CHILLING, CAMP FIRES AND CUTTHROAT

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I awoke one night in my tent with a strange feeling of dislocation, of something being wrong. No dream had woken me. Nor was it anything outside my nylon shelter, no animal moving. But my nervous connections were short-circuiting and the sparks had spiked my slumber. It took a couple of minutes for me to work out what ailed me. It was the cold. I was dammned cold. I’d wrestled myself out of my sleeping bag in the night and the cold had taken its place, wrapping me so tight in high-altitude chill that I could not feel my fingers. I talked to George about it as we both huddled over the morning campfire, tin mugs of coffee warming our clenched hands. “At this altitude I guess there’s less oxygen to the brain,” he said. “So it took you a while to work out you were freezing. Either that or you are going crazy.”

Continue reading “CHILLING, CAMP FIRES AND CUTTHROAT”

THE GANG OF THREE HITS THE TRAIL.

The bells on returning horses awoke me in my cabin cocoon. The sun was suggesting itself through the curtains. I could hear the ranch hands chivvying the stock into the corral for their morning feed after a night out in the open, grazing on the grassland between the forests. My breath was visible. It was damn cold. But the water in the sink tap hadn’t frozen. By the time I had pulled on thermal underwear, my Orvis fleece pants and a pair of jeans, I realized with a start that I was not bum-sore or bent double or stiffer than a frozen chicken. No more than I might have been after a long drive.

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MY CARRY-ON LUGGAGE OUTSIDE MY CABIN. THE REST GOES ON PACK HORSES.

I walked down the frosted slope to the ranch house, where the Diamond 4 cast of permanent, occasional and volunteer staff was already buzzing. I was their last guest of the season, but there was work to do getting some of the horses to lower pasture for the winter, and setting up a winter camp for the hunters. And getting a team of four horses ready to ride out to our wilderness camp for the next few nights. The spangled slopes around us were aglow with russet and gold.

Continue reading “THE GANG OF THREE HITS THE TRAIL.”

BRANDY AFTER BREAKFAST

If you’ve seen City Slickers and/or smuggled excess Duty Free through airport customs, then you’ll have some idea of how I felt as I drove from Jackson towards Lander to drive up to Jim and Mary Allen’s Diamond 4 Ranch in the Wind River Range. City Slickers shows what happens when aging men raised on TV westerns go to a “Dude” ranch. Embarrassment. And if you’ve ever been caught trying to get more than your allowance through Customs, then you’ll know what I mean. Shame. Humiliation. Cringe.

The road up to the ranch left the world of metaled roads and sell-everything gas stations behind, winding into the 2,800 square miles of mountains that make up the Wind River Range. My instructions from the website were immaculate. Just as well. Google maps, the Internet, electricity and phone signals stopped about an hour up the track. Continue reading “BRANDY AFTER BREAKFAST”

MAN IN SPACE

This isn’t Disneyworld. The mission statement of the National Park Service is to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” It’s for walking, hiking, biking, riding, fishing……or just sitting on a bench inhaling the scent of space. You may find the holiday months of August busy on the roads to, from and inside the Parks, and there is pressure on camping space too. But the amount of available wilderness is so vast that as soon as you put an hour or too into your walking boots, you are pretty much on your own. And the further you go the more on your own you are. Continue reading “MAN IN SPACE”

AMERICAN PASTORAL – FISH IN SPACE

For me New York is theatre. You are either on stage, performing, or you are in the audience, watching. Either way the theatre is packed elbow to elbow and the only way out is physical relocation. I had planned my escape from New York for months before arriving in Manhattan for a brisk few days’ work. I would fly to Wyoming and ride a horse into the Winds Mountains and fish in remote lakes and rivers; then a few days with friends in Livingston Montana before a week at a smart Orvis lodge. And to end the five-week adventure, ten days on the shores of the Puget Sound, fishing for wild specimens in the salt. Continue reading “AMERICAN PASTORAL – FISH IN SPACE”

MENDING MY LINES

It took my gamekeeper grandfather more than a day to journey from Skye to Kent, a distance of 700 miles. He, and my diminutive Gaelic-speaking grandmother, took multiple buses and trains when they were forced to exchange tending Scottish highland salmon and grouse for rearing pheasants in the “garden of England.” I wonder how he felt, chivvying what were little more than pet chickens with attitude into the paths of men in tweeds wielding 12-bore shotguns that cost more than his yearly salary.

It took me less than a day to swap a sumptuous Seychelles sunset for the river music of a flirtatious Irish spring and the healing sight of the tide licking up then down the sands of the estuary in front of my home. It’s a distance of more than 5,000 miles as the crows fly, or would, if they were migratory. Ireland’s full of crows. They are the black confetti strewn by the wind at the wedding of intensive farming and the Irish landscape. Continue reading “MENDING MY LINES”

Blackberry Trout – end of the season 2016

The September weather was a vile blustery bruiser of a day, pelting with showers and leaves swirling about the garden. I went off to Clonakilty to restock my fridge and wait for better weather, and some fishing.On the way back I drove past the river, which was unruly and dirty and in the fields, and was surprised to see the car owned by my friend, the potter Peter Wolstenhome, who is something of a fishing legend in these parts. He was working away the last big pool before the sea using a yellow flying condom on an eight foot spinning rod, and had landed the biggest sea trout of the season,, already a famous one because of the number of large and small fish caught. He put down his rod and invited me to walk up to this car, where the monster was lying in its boot. Continue reading “Blackberry Trout – end of the season 2016”

TURN RIGHT AT THE ARGENTINE FIGHTER’S TAIL PLANE – HEAD FOR THE FISH

Wayne and I set out for the Warrah River in his ancient Land Rover. The wind whistled through the places where the doors should have met the doorframes. The spidery shattering of the windscreen complicated the view from the passenger’s seat. That’s an occupational hazard on these islands because so many of the roads are graveled and loose stones do seem to seek out glass. Continue reading “TURN RIGHT AT THE ARGENTINE FIGHTER’S TAIL PLANE – HEAD FOR THE FISH”

A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD

It was just me and the wind and the birds and then there was this noise. My first thought was that someone on a 500 c.c. Motorbike with a very poor exhaust was somewhere in the neighbourhood and looking for me, probably to warn me of some danger from wildlife or perhaps that I was walking through a Petrel nesting ground. Continue reading “A WALK ON THE WILD SIDE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD”

GO WEST OLD MAN

“This is the Lodge, “ said my guide and host, Wayne Brewer, after I touched down on a hilltop in an eight-seater plane on West Falklands. He was pointing at a small two-story whitewashed house straight out of Northern Scotland. A few small buildings surrounded it.

“And this is the school,” he said, nodding in the direction of another squat building.  “We have four pupils. As you can imagine, the teacher is run off her feet.”

A sense of irony, or fun, is commonplace in the Falklands. One oncoming vehicle is referred to as the “rush hour” or “traffic jam” because there is simply so little mechanical footwear on the network of roads built to link settlements after the 1982 Falklands war that ended a brief Argentine occupation. Most of the traffic has hooves.

One of the little houses in Port Howard – population “28, sometimes 30” says Wayne, contains the War Museum he put together from debris left behind after the conflict. There are guns and airplane ejector seats, medical kit and mortar tubes and much more. It’s a tiny display of immense impact if you have the imagination to imagine being a newly conscripted Argentine soldier dropped into this wilderness of white grass and mountain crags and told this is now part of your homeland, defend it against one of the best equipped modern armies – and air forces in the world. Wayne, his museum, the Lodge and school are below.