Saturday, 14 March 2009

A Highland Adventure - Part I

by Barry Van-Asten

Sunday 6th April – Saturday 26th April 2008 e.v.

Hail unto thee, Ness of old –
What dwells within thy waters, bold?




Having only had two and a half hours sleep, Aimee and I awoke at 7.45 a.m. on Sunday 6th April 2008 e.v.; a day which celebrated Aimee’s thirty-third birthday and a day which greeted us with snow! I had been recovering from a cold and was feeling a little reluctant to leave for Scotland, but leave we did at 9.10 a.m. and we took the tube to King’s Cross, arriving at 9.55 a.m. The train left at 10 a.m. bound for Glasgow and we arrived in that city at 4.10 p.m.
We walked to Paisley Road and checked into the Travelodge Hotel at 5.10 p.m. and stayed in room 204. Later we walked into Glasgow central for dinner at the Wetherspoon Pub where we had ‘haggis, neeps and taties’. We went back to the Hotel at 10 p.m. and celebrated Aimee’s birthday with cake; and after a relaxing bath we were in bed at 1.30 a.m.


We awoke the next day at 7.45 a.m. intending to go to the Cathedral and the Necropolis, but time was against us as we prepared and purchased accessories for camping etc. We left the Hotel at 11.30 a.m. hoping to catch breakfast at the Wetherspoon Pub but we missed it by minutes and serving finished at noon. At 1.50 p.m. we caught the train to Wemyss Bay hoping to get the ferry to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute – but we decided to wild camp and get the ferry the following day. We went into the woods where there was a stream; some trees had fallen and blocked the route and an old camp fire rang alarm bells that the site was probably used by youths so we walked the steep hill road and entered the woods, finding a site to pitch camp. It rained at 6 p.m. so we got the tent up and by 7.45 p.m. we were able to shelter. It began to get dark just after 8 p.m. so we cooked our dinner and had tea. It became quite cold so we got into our sleeping bags about 11.30 or 12 p.m. There was a lot of noise in the distance coming from the other side of the stream, probably from where we saw the camp fire earlier so we were glad we didn’t pitch camp in that area! We listened to the owls and later woke about 2 or 3 a.m. feeling extremely cold but we managed to sleep on. I had a problem with a tube deflating on my mattress ground sheet. Before Aimee slept she was busy sowing her sleeping bag liner.


I observed the Holy Days of Thelema on April 8th, 9th and 10th with time spent in contemplation. I was without my copy of the Book of the Law but my mind naturally turned towards the spiritual. On day three – Tuesday 8th April, I awoke to the alarm at 5.30 a.m. but it was so cold I slept until 9 a.m. The sun appeared and managed to warm the tent a little or at least enough to motivate the soul into action! We had tea and porridge and struck camp; we left those woods at 1.45 p.m. and walked back down the hill to the station to get the ferry, which left at 2.30 p.m. (we actually bought tickets to take us as far as Rhubodach-Colintraive – which is another ferry crossing to get to the Isle of Bute).
We arrived at the Port of Rothesay at 3.15 p.m. and got the bus at 3.55 p.m. to Port Bannatyne – Kames Bay, near Kames Castle. It was a wet day and it rained as we sat by the bay watching the tide going out; we wore our wet weather gear and ate oat cake biscuits with tuna spread. I did not like the cold and being wet – I wanted the sun to pour down on us and animate me back to life. Aimee decided upon a place to camp about two miles up the road near an old abandoned church and I agreed to its suitability. And so we began walking in that direction. The rucksacks weighed us down (I was carrying between three and a half to four stones in weight) and the rain made me feel miserable, but on we went, past the roofless disused church surrounded by gravestones which looked quite beautiful and desolate to me. A little further on past the church we approached a wooded strip of land that followed a stream, opposite the houses on the roadside; we went into the wood and walked a path towards the end where it looked onto fields and to where we wouldn’t be disturbed. It was a pleasant enough place to pitch camp and I became quite fond of that little ‘haunted grove’ that echoed with the sound of owls. We were approximately four miles from Rothesay and in the next field stood a standing stone which fascinated me. It began to rain as we pitched camp at 6 p.m. and we cooked dinner, taking water from the stream, being careful to avoid the larvae in the water and it grew dark around 8.30 p.m. suddenly we realised Aimee’s inflatable cushion seat was missing and at 9.30 p.m. we went in search of it, retracing our steps back towards the Bay; in fact we had to walk two miles back towards the Bay using our head torches to find it, which we did on the track about ten minutes away from where we were sitting earlier that day on the bench by the Bay, and we were surprised to find it! This is just the first of many ‘strange’ happenings which attempted to ‘hinder’ our adventure and my own personal pilgrimage to Inverness! And so back to the tent we went, getting there at 10.30 p.m. where we had soup and I had some whiskey. By 11.15 p.m. we were in bed; it was a cold night and sleep seemed difficult.


