Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Trip to Shieling

Photo right: the shieling in context

Photo below: more context

So it seems that I am either blind or stupid or have not understood something obviously fundamental. No rock carvings, no stones arranged in cross formations nothing, zilch, sweet FA.. Mind you we had a great time so it matters not and we will return to search further. Apparently it is really true that there are up to 2000 carvings up at the shieling where we were. But I’m going to have to find someone who knows in what area. The
trip though was great. Tiring but great fun. The path up is a relentless 2 hour, 400 meter slog up to a flat plateau where there is an shieling and where you can get water. The sense of relief when you get there though is short lived because the next stage of the hike, though only 20 odd minutes is the steepest of all and the 18 kg rucksack seemed to get heavier the higher up I went. I’m obviously not as strong as I once was. By the time we had had something to eat and filled up the canteens with water a terrific fog had come down which was not welcome as neither of us knew the way. I had a vague idea as I have been to the summit before and the path to the shieling follows the path to the summit for quite a way but the route after leaving the path was gleaned from google earth and we only had rough bearing to follow. The path starts just below the mobile phone repeater panel which you can see from the valley bottom. You’d think that a panel the size of a large van would be easy to find but relying on memory (not a good idea) I managed to take the wrong route and we had to climb up almost vertically back to the path that leads to the summit. It wasn’t worth the risk looking for the right way with the panel so precariously perched, so we decided the safest bet was to forget about it and follow the 2000 meter contour west using the GPS. Of course just as we set out the repeater panel loomed out of the mist so we quickly took a bearing in case it disappeared again and walked down to it hunting for the alleged path. We found something resembling a path going west so we started to follow that but after a quarter of an hour or so with zero visibility we came to a sheer drop so had yet again to climb up, aiming for the original 2000 meter contour. We managed to work out vaguely where we were from the grotty map we had and figured the path which you could see on google earth would be just above us, which it thankfully was. The fog was so thick by this time that had we not found the path then I think we would have given up and tracked back to the lower shieling. We were by this time totally knackered too. But the path got better and more defined and after another half an hour we more or less ran into a stone enclosure (which turns out to be prehistoric) and soon the shieling in its entirety loomed out of the mist at us and the cloud of course lifted right at that moment.

In order to save weight we had decided to just take a tarp and ground sheet and finding a place to pitch it was somewhat difficult as the place is just littered with rocks but we did manage to find a sort of grassy place to set up camp. The pitch was sloping in two directions and full of stones and hollows but there literally was nowhere else. They have some really weird beasties up there too which, though we never saw them, during the night push rocks up underneath you and move them about.

The weather now being clear we quickly got some firewood split and a good and far too large fire going and of course just as the soup was coming to the boil it started to rain. Then the wind got up and simple rain with a bit of wind turned into a serious squall. Very suited to the setting though and being the rough macho guys that we are (stop sniggering wife) and it not being that cold, we sort of munched standing up between lashings of rain. The wind was so strong that the weather changed every 30 seconds, from rain to wind to clear to fog and back to rain again in just about the time it takes to say it but on the whole quite pleasant.

I was curious to see what sort of night we would have with this weather as the tarp was billowing like drawers on a washing line and the rain was like that Scottish rain you get, which comes from all directions at once but it was a uniquely memorable experience. The rain fell on the tarp but the wind buffeted the tarp so much the rain got catapulted off so when the tarp domed inwards to slap us on our faces it was almost dry so no water passed through. Cocooned in my sleeping bag with face, well nose anyway, in a full blown gale was wonderful. I just lay there picking up on the smells of thyme, various grasses, wet stone, heather, bit of wood smoke as the wind veered and that sort of clean air smell we have all forgotten exists. Amazing. At a certain point the rain eased off and it was just windy which is something I have always missed living in this wind-forsaken valley and was not at all unhappy about. It was not a cold wind but you could see your breath when we were eating our soups so with total silence apart from the wind we drifted in and out of sleep as the rocks pushed up and down underneath us and the tarp snapped and cracked just above our heads.

One weird thing. During the night there was the distinct sound of drumming at 3.15. Most odd. I took all my hats off and stuck my head out to hear better and it was distinctly drumming with a rhythm and not just wind. I scanned the horizon next morning but no tents to be seen though why anyone should cart a drum up 2000 meters to bang it at three in the morning I know not. So I concluded it was the ghosts of the bronze age guys which, though it might sound silly sitting in a warm comfortable house, seemed quite possible at the time. The place has got a very strange atmosphere.

The morning came very slowly. I was itching to get up and hunt round for rock carvings but it was still dark with a magnificent starlit sky. Absolutely stunning. It was one of the nicest early morning widdles I have had for ages. Not a cloud anywhere and crystal clear.

When I got back to the boudoir I tried to take a photo from inside but the bloody camera kept focussing on the tarp and not on the valley bottom. This is the best that came out.

