Travelling with climate change

 

In the last 10 years we have seen several indications of climate change during our journeys. The first was the most severe and traumatic. In 2010 I went trekking in Ladakh in Kashmir, India with a group of people I had met the previous year on a fund-raising trek in Kerala. The tour company we went with have been running treks in Kashmir since 1874 and we had planned to do the Markha Valley trek. After a couple of days in Delhi, we flew to Srinagar with the first sight of snowy mountains peeping through the clouds from the plane. On Dal Lake we relaxed

before exploring the local area including three Mughal gardens, taking us up to 2000m.

The following day, woken by the muezzin and the cockerel at 5am, we were soon on the road to Kargil; stopping for a rest at Sonnamarg, an alpine meadow at 2,615m.

In order to leave we had to wait an hour for the convoy which we had to join in this disputed territory. We continued and passed the High-Altitude Warfare School, arriving in Kargil at 8pm.  The following morning, we left to continue on the road; crossing the Fatu La which at 4,140m is the highest point on the Leh- Srinagar Highway.

After getting stuck on a hairpin bend and a puncture, the bus finally arrived in Leh at 10pm. We spent a day sightseeing and then met the pony train at Spituk bridge. Our walk from there to our first camp was long and hot in the sun. Camp was at 2700m at Zingchen. The next day we climbed to 3900m and I started to become centrally cyanosed so completed the last 45 minutes on horseback. Day 3 began the 4900m ascent to the summit of the Ganda La. I did the last bit on horseback and even the horse was struggling for breath. There were great views from the top.

Descending the gorge, we reached Skiu: a small village at 3400m and set up camp in a field by the river. During our rest day, we did some yoga, walked to a gompa and relaxed. Ladakh gets all its water from snowmelt and it had not rained in summer for 100 years. However, that night it rained heavily in the early hours. This delayed our departure the next day but reached Hamunsho in the afternoon. Our leader was beginning to wonder if we would be able to reach Markha as the river may become impassable. There was a major storm overnight and another which had swept away some campers. Markha was inaccessible so we turned around and took a shortcut back to Skiu. That night we had to evacuate our camp as the river rose and flooded it.

We moved our tents to higher ground in the village and spent the morning filling bottles with spring water and sterilising it. We assisted some Romanian trekkers who had got caught in the gorge by the flash flood and had sheltered overnight on a ledge scraped from the cliff face. One Romanian and one Danish woman had died. Later some French guys arrived covered in mud and hypothermic having lost everything and one of their group had died. They had cuts and abrasions which needed dressing. One of the villages had a radio and we heard an English language Indian News broadcast saying that flooding and landslides were widespread and that 150 had been killed, homes demolished and 800 were missing. We would have been counted among the missing as we had entered but not left, a National Park. Even in Skiu, the stream that bisected the village was now a muddy river that had destroyed houses and some people did not know what had happened to their relatives on the other side.

Later that day, another flash flood came down the gorge. We climbed up the scree until it was clear that the waters were receding. We had hoped to be able to walk to Chilling and return to Leh but learnt from a French trekker who had come from that direction that a landslide had blocked the Chilling to Leh road. That night we slept fully clothed with our boots on in case we had to evacuate quickly. We woke to more rain and the news that our ponies would not be able to get over the landslides to Chilling so that even if we got there, we would have no shelter and there were many tourists stranded there. Two of our guys made two attempts to get over the landslides to walk to a village which had a satellite phone to try and let our relatives know what was happening. Another two rainy days followed and we set up a management group to figure out how to deal with 150 foreign nationals, 40 Ladakhi support staff, 31 ponies that needed feeding and traumatised villages living in very basic conditions. I did a drug inventory, some was in charge of sterilising water, my son checked the tents and fly sheets, I have a health talk to the youth to ensure handwashing, using the composting toilet, keeping eyes clean and avoiding fungal infections in flexures. Another doctor and I dealt with some wounds and minor injuries. We learnt that the floods were very widespread; much of northern India was affected; Jammu and Kashmir had declared a state of emergency and 10,000 were dead in Pakistan after a French guide managed to get to the phone and speak to his office in Leh. We were rationing food but were told that a food, water and medicine drop would come soon. The dead Romanian had still not been buried and the Ladakhis said that it was not an auspicious time. There was not enough depth of soil in the valley to dig a grave and in Ladakh air burials are the norm. The Muslim person in the village cuts up the body, it is taken into the mountains to a stone bier and left to the vultures. This was not acceptable to the deceased’s companions.  An American couple in our group did their washing and hung it on a prayer wall next to their tent. Incense had to be burnt and prayers said to atone for this. We were woken at 5am by the sound of helicopters. They sounded too small to be dropping off supplies and turned out to be the stripped-down Puma helicopters the Indian Air Force fly at high altitudes.

