Saturday, June 13, 2009

Burnt again

I thought I’d go up early and come back as it was getting dark. I always carry a torch anyway. Unfortunately my plans changed due to the sun. I went up to my mountain to do some metal detecting (well that was my excuse anyway) but at 11.30 it was already 94°F in the sun (no shade on mountains usually) and at one o’clock as I was having a warm lunch, my thermometer read 40.6°C (105°F and a bit. Why does farenheit always seem hotter?). After a day of this things began to get .dramatic and about half past three I decided to bail out as bits of me were beginning to frazzle. Ears nose, back of neck, arms and hands and I still had two hours descent in the sun to do. Ouch.

I should have known things wouldn’t go to plan as I didn’t see my hare on the way up. In fact, the plan was to bike it up to the sheiling as I did the last time but the bloody scooter wouldn’t even get up the official road so I had to turn round and go back home to get the other scooter and even that didn’t get me past the first bend of the unofficial part. So I had to walk it. The area is overrun with deer I reckon. I saw 7 or 8 on the way up and a couple up top and a chamois too. As I was parking the bike a huge enormous eagley thing flew off to a perch near by. I couldn’t see what it was but it was huge and I took a few photos but even on max zoom I still don’t know what it was. Bigger than a buzzard though.

The idea of going early is to avoid the sun because the track goes up the east side but by the time I had gone up at 20kph and gone down and gone back up again it was six thirty. After ten minutes I was dripping I can tell you.

First off I went to Gard again to detect a bit there, and then went to the top. I’m going to have to get hold of a geologist and get him or her to tell me how it is that right on top of a mountain, where by my reckoning there should be erosion if anything, coke cans and bits of silver paper are down about 9 inches, do people dig holes to bury them? Do they push them down rat holes with a stick? Come to think of it the whole thing was depressing so I think I will avoid mentioning detecting again and concentrate on something more pleasant.

I met a nutcase. A genuine nutcase. Now at 6,000 feet on a Friday you don’t expect to meet many people prancing around the mountain and certainly not genuine nutters. This guy came zooming over the ridge, from a place where there is absolutely no path. I know this because I have looked. So being a several hundred yards from him I waited thinking to ask him if he’d found a path.

He was a little erratic in his movements. Most experienced mountain people plod. Plod at various speeds admittedly, fast or slow, but the gait is most definitely a plod. This guy was like a mad chicken, one minute here, the next there and going at a fair old pace up hill and down. Eventually I saw him lift his stick to point at something and he was obviously talking to someone and showing them the something. Pity that there was nobody there. Then he saw the ravens that I had been watching and spent 10 minutes howling at them. Then off he went vertically up and then back to where he was before howling at the ravens again. Then he disappeared round a bend and appeared moments later only about 20 meters from me. No sign of having noticed me (though there’s no way he could have missed me) he started singing and waving his stick and doing a terrible impression of skylarks. I drew my knife and sat on it. But he just stayed there, occasionally darting about and making various bird noises and peering into this and that like a fox. All very strange. But even stranger was his attire. Baseball cap exaggeratedly long curved peak. Bare torso, with death coloured hairy chest, shorts, ankle socks, a big stick a miniature rucksack and, the best bit, sandles. OK maybe I am exaggerated in the opposite direction but having been bitten on the trousers by snakes twice (three times?) I take no risks. They were not even serious technical, cushion soled, goretex mountain climbing sandals, more the next thing up from flip-flops really. On the way down I looked at his footprints in the dust. No tread at all. Good for grass skating.

As he was not moving and despite being within chatting distance taking no notice of me, I gathered up my stuff and carried on my way going deliberately up hill hoping he wouldn’t follow but five minutes later he bounded along on the lower path, stopping and starting. leaving the path and rejoining it and disappeared at almost a jog.

I was a little relieved. So I headed up to the top.

