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PRICELESS OLD JUNK FROM THE MOUNTAINS: MICK TIGHE INTERVIEW

Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 23 May 2013

IN A STONE-BUILT barn beside his house near Fort William, Royal Marine turned mountain guide Mick Tighe is showing me around his vast collection of mountaineering memorabilia. “Old junk,” the no-nonsense 63-year-old calls it in his clipped Derbyshire accent but, really, it’s anything but. Stacks of neatly labelled cardboard boxes reveal treasure after treasure. One contains a number of items belonging to the late climber, author and broadcaster Tom Weir: his twin-lens reflex Mamiyaflex camera, his box brownie, even one of his trademark bobble hats. Another box contains a selection of vintage compasses and other instruments, including an altimeter belonging to Harold Raeburn. A giant of Scottish mountaineering in the early 20th century, Raeburn pioneered a number of classic climbing routes up Ben Nevis and was also mountaineering leader on the ill-fated 1921 British Reconnaissance Expedition to Mount Everest, which was seriously derailed by an outbreak of dysentery. One member of the party died in the mountains and Raeburn became so ill that he never fully recovered, eventually dying in Edinburgh in 1926. Carefully, Tighe opens the altimeter’s protective leather case. Given the adventures it must have been on, you’d expect it to be battered and cracked, but it’s still in mint condition. Not only that, compared to today’s robust, chunky looking outdoor gear, it seems impossibly fragile, its needle wafer thin.

Tighe’s barn is full of objects that offer similar glimpses into climbing history – from vintage crampons forged by blacksmiths to game-changing ice axes, it seems every object has its own compelling story to tell. In any other country in the world with a mountaineering heritage as rich as Scotland’s, these artefacts would long since have been gathered together and put on public display in a purpose-built museum, but Tighe’s attempts to make this happen have always been frustrated. The lack of a suitable home for his collection hasn’t stopped him trying to get it seen by a wider audience, however, and he has set up various mini-exhibitions over the years in whisky distilleries and at mountain film festivals. This summer, true to form, he has arranged for a small display to be installed in the window of a vacant shop on Fort William High Street, from 10 June. Continue reading →

FOUR SEASONS: AN OLYMPIC SAILING HERO GOES BACK TO HIS ROOTS

Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 18 May 2013

AS REGATTAS go, the Scottish Series has it all: a stunning backdrop for the racing courtesy of the dark, densely forested hillsides that surround Loch Fyne; a stretch of water blessed with consistent winds and minimal tides; and a legendary party atmosphere courtesy of the picturesque little port of Tarbert – so busy when the sailing circus comes to town that boats often have to tie up two, three and four abreast beside the pontoons. This year there’s even a bit of star quality thrown into the mix thanks to leading Scottish sailor Luke Patience, winner of a silver medal in the 470 class at last summer’s Olympic Games, who has signed up as official event ambassador. Patience, 26, is from Rhu near Helensburgh, and he has fond memories of attending the Scottish Series as a junior sailor. Like most people who go back year after year, he views it as much as an aquatic gathering of the clans as a win-or-lose sporting event.

“It seems like the whole country comes together for the Scottish Series,” he says. “Obviously the sailing’s amazing and it’s in a gorgeous part of the world, but the best bit is getting to see old friends that I just don’t get to see enough of. I’m living on the south coast of England now and I don’t get to Scotland as much as I’d like, so I love to go back and see all these people that I grew up with. These are really the ones who helped me get into doing what I do.” Continue reading →

FOUR SEASONS: TWO POETS OF ACTION

Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 11 May 2013

ONE of the best things I’ve read so far this year is Found At Sea, a new book of poems by Andrew Greig. It’s based on a journey he made from Stromness on Orkney to the abandoned island of Cava in a little sailing boat called the Arctic Whaler, skippered by his pal Mark Shiner – an experience he describes as a “micro-Odyssey”, something he has “mythed” in his writing. Partly I like Greig’s poems because they are honest; when he’s afraid, he’s not afraid to say so. The main reason I love this book, though, is because the descriptions of the actual act of sailing are so brilliantly, vividly evocative. Continue reading →

FOUR SEASONS: CASHING IN ON EVEREST AT 60

Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 4 May 2013

SEX sells – and so, it seems, do round-number anniversaries. This month, to mark the 60th anniversary of Hillary and Tenzing’s historic first ascent of Everest on 29 May 1953, there will be celebrations all over the world, and so much money will change hands that you’ll be able to hear the cash registers ringing from here to Nepal.

