The Cairnwell Munros

Glenshee, low down, is stripped of snow
But cold in the plateau’s bitter chill,
I ascend into crunching ice,
Bare skin numbed by the cutting westerly
As it carries ice crystals from the far tops
To remind me what is in store.
Càrn Aosda is cloaked in posts and cables,
A Munro of views, a peak ticked, nothing more,
But as a waypoint it is superb.
Into the teeth of the freezing blast,
I shrug off the humanity-decked pass
To march over white fields,
Around white hemmed lochs,
Past white hares, white ptarmigan, white ridges,
Reaching Càrn a’ Gheòidh to the call of a single pipit.
Gloves off and hands lose feeling,
Lunch freezes in my mouth,
As down below hares box.
Back east and the wilderness is soon gone,
As The Cairnwell draws me on
Into a clutter of ravaged buildings
And a cairn topped with a vagrant’s box.
Three Munros and two different worlds,
Ice Age to now in a short tab.

Letting Go

The cold crag held me,
A diagonal crack,
Dripping water,
On Bidein a’ Choire Sheasgaich.
A burling tumble away,
A thousand feet below,
The Allt Bealach an Sgoltaidh,
Is a journey of seconds,
From my perch,
To an easy unwitnessed,
Artistic death.
I wouldn’t scream,
Or cry,
Falling in that beauty,
But fly like a failing bird,
Turning, pack down,
All thoughts retreating,
As I race from life,
And all I’ll ever be,
Surrounded by my mountains.
Cold water,
Down my neck,
Pure from the peak,
Wakes me from the reverie,
And I find,
Letting go is an illusion.
So with a laugh,
I drag body,
Pack, and scraped skin,
Up, over the drop,
And roll on wet grass,
The seductive pull,
Of letting go,
Is not so easy,
And living is far,
Far more compelling,
Than a moment of an unseen,
Glorious flight.
Trudging back,
From Lurg Mhór,
Through wilderness,
To my canvass cocoon,
Under wet, darkling sky,
My heart swells,
With absolute joy,
Happy that,
Without a doubt,
Letting go of life,
Will be the hardest thing I do.


Balusters of sandstone soar into Highland sky,
A crown of spears now clear, now gone,
A foundation of Lewesian gneiss,
Old, built upon ancient,
With nought between except memory
Of land that was,
Now sunk and twisted and eroded,
Gone, reformed and crushed,
Sculpted by hard blue ice,
Rasped in lines to knock and lochan,
Built tall again above,
Mirrored in water cold and pure,
Reflected in Loch Maree.

Ben Hope

A first for me
this Sentinel of Munros,
sat in its sea of green,
landfall for the Norsemen,
their Mountain of the Bay,
a way-mark
to the Southern Land.
I found Ben Hope
in a heat wave,
rushed up its flank,
naively dressed,
to marvel at high frogs
golden plovers,
and the view.
Such a view!
Green flow and lochans,
Orkney, the Pentland Firth,
Foinaven, Ben Loyal,
Ben Klibreck,
in a wild land
all my future lay before me
with ancient past.
Hope began my journey,
and thus it will end.


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