Adventure hill walking and song writing have on the face of it- not a thing in common, but there are parallel human qualities that are needed for both these journeys, as I have discovered in my meandering journey.
Having had one Bothy experience my husband , dog and I decided to try again- and do it a bit differently , a bit better. We thought we had learnt from our mistakes: to take a route that was on a proper track, not a vague sheep’s path, , to not walk across open moorland, to choose a big bothy where we might have the chance of having our own room and a little privacy, and to take dry re-hydrated food that would be light to carry.
So, my husband duly chose such a Bothy…..This one was five miles down a track and was three Bothy’s in one, by a beautiful lake nestled between three Swiss style mountains, deeply buried in folds of rolling heather. Sounded like it could be romantic, beautiful and still have the chance at meeting whatever quirky folk turned up……That was the mental picture we created!
So we sallied forth, thinking we were sorted this time. The route started deep in the hills- literally miles and miles and miles away from anything at all. There was no signal on our phones. The track was fine and we enjoyed our walk, chatting amiably in the sunlight-listening to the cry of wild grouse and curlew, smelling the northern fresh smell of bracken and peat. Then, it started to rain. The hills ahead grew steeper, sterner, formidable even. The skies grew black and angry, brooding and ominous. The mists crept down like witches fingers wreathing the land in tendrils of hovering cloud. It began to feel like the vale of Mordor! We got to the ford in the river before the last hike up the steepest part of the track. It was pretty full and was only just fordable. Something in me – said- “turn back, turn back now!” But, my husband said the forecast was for light rain and we should be fine…and after all, it was nearly six o clock…..it would be a long walk back in the gloom and dark. So, we pressed on. By the time we reached the bothy it was raining steadily in that persistent Scottish way that means every bit of you gets drenched.I hardly noticed the beautiful loch, the Swiss style mountains- I just wanted to get in, light a fire with our logs we had lugged in, dry our clothes and make some slightly dodgy rehydrated pasta and hopefully rest and chat to some other folks who might have turned up. Part of the fun is meeting people you otherwise would not.
The Bothies were deserted: not a soul in all three! We certainly had privacy but it felt a bit lonely and with the weather being bad it made me feel a little anxious….I brushed it off. We counted the logs- there were 16 in total! We had to dry our clothes and one is supposed to always leave some logs for fuel for emergencies. The air was so cold that we had dragon’s breath inside the Bothy, with the fire on. Hmm, not a good start…..and as we cooked our supper, huddled by the fire in survival blankets, turning our drenched clothes every couple of minutes …we listened to the worsening conditions outside. This was really not what we had imagined!
Soon, the wind roared with the cacophony of a unceasing lament and buffeted the bothy like a wild bucking broncho. The rain fell on the tin roof as if the cloud had to release all of its rain in one torrent. Surely it was not as bad as it sounded? So we poked our noses out into the fierce night. To our dismay, it was every bit as bad as it sounded. We looked at each other with the same thought- how were we to get out, if that ford was impassable? That was the only road in and the only road out. We went back to turning our clothes with mindful care- in the hope that we would at least have dry clothes in the morning. I took to imagining what life must have been like for those crofters living in bygone days, with no heating other than a peat fire, no light but flickering candles, no loo and a life of hard graft. I imagined what it must have been like as a woman living up there, raising children, giving birth, trying to feed a family with nothing much but oats and potatoes…. It made me glad I was only there for the night and that my life was not the one above!
We went to bed- but could not sleep. It rained with the fury of a long awaited monsoon and the wind howled like a demented banshee. What little sleep I got was punctured by anxious dreams of us being swept away by a river that had become a torrent. These hills and mountains are unpredictable places and the weather had become dangerous.
In the middle of the night I awoke feverishly thinking that somehow we had to get out, no one knew we were there, we did not have enough food, the rain could go on and on for days and we had eight logs left. Keeping warm is the most important thing up there…..and our clothes were only just dry. We had to get out that next day…..
