|Foxgloves, geraniums and hostas enjoy shade|
You could say that mountains are a bit like Dougal's cow, in 'Father Ted'
"Whoi is dat one bigger dan de other? Ted", he says, pointing to two bovines in the fields beyond the house,
"Well", says Ted, with infinite patience, "because dat one", indicating a black and white friesian, "is half a mile further away dan de other".
I look at a distant mountain, still, and think 'that looks a doddle - we'll be back before dinner', while the little hill, towering over me at this point, looks formidable. I'd get on well with Dougal.
We were camping, Ged (not his real name) and myself, in a field running down to Loch Leven. It was a long time ago, probably late '60's and I can remember no detail other than the horror of midges. They would descend at around five p.m. with the playful intent of making life a misery for us. I swear the buggers had swastikas on their wings. Our camping arrangements consisted of a two man tent and the inevitable old G.P.O. van. Cooking was done in turns: the one who was 'on' that day would prepare the food crouched in the back of the van, rush out to light the calor gas stove while dressed like an Afghan insurgent, only the eyes showing, and bang the food on. Then he'd retire to watch from the relative safety of the van until, in another mad rush, he retrieved the cooked food. In spite of these precautions, you could always spot the cook of the day because he'd look a bit like Mr Blobby.
"What's that one called", I asked Ged, pointing at a peak some way along Glen Coe.
After consulting the map he informed me it was called Stob Coire Nan Lochan. And, because it was some way away, I fell into the trap:
"Let's go up it", I said, thinking we could do it and be back at the pub for lunch.
So it was that, on a hot summer day, we made our way up the lower slopes of one of the highest peaks in the Glen Coe range.
Ged and I got on pretty well, but the midges had shortened our tempers and, when I suggested proceeding up the steep slope directly in front of us, he reacted brusquely:
"No way. We'll go up the corrie there", and he indicated a rough path leading up a fold in the mountainside.
Now I'm pretty easy going normally, but this being given as an instruction got my goat:
"You go up the corrie", I said, "I'll see you at the top", and, without waiting for a reaction, I started up the slope.
|Asarina procumbens - likes shade|
At first, things went well, and I made good progress. Looking back, I could see Ged toiling up the path some way below and I worked out that I'd probably be at the top a half hour before him. However, the slope became a lot steeper, slowing me considerably and I got to the point that I had to take the heavy rucksack off, hoist it up ahead, then climb up to it and repeat the process. For the first time, I began to get worried: the rock of the hillside didn't just get steeper, it started to become flakey. I'd grab what looked like a firm hold and it would come away in my hand. Eventually I went a bit too far past the bag and couldn't reach it, so I sat on a jutting rock to consider my position. That was when I really started to lose it, because I looked round and realised the rock I was sitting on was split down the back and certainly not something to tie your horse to.
I could see the cars moving down the road at the foot of the valley, looking like Dinky toys, and I remember wishing I was in one of them. I was going to die. There was no way I could retrace my steps down the crumbling hillside, so I sat there as still as possible and hailed Ged.
"I'm stuck", I shouted, "and I can't get the bag".
I new the 'bag' bit would get a response. Our butties were in it.
"Well throw a rock at it and knock it off, it'll roll down to the bottom", he shouted back, after some thought.
So, trying not to move on my unsafe seat, I threw enough rocks at the bag to qualify as an avalanche, until one hit it full on. The way the bag then bounced about five hundred feet at ever increasing speed down the hillside made my stomach churn. One false move and that'd be me.
Glen started retracing his steps to collect it. I could hear him swearing.
"And while you're there", I shouted, "you'd better get the mountain rescue".
This brought on another bout of swearing, but he eventually disappeared from view, holding the ragged remains of a bag containing some tomatoes which had become sauce.
|Saxifraga oppositifolia - another shade lover|
I sat there on my perch, like an eagle in its eyrie, visualising the helicopter and shots of whiskey which would soon arrive. Hopefully it'd be the good stuff, not one of those blends.
