks that weigh ½ lb each with water. Sign in and they have a good store, so buy food. Change clothes and wash. Put the wet clothes in the drying room – a proper one – tinder dry. Meal of tomato soup, cream crackers and fly cemetary biscuits (Garibaldi biscuits) and tea AND managed to get pint of fresh milk. Very nice hostel – clean, warm, log fire and plenty of feeling. A picture on the wall I like – looks like wooden cottages in the Russian steppe – great mood.
May 8, Saturday. Overlooking the valley of Watendlath Beck.
At the head of, overlooking the valley of Watendath Beck which is very beautiful and picturesque. There’s the tarn down there and by it the hamlet of Watendath – farms or farms clustered by the side of the tarn, a few trees.
Left Langthwaite hostel at 10 a.m. Everything dry and – I forgot – the bloke from Billericay who was at Grasmere was staying here too – Chapman – and he’s taken my army cape back to Billericay for me, nice of him. Last night it was quite close, I opened a window in the dormitory. Leave the hostel – it’s a bit windy, high cloud, patches of blue sky and dry – so far – and down to the beautiful hamlet of Stonethwaite.
Cross the Stonethwaite Beck – broad here, swollen, angry, rushing down, after all the rain. Very big beautiful U shaped valley. I ascend the steep path to Dock Tarn and nowhere.
Later. So, from “Nowhere” down to Watendlath, through the wood, along by Watendlath Tarn, and right by the tarn the hamlet proves to be really beautiful. Stone hump back bridge going over the stream to it, but I keep on this side of it and follow the stream down.
Further down cross a foot bridge, footpath through a wood and then onto an unclassified road through the same wood. Starts to rain and put my nylon anorak on. The road leads down to Derwent Water – choppy and grey and the B road along to Keswick.
Keswick, around 2.25 p.m. Still raining. Sitting in a shelter in the public gardens with the River Greta 5 yards away. Quarter an hour ago I was looking in the window of Fishers – a superb mouth-watering camping/climbing store. Gaze at the goods on display and go in, and have a chat about my nylon anorak. He says, a bloke says they don’t recommend Black’s Cagoules, that after 6 months the proofing goes – so that’s £4.7.6d down the fucking drain, which needless to say niggles me. (Fishers of Keswick are still very much in business. Blacks no longer make cagoules.)
Buy some provisions. Lot of people walking around in anoraks – even a couple of blokes in Duvet jackets – which strikes me as being pure show. A Duvet jacket? It’s not cold, it’s not freezing, no snow on the ground – it’s May 8. So here I am in this shelter in the park, waiting for 5 and opening time. Keswick is a 112 bed hostel – probably be deadly. Imagine the self-cookers with 112 fully booked beds.
Derwent YH. After writing the above I thought, blow it, I’ll go to Derwent hostel, it won’t be as deadly as Keswick, so walk back along the B road to Barrow House, the hostel. It’s a fine big Georgian house.
Pleasant inside. Trying not to get too fed up about the blasted anorak. Had a meal of cheese pie – yes, they had a grill. School party here tonight and 3 mod girls from Middlesex. “Yer what?” – “Give over.” Cockermouth tomorrow – will be my last day in the Lakes.
May 9, Sunday. By the side of Derwent Lake, near Brandlehow Park.
Cloudy outside when I woke up, after a good sleep – woken by the rising bell and dreaming about something other than the hills for a pleasant change. The dormitory all to myself, the school mob in the other dormitories. Breakfast of porridge and grapefruit. About to go, putting on my boots when one of the Middlesex mods says “Do you know the best way to get back to London?” Not really but give her vague directions about making for Manchester via Penrith.
So I leave and trot down the road, past a big Victorian hotel that’s had modern extensions and looks quite expensive – big car park on the other side of the road from it, full of cars including several foreign ones – even a Milan registration plate on a Fiat. Ah, Italia! “Italia bella, si.” (Le Patron had been in Italy the previous summer, 1964. See his Ciao Ciao Bambina post.)