We awoke at 11.30 a.m. on day four (Wednesday 9th April) and it was extremely windy in those woods which surprised us both! In fact, we are situated close to ‘Windy Hill’ which is the highest point on Bute. We breakfasted and was all done by 2 p.m. The wind remained and howled around camp like a mad banshee. We tried to keep our spirits up and keep warm in the tent having some soup and oat cakes with tuna to eat. At 6.40 p.m. we went for a walk along the road to the stone circle. The circle was a grassy mound of earth in a field with a few trees within it; it was fenced off and around the great stone circle was a small stone ring which is probably for protection from farming and of a later date. The circle is approached through a little gate and once inside I travelled clockwise touching all the stones – I felt compelled to do this; I then traversed the inner part of the circle and finally stood at its centre. Aimee was also impressed by the circle and there were two or three trees growing from this clump of ancient earth. Aimee took some photographs and I took a small stone from the base of the larger standing stone as a memento. Walking back to camp we leapt into the field next to the woods we had camped in to view the single standing stone. It was greatly worn and almost like marble and to my mind it presented itself as masculine as opposed to the feminine circle beyond. It had a definite presence, as did the circle and a strong energy seemed to penetrate the stones. I touched the single standing stone and held it with great respect. Its height was approximately six feet.
Instead of going back to camp we continued down the road past the houses to the ‘earthworks’ shown on the map, opposite the church. There were some brick foundations and the remains of iron railings but little else. We then went through the church gate and looked at some of the grave stones. It was an eerie sight as the darkness began to slowly fall over the ruined church like a blanket. I peered into the glassless windows of the church and could see it was all overgrown where the aisle and altar would be. It was sad to see it in such decline.
It was almost dark when we got back to camp and we cooked dinner and ate it outside, sitting on a fallen tree, with the standing stone in view on our right side, beyond the fence in the next field. We finished dinner and were back in the tent by 10.30 p.m. as it began to rain…
From the tent, through the trees, beyond the road, one can see Muirton Hill at 256 metres and beyond that is Windy Hill at 278 metres. Sitting beside Muirton Hill is Edinbeg Hill at 248 metres.
Today, Aimee experienced the joys of ‘outdoor toileting’, whereby she dug a little hole. I remarked on the similarity to a grave and gave it a similar reverence. In fact, the whole of the adventure was littered with ‘the graves of children’, for each grave was marked by some head stone and deemed ‘sacred’! It rained hard all night and Aimee had to get up at 4.30 a.m. to ‘water the grave’. I slept to the hoot of an owl, imagining ‘dark figures’ shuffling among the stones and chanting in the moonlight to some awful and terrible god!


