Sunday, 18 December 2011

These boots were made for walking

Today I took my old walking boots for a last wander through the Ochil Hills between Sheriffmuir and Dumyat before they're put out to grass. It was a poignant occasion, because I've had them for fifteen years and they've been to the top of Mont Blanc. Not I hasten to add with me in them, but with their original owner, my late and still sorely missed friend and colleague Tim Harper.

Tim sold me them for a tenner sometime around 1996. He was an incredible character who threw himself into everything he did with huge enthusiasm, whether it was his job as chief sub of the Daily Record, climbing an alp or casting a fly at a rising trout. The seven mile walk I did wouldn't even have counted as a stroll to a man who could do two Munros before breakfast and still be looking for more at the end of a ten hour day in the hills.

He died on the way down from an ice climb on Ben Nevis in early 2001. Totally professional in everything he did, the rescuers who recovered his body praised his equipment and preparation. It was just one of those things: an ice shelf that gave way beneath his feet.

I never put those boots on without thinking of him, but they've done their bit and into the cupboard they'll go. Next year I plan to get back into the hills properly, so Santa will be bringing a pair of cracking new boots and an all-weather jacket. It was a fantastic day for a walk, with frost on the ground, the air scalpel sharp and crystal clear and the Trossachs a glorious saw-toothed wall of white in the distance. I saw thrushes and redwings by the hundred in the woods, flocks of bullfinches, chaffinches, great tits and blue tits, and dozens of blackbirds in the hedgerows making the most of the last of the berries. When I reached the highest point on the moor I sat on what looked like an old burial mound and watched a falconer flying an eagle or a big hawk through my binoculars. It followed him around like a dog while he probed the ground with some kind of electronic gizmo that emitted high-pitched sounds, presumably to spook the rabbits below. Tim would have loved it.

Every foot of the ground I walked over has been touched by history. Great armies roamed these hills during the battle of Sheriffmuir. Dumyat was the fortress of the Maetae, the warlike tribe who had to be bought off  by the Roman emperor, Septimius Severus, during his invasion of Scotland. Signs of habitation dot the bleak landscape, whether it's the ruins of old shepherd's cottages and field boundaries or the moss-covered stumps of standing stones above intriguing earth barrows. On the way back down I pondered over what came to be Bridge of Allan would have looked like two thousand years ago. I suspect that the focus of habitation would have been the shelf of land occupied by the rich folks of Upper Bridge of Allan these days. It would have looked out over an incredibly rich and diverse flood plain where the Forth, Teith and Allan rivers meet. The waters would have been filled with salmon and trout, and the marshes with waterfowl. Otter would have provided furs and there would have been deer and wild boar aplenty in the woods on the hills around. If ancient life was ever idyllic, then this was one of the best places in Scotland to be.

None of that would have interested Tim much. The past didn't draw him as it does me. He was that fascinating paradox: a man who lived for the future, but managed to treat every day as if it was his last. There's a message there somewhere that I'll carry into the New Year with me.

1 comment:

Bob Scotney said...

A fine tribute to a friend - and a pair of boots.