Wednesday, 19 June 2013

At The Hostel Door

20th June 2013

Sea King Helicopter Cairngorms
Sea King Helicopter Cairngorms
To look down on the wings of an aircraft streaking between the summits often in near silence, is a hill man's unforgettable experience.  When that aircraft is a Sea King  SAR helicopter everything is in slow motion and much, much louder.  Daily and even three times daily in the winter months here at the hostel we had rescue helipcopters and crews flying directly over us to the hill.  It was a heavy toll winter in the Cairngorms and on 8th December the summit wind speed on Cairngorm itself reached 165mph.

This Spring as a result of an invitation I could not refuse I was able several times during the course of seven days to look down on the wings of a Sea King at the end of its mission.  Ward 6c at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness affords just that distraction for those patients mobile enough to get to the right window in time.  I didn't always manage it but did so often enough to reflect on the prospects ahead for this service to mountain walkers, climbers and mariners in boats large and small of the imminent changes which will mean that after 70 years of service by the RAF and Royal Navy squadrons Bristow Helicopters, under management by our Maritime and Coastguard Agency will take over the whole operation.

My enforced stay in Raigmore meant that I had to miss a much looked forward to 50th anniversary of the mountain centre where in 1974 I was the first warden and one of the founders.  It was reliably rumoured that even in that narrow cleft in the Snowdonia hills we were likely to be dropped in on by Flight Lieutenant Wales and his Sea King crew but as I later discovered  a 'proper job'  over Crib Goch made the Royal drop in a non starter.

Now Spring has finally and begrudgingly made way for what remains of summer we see our lambs thriving on grass which has been long in the coming and young hostellers are again queuing up for duck and hen feeding and endless playing with the dog.  We have been having daily accounts of how the curlews on the neighbouring moor are just about holding their own against the attacks on their young by the murderous crows and the oyster catchers eagerly share the limited grazing with sheep and hens.

Spring also brought a new flock of volunteer summer helpers.  Gemma, a mountaineer and cardiac nurse – how lucky can a man get -  from Catalunia races from task to task with a fervour and determination quite unmatched by the more if rare flegmatic helpers we have known.  Kike, a good deal older but not quite my age might best be described as  the most delightful, hospitable and sanguine lapsed tycoon you are ever likely to meet.  He ran his own 'almost' hostel in his native Buenos Aires and just loves to welcome people and share life experiences.  Ed, from the Czech Republic, is more a 'blow in' than summer helper and is here for as much of the summer as he wants to be bringing several hours a week of his engineering skills formerly employed restoring Spitfires at Duxford in Cambridge shire.  The quality of his contribution to fencing, painting, slate slab laying, hot tub commissioning, and more is as mightily impressive as are Gemma's racingly memorable performances and Kike's laid back Altiplano lope as he consistently intrigues and delights our visitors.

And we still have Spanish, Austrian, French, German and English folk to come in the next four months.  We are much blessed for sure.

In the opening lines of  Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell the author speaks of a meeting  of  two strangers which for me is deeply reminiscent of  some of the encounters with hostel guests that we have been privileged to enjoy.

As we went out he stepped across the room and gripped my hand very hard.  Queer, the affection you can feel for a stranger!  It was though his spirit and mine had momentarily succeeded in bridging the gulf of language and tradition and meeting in utter intimacy.  I hoped he liked me as much as I liked him.  But I also knew that to retain that first impression of him I must not see him again; and needless to say I never did see him again.  One was always making contacts of that kind in Spain.”

I am thinking particularly of two old boys on bikes.  One arrived from America four years ago, booked in for one night and stayed for six.  The other arrived today.  Both were blown here by kindly winds from The Lecht and both I am very, very pleased to say chose to come here to us. Why?  Because they have enriched us and our lives.

Hostel Keeper


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