I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone

My next six weeks will be spent in Scotland preparing for my Winter Mountain Leader (WML) assessment. The WML award validates the individual to lead parties on hill walks within the UK under winter conditions. I will spend the time undertaking a number of short expeditions to various areas, to gain winter experience, practise the relevant skills (such as ropework) and, of course, do plenty of navigation, which is key in tougher, wilder, winter weather.

 

It seems hubristic announcing this so openly, with the obvious expectation that I will pass (the WML is widely considered to be the hardest of the UK outdoor qualifications physically and mentally). However, I want to share the experience, as I am able, partly because of my sheer enjoyment of the outdoors and partly out of a love of writing about my experiences and the thoughts and feelings that they prompt.

 

With this in mind, I was inspired recently, having watched the latest James Bond film, Skyfall, which borrowed several locations from Scotland: Glencoe and Glen Etive. It included the wonderful shot of Buachaille Etive Mor from the Kingshouse-Rannoch Moor direction.  The current weather forecasts are rather depressing with massive low pressure depressions battering the country. However, it was impossible not to catch the sense of wild and adventure from the film and project it forward for my yet undocumented adventure.

 

Skyfall also drew my attention to the poetry of the great Lord Tennyson, quoting the final lines from Ulysses:

 

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 

What a joy, then, to hear poetry evoking the Classical era coupled with the fine landscapes of Scotland!

 

The speaker in the poem is, of course, Ulysses, probably known better by his Greek title, Odysseus, the hero who masterminded the downfall of Troy – well deserving of his heroic epithet, Sacker of Cities. He speaks of the end of his rule, the transfer of power to his son Telemachus. The tones are melancholic and mindful of the former glories, Odysseus all too aware that his strength is waning. However, the strength of his spirit remains powerful and resilient, and the call of his speech is clear: there is still much to be done!

 

Skyfall drew parallels with Odysseus and Telemachus (as well as Turner’s magnificent The Fighting Temaraire) to illustrate the dwindling influence of Great Britain – a nation with a great heritage, but facing an uncertain future – and the natural cycle of manpower within its constituent institutions. I particularly liked the appearances of the Union Jack bulldog – with its unmissable references to Churchill and British national spirit – precisely because, if you looked closely, it had been shattered, but put together again.

 

We often feel unprepared in life, unready for the works and challenges that lie ahead. This might be as a result of family circumstances, busyness, stress or fear. However, I think we should all draw from the example of Odysseus, as related through Tennyson: keep moving, don’t make an end, savour shared experiences with friends.

 

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this grey spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

 

I am on the brink of what I consider a great personal endeavour, and cannot help but feel small. I take heart from Odysseus and encourage you to do so too. As I tackle each of my expeditions, I hope to share with you a small part of what I have endured, and hope that you will similarly be inspired.

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  1. By Scotland Winter Mountaineering Trip #1 on 3 January 2014 at 1:28 pm

    […] rucksack and stepped out onto the hills of Lochnagar above Braemar. Inspired by the film Skyfall (Scotland, Skyfall & Ulysses), with its evocative Scottish backdrop, and the words of Tennyson in the forefront of my mind, I […]

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