Granted, one or two of these 60th birthday events will have a purpose other than to make money: a joint expedition mounted by the Indian and Nepalese armies, for example, to clear rubbish from the world’s highest peak, stands out as a rare beacon of altruism. The expedition leaders hope to remove between eight and nine tons of detritus from the mountain, left there by climbers too knackered to carry it down themselves. There are also various Everest-related books due to be published in the coming weeks, and as everybody knows there’s no money to be made in publishing any more I suppose these projects should also be considered non-commercial. Other than that, though, it seems as if everyone and their granny is out to get a slice of the fat, juicy, Everest-at-60 pie. Continue reading →

FOUR SEASONS: SADDLE UP, IT’S BIKE SEASON

The Scotsman (TSMag) 27 April 2013

THIS weekend marks the start of the Scottish cycling season. Yeah, I know: technically there’s no such thing – last time I checked, bikes seemed to work just fine from September to March, and there are lots of great events going on all over the country right through the winter. But if you had to define a cycling season then you’d probably say it was sometime in late spring and early summer, as that’s when the majority of the big competitions and festivals take place. And if you had to choose a weekend when these events start happening in earnest – in 2013, at least – then you could do a lot worse than plump for this weekend, when the Scottish Bike Show (SBS) moves into its new home in the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow.

Attractions range from mindblowing demos from BMX blackbelts BSD to an inflatable Kiddimoto track, where junior Hoys can get their first taste of balancing on two wheels, and there will also be appearances from various cycling worthies, notably world record breaker Graeme Obree, in conversation this afternoon with journalist and broadcaster Richard Moore. A 1km long outdoor test track will give bike buyers a chance to try out all the latest models and yes, in case you were wondering, there will also be an opportunity to have a shot on the velodrome itself. Taster sessions will be available to the public all weekend, although you might want to bring a good book to read while you’re waiting for your turn. Continue reading →

FOUR SEASONS: THE PAIN OF MISSING IT

Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 20 April 2013

LISTEN carefully. Can you hear that sound? A sort of half-crunch, half-squeak? That’s me grinding my teeth at the prospect of no more snowboarding this winter. I’m not ill or injured (apart from the teeth, obviously) but due to a double-whammy of personal and professional commitments, it’s unlikely I’ll be going anywhere near a hill for the next month or two. By the time I’m back on an even keel, most of the snow that’s currently blanketing the Highlands will have melted. That’s right – probably the best few weeks of spring skiing conditions Scotland has had in the last decade, and I’ll have missed it. Argh! There goes another molar.

Of course, I should be more grown-up about this. I should be able to shrug my shoulders and say to my inner child “there will be other winters” – or, more to the point, “there will be other springs”. But the trouble is, I have a feeling I’ll be waiting a really, really long time before I see another spring like this one. Continue reading →

FOUR SEASONS: LIGHTS, CAMERA, SKI!

The Scotsman (TSMag) 13 Apr 2013

UP UNTIL a few days ago, I’d always assumed that making ski films must be a pretty easy gig: find yourself some decent skiers, coax/bribe/threaten them into skiing down something nice and steep, make sure the cameras are rolling (and pointing in the right direction) and you’re more-or-less there. But no. It turns out it’s more complicated than that. A lot more complicated.