Take the footpath across the bottom of Derwent Water, the path is partly on raised planks as the ground is marshy and so onto the other side of the lake, following the path through the woods, by the lake. Very pleasant. I’m sitting here having a cig and there’s two blokes in a boat out there, rowing, and a pleasure – “We take your money” – motor launch passes me.
Cockermouth YH. About 8 p.m. So to pick up from where I left off – continue along the path then up the minor road that goes into Braithwaite.
Pass several middle-aged mixed parties of Ramblers – and suddenly think of the Chums Rambling Club advertised in Rucksack. (Rucksack was the magazine of the Ramblers Association.) Just before Braithwaite I sit on a bench and eat a date bar and suddenly it starts to piss down. So there I am, sitting on a bench and it’s really pissing as I eat my date bar, and then open a packet of biscuits. And down by a stream there’s a young bloke throwing pebbles in it, and then starts to walk towards a caravan site across the fields, throwing a piece of wood, going up to where it’s landed, picking it up, throwing it again and so on. The pouring rain doesn’t seem to worry him. Stops to inspect his shoes. Curious.
Go into Braithwaite and I’m now soaked. Passed some cottages and get a whiff of Sunday dinner – roast beef, and I suddenly wish I was in there, out of the pissing rain eating a Sunday dinner. But I’m not, I’m outside, move on and get some shelter by a garage. The rain eventually stops. Start to ascend the Whinlatter Pass.
The Pass is not particularly steep, easy going, a pleasant road. Turn off to a minor road and make my way down into High Lorton – a nice quiet village and rejoin the B road that will eventually take me into Cockermouth. The rain’s going off and as I walk along there’s very green hedgerows on either side of me, and the countryside’s low and rambling and fantastically green. There’s primroses in the fields and in the roadside banks. And yes, blue sky now, gloriously friendly blue sky and it’s like, well it is – summer. And I look back and see the Lakes, the great humps, great grey humps rising up out of the lowland, and there’s low cloud and mist enveloping them, and it’s like coming out of the dense jungle into the open, out of a cage into the open.
Walking to Scotland 1965
Part 6: Into Scotland. Glasgow, Loch Lomond, Crianlarich and beyond…
4: Northumberland, Hadrian’s Wall and on to Penrith.
The Story So Far…. Crowded Easter hostels, but the lovely Yorkshire Dales, a dog in Grisdale that lost a paw to a weasel, a nasty military surprise near Kirby Stephen, and a sickly combination of Blue Band luxury margarine and Scottish Co-op Apple Jelly….
To Come Co.Durham and Northumberland: Dirt Pot and Acomb youth hostels and abandoned railway lines. Teesdale, Weardale, Hexham, and Bellingham. Brewing up in a GPO cable repair and location van, and a horny dog. And lots of rain, and more rain. But the sun shines along Hadrian’s Wall, and Mac the legendary warden at Once Brewed youth hostel…”Get up, you lazy bugger”.
April 25, Sunday. Brough, 10.30 am.
The hottest morning for a long time, equal to that morning in Ffestiniog when I was amongst the old slate quarries. Brough is busy with tourist cars and plenty of heavy transport, surprised being a Sunday – the heavy traffic, I mean. Tried to get an Observor but newsagent’s closed. If my calculations are correct another 15 – 16 miles to go.
Later on B6276 road to Middleton in Teesdale, sitting opposite a mile post. Middleton 10, Brough 4. Very quiet here, few cars pass. Left Brough walking with a young geologist for ½ a mile until he trotted off across the hills with his hammer and haversack. Just eaten 5 sandwiches – 4 tongue paste and one strawberry jam.
Milepost. Brough 8, Middleton 6. Near Scarhead Path. Five more sandwiches and a cig. Moor hills and onto a dodgy footpath. Goes through bog until I reach a stream. Footpath marked on map – red dots – new marking on this 1964 OS map but no footpath is visible from where I’m sitting. If I can find the footpath Langdon Beck is only 6 miles over the ridge.
Hogworm Hill, overlooking Teesdale. No idea of time, watch playing up. The path was non existent to the stream but a bridge of 3 logs indicated the path theoretically crossed at that point. Still no sign of a path, so followed the stream up until I saw a wide strip of green going through the brown gorse. Guessed it was the path and it was and so up to here, Hogworm Hill. Easy ascent, and now to descend.