Before long, it began to get cold. Although it was a sunny day, I had climbed the north side which was in complete shade. So, in an effort to get warm, I started singing. It was quite good, really. The surrounding mountains caused my voice to echo, and I got quite carried away going through my repertoire. I was trying 'The Lonely Goatherd' and the yodelling bit seemed to fit really well. Then I heard voices, so I shut up. Down below, on the track, a couple of people were climbing the route Glen had been on. Judging by the the lack of a helicopter, they obviously weren't mountain rescue, so I didn't shout. It'd have been embarrassing. How do you explain sitting on a rock half way up a crumbling rock slope singing something from The Sound of Music?
I could clearly hear their voices:
"That was singing. I know I heard singing".
"No, it must have been the wind through the gully"
"I'm telling you, it was singing. Bloody awful voice. Wonder if the mountain's haunted".
"Well, there was that bloke fell last year. Killed himself"
As their voices faded away I played with the idea of giving them a taste of my rock-throwing. Julie Andrews I may not be, but, on balance, I thought I sounded pretty good. It was bit sobering hearing about that bloke killing himself though, and I uneasily examined the back of my seat, trying to work out what I could grab onto if it started moving.
|Matteucia struthiopteris and many other ferns like shade|
For two hours I sat, getting colder and more scared, straining my ears for the clatter of the helicopter. Then I heard more voices. Two blokes appeared way below at the foot of the slope, accompanied by Glen. They were wearing trainers and one was carrying a rope. Obviously the mountain rescue budget didn't run as far as a helicopter.
"I wouldn't climb this slope", I shouted, helpfully.
"Not bleedin' likely", came the reply. "We're not mad".
I ignored the implication of this remark.
"We're goin' up top and we'll throw the rope down", then they moved up the gully, eventually appearing some distance above me. They threw the rope and told me to tie it round my waste and start climbing. If I fell, they assured me they'd hold me. The rope looked suspiciously like his mum's washing line but I did what I was told and managed to climb up to them without the indignity of slipping and swinging like a conker on a string.
"Right", I said, "thanks lads. I'll be ok now - get you a pint in the pub tonight?"
"Nope, you're coming with us. Bloke's fallen down a waterfall on the other side and we need all the help we can get."
And they ran, literally ran, over the top of the mountain, with Glen and I puffing in pursuit. I'd thought I was pretty fit until I saw those blokes. Anyway we reached the site of the accident where the famous climber Hamish MacInnes was organizing the carrying of a stretcher down the mountain. He gave me a perfunctory nod and rolled his eyes when my rescuers explained what had happened, which is the nearest I've been to being acknowledged by a famous person (although, come to think of it, Alan Titchmarsh once spoke to me when I bumped into him as he was filming in Wisley Gardens: "Gerroff me foot", he said).
"Well, at least you can do something useful now", Hamish said, indicating where I should grab hold of the stretcher.
And that was it. We struggled down the mountain with the stretcher for the next hour or so and after that I slunk off with Glen to do what we could with the jigsaw-puzzle that was our butties.
And the interesting thing about all this is the fact that there were plants growing in niches in the rock all around the point I'd been stranded, although the area was in constant shade. The practical side of this is that most of us have shady parts of the garden where the usual plants won't grow and there is actually a wide selection of the ones that do: the mat forming Campanulas portenschlagiana and poscharskyana, together with Chiastophyllum oppositifolium, Hepatica, Omphalodes cappadocica, mossy types of Saxifrage, Viola and Walsteinia are just a few suggestions for a shaded rockery. Herbaceous plants happy in shade include Lysimachia ciliata 'Firecracker', Lysimachia clethroides, Matteucia struthiopteris, Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens', large leaved geraniums, Hosta, Acanthus spinosus, Cimicifuga, Epimedium perraldeanum, Euphorbia amygdaloides 'Robbiae and Lamium galeobdolen. Among the shrubs tolerant of these conditions we can list Aucuba japonica, Sarcococca humilis, Osmanthus delavayi, Ruscus aculeatus, Skimmias, Pachysandra terminalis, Euonymus 'Emerald & Gold', Camellias, Rhododendrons, Choisya ternata, Cotoneasters and many others.