TAC 40 Index
Recent TACs have had much to say on the strange feelgood or feelbad sensations that occasionally, inexplicably, accompany or ambush hillgoers. The phenomenon of the "Fourth Man", in high-altitude climbing or polar trekking has been much noted, and Doug Scott commented on it during his talk reviewed elsewhere in this issue. But some of the lower-level experiences of TAC readers are less classifiable, and three more are given here:
I often feel a bit uneasy when walking through narrow glens, as if there is a possibility of danger. My senses are certainly on a state of alert; it's not so much nervousness as heightened awareness, as if I'm prepared for an ambush. I'm not claustro- phobic, so that's not the reason. As well as this, I dislike camping too close to running water, because the sound masks others. This could be due to previous experiences, but they were decades ago, so I ought to be used to it by now. But there are certain places where there is almost a feeling of malevolence; not of evil, but as if I'm not welcome there.
On an impulse one day, three of us left Keswick and went round to Grasmere, intending to do a few rock routes on Deer Bield Crag in Easedale. No problem getting to it, almost level walking, fine weather. When we got to the foot of the crag, I took one look and decided I didn't want to know. It's a low-level crag, without a lot of exposure or anything of a bad reputation. The damned place just felt repellent. Eventually, I started to tackle up for climbing. Then one of the lads found a piece of card with a warning from the local MRT about one route, just one, being unsafe due to recent rockfall. That was it; I'd done, flatly refused to even consider any route at all. I know now that that was the excuse I wanted to get the hell out of there. I've never been back and don't intend to; I would walk past it, but not near it.
A few years ago, I spent most of Midsummer's Eve by the ruins of Barrisdale Church. There was a definite feeling of sadness that got stronger as the evening wore on. I was moving about taking photographs, so it wasn't too bad. When I stopped moving, and sat quiet for a while, it got so intense that I had to leave. This could be my own feelings about the Clearances, but they are mostly of anger, not sadness. Was I picking up something from the place itself? (I wrote some verse about it; in a way, that eased the feeling of what was almost grief.)
The following day, I was on the summit of Ladhar Bheinn, in "Munro" cloud. You know, base just below 3000ft, so the only way you can see is down. I have never known such a feeling of well-being on any hill as I did that day. It was no great achievement, I couldn't see more than ten yards in any direction except down, but I felt wonderful. It was as if I was part of something really pleasant. I felt not just welcome, but welcomed, as if the hill was glad to see me. It was like being amongst friends. I got a bit emotional that day; no tears, but I felt so happy to be there that I thanked the hill very effusively for allowing me to be there.
So there are three different emotions; fear, sadness, and joy. Not all in one day or place, I don't think I could handle that. But there is something about some places that gives rise to such feelings. (My ex hated this house, but that might be because I was in it.)
Most guys who've worked dahn pit will tell you that there have been times when they've felt uneasy about something indefinable. Shortly after shifting their position, some bloody great lump of the world has peeled off, just where they were previously. I remember one day straddling a chain conveyor, shovelling away like mad, but feeling just a wee bit uneasy. Seconds after I came off the conveyor, about two tons of coal, enough to make stew meat out of me, toppled off the face without warning. This can be easily explained as experience, "pit-sense" if you like, a combination of sight and sound. It can't be applied to those feelings I described on the hill though; that has to be something else.
Like a lot in life, I don't know what explanations there can be for such things. And I don't want to look for explanations. Maybe sometimes we should accept that certain things just are; no causes, no answers, just happenings. It would save some of us a lot of agonising over spiritual matters.
Regarding strange experiences on the hills, I've never been frightened off a hill in the UK, though I didn't much like the Cantabrian mountains in northern Spain. I was going to do my PhD fieldwork there, but went to the west of Ireland instead - much friendlier. On Sgurr an Utha last June I felt tremendously welcome. The Allt an Utha corrie looks really rough going, but when I was in it picking out a route there was one tiny cairn after another, and there certainly seemed to be a friendly presence. Anyone else noted it? I always think the view north-west from the Border at Carter Bar is a friendly one too; you feel you could sink gratefully into the folds of the Southern Upland hills like a duvet.
I used to live at a village called Carno and had a black labrador. At night I used to take him out for a long walk up on to the moors, now alas the home of a huge windfarm, but then the haunt of a herd of wild horses. We used to vary the route as much as possible, but there was one particular lane on to Trannon Moor up which he would not venture beyond a certain point in the dark. There was no apparent reason for this. He would trot happily past this point by day.
Once, in deep snow, we went up to the moor past there. On top I mislaid his lead, so retraced our steps, the only ones in virgin snow. The lead was hanging on the gate at he point he would not pass in the dark. The gate was at least ten feet from our tracks and there were no other signs that anyone had passed that way. I had certainly not thrown it there. This was long before The X-Files.
TAC 40 Index