Thursday, 24 November 2016

Mongolians speak Elvish and other things I've learnt recently

Last week I met a Mongolian and while listening to her speak in her native tongue discovered that the Mongolians use Elvish for a language. When I say 'Elvish' I of course mean the vocabulary created by JRR Tolkien for his mythological works. I am not an expert in that language, but I was surprised to hear it spoken by someone from distant Asia.
     The explanation is that Mongolian shares many similarities with Hungarian (bear with me here) and Hungarian is much like Finnish (yeah, who knew?) and Finnish was one of the languages that Tolkien used strongly while developing his own vernacular. It's a strange connection, but it's there.

Another peculiar thing I learnt last week is that you can find Dolphins in the rainforest, admittedly with some difficulty. This I found out from Planet Earth II on the BBC, a programme that never ceases to amaze me. It was in the same episode that they'd filmed a Jaguar taking out a Caiman, crazy!

How about this one, which I only found out last night: Asda owns the copyright on bottom-slapping. Yep, it's true, although I should qualify that. This is bottom-slapping as an action of patting your back pocket to feel how much money is in it. Other trademarked gestures include touching the side of one's nose as if to indicate inside knowledge and tipping a bowler hat, which are both registered by building societies, but I don't know which ones.

And finally, in the 1900 Olympics, there was a Men's 200 meter obstacle race as part of the swimming programme. This involved three obstacles: a pole, a row of boats to climb over, and another set of boats to swim under. I think they should bring this back, but add some of those big inflatables you get at swimming pools.
     I was saddened to learn that an Australian (Frederick Lane) won the race, which has never been held again, but more pleased when I found out he was competing for the British team. Well done him.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

What I found in the basement

Hidden by trees and the shape of the land, there is an old manor house, alone and forgotten. In the basement of the house there is a square, dust-covered rug, which has been chewed slightly at the edges. On top of the rug is a sturdy table and under the rug there is a trap door. A shaft leads down into the dark below. So much have I discovered and I dare not go further.
     The house is not large and part of the roof has collapsed at one end, but most of the windows are still in place and the rooms are largely unchanged from the days of its use, which I cannot determine. I found the basement on my first visit, but it wasn't until my third exploration that I noticed the creak of wood as I crawled beneath the table. I dragged the table far enough to lift the rug and there was the trap door. There was no handle on it and as I tried to lift it I found that it was bolted underneath on all four sides.
     On my next visit I brought a supply of tools and working carefully I was able to dislodge each bolt. The door sat on a ledge that ran around the sides of the hole, to prevent it falling down, and so I eased it up and laid it on the floor of the basement. Then I shone my torch down the shaft. There were rungs down one side, disappearing to a distant bottom that I thought I could just make out. A cold shiver ran down my spine and I leaned back from the edge.  Strange fear overcame my curiosity and I replaced the door, the rug and the table before leaving the house silently.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Three Kings met on the Battlefield

Three kings met on the battlefield.
The first backed down and rode away,
The second saw it a game to play,
The third put up a big display.
The battle raged from day to day,
The armies knew not who held sway,
At times it seemed like disarray,
And each King shouted, "Come what may,
I'll live to fight another day."
And each King sought to make a way,
And push the other to dismay.
But neither one would kneel and pray,
But swore they'd make the other pay,
Frequently crying out, "Foul Play!"
For to their reputation slay.
But somehow to the final day,
Both Kings survived and no delay
Could the bitter war belay.
And how will history portray?
The many soldiers who will say,
"I fought bravely in the fray."
But in the end one could not stay,
The grey haired King was forced to yield.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Camping in the shadow of Sca Fell

So it turns out November can be cold, especially when you're camping at 550 metres above sea level.

I enjoy walking, especially in the mountains and I decided to stretch myself this week with an attempt to climb as many peaks as I could in the Scafell Range of the Lake District, over two days. I planned a route that would take in as many as I thought would be possible in the limited hours of daylight available. I also decided to camp to ensure I could make the most of the time, although this meant carrying extra gear.

I set off from Oxendale, climbing the 904 metres to Bow Fell, from where I could see my route ahead and I remained positive that I could achieve my aim of bagging 5 more peaks before the end of the day. The Scafell range of mountains, however, are arranged something like how a child might draw them - i.e. a lot of up and down - so it wasn't going to be as easy as I thought (and I didn't think it would be easy).
     Dropping off Bow Fell I completed the short hike to Esk Pike relatively quickly and then scrambled down the far side, back to 700m. At this point there is a crossroads of paths and more people were appearing from all sides. A couple stopped me and asked if the mountain I had just come off was Scafell Pike and I told them it wasn't but instead was the really tall one behind them.
     Next I climbed up to Great End, which, as it suggests, is a dead end mountain (unless you have a lot of rope), and is flat on top, but of course the highest point is right at the end of the path, so that took up more time than I anticipated. Still I got there and back and carried on (up) to Broad Crag. This is less of a mountain and more a massive pile of enormous boulders (something to do with 2 glaciers and what they've left behind - there's a joke in there somewhere). I get the impression not many people reach the top of this peak and the path skirts around the edge. Certainly it's a challenge to pick your way across this precarious jumble of rocks, and to get back down.
     With that achieved I then had the task of scrambling up to the top of Scafell Pike, the highest point in the England, and in comparison to Snowdon or Ben Nevis it is significantly harder, it almost becomes more of a climb than a walk.
     As you may imagine all of this was tiring and time consuming and my hopes of also reaching the top of Sca Fell (for which, on my route, you must descend around 300 metres and then climb 290) were fading like the light. I can say that I gave it my best shot, but also that I was unprepared for the enormity of the challenge. Scafell Pike is of course impressive, covered in boulders and steep ascents but it is nothing compared to Sca Fell, which is a wonder of creation. Seen from Scafell Pike it is a huge rock face, leaning outwards. The path up it from the east does not really exist but follows a tight gulley down which a waterfall is flowing. Still carrying my pack it took me 20 minutes to reach the top of this climb, which opens into a bowl shaped valley. The path turns right and continues up, but knowing I still had to find somewhere to camp I had to leave this for another day.

Looking up at Sca Fell


The "path" up Sca Fell from the top and the bottom. A similar gulley can be seen on the other side of the valley.

So it was another 20 minutes sliding back down the gulley and then on down the side of Sca Fell to a flat-ish piece of grass where I pitched my tent in the evening sunshine. It is one of the more dramatic places I have camped, although I'm not sure I'll spend another November night there.

My campsite, with Sca Fell on the left and Scafell Pike on the right.