The next day came , and with it much anxiety and some tears. The rain had not abated – it continued to fall in sheets. When we went out to dig a toilet pit, the land was so sodden that water welled up straight away. This did not bode well for fording that river at the one point out. Even the dog was whimpering miserably in the corner of the Bothy. My husband went to check the ford. He came back half an hour later looking grim faced. The river was a torrent – fifty feet across and hurling along like a tsunami. NOT fordable- unless you had a death wish.
What to do? Eight logs and a rationable amount of food- at least there was plenty of water!! It looked like we had to stay another day….but it might continue like this and then we would be absolutely without food or heating. We decided that as much as a nuisance we would be to people, that we should ring mountain rescue. The bothy had a note saying emergency signal was available from the summit of the mountain behind us. So, we set off to call. There was no path and the gradient and hillocks of grass/peat were so big that I had to turn back- I would just make the trek much slower. Being small meant that my legs were just not big enough to stride over them. I left my husband to it and went back to the bothy – with all my clothes, including my useless waterproof plastered to me by rain.
Three hours later he returned -utterly spent, wet to the bone and chilled. He had traversed every summit around and had not once got a signal. We were definitely doomed to stay another night and use those eight logs which should have been left in case someone trekked in, having been caught in a storm.
Needless to say, it was a shivering, anxious black night of the soul kind of night. Not to be repeated.
The next morning spun round ….and Hallelujah……there was blue sky and no wind! The ford was still impassable but the top end of the loch had a river entering it, which was smaller. We could then hike over a boulder and peat field, up a steep mountain slope, cross a brook which was flowing as a smallish white water rapid and up to the other side to meet the track. A detour -off piste- of about three miles. A very hard three miles, and that is the under statement of the century.
This was duly what we had to do. We borrowed the toilet spade from the bothy for fording both rivers- to act as a balance.(We left it, later by the ford on the other side with a note). The peat and boulder field turned out to be the route from hell and back. The peat gullies were as tall or taller than me, which meant I was scrambling up things as tall and as steep as myself and then lurching on to boulders of limestone grit. It took three and a half hours to walk those extra three miles. It was like an SAS selection course. Finally, we crawled onto the track and another two hours later we made it to the car. A harrowing experience and a test of endurance. I do NOT want to go Bothying again!! We don’t have good enough kit and we are not trained to know what to do when the unexpected happens and so far it has been more arduous, a little scary rather than pleasant. Yes, I love romantic beautiful nature, walking and meeting interesting people- but clearly this is for more hard core outdoor types.
So, what on earth has this got to do with becoming a song writer? Well, I have discovered that trying to be an emerging songwriter as a rural mum with no money, no backing, no connectivity, no ability to find folks to collaborate with, no promotors to support emerging rural artists……is a journey as marked by obstacles as the physical one outlined above. It requires a tenacity of spirit, a resourcefulness that is learnt along the way. It has moments when I feel like putting it all down- when yet another obstacles comes and hits me in the face like that banshee wind and foul rain.
So, why don’t I put it all down and just go back to growing my beetroots, teaching my dear wee children and making jam? Because, something in my spirit tells me I have to do it. I write songs to express life. It makes sense of life, they are a mirror of human experience. It is something deeper, broader and more elemental that I tap into when I song write or sing. I have called down my coloured butterfly wings of creativity and I can not simply fold them up again. The songs sing me and I pass them out into the world.
It is only attachment to imagined futures and created desires that cause the suffering or anx that we feel. So, my journey is also to learn to detach from that. To sing and song write and arrive at whatever destination this unpredictable journey takes me to. So, I put one foot in front of me and I see where it goes, who I will meet, what I will sing, who I will collaborate with. It is a path less travelled but life would be all the more narrow for not seeing where it will take me…. Looking at like this means it can be whatever it is: an experience, a journey, that is just part of my life that is creativity and curiosity. A journey in becoming and growing.