Letter to Monty 40

Dear Monty,

This is my 40th letter to you...maybe I will stop here? This one is about peaks, storms in gardening teacups, wearing tights and coming over all ecclesiastical...it is going to be a long one, so make a cup of tea first before you read.

21/6/12 The long wet dark day of mid summer - tomorrow to Scotland and Saturday walking up Ben Nevis in rain then on to Cumbria and finally Snowdon.

23/6/12 In Mallaig after driving through a short night sitting in the foetal position over the rear wheel arch of our minibus. We arrived at 3am and camped out in the fisherman's mission opposite the port, with its berthed ferry and fishing fleet surrounded by the hills. I tried to sleep to the sound of seagulls and snoring...I love the sound of seagulls.

We climbed up Ben Nevis in the rain as predicted, passing hundreds of people - a continuous stream of humanity mirroring the gushing streams tumbling down the mountain into the valley below. Slipping and tripping people wearing leather jackets and jeans, bear outfits, shower caps and shorts, some with dogs and strained muscles. Straining up granite cobble path sidestepping those coming down was hard work. The valley below was a lush lush green, with its themed restaurants and an unhappy Scottish proprietor, just holding his rage patrolling his car park in his spanking new Mercedes - making sure no climbers parked there - I saw his point - the valley looked like a white van man convention.

The top ...what of the peak, the pinnacle of our achievement ? The summit was being lashed by stinging cold rain and sleet, with a severe wind chill which numbed fingers and faces. We skidded on icy snow not realising the thousand foot drop was just to the side of us - shadowed in a dark strange fog. The cairns at the top looked like foreboding tombs - but we touched the stones and had the photograph - then slipped frozen fingered down again - wet, cold and slightly elated.

24/6/12 So much rain, torrents of rain - Cumbria the place I have never seen, and cannot see today short of the stone walls and huddled sheep. The hills shrouded in slate coloured cloud. Wastwater overflowing its banks onto the road - the road becoming river and collapsing into the lake. My walking gear too wet to put on again, meant that out of the team of 9 walkers only 6 were able to go up...so I never got to see the top. After us the police closed the road...for me this was a heavy disappointment as heavy as the leaden cold rain.

I see 3 am again sat in a rolling and bucking bus in a strange musty fug of sweat and damp clothing.We drive under the Mersey and onward to our last goal of Snowdon, and for the first time the sun appears. Here I have a sense of hwyl..a welsh word for that pit of stomach feeling when you feel a deep attachment to place....and me a mixed breed of Welsh, English, Scottish and Scandinavian...probably more if I cared to look. Yet here in this astonishing valley - the Llanberis pass - with Snowdon above and the hills beyond - felt like home. I knew I would make it to the top of this peak. Clouds skirted the top but the sun lit up patches of green gold and blue below. Thanks to the kindness of Colin, who gave me a pair of dry 'tights' to wear I was able to go up!

The group stretched out and only 7 of us went on to the top..punishing last stretch up scree and crag to emerge onto steps with a railway line to your left. We could see nothing from the top, again shrouded in cloud.

Then comes the mistake - on the descent we became separated, spread out too thinly, I didn't want to loose sight of the leaders so kept up the pace, instead of waiting at a fixed point, we took the track off the Pyg down toward the lakes around the flatter path to save our knees. We should have waited and made this decision as a group. Down we went waving to the others on the higher path expecting them to follow but stupidly not realising one of them, the kind Colin, had pulled a ligament and was struggling down - the pain going down with tired legs is immense. We paid the price for our foolishness our leader giving us a well deserved rollicking. All made it safely but sorely home.

26/6/12  Tea cup storm - While I have been peaking, I seem to have been caught up in a minor twitter storm, which seems a bit trivial after the sheer effort of climbing mountains in real storms, and it is all about your views about the use of pesticides expressed on Gardeners World. To be honest I have come to the conclusion there is no utopia to be found, either in the gardening world or in life.

We are a people of good intentions but who all inadvertently poison the planet by our sheer numbers and our 'civilised' lifestyle, even if we reckon ourselves 'green'. There will never be perfection whilst we are around. Passion for the earth is a good thing but any passion can become hot, inflamed, arrogant, intolerant and selfish - whether it is passion for 'style' or even preservation of 'style' or for being 'organic'. Our passions can be divisive and destructive, they even lead to wars - and not just of words. This is our sad condition.

I do fall on the side of organics more than pesticides, simply because we have caused so much damage to the diversity that sustains us all in our pursuit of efficiency. Efficiency is an evil that pervades our lives but its pursuit brings misery.

So I live, but not to myself only.

I still drive a car (pollution) cook and heat the house with gas (pollution) use cleaning products (pollution) wear manufactured clothes (pollution) use information technology (pollution and exploitation). We just cannot face up to all of these comforts having to pass away in order for life to be a daily struggle again. We have to pretend that we are good...so let us help one another to live as best we can.

 And there was me in all my naivety thinking gardeners were the least controversial, least hot headed and most happy and contented souls (truly!)

Breathe....and finally....In the pretentious tradition of naming gardens, I have decided to call my garden the coal tip cloister garden. It is a garden of loose topiary and informal arches formed by the curves of tree branches and pruning, a space enclosed but peaceful with washing line, apple tree and coal riddled soil.

There - I'll write a book !

Goodbye Monty.

If anyone wants to sponsor our soaked three peaks walk, please send donations marked 3 peaks challenge to Newlyn Mission, find the address at :http://blog.through-the-gaps.co.uk/p/newlyn-mission.html


  1. Congratulations on achieving all those summits! I like your take on the whole organic debate. I too fall on the side of no pesticides although I do from time to time give in to my loathing of slugs although I have not yet taken to cutting them up with scissors. I try to recycle, to reuse and simply not to buy new stuff but I do all the things you do and am not about to stop driving and internet use. We stumble along, damaging the planet and from time to time making tiny bits of it more beautiful.


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