When I was at gard I had a good look at the portable carvings there. There were three (now four as I uncovered another) flat flag-type stones with a gutter carved all three-quarters the way round. Everyone has told me that these are for drying cheeses, and the gutter is to run the liquid that drains out of the cheese off and into a container. If that was the case though, (I used to make cheese) you wouldn’t need the gutter to go up so high surely You’d just tilt the stone. Or if you rally wanted to chisel something, a short ‘V’ would suffice. It seems mad to go to all this bother of carving a stone nearly all the way round when any flat stone would have done the job just as easily. And another thing that makes me think they weren’t for that at all is the fact that this was a sheiling where their business was cheese and milk and the stones had been incorporated into the roof of a house. Dairy practices didn’t change over the years and people would have been using the stones right up to the last if that was what they were used for. (stop press: Just had a visit from archeopotter friend and he reckons they have the same thing in wales - cheese drains almost exactly the same. Such is life.
Talking of gutters there is an overhang near the (so-called) bronze age enclosure which over looks the houses. There’s a gutter on top of the overhang ostensibly to carry away rainwater to keep the poor bugger sheltering underneath dry. Pity that there’s no room to sit under it and even if you did manage it the ‘shelter’ is open to the prevailing wind so you’d get wet anyway. And in any case if there were houses at the sheiling why sit in the rain? If it really was a rain gutter then the only thing I can think of is that it was done before the sheling was built, i.e. a very long time ago. Maybe the bronze age enclosure idea is right after all.

I hunted around for some cup marking or other carvings and didn’t find much. One or two here and there. What I did find though were two odd rocks. Huge flat rocks with built up stone sides. If I hadn’t been brought up in England I might not have given them a second look but they looked awfully like a primitive form of quoit burial chamber. I’m not at all saying they are but I spent a goot long time looking at one and still can’t figure why on earth someone would go to all the trouble of climbing into the space beneath a rock to build stone wall inside. They were both only about three feet high so no room for sheep or goats or people and the one which was more complete, was only noticeable because the ‘door’ stone had fallen out. Odd. I don’t know what was inside and I certainly wasn’t going to stick my arm in to find out so I will have to wait to find out.

Gard was severely damaged by the snow this year. There must have been at least 4 meters of the stuff and the roofs of most of the houses have caved in. Marmots have taken up residence too. They used to be a good way further down but now they are living right in the middle of the houses. I saw one huge fat one ambling up hill eyeing me with suspicion. They really are big critters. Lovely roasted apparently. I got photos of him too, like the eagley thing but again too far away to make out much detail. Must buy a new camera.

I must sound like I was full of frenetic energy but in fact most of the day I spent either rooting around on the top of the mountain or stretched out in the position shown in the photo. It was quite desert like apart from the snow. Shimmering heat haze and the only sound the rush of the river pellice down in the valley bottom and the buzz of the flies and skylarks. Lots of skylarks. Mind you there were lots of only three type of bird, skylarks, redstarts and northern wheatears. Nothing else apart from a grouping of ravens down at Gard.

A stiff breeze popped up after lunch which was deceptive because it was chilly so I didn’t feel myself burn. I was great to just lie there watching the clouds and then sitting up watching the shadows of the clouds racing across the land. It’s not often you get to see the shadows of entire clouds going about their business. Usually the only indication of a cloud is when it goes darker for a few seconds. But up there you could follow the shadow for miles and miles. Wonderful.

I was quite intrigued as I was sitting around on the top by an article I read by a paleobotanist who has studied out region. He reckons that the high mountain environment has changed practically nothing since prehistoric times and it was fascinating to think that the bronze/iron age guys looking out over surrounding mountains would have seen just the same site as me sitting here today.

I think my walking days are going to be numbered for a bit because this plantar fascitis is getting worse. It’s painful when walking but excruciating, breathtakingly painful after resting and now it’s started to be nerve jabbingly painful when resting too. This is a new annoyance. So I didn’t rest much, and walked about a lot just to keep moving. Going down hill was tough. It took me two and a half hours going up and two hours going down. But apparently there’s bog all you can do about it. I’ve got an appointment with relative specialist next week. Fingers crossed. Mind you going down slowly gave me a chance to look about as I usually go fast and don’t have time to look. Lots of butterflies and a spectacular amount of minute flowers.

Perhaps I should have taken Athena’s advice and put sub-block on first because I am now well and truly roasted. I tan quickly but I am now just red. Especially my neck and left arm. This is because going up the eastern slopes I had the sun to the left and behind me as I climbed up detecting the southern slopes I had the sun to the left and behind me and when I went down I had the sun behind me and to the left. There is a lesson to be learned in this I feel.

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