Langdon Beck YH, around 9.30 pm. Is a mod hostel – brand new one built of local stone, conventional style but mod inside, and to my great surprise there’s only 3 others here – 3 youngish blokes playing cards. I had a great hot shower, followed by Vesta Beef Stroganoff which was OK but like their Spaghetti Bolognese not enough of the noodles and too much sauce, but a tasty meal, followed by a tin of creamed sago pudding and 5 cups of tea. Writing this in the common room with mod local stone fireplace and partial wood panelling walls and good selection of magazines and books – even an American ‘Stag’ magazine between Life and the Sunday Times Colour Magazine. (Stag in the 1960s was a fiction based American magazine, most stories involving men in war situations, or in the rugged outback.)
So from Hogworm Hill follow the path which follows Blea Beck (not shown on OS map), and then it disintegrates and heavy knee deep heather slopes, so just wade through it with difficulty down to the River Tees where it curls around a knoll where there’s a quarry. It’s a dark grey/blue rock, vertical strata, like columns. The knoll is rocky and covered with dark green thorn bushes that looks like somewhere in the Holy Land – or how you’d imagine it would look.
The valley leading up to the youth hostel is broad and green and unfenced and like nothing I’ve seen before. The River Tees is wide and shallow here, running over white boulders. And the farms and barns are white, dead white – never seen anything like it. Completely uncultivated, just green and these white buildings on a gentle slope.
All day as I was walking to here I’ve been hearing this low pitched humming/tweeting sound, and it’s swallows up in the sky who fly along and then swoop down, and then swoop up again. Dirt Pot tomorrow.
April 26, Monday. Dirt Pot YH. Evening.
Just me here tonight, and it’s O.K. Place to myself. Hostel is a former chapel.
But the day, what a day – woke up and there’s a steady heavy drizzle coming down. Eat my breakfast and hang around until 10. (YHA England & Wales regulations were that hostels were closed between 10 and 5, although at the discretion of the warden, depending on location, hostellers could stay in the hostel during the day if the weather was particularly bad. The discretion was rarely exercised.) So, wearing shorts, cape, and sou wester I go out into the drizzle. The drizzle is far heavier than light rain. Hill drizzle. Very soon the rain is running off my cape, down the back of my leg, absorbing into my wool socks and eventually running into my boots. Take the hill road to St.John’s Chapel.
Squelching along the road I come across a Durham County Council hut – no door, and enter. Must be a road workers hut, in the middle of nowhere. Dilapidated, but it’s dry and wooden plank across two piles of bricks. Sit on it and drag on a cig and eat 4 meat paste sandwiches – the last of the meat paste, thank God.
Outside it’s clearing – mutilated blue sky with hurrying clouds. Off again, reach the ridge and descend into St.John’s Chapel, past disused amateur looking stone quarries. St.John’s Chapel is a village with a road going through it. Continue down to the disused small jerry looking railway station and it starts to throw it down as I cross the river using the stepping stones. Climb up near Carr Brow Moor. Farm hand with boy talks to me.
Still raining as I ascend and then over the ridge, and another ridge to ascend – White Edge and now I can see the road going into to Allenheads. Descend to it – old cottages and the remains of a small coal mine – big wheels, abandoned trucks, small slag heaps. As I walk the road the sky clears – blue sky but a black curtain coming in and then a crack of thunder and the next thing there’s a great hail storm, big white pebbles bouncing off my cape. And I pass some workers also with capes on, trying to pull a machine over the moorland. Two trucks parked – some lime company from Penrith, and a Land Rover. Wonder what they’re doing.
The road starts descending and crossed the boundary into Northumberland, and descent into Allenheads. Looks Bavarian. Pretty. Forest of dark green firs closely planted.
Allenheads – go in the P.O. to find out the time. No one there, but clock on the wall – 5.30. Walk to Dirt Pot and the hostel.