On the fifth day we awoke to the alarm at 8.30 a.m. but slept until 10.30 a.m. and we got up at 11 a.m. We breakfasted and began to strike camp! There was some sun and a slight wind . We were sad to leave that little wood but leave we had to and so we walked back along the road in the sunshine towards the Bay; with Kames Castle on our left the bus suddenly pulled up and we hailed it and got on at 1.30 p.m. We got off the bus near Ardbeg and looked at some woodland where we could camp overnight and then in the morning be able to get the ferry back to the mainland. We climbed a very steep and slippery path from the roadside to enter a wood which was extremely boggy and not appropriate to camp in. We walked on, over fields and through gates until we reached Skeoch Wood. We entered the wood over a collapsed stone wall and we sat on a fallen tree and had lunch, deciding to camp here. Aimee looked for a suitable place to pitch camp near to a water source which we eventually did, having to get across boggy ground. The woods were well used by dog walkers and so we had to go quite a way from the main path not to be seen. It was extremely boggy and difficult to get to and there were fallen trees everywhere; it was like a forest of the dead; it was a dead place with things either dying or dead, nothing less! And so we pitched the tent as late as we could after we collected various sizes of dry wood with the intention of making a fire to cook on as the camping gas was starting to have problems. And so the tent was up as it began to rain! It showered with rain all night in that place of the dead and at 8 p.m. we got a fire going after several attempts, thanks to Aimee’s perseverance! But I managed to light it with a flint striker against a piece of cotton wool and some ‘old man’s beard’ I gathered earlier. We cooked a curry with rice and had tea. We kept lovely and warm with the fire but at 11.15 p.m. it began to shower hailstones quite severely (hail was still around the tent the next morning) then it rained most of the night, but the fire did not go out as Aimee tended to it after our final cup of tea and I prepared her sleeping bag in the tent. It had been quite a good day with moments of sunshine and lots of walking; a camp fire and I was in the tent and in bed by midnight; Aimee came in a little later. Skeoch Wood overlooks Rothesay Bay. It rained all night and was very cold and Aimee had to get up at 3 a.m. to toilet.
The next day, which was Friday 11th April, day six of our expedition, we woke at 8.30 a.m. (the alarm was set for 7 a.m.) and I had to remove a tick from Aimee’s back using surgical spirits and a pair of tweezers. We struck camp and as we were making our way towards the pathway Aimee put her foot on what appeared to be leaves, but she sank to her knees in muddy water! She also fell in the mud on another occasion too as we were leaving. We met a lady walking her dog on the path and we walked with her into Rothesay. At 11.45 a.m. we got the ferry to Wemyss Bay. The ferry gave Aimee the opportunity to dry her feet! On arrival at Wemyss Bay we had battered haggis and chips and I bought some cigars. We then got the train back to Glasgow at 12.50 p.m. and at Glasgow we caught the 3 p.m. coach to Fort William. I had the inspiration to write a poem titled ‘Lines upon a portrait of Mr Edward Alexander Crowley’:

Lion, you fix your stare upon your prey
And sit, as some oyster-gorged demi-god;
With eyes like Death's nostrils, smoking hate,
And your fingers manicured like vampire stakes.
Dreamer of dischord and demons and darkness -
Confuser of hearts and sex: you sit
Like a bow-tied Osiris, adrift in the tomb,
With a brain full of chess nonsense...

And the menace of Choronzon's distant star
Penetrates beyond the confines of mind,
Bent with hunger, the soul assumes
A persistence of darkness that remains
As you stagger shaven-headed into the unknown -
Nosferatu bringing pestilence from afar...

And in old age - a portly Pan
Sipping Cognac at the Cafe Royal,
Manipulating forces around you
With simple gestures and words of power.

And his eyes through winding pipe smoke glare
As death flowers, amidst the stones,
Dark with pagan poetry... Flames
Toast his solemn heart... He comes
Like a huge bulk of Godhood, summoned
To the enchanted scent of flesh and song!

And in your defence, Monsieur Beast,
A sigh of surety and relief,
Handed down and placed in hearts -
A kiss from Kingdoms great and far:
A law unto our lovely star
And a dream of love for who we are!

Sat like Satan in your Trinity room -
Great Beast of your mother - Leamington man!
Lilith-scented, you huffed and you puffed
Through the galaxies of faith and waste;
Through the gardens of the damned
And every haunted place... But
What was said? What bombs of wit
Were delivered before the camera click?

With your sails full, you were unstoppable,
Crossing continents... a cocained collosus
Who had outgrown the human, and known
The habitation of the Gods, and what they are.
But the human lingered still, and sat
Heavy with its failures on your brow -
And now, what man of iron will shall come
To watch over the aeon, and sing
A lament for the World Ash, wonder sap?
A song of all time, to bring
A light from afar, to worship still -
Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.
Love is the law, love under will.

The coach went via Loch Lomond and the Trossachs and arrived at Fort William at 6 p.m. We then took a taxi to the campsite. The wind and the cold were murderous and did not let up for one minute; I could not get warm the whole time there! We pitched camp and there was some rain, but we managed to cook dinner and have tea! We later went for a walk to explore the campsite and were back at the tent at 11.40 p.m. expecting a very cold night. I had a bad headache earlier that would not shift and the night met our drear expectations as we tried to keep warm and sleep!

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