Unpredictability - Good for your health

Our modern life is based on organising an environment free from the unexpected. The house needs to be as stable and reliable as possible. The job as safe as possible. Nothing should break down. Nothing but what we predict, should occur.
This is the life of the zoo animal. Let's explore the life of the Nomad. Let's live the life of the Nomad.

Friday, 20 December 2013

The Perfect Hotel

Does such a project as this have an end?  What becomes of the nomad once his wheels no longer roll down gypsy lane?  Like a storm that has lost its wind this nomad walked into a room to behold a lady with black hair and eyes bright like stars flaring in the night.

Thus began the love affair with the lady in the city who appeared to love my quirky nature.  Turbulent, calm, volatile and dazzling – the affair was there and to this day continues. M took my hand as we walked down a wet road on a Friday night and if the hands were physically parted – in a spiritual sense they never were, like two orbiting planets locked in an eternal revolution.

It was M’s idea to spend some time together – to escape to a hotel in the Ashdown forest. I drove the carriage, the vehicle whose purchase was long overdue.  No trailers would be towed with this little car.  But the mileage dictated the model and so the little Suzuki Splash would take us briskly to the Ashdown Park Hotel.

The concierge took our cases and lead us to the room with the soft bed and the marbled floor, and the view over a lake, and a forest and buildings aged with the grace of generations of wealth and power.  We relaxed and explored the room.  We walked the grounds of the castle and marveled at the trees of oak, alder and birch.  We explored the local village of Forest Row before returning to the room, and preparing for dinner.

And in a hall with mannered waiters, chandeliers and bucolic oil paintings we feasted on the partridge while classical music emanated from the electric piano – soft and caressing the notes gave ambiance to the room like mist floating across a luminescent pond.  Whoever thought dining could be such an art form in its own right?

And in the morning we packed the bags and paid the bill and left this grand hotel.  So much to exchange in this transaction – a life of mud and wheels and ice, switched for this weekend to elegance and style and wealth and charm.

Ben Nevis

It was the end of a working week in Glasgow midway through September.  I had my suitcase and my hiking equipment and all I needed was the hire car.  The company that hired the cars had provided a great service.  Every Friday after landing in Southampton I would disembark the plane and collect my hire car for the weekend - returning it on a Sunday afternoon before flying back to Glasgow.

This weekend I had planned on remaining in Scotland and so I would collect the hire car, from the same company, but from a depot in Glasgow.  On entering the reception the lady behind the counter looked rather perplexed - as if perhaps, they had run out of hire cars.  With the vehicle I would commence the 100 mile journey to Fort William.  Unusually the lady receptionist had to do a security check because a car had been stolen the previous week.  So the details of my identity were entered via keyboard to computer and it was a great inconvenience when the lady said the security check had failed.  So I had booked the car and paid the fee and now the company had reneged on their side of the deal.  I didn't believe what the lady was saying and I was annoyed - stranded with suitcase in a car depot in the middle of an industrial estate.

All this was a setback to the weekend's objective.  To climb Ben Nevis - which is, at 4,408 feet, the highest mountain in the British Isles.  I had to find another way to get to Fort William, the nearest town to the start of the ascending trail up Ben Nevis.  Before dropping me off at the hire car depot, the taxi driver had offered to drive me to Fort William himself for 120 pounds, and while this is a lot of money I almost wished I had taken him up on the offer.  The other options were the coach or the train.  I decided on the latter and called a cab to take me back into Glasgow central train station.  Having a few hours to kill I got myself some gloves, a hat and a hiking map covering the Ben.

The train journey from Glasgow Queen street station to Fort William is a spectacular three and a half hour journey.  To have laid track through such a mountainous land indeed must have seemed almost impossible - but the track is there and such a trip is highly recommended.  Beautiful views made even more pleasurable by a train full of merry Scots excited with a weekend free from toil and with heads buzzing joyfully on whisky and beer.

I had booked the Ben Nevis Hotel and I was impressed with the hotel's spacious layout and relaxed atmosphere.  The room was warm and the bed was comfortable and the foyer provided wifi.  I do like to research a climb and such preparation is vital when attempting a mountain as dangerous as Ben Nevis.  Every year the mountain has its casualties and so I would not be stepping on the mountain without compass, sat-nav, map and warm and rugged clothing.

The next morning a taxi driver dropped me off at the Glen Nevis Tourist centre. It was here I would meet up with Gary, my hiking mate who I had befriended while working in Glasgow.  We would take the tourist route up to the summit of Ben Nevis.  The term tourist route is misleading.  The hike is a serious endeavour and really does require some preparation along with a decent level of fitness and a knowledge of navigation.  To be lost in the mists on Ben Nevis is to be one step away from a deadly lesson in gravity.

