That’s some Old English for you that roughly translates to ‘effing crazy death winds.’ This is a good summary of my weekend up in Loch Tay.
This weekend,I took a Winter Skills Course at the Firbush Centre owned by the University. Meaning home cooked meals, nice warm beds, and heating! It was a great weekend full of a lot of information and fun people!
The centre is located on Loch Tay in the Trossachs National Park (Eastern Scotland). Loch Tay is a really cool place with a bunch of archaeological sites. Most famously are the crannogs, a sort of wooden roundhouse that was built on stilts over the loch during the Iron Age. They have since fallen into the water but most of the contents inside are preserved due to the lack of oxygen fueling artifact deterioration. There are also a bunch of old ruined croft houses and shielings. A sheiling is a square stone house usually used by people who went up into the mountains during the summer months to allow for the animals to graze.
I didn’t get a chance to see the crannogs, but I did see quite a few sheilings during the weekend! That was, of course, when I could see! The weather this weekend was not great. That is putting it lightly. As many of you American readers are aware, the big storms that hit New York a few weeks ago have now made their way to Scotland. We are now in the midst of Storm Henry. I have never felt more betrayed by something named ‘Henry.’
We drove from Edinburgh friday night and arrived at the centre around eight. We ate dinner and then had a talk about Navigation. We looked at the maps for the next day and talked through the routes. The wind was really loud throughout the entire talk… and then the power went out. Everyone at the lodge got out their head torches and lamps. The power stayed out for the entire night and into the next morning. The window in my room overlooked the loch and the water was really choppy. I was definitely glad to be inside.
But, regardless of the weather we still got to hit the hills! Saturday was spent learning land navigation. I learned how to read the contour markers on the map to find my location and how to take a read a bearing off of a compass. Everyone in the group took turns leading the group to a spot on the map, mine was a small outcropping on a contour line overlooking a river. I got a bit turned around, but I found my way through it. It was really neat learning how to navigate!
Not only is it a critical skill in mountaineering, but in archaeology as well. Being able to not only read a map, but orient yourself makes excavation and surveying a lot easier. Not to mention any skill that you can bring to an excavation is great. My dad has actually been encouraging me to get certified in scuba diving so I can do underwater archaeology. Side tangent: which honestly is a hella good idea and I should look into it because there is actually quite a few submerged sites around the UK.
Okay back to Saturday.
We ascended the ridge before the weather turned too sour, but by the time we reached a small ring contour the wind had picked up and it was nearly a white out! We decided it was best to turn back and, of course, it was my turn to navigate. My spot was a small bend in a river next to a large cluster of trees. From the ridge I took a bearing and then set my compass. I sighted out onto the cluster of trees, but it wasn’t always reliable because of the poor visibility. The trees continually disappeared and reappeared in my sights. It was a little nerve racking, but that is exactly why I took the course in the first place.
That evening was a short lecture about avalanches and safety while on the mountains. It was a really interesting talk and I learned a lot. Because, you know the biggest avalanches we have in Kansas is the snow that falls off the roof of the car when you open the door.
Sunday was a little bit better. Most of the hail and rain had blown over and the visibility was actually fairly decent. We went to the other side of Loch Tay to practice crampons and axe arrests. Sunday was a lot of sliding in the snow and working with gear. We also looked a lot at snow layers and tested which ones were stable and which ones were avalanche prone. There is a lot of technical gear knowledge involved in Winter Mountaineering, but there is also a lot of practical knowledge about the landscape. It was honestly a lot of fun. I learned a lot.
My mountain skills have improved a lot since September. I am slowly losing my Kansas mountain naivety – which is a good thing! I am lot more confident with my feet and my knowledge of the landscape. I honestly can’t wait to see where I am in four years!
On the academic side of the things, I am loving my classes! I am currently writing my first essay which is a source analysis of Gildas’s ‘Ruin of Britain’ which is a 6c manuscript written by the Briton Cleric Gildas about the state of the British isles now the Anglo-Saxons have all moved in and, well… ruined it.