Above and beyond

I entered a mountain writing competition last month run by the John Muir Trust.  The theme was ‘The day a mountain changed my life’ so my entry was probably a bit low key, but what can I say, that’s my style. (Actually, it’s a rewrite of a post I did a while back on hiking in Snowdonia, but from a more inward-looking perspective.)

It must have been 6am when I unzipped the tent, or thereabouts, judging by the grey light that draped across the mountainside. The two bodies that were crammed in next to me lay motionless, matted hair sprouting from the tops of sleeping bags.

I slipped on my boots and staggered out into the cool air. Whether it was the noggins of whisky from the night before or the rolling view that made my head swim, I couldn’t be sure and I headed for a nearby rock to steady myself.

As I gathered my wits, I became aware of the shrill calls of sheep bouncing about the horseshoe curve that enclosed our camp. I spied their white shapes, shuffling across the farthest reaches of the slopes, as though they were all trying to outdo each other in their quest for the next tuft of grass.

My gaze travelled further down the valley towards a golden light that had only just broken across a neighbouring peak. From there, I turned my attention to the sky and watched how the clouds mingled together; reforming and reshaping as if the day was still busy sorting itself out.

After a few minutes, it occurred to me that not a single thought had passed through my head about where I was and what I was doing. In this environment, there was no need to figure things out or analyse the situation as I was so used to doing in my day-to-day life. It was enough to just observe and be in the moment.

But more than that, everything that was happening before me seem to make perfect sense. This was life in its most fundamental state; the shifting forces of nature, adapting, renewing, destroying and replenishing in one continuous, majestic display.

Just then, a muffled groaning broke my trance as the camp began to stir. Rich poked his head out of the tent and we exchanged mumbled greetings, but I didn’t feel able to convey what I had just experienced, at least, not in words.

I looked about the ridgeline, knowing we would soon be up there as we made our way to the top of Snowdon and beyond. The thought left me with a sense of trepidation and awe as I anticipated how many other breathtaking scenes we were likely to encounter on our expedition. Then, with a growing light, our day began.

Redcliffe subway wins award

Redcliffe Street underpass has won Most Intimidating Subway of the Year.
Judges visiting Bristol for this year’s National Urban Decay Awards, noted how the subway’s darkened entrance, blind corners and sunken ceiling all contributed to a sense of ‘dread and uncertainty’, making it the favourite of the category.
Local residents were thrilled with the award. Rosary Farce said ‘it’s the last place on earth I’d ever want to go, except maybe with a hatchet and chainsaw. There’s not many places you can say that about in Bristol. Well, maybe a few.”
Councillor, Tim Reid, said the community had a love-hate relationship with the subway, as in they love to hate it. “It’s long been a talking point for the local community as a place that contributes to personal safety fears and general uneasiness within the neighbourhood. It’s fantastic that this is now being recognised as something to be proud of.”
Swindon was the overall winner, however, receiving the Gritty City award for being “generally bleak all round.”

Thanks for picking me up

I feel drunk, except I’ve had no alcohol, only short, bittersweet glasses of tea; ubiquitous refreshment on the streets of Istanbul. It doesn’t help, however, that I’m stood up in a Dolmus, the taxi-cum-buses that chug about the city, picking up anyone anywhere who flags them down en route. My friend, Colin and I, clutch at the handrails and grin at the madness of it all as the driver bumps and jerks his way through the traffic. It’s just one more moment in a sea of experiences that have happened today and, thinking back, it’s no surprise that I feel the way I do.

First off, it was Carsamba market, with its never ending tunnels of clothes and groceries that filled up my eyes and ears with colour and chatter. Then there were the crumbling buildings of Balat that caught my imagination, an old Jewish neighbourhood, where washing lines are strung out across the streets and children roam as free as the stray cats that call the area their home. And I’m frankly still a bit fazed by the shoe-shiner who reeled us in with his thank-you-for-picking-up-my-brush routine and offered to polish our shoes out of gratitude only to snatch a 20 note from my wallet after asking for a donation. In hindsight, however, it simply added a little extra adrenalin to the mix as well as reminding me that not only am I tourist here, but a very fortunate one too.

The sheer variety of experience has been a constant as we’ve explored the ever-changing quarters of the city and by the end of each day my head has been left spinning with a heady mix of information overload and travel-inspired glee. It’s this combination that has led to such a feeling of intoxication and it’s something I know will only continue as we are dropped off at a gondola station where we await a carriage up to the Pierre Loti café overlooking the Golden Horn and the cityscape at dusk.

Tomorrow, the hangover will surely kick in as I board the plane back to England. But I’m hoping that I can take home at least some of the sense of adventure that has characterised this trip, so that I might better appreciate the colours, sights and sounds that are everywhere in my own city, albeit in a less exotic fashion. That way the trip never really ends.

(Written for the Telegraph’s ‘Just Back’ travel writing competition)