The air was warm and the clouds were high and so there was the possibility of a view at the top.  I had climbed the mountain five years previously only to have a view that was within a cloud.  The tourist route is also known as the Pony trail and it was laid down in 1883.  The path begins with a steep climb to the saddle of the Halfway Lake at 570 meters and then will ascend zig-zag fashion 700 metres up the west side of the mountain.

Gary and I began the hike mid morning.  A fresh breeze kept the body from boiling over and we stopped every hour for the hydration.  Most can relate to the exhaustion of climbing several flights of stairs – and to keep such an exertion going for several hours requires a certain frame of mind.  One foot in front of the other – with thought neither of distance passed or distance to go.  This is the way.  To climb and to ascend with a mind giving nothing to pain nor to exhaustion – in this fashion can a mountain’s demands be obliged.

And it was with great pride, after several hours, to have made it to the top.  The air was bitingly cold and the summit very busy and we were quite exhausted.  Once again the cloud prevented the view but none of this mattered.  We had made it and what a joy that was.  I could never demand from life the indulgences of a fine car or a palace, an Italian suit or a marbled floor – but to experience, occasionally, such marvels of nature is all I will require.  And so I leave the readers with some photos taken on this great hike up and to the very top of the United Kingdom.

Peace to All

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Pen y Fan

It was late August and I had a hire car and I had some free time.  And it came into my mind to explore an area known as the Brecon Beacons in South Wales.  This is a range of mountains comprising of six peaks with Pen y Fan being the highest at 886 meters.  So I would book a hotel and I would drive the five hours to this scenic part of Wales and hike to the top of Pen Y Fan and back.

I had booked a hotel called the Castle Coaching Inn located in Trescastle - whose name means "town of the Castle", and indeed the ruins of this castle still remain in the east end of the village.  I had arrived in Trescastle at midday and this was four hours short off the hotel's check-in time and so I decided to drive into Brecon itself.  This market town has a population of nearly 8000 making it the third largest town in Powys and it is also a military town - hosting the Infantry Battle School of Dering Lines and The Barracks which is home to the 160th Welsh Brigade.

I found a parking space on the edge of the town for the hired Citreon DS4 and proceeded to stroll around the historic town.

Passing the South Wales Borderers and Monmouthshire Regiment Museum it occurred to me that paying the entrance fee would not be too bad an idea.  We can learn from our books and we can learn from these exhibits of the past, and so a good hour or so was given to a military world I have read much about - but experienced little of.

Cpl T Shannon 3rd Volunteer Battalion - The Welsh Regiment 1900.
Vickers Machine Gun

To visit a museum without coming away with some interesting facts is to go for a swim without getting wet.  And so here are a few facts concerning WW1
  • 51 kg was the minimum weight for a man enlisting in the Army during WW1.
  • 484,173 horses and mules were lost by the British during WW1.
  • 621,972 British servicemen received disability pensions at the end of WW1.
  • 633 Victoria Crosses were awarded during WW1.
  • The British Infantryman carried 4.72 stone of equipment in the initial Somme attack.
After the stroll through the town and after the visit to the museum it was time to return to the hotel in Trescastle.  The hotel had resident parking in the rear of the building.  I parked the car and retrieved my luggage and approached the entrance to the hotel, which also doubled up as the entrance to the pub. Alone and in my thoughts, approaching the reception of the hotel an event occurred in my mind that was unique and unusual.  My consciousness was flushed with the certainty of a future that was unavoidable - as if it was the formulation of a geometric equation that was absolutely correct.  A premonition of a future romance.  That is what it was and the belief as rugged as the fortress to which this village owned its name.  So that was a premonition and if it was unusual it was also a shifting tonic to the loneliness of this nomad's existence.  I was convinced I was about to meet a special lady and the belief so strong I was surprised she was not there waiting to check me in at the reception desk.

The next morning, after a hearty full Welsh breakfast, I drove the eight miles to the base of Pen Y Fan.  The clouds hung low and the peaks could not be seen.  The hike would be circular starting from the Storey Arms outdoor education centre on the A470, heading east and ascending first the peak of Corn Du before the final ascent to Pen Y Fan.  Then heading back west on a parallel path to the car park.

 Start of the path
 Approaching Corn Du

 Peak of Corn Du
 Clouds clearing on the approach to Pen Y Fan
 Pen y Fan Summit

Brave mountain dweller

The hike only took two hours.  It was a pleasant surprise when the clouds dispersed when approaching the mountain peaks.

Driving back to the hotel a sign pointing direction to a reservoir called the Usk piqued my curiosity.  This impressive basin of water was fenced with a path whose entrance began at the start of a bridge and I was surprised to see a machine that allowed you to insert the coinage required to buy a fishing permit.  I walked a third of the reservoir's circumference before heading back to the car. This reservoir - deep, dark, beautiful, dangerous and alluring.   I promised a return in the new year for further exploration.

This was my hiking trip to the Brecon Beacons and it was a fine thing to be away from the cities and the offices and the airports - even if it was for just a couple of days.

Peace to All