Hostel is former chapel. Try door, locked, go to warden’s house, knock, no reply but smoke coming from the chimney. Getting cold and hungry. Ask a bloke who’s feeding his pigeons in the opposite cottage the time, and as I do another bloke walks along – ‘No one in? Should be.” We trot to the warden’s house, go round the back. He is in – he’s sawing logs in a hut. His wife comes with me and opens the hostel and lights a welcome fire. Head in head scarf. Place to myself and cook Spaghetti Milanese – tasted better, but filling, followed by bread and marmalade and tea and a cig and drying clothes in front of the fire, and looked at about the only book in the place, left by a previous hosteller, I think. ‘Britain and the Beast’ by Peter (M.R.) Howard and throw it away in disgust after a few pages. (From the book’s blurb “The author calls for a revolution for the best of Britain – an uprising of all those who believe in the ways of moral straightness and patriotism. Howard attacks ‘the campaign to call queers normal and normals queer, churchmen who question accepted morality, philosophers who point man back to the beast, men of Right and Left who fight class war.” Peter Howard was leader of the Moral Re-Armamement movement from 1961 until his death in 1965.)
I’ll go into Hexham tomorrow to get OS 77, which I need for the next stage of my walk
April 27, Tuesday. Hexham, around 1 p.m.
Sitting on a bench in a shelter in a park in Hexham.
Woke up to yet another foul morning, and woke up late. Must have been around 8. Wasn’t going to wash as no hot water but then thought – ‘Where’s your guts or self-discipline man’. So stripped off and washed using the sink. Hear someone come in downstairs, move around, and then go out. Put my sweater back on, strip the bed, fold the blankets, roll up my sheet sleeping bag, pack it and descend down the stairs. Must have been where the organ was, up where I was sleeping. Have breakfast, take my clothes, socks from in front of the stove – where I imagine where the altar was. Warden comes back. Yes, there’s a bus at 9.45. Gives me my card. (Hostellers had a membership card which was stamped by the warden after a hostel stay. Hostels often had their own picturesque stamp, giving a flavour of a local feature or of the hostel.)
Stand by the bus stop, outside the Co-op, the only shop in Dirt Pot and Allenheads. Warden and her husband run the Co-op too. A United bus turns up and 2/5 (12p) for a ticket to Hexham. Fills up quite a bit as it drives along, stopping at road ends, or where there are a few cottages. Mostly old men with hats or caps and women with hats. Driving through moderate countryside, nothing too exciting, except at Allendale Town there was snow lying on the ground. Surprised me, this is the end of April, and snow.
Hexham – a difficult town to describe in some ways – not industrial, residential, Northumberland country town, expensive men’s clothing shops, a market, stalls.
It’s raining. Buy some food, not very sensible, not very economical. Must get down to working out some dishes. Buy the OS map and a 1/-‘s (5p) worth of chips in Fish Bar only it’s a mean 1/-‘s worth. Eat them out of the rain standing underneath an arch. Other people standing there taking shelter. Rain goes off a bit, leave the arch and directed to “the best book shop in Hexham” as the woman directing me to it described it. Bought Waterhouse’s “There is a Happy Land”.
I didn’t go much on the ‘best bookshop’ bit – their stock of Penguins was virtually nil. “There is a Happy Land” will pass away this damp overcast afternoon in Hexham. Going to Acomb YH tonight, two miles away.
Writing this sitting in the park shelter. “Sheila Barron loves David Scarff” scrawled on the brick wall of the shelter and in front of me a green grass slope which a gang of black blazered young school boys came down minutes ago – shouting, screaming, laughing, fighting, and there’s the sound of a pneumatic drill coming from somewhere.
Acomb YH. 7.15 pm. Crossed the River Tyne to get here – broad river in wide flat valley and then bridle path to Acomb, pleasant out of the way village.
To my surprise the YH is packed out menwise – an all male school party from Stoke. OK hostel. But I’m going to have to stay two nights at Bellingham because one of their teachers told me they were booked in for two night at Once Brewed and that it was full.
April 28, Bellingham YH. 3.30 – 4pm?
Woke up in the dormitory at Acomb to another terrible morning – pissing down like the clappers, and wishing I had a Black’s Nylon Anorak and a pair of those Karrimor waterproof dubarries that fit from your knee down to your boots. Then I would be 100% water tight, but probably will have to wait until I get to Glasgow before I can buy them. Reluctantly I left the hostel in the pissing rain with one of those polythene bags cut in two and put over my socks, which proved later to be useless. The Stoke mob in the school journey party putting on their boots as I left.
