Assynt Reflection

Every time I pass through the grassy bowl north of Beinn an Fhurain, a shiver runs down my spine. Here a temporal singularity is created by the intersection of the merciless nature of these 'wee hills' of ours with the brokenness of the world we have created for ourselves on the one hand, and the cruelty of fate on the other.

It's 13 April 1941. An RAF Avro Anson on a training flight suffers a second engine failure over the quartzite ridge above Inchnadamph. As I run down the gentle grassy slope sixteen hours into my Trans Assynt attempt, the scene plays out vividly in my imagination. The hopelessness of the situation as the pilot struggles controlling the plane trying to land it on the only flat bit of ground around. He has no chance, for, perhaps unknown to him, the 'meadow' is scared by peat hags.

Two seriously injured, but the crew survives -- testimony to immense skill, nerves of steel, courage against overwhelming odds. If this was a Hollywood movie, they would start a fire, munch on rations, make cups of tea, the rescuers arriving short time later. They would live happily ever after.

But this is not a Hollywood movie, the mountain has other ideas, and the mountain knows no mercy, not even for heroes. 13 April 1941 brings a sudden, unseasonal cold snap, and three local shepherds, who know this mountain and its fickle nature like no one else, perish. And our crew finds itself in the midst of the mountain's sudden rage.

If this was a Hollywood movie, they would huddle together in what is left of the fuselage, and, fingers too cold to strike a match, tell stories of the green and pleasant land, of families, of comrades fallen. They would send one of the uninjured to bring help. And they would live happily ever after, telling the story of their ordeal to their grandchildren.

But this is not a Hollywood movie. The chap setting out into the blizzard to bring help has to make a choice we make hundreds of times, but which today becomes about life and death. Left or Right? Fate is not on his side. He choose east, heading out into the vast uninhabited wilderness, while help is less than an hour away to the west.

This, indeed, is no Hollywood movie, there is no happy ending; the entire crew of six perishes of exposure. The 'rescuers' arrive six weeks later, they scatter the remains of the plane, they burry the crew up here on the mountain. As I pass the two engine blocks, propellers mangled, pieces of wings and undercarriage, I cannot but wonder, am I treading on your grave? I expect they, the men who flew these aircraft, wouldn't mind. The mountain, I am less sure of, for she has no favourites and takes no prisoners, indifferent to our love.