Black and White Mountains

It seems to me entirely understandable that to some primitive people, God lives at the top of a mountain.  Even nowadays many people still regard mountains as sacred, and when I hear about the amount of debris climbers are leaving on Everest and K2, I feel saddened and sickened.  As it happens, I’ve just finished reading a novel about that, but first I want to tell you about my walk.  I didn’t have a camera with me and in any case no camera would be capable of doing it justice – so you’ll just have to be content with my words.

First you climb out of the back gate and up the lane.  I could see easily the path that yesterday’s flood-waters had taken, pushing leaves and debris aside and cutting a clear-edged swathe like a serpent through grass.  I was thankful the house was out of its path, though it occurred to me that if the floods got much worse you’d need sandbags to stop the water cascading down the steps and in through the front door.

So, once up to the top you can turn right, down the hill and through the valley, or you can go left.  Today I went left, up past the castle and then down to the tiny village of Kentchurch where you will cross the border into Hereford.  This is a great walk for views: you can do it across the fields but with small dogs there are too many stiles for comfort, so I stuck to the road.  (This is normally quiet but for some reason today there were more cars than I’ve ever seen on it.)  Anyway, you go down the hill and round the bend and there you stop and look over the gate, for here is the most spectacular view in the neighbourhood.  Wherever you go around here, there are stunning views of hills and mountains with banks of trees running to gold and russet and brown.  But this is special, because you have all that, and then in the distance you have the Black Mountains.  These are usually dark and brooding (hence the name) but today they had snow on them; snow running down the gulleys like rivulets of lava; snow sharpening the edges of stone; snow reflecting the sun on the top.  It was cloudy everywhere else except on the mountaintop – and with the sun shining on the flat white summit it looked like another world altogether.  I thought of Narnia and Aslan’s country.  I thought of other worlds: I thought of what it must be like to be up there.  Here’s a picture from much closer:

But if Nicci French’s book ‘Killing Me Softly’ is to be believed, far too many people are climbing mountains; and when it comes to the big peaks they are mostly ego-driven guys with more money than sense.  These commercial climbers do not treat the mountain with respect, and thus endanger both their guides and the environment.  But this is incidental to the main story, which centres on a bizarre and obsessive relationship.  It’s a great read, dark and disturbing but also – refreshingly -showing a heroine with independence and guts who, although she gets into a ridiculously controlling and secretive relationship with a mountaineer, also manages to find out the truth about her husband and have him arrested.  I won’t say any more but here it is if you want to read it:

Kirk out