We must have got up really early because it was quite chilly and darkish. But who wants to stay in bed when it’s got rocks in it and when there are so many rock carvings to discover. So we were up and at ‘em at a good hour. We had to light the fire again which was a bit tricky because of the wind and the wet but with plenty of grass and birch bark we managed to get one going and soon had a good brew of coffee going. The person who manages to duplicate the taste of breakfast outside, high up, with good weather would make a fortune. It has always been a mystery to me why everything tastes so good outside. Even the knorr soup we had for lunch, ordinarily passable at best was exquisite and with big lumps of tuna in it, ordinarily stomach churning, it was even more tasty. I dug some dry and very contorted branches out from one of the hovels and thus we learned too that juniper wood makes wonderful scented smoke similar to pine resin. I brought some back to try in the incense burner (powdered juniper in the burner is amazing, it tried it today). Nobody is probably the slightest bit interested in what I had for brekker but it was home-made hazel nut bread and nutella with milky coffee with sugar in it. Yum. My tummy was grinning for most of the morning.

The weather on Sunday was amazing. Hot, perfect blue skies, very windy though. I set off to look for the ‘millions of carvings scattered all over the place, just about every other rock has one on it’ and walked down to the cairn where, were I a bronze age shepherd, I would most certainly have carved something. But nothing to be found. I met a marmot though who did not seem to be in the least disturbed by my presence and I spent quite a while watching it’s not very active (to say the least) antics. A bob of the head, a quick scratch, a bit of a snifft, move body 4 degrees south, scratch and mark time like the lizards do, front and then back, which the lizards don’t and then move back four and a half degrees north. I must confess that I love animals but marmots have to be some of the most boring ones. I also saw a herd of 10 or so chamoix. Beautiful animals and like the marmots not as spooked as I would have imagined. Costantino, who used to spend the summer up here with the cows during the war says that it’s been abandoned for 30 odd years except for one guy who used to go up until 15 years ago. Plenty of time for the animals to get used to not seeing humans. It was quite amazing that the rubbish that humans invariably leave was all old rubbish with nothing modern like ring tops and cans. Perhaps proving more I suppose that three hours up and two down is a good disuader rather than a sign of an improvement in the manners of the population. Not even any fag ends which is saying something as normally nobody even considers them rubbish.

So nothing to be seen on the carving front I gave up and we just sat about looking at the views and Massimo really getting into the relaxation business with a good book.

I never ever tire of appreciating the beauty of places where man has left nature to itself and sitting in the hot sun with the smell of baking mountain grass tinged with thyme and other wonderfully smelling plants this is just what I did. Just sat and appreciated. Today after a trip down to Turin to the dentist the noise and chaos and rudeness of the people really made me nostalgic for the silence and peace of the shieling, Can you be nostalgic after only a day? All I can say is thank god there are so many people willing to live in cities. ‘Long live the cities’ I say as they leave more space for those of us who love solitude.

I walked all over the place looking for carvings until the sun started burning my monkish pate and I had to go back to get a hat on. Five yards from the basher there were three slabs which someone had put on a roof. Each slap had a gully running round it which led to a point where, if you poured water into the gully it would run round it and drip off one end. They cannot be recent because if they had had a known function, considering the use the area would always have been put to, they would still have been used. That they were on a roof, face up means that the people who put them there also had no use for them. As the wood in the building had nails from the 18th century in it I presume the slaps were not in use even back then. Now starts the research to find out what they were. These three slabs though are all I managed to find in the way of carved rock apart from a large living slab with a straight 2 meter thumb width gully in it with an enclosure in front of it (apparently both are prehistoric) which would seem to indicate that there was something important about them and one or maybe two cup markings. Pity that the Pellice valley with such a wealth of carvings has such a dearth of information available about them.

The walk back soon showed us how poor visibility had been on the way in. The shieling had been visible form way back. Also the deep gullys gave an interesting tweak to the imagination. The going down was, we were both in agreement, harder, much harder than the going up. I don’t know about Massimo but my rucksack was only 3 kilos lighter going down than coming up and boy did it feel like it. I’ve got a weak knee I think and about half-way down it began to give me gyp. The sun was incredibly hot too but the views stunning. Next time I won’t be taking the metal detector but will be taking a video camera because a still camera, well my still camera, cannot do justice to the scenery. The wives were waiting for us at the bottom of the descent with cold drinks and smiling daughter which for me, though i could have quite happily spent a week up to, made coming down very worthwhile.


Anonymous said...

The photos are breathtaking, and you are much braver and more tolerant than me to camp out like that. I do know what you mean by crisp fresh air though. I will be interested to see your video when you next go up. Hopefully you will get to see the rock carvings you want to see.

Woozle said...

Yo Mu!
More tolerant of camping? - maybe. Brave???!! No way. I calculate the risks too much to be brave.
I hope i get to video it as the idea of space up there is amazing.
Pity i couldn't bottle some air for you but it had too much wind in it and wind doesn't bottle well.