With my cape on I set off, teeth gritted. (The cape was an ex WD cape. In 1965 there was still a large amount of left over army and occasional navy surplus clothing and equipment from the Second World War. Much was sold in army surplus shops, but also through the post from suppliers advertising in Exchange and Mart. Some of it was very good, such as submariners pullovers, and other items, such as the army cape were not so good. The army cape had a sort of rubberised proofing, that after 20 years from its manufacture was no proof at all in continual rain.)
Followed a country road to Crag House, looked behind me and the school mob were also trudging behind, wearing capes, making for Once Brewed YH. From Crag House I tried to follow the Roman road, now a track but a farmer had a gate with high barbed wire going across it so had to go on B road. Trudging along in the pissing rain – it’s a straight Roman road for a bit. The rain just won’t let up when a G.P.O 25 cwt Commer pulls up and they tell me to get in. I wasn’t even hitching. They’re going to Bellingham – great. Tell me it’s strictly against the rules to give a lift in a government vehicle. Driver and mate, jacket and trousers, G.P.O cable repair and location blokes.
In Bellingham at 12 0′ clock. They say “Have some tea” and the driver’s mate gets out with the kettle and goes off to find some water. It’s a great van – same cwt but more modern than Tony’s. ( Le Patron met Tony when he was spud picking in the Vale of York in the autumn of 1963. Tony lived in an ex- Post Office parcels van.) In the back there’s two benches, lights in the ceiling, a gas ring and Calor gas. Driver’s mate returns with a full kettle and as it’s boiling up on the ring the driver says he’s niggled by people thinking the N.E. is nothing but coal mines and slag heaps. Driver’s mate says there’s the finest beaches in England along the Northumberland coast – spends his holidays there – sand dunes and fishing villages. Sounded attractive.
Give me a tea and they eat their lunch. I eat my bread (loaf given to me by the school mob) with Bournville chocolate. We talk and at 1.10 pm I leave, thanking them, and they are off to work. Think: great blokes and find a cafe because I need a slash. Nice homely place. Couple of farm hands eating a tempting looking meal of mince, carrots, peas, mashed potatoes, but at 3/6 (17.5p) give it a miss. I have a mug of hot tea for 4d – at least it is dry and warm in here. Eke out the time. Drink the tea, smoke a cig. Leave and cash £10 in the P.O. There’s a Co-op and buy a load of food and to my pleasant surprise they’ve got dry spaghetti, so buy Tomato Sauce Mix and some cheese.
Still got time to kill so start off for the railway station. It’s unused and the track’s ripped up.
Walk along the track bed to Redesmouth, then follow unclassified road back into Bellingham.
Made my way to the youth hostel. Timber building, looks like a scout type hut. (It was more likely an ex-Forestry Commission hut. The massive Keilder Forest and Wark Forest is to the west and north of Bellingham. It is the largest man made coniferous forest in England, and the Forestry Commission still has work related buildings in the Bellingham area.)
Warden doesn’t live on premises. Everything locked up. Looks nice and cosy and clean inside when I looked through the window in the door.. Must admit I expected the Northumberland hostels to be in wild remote places and the countryside rugged. It isn’t and they aren’t. Didn’t have to wait long when the husband of the warden turned up, let me in, got a fire going and left me to it. Quite a chatty bloke. Cooked the spaghetti, had it with the tomato sauce mix and grated cheese. Followed by a Lyons apricot sponge pudding I’d bought in the Co-op which for 1/8 (8p) considering what it turned out to be – more sponge than apricot jam – was daylight robbery.
April 29, Thursday. Around 3 pm. Near Lanehead station.
Making the best of having to wait a day before I can move on to Once Brewed. Lanehead station, but for a long time disused. (The station was, in fact, called Tarset station, after a local castle. The station was closed in 1958, just seven years before, not such a long time.)
Writing this leaning against an old buffer – a mound of earth boxed in by wood, the station about 50 yards down the green grassy track bed – track lifted.