Saturday, 19 June 2010

The end of an era, and the beginning of another

After I finished my degree in June 2008, I experienced a limbo period as many recent graduates do. I had no specific direction to follow. My degree had made me cynical about the computing industry: I had made a solemn promise to myself that I would never work as a software engineer or systems analyst. My writing ambitions were at a low ebb thanks to months of zero inspiration. As always when I have lacked direction in my life, I took to the hills.

Summer 2008 was the period when I first tasted what it must feel like to live amongst the mountains. First I visited Glen Coe with the UEA Fell Club, stayed at Lagangarbh, visited Clachaig, and spent charmed days exploring the mountains of Lochaber; then I went to the Alps for a month and climbed high peaks. It was a time of adventure and discovery. When I returned, I felt as if I was a better man than I had been before, enriched by a thousand experiences that I could never have had in the trivial 'real world'.

Back to the bleak sameness of existence. I applied for jobs. I was desperate to remain in Norwich, without really knowing why. Unable to see far ahead, I was haunted by the memory of dawn at 4000m, Alpenglow on the Matterhorn, or the chill of a midsummer bivouac on Ben Starav. I felt that there was a promised land somewhere, but I could see no way to reach it. The future seemed hopeless.

Completely by chance, an opportunity arose. In the Alps, at the Schönbiel Hut, James and I had met an Englishwoman named Zoe. In our conversation the topic repeatedly returned to Glen Coe, a place where Zoe had once lived, working behind the bar at the Clachaig Inn. I remembered the fleeting thought that this would be a fine thing to do--but I never consciously thought about it any further. However, some little time later, in late August, I discovered that my old friend Rachael had actually applied to the Clachaig and was about to start work. She mentioned that they were recruiting.

I immediately saw my way out--or rather, my way in, to the life that I had dreamed about.

I moved to Glen Coe in September 2008 and it was immediately everything I had hoped it would be. Freed from the utter triviality of the real world, here I had found my promised land: a world of adventure, epic deeds, and breathtaking beauty. Soon this place became the real world, and the life I had left behind, of harsh concrete and long, caffeine-fuelled hours in a soulless laboratory, faded into nothingness. Here I have purpose and freedom, and a constant sense of wonder. There I was a drone who saw no point in any of it. The fact that I essentially live in a pub probably has something to do with it as well!

Wednesday is my final shift at the Clachaig, and on Friday I will be moving out. Why, I hear you ask, if everything I want is here? The answer is simple: to find the next adventure!

On the 5th of July, I am flying to Norway. Over the course of the following month, I will be trekking throughout a region known as Jotunheimen, the Home of the Giants. It is a vast area with few roads or habitations, but rich in mountain land. In fact, it contains the greatest concentration of 2000m peaks in all Scandinavia, and all 29 of Norway's highest mountains are to be found in Jotunheimen. My chosen route is roughly circular, and will take me through most of the mountain massifs in the area.

When I return in August, after a short period to finish my book, I intend to travel back to Scotland to explore some of the areas I have not yet visited: Knoydart, Torridon, the far North, and to climb more extensively in Skye.

Because I could not possibly imagine a winter in any other place but this, in the Autumn I will return to Clachaig, so it is not 'good bye' but rather 'au revoir!'

This will be my final blog post between now and August. I will be unable to post updates from Jotunheimen, but my brother James will occasionally post brief notes reporting on my progress. When I return, there will be a full account and photos a-plenty. In the meantime, enjoy the Scottish summer, and I hope this fine weather holds out a little longer than it did last year!


  1. Good luck with it all Alex :-)

    I look forward to all the photos when you get back

  2. All the best Alex. I shall pop into
    the Clachaig before you head off to buy you a pint!

    Keith (from down the road).

  3. Alex good luck with the travels and book.

  4. Good luck in Norway - bring back some great photos :-)

  5. Good luck, Alex. I'm sure you will enjoy the Jotunheimen. I spent a while there back in 1993 and found it fantastically remote, rugged and empty.

    I look forward to your return to blogging in the autumn in anticipation of the winter season :)

  6. Have an amazing time, I'm sure you will! I'll see you next week before you go and pick up the stuff to look after for you!

    But of course be careful as well!! I'm looking forward to joining you up north for a few climbs when your back!

  7. Thanks for the good wishes folks, I appreciate it!

  8. Good luck, look forward to hearing about it in Aug!

  9. I have enjoyed your blog and apreciated your advice Alex. Enjoy your travels and haste ye back.

  10. Thanks for the mention Alex!! Have fun on your travels, take care and stay safe- and I'll look forward to seeing you in the autumn. Give me a shout if you want some weekend company on the Scottish leg of the journey :0)

  11. All the best Alex, I've enjoyed this blog and look forward to your return. Hope Norway is good