Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Skye (a land of myth much-missed)

In the early 2000s, a mysterious stranger began claiming a number of hard ascents, first in Glen Nevis (The Morrighan, Jupiter Collison...etc.)and then on the Isle of Skye (Extradition, It's Over etc.). In particular, the boulders of Coire Lagan held some great-looking lines which began appearing on a local blog featuring photographs of a lithe-looking climber on very steep lines, but usually static on one of the jugs and never on video. Many climbers had visited and tried the lines, coming back claiming they were futuristic and impossible. Dave MacLeod walked away from the mythical 'It's Over' with its wee undercut holds and obvious-but-out-of-reach double-sloper. The forums, for a year or two, were alive with debate as to who this stranger was and how the hell he had got so strong.

The legendary O'Conor blog, its posts notably created in the dark hours, like some intricate verbal death-star, has mostly been dismantled by its shamed owner, who was, at considerable expense and frustration, visited by John Watson on the Isle of Lewis to winkle out some element of truth to the whole debacle. Was this O'Conor the new Sharma? Him and his faithful dog padding up to the boulders, bivvying out in extreme temperatures, pulling off 8c problems 'out of the air'? Where did he train? How did he get so strong? Did the climbs actually exist? O'Conor, in person affable and persuasive, was at the same time evasive and only once put his shoes on in anger, struggling to get off the ground on his own 8a (6c) Atlantic Bridge at Port Nis (Watson flashed this and was bitterly disappointed to have to downgrade it so - he thought he'd pulled off a miracle). Who was the mythical 'Finn' he climbed with, who O'Conor claimed had spotted him on first ascents, but whom no-one had ever spotted themselves? The whole thing was an expensive outing for Watson (building to a whisky stand-off at 2am), who like others had been forced to mention these problems in early Scottish bouldering guides, giving the creature the benefit of the doubt... that he was indeed the Finn MacCool of legend, breakfasting on 8a's and crushing all under his fists of fury.

Well, things have quietened down a bit since those heady days, which is a shame since the online rants were legendary and much-missed by the Scottish climbing community. We wish Si well on his new ventures, whatever they may be - SBS extreme kayaking or some such -  and we are at least delighted to witness, on video, and indisputably, the reality of some of these climbs under the audit of peer-reviewed boulderers. Climbed by boulderers with a propensity for detail rather than tall tales, these legendary Skye problems now exist - thanks to Mike Adam for his dedication to such remote imaginings. But maybe, just maybe, the legend will return, tripod in hand, pair of old 5.10 Moccasyms in the other...?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Archipelago Review

If you're interested in landscape writing, perhaps the finest collection can be found in the biannual literary magazine ARCHIPELAGO. It is published by Clutag Press and collects the best of landscape writing and poetry from the likes of Michael Longley, Tim Robinson, Robert Macfarlane and Seamus Heaney.

Issue 7, Winter 2012, contains a section from our very own Rathlin: Nature and Folklore, an extended version of 'Foorins and Cuddens' telling of the isanders' seabird-fowling and natural climbing skills akin to the 'guga' hunters on St Kilda:

'...some descended on homespun ropes from cliff tops, the ropes secured to an iron stake driven into the turf, or, in the case of one famous nineteenth century climmer (island name for a cragsman), from a rope tied to the leg of his horse.'

There is some terrific writing in this 'journal' of poetic landscapes. I liked Katherine Rundell's 'Ghost Storms', describing a Scottish storm ' a German opera, like a drunk with a gun.'

Tim Robinson is typically fractal in his approach to place names in Ireland in his essay 'The Seanachai and the Database', echoing the magic of Scotland's more mysterious Pictish/Brythonic/Gaelic pasts:

'The giving or using or remembering of a placename stands for the primary act of attention - a discrimination, an appreciation of uniqueness - that turns a bare location into a place. Thus a placename is a creative force, a word of power ... it sits at the centre of many webs simultaneously, a hyper-spider.'

Michael Longley never fails to draw emotional blood, his poem on dementia ('Insomnia') being particularly poignant:

'In the asylum
Helen Thomas took Ivor Gurney's hand
When he was miles away from Gloucestershire
And sanity, and on Edward's county map
guided his lonely finger down the lanes...'

This volume also contains Roger Hutchinson's essay in honour of Sorley MacLean's poem Hallaig. Raasay's clearances echo painfully from this poem and it is here translated by Seamus Heaney, for those not lucky enough to 'have the Gaelic':

The road is plush with moss
And the girls in a noiseless procession
going to Clachan as always

And coming back from Clachan
And Suishnish, their land of the living,
Still lightsome and unheartbroken,
their stories only beginning...

back through the gloaming to Hallaig
through the vivid speechless air,
pouring down the steep slopes,
their laughter misting my ear...'

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Perfect start to December

There is no better feeling than cyan-blue skies and the first winter shroud laid down on the distant Highland tops... the rock conditions have been perfect and holds which were soap-bars in summer now feel like emery boards.

Craigmaddie and Craigmore have been in good condition, with new link-ups and traverses for the locals creating grade confusion - everything in these conditions feels two grades easier, which is why Font grades can feel so hard in the heat (they tend to be graded for the 'magic day' of perfect friction).

Craigmaddie now has over 50 documented problems, from Font 2 through to Font 7c, with the sunniest winter aspect in Central Scotland. This makes it a glowing and popular venue for those who can't afford the petrol for 'The County'. For the Central belt boulderer, this venue offers an under-rated alternative to Northumberland sandstone and you can get over 6 hours of sun in mid December, if your skin lasts that long! Colin Lambton has added a superb direct finish to Easyjet 7a, making this the classic problem on the High Tier roof.

Craigmaddie Bouldering from John Watson on Vimeo.

Fiend here shows us some nice contortionism at Glen Clova :

Glen Clova stuff 1 from Fiend on Vimeo.