I spent most of last Tuesday and Wednesday yomping around the Ben Lawers massif in Highland Perthshire with a posse of like-minded souls calling themselves the Mountain Goat Collab, who were making a film about backcountry skiing in Scotland. The plan was for top-flight skiers Mike Guest (of DPS Skis), his sister Jo, Lou Sharp, Jonathan Lonie and Mark “Sparky” Stewart to hike up a few hills and slide down them, and for filmmakers Matt Brown (of MB Productions) and Will Beeslar and Janeanne Gilchrist (of Scottish clothing brand Staunch Industries) to capture the action from a variety of different angles. Mike would also film the skiers as they started their descents, and get extra close-up footage of them puffing up the sides of assorted Munros to add a little context. My job was to take still pictures, lug camera gear around and – when on my snowboard – provide Will’s Jack Russell, Jeff, with something interesting to chase. Continue reading →

“WORD-MAPPING” THE ISLE OF SKYE

Published: The Scotsman (Arts Diary) 11 Apr 2013

THE DIARY is starting to develop a bit of a soft spot for Atlas, the contemporary arts organisation based on the Isle of Skye. Earlier in the year they unveiled a series of “memory maps” of the island, created by the artist J Maizlish Mole. As well as roads, hills, rivers and all the other things you’d expect to see on a conventional map, these bizarre documents also included less obvious features: “boggy slopes”, for example, “a man building a fence” and the rather vague-sounding “craggy volcanic peaks, etc”. The aim, according to Mole, was not to record the island in precise geographical detail, but to capture “the lived experience and the impression left”. The maps are to be displayed on information boards around Portree this summer, and print copies will be dished out to tourists. The Diary confidently predicts that these beautiful, quirky artefacts will rapidly become collector’s items.

Anyway, not content with masterminding one brilliant geography-related art project this year, the folks at Atlas now appear to have a second one on the go. Alec Finlay – poet, artist and son of the late, great Ian Hamilton Finlay – has been commissioned by Atlas to create “word maps” of 14 viewpoints on the island. Entitled comhlan bheanntan | a company of mountains, and inspired by the work of Japanese poet Matsuo Basho (famous for his masterpiece of travel writing, Oku no hosomichi – “Narrow Road to the Deep North”), they are due to be unveiled next month. Continue reading →

FOUR SEASONS: TRAGEDY PREVENTION 101

Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 6 Apr 2013

DON’T get me wrong, I love writing this column, but the Four Seasons slot does have its downsides and chief among them is the fact that, due to long magazine lead-times, I have to write it almost two full weeks before you get to read it. As such, it is vulnerable to being overtaken by events. The column I’d originally written for today’s paper would have jarred so horribly with the tragic news from Glencoe Mountain last weekend – when Clackmananshire skier Daniel Maddox was killed in an avalanche while skiing just outside the resort boundary – that I’ve been given special dispensation to do a last-minute re-write.

Why draw attention to the fact that this is a re-write? Because I think some of the false assumptions I made in my original column are the kind of false assumptions that are commonly made throughout the skiing and snowboarding world, and I think that by going over what I originally wrote I might be able to shed a little light on the way backcountry skiers and snowboarders (myself included) think and behave. Continue reading →

FOUR SEASONS: IN PRAISE OF TURNING BACK

Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 30 March 2013

BEAUMONT bottles it again,” quipped a colleague earlier this month, on hearing the news that professional adventurer Mark Beaumont had decided to abandon his latest project – an attempt to climb Patagonia’s highest peak, the 4,000m-plus Cerro San Valentin. The Scot decided to take his team home because conditions on the mountain were too dangerous – that is, even more dangerous than he had expected.

“We could regularly hear avalanches and rockfall around us,” he explained on his blog, “and we also found some very exposed sections during the climb, where if you slipped, you wouldn’t survive. I made the decision that the risk was too high.”

To say Beaumont had “bottled it” is, of course, ridiculously unfair – San Valentin is notoriously hazardous and has only been climbed a handful of times. And to say the 30-year-old bottled it “again” isn’t really accurate either. His previous adventure – an attempt last summer to break the 30-day record for rowing across the Atlantic – didn’t fail because he decided to turn back, but because the boat he was in, the Sara G, was capsized by a large wave. Continue reading →