THIS is a website for the strugglers, the triers, the quiet though valiant souls who raise their eyes to the mountains and say: “I’m going to climb to the top of that. Even if it kills me.”
Perhaps you’re a mountain athlete with legs of spring steel and a natural dexterity that allows you to prance nimbly along the knife-ridges of the world’s highest places. If so, this website is probably not for you.
If, on the other hand, you’re a stubborn, slightly unconventional, back-against-the-wall type with a tendency to be a bolshie bugger, fighting against the universally accepted certainties of middle age (caravans, beige trousers, lawnmower envy, vertical window blinds) and crave instead the things that give life its colour and zest (the hiss of a petrol stove beneath a starry sky; the smell of warm, sweaty waterproofs that should have been washed last year; wind howling across the summit of Ben Wyvis so strongly you can’t stand up; dust in your boots; peat under your fingernails; the sun in your eyes; grass in your tea; and the tangy taste of unknown chemicals in midge repellent) then you might find something of interest. Might.
This website does not have an agenda other than to entertain, and perhaps spark up some enthusiasm for the less-accessible corners of Britain – and sometimes beyond. It’s about climbing mountains, usually by the easiest route, sometimes by the hardest route, occasionally by the wrong route, and once or twice by the potentially suicidal route. It’s also about characters, musings, fish and chips, recollections, history, absurdity, and those triumphs that raise mountain people above the mass of humankind – such as fixing a flapping sole on your boot with two screws painstakingly removed from a fence post with a spoon handle.
And it will, in time, attempt to answer the eternal question of why people climb mountains – so I can ditch the lame “Because they’re there” from the masthead.
Alen McFadzean, somewhere near Darlington
NEW OCTOBER 21, 2011: I’ve just got back from Madeira, having climbed its highest peaks, walked its ridges and sea cliffs, drank its wine and eaten its fish. Unlike Scotland at this time of year, the sun shone and you could wear your shorts. Guess where I’m going next year at this time. The consequence is there is a new section, The Madeira Diaries, in the contents pages.
July 12, 2011: In 1983 a van-load of potholers drove from Larne to Cork to explore a series of abandoned copper mines. And so began my love affair with Ireland. We did it again in 1986. But I didn’t climb my first Irish mountain until 1999. All this was before I stepped through the wardrobe into cyberspace. Now things have changed. It’s my pleasure to unveil a new section to the contents pages – Irish Highs (apologies to Spanish Highs, but I couldn’t resist it) – with an expedition into the boglands above the glens of Antrim. There’s even a video to go with it . . . (The launching of this section on July 12 is purely coincidental and nothing to do with any historic events)
MARCH 9, 2011: I’ve added a new section called Special Features. This is a place for self-contained, Sunday supplement-style articles that tell a story and, hopefully, broaden interest in the mountain environment. They will contain historical information supplemented, on occasion, by original research, the object being to inform as well as entertain. I’ve started things rolling with an article called The Search for John Bolton’s Rock Hotel. Bolton was a 19th Century geologist with a penchant for sleeping rough in the Lakeland fells, a habit that – on one stormy day in 1863 – nearly killed him. Not that it dampened his enthusiasm. There are more to follow.
JUNE 14, 2010: I’ve changed the name of the opinion page to Feet First. This gets a bit political at times, because politics affects everything we do and everywhere we go – especially the Highlands, which is owned and controlled along feudal lines by a secretive, stupendously rich and self-centred group of plutocrats, some of whom – given half a chance – would have us riff-raff penned up in the cities and neutered. I firmly believe it is every walker’s duty to wear a Che Guevara T-shirt and whistle the Red Flag, the Internationale or A Las Barricadas when passing Highland estate buildings. This doesn’t do much good, but it alerts those whose nervous disposition is a product of a diluted gene pool to the uncomfortable fact that the forces of intolerance are still out there and stalking their land.
JANUARY 8, 2010: I’ve just added another section to the contents page. It’s called Lost in the Rucksack. It’s somewhere to shove articles that don’t fit happily into The Munros, The Lakes or any of the other sections. So like teabags, socks, hard-boiled eggs and those funny little tin-openers they used to sell in the Famous Army Stores, they can rattle about in the Rucksack. The only things in there so far are about running. I run like I climb mountains – slowly, badly, and with lots of grunts and groans. I sing the same way too. You should hear me. No, actually, you shouldn’t.