We were being rescued and got back to Delhi in time to get our flight home. The following year we went on a walking holiday in the outer Canaries.  They were having their wettest spring for 25 years. You are supposed to be able to see North Africa from the top of La Gomera but cloud removed any views. When our ferry returned to Tenerife, the beach at Los Christianos was flooded and seagulls were wondering where the people were.

In 2017, while touring New Zealand, we visited the Fox Glacier; somewhat smaller and quieter than the Franz Josef Glacier. You walk up a lane which marks where the face of the glacier was in 1915 and 1935 and it had retreated. It advanced between 1985 and 2009 but since then there has been a significant retreat.

In Iceland in February 2017 there was not enough snow to do a snowmobile drive which was on our itinerary. We are now trying to reduce the impact of our travels on the climate. In Western Europe we drive, take the train and/or ferries. With our campervan we are exploring more of our own island and limiting long-haul travel to one big trip per year. The coronavirus pandemic has had little impact as this was the year, we planned to sell our house and therefore had not booked any major trips.

 

A Journey into the Past

Early March saw us taking a few days to revisit some of our old haunts in Scotland. The first stop was Dundee where James studied at the university from 1979-1984. A keen football fan, he followed Dundee United. So, when he spotted that Dundee Rep Theatre were putting on a production entitled ‘Smile’ about their manager Jim McLean, it was a must. We stayed at a central hotel just a short walk from the theatre and although some of it was a bit of a mystery to me (having never been to a football match), he and the rest of the audience enjoyed it very much. In the morning we drove along the Tay towards Perth pick up the A9.

Before reaching Perth we diverted near Errol to Cairn O’Mhor Winery. Someone James was at university with left the course and with her husband, has been making fruit wines and cider since 1987. We had a look around the winery and saw some cider being bottled before having a coffee with Judith and Ron.

After driving down the very familiar A9 south of Perth, we arrived at Doune. The castle, built in the 1300s, is now under the care of Historic Scotland.

My first visit there was in the early 1970s when my clarinet teacher had to arrange a musical group to play at the wedding reception of Lord Doune’s daughter. The castle has been under renovation for some time and not open the last time we passed by. Today, we did manage a wander round the interior

but the grounds and riverside were too wet from the recent heavy rains. The guy in the gift shop told us that while filming had gone on in the castle since Monty Python and the Holy Grail; after Game of Thrones and Outlander were filmed there, the number of tourists visiting had increased. Last summer they had days with more than 1000 visitors (many from the USA), causing huge problems when coaches tried to drive down the single-track road to the car park. Continuing up the route my school bus used to take, we arrived in Callander. Parking down by the meadows, I could see a snowy Ben Ledi behind all the ducks and swans hanging around on the water, hoping for some food.

At the south end of the car park is a mound known as the ‘Hill of St Kessog’.

St Kessog was an Irish follower of St Columba preached here in the 6th century. It is not certain whether or not the mound was part of a motte or castle hill but in the 1930s an archaeological dig found the remains of a pre-Reformation church just to the right of the mound. It is thought to be the first church in Callander built in 1238. It was later demolished and the graveyard was established with the hexagonal watch house nearby to look out for grave robbers. Callander also has a second-hand bookshop with adjacent book bindery.

Our next night was in Stirling where we met while working at the hospital there. Our hotel, in the old town was the original Royal Infirmary and the hotel next door was the old High School. We watched the sun go down from the castle terrace.

In the morning we were at the entrance just as the castle opened and had a look around the palace which was restored in 2011.

As most of the other visitors were waiting for the guided tour, we had the place to ourselves, looking at the sculptures and views over the surrounding countryside. Staff told us that in the high season they get up to 5,000 visitors each day.

A few miles further on is the Wallace Monument. Like Stirling Castle, I had not been there since childhood. The path winds up the Abbey Craig where snowdrops and primroses were blooming with blue bells and dog’s mercury emerging. These are both indicators of ancient woodland.

A few miles further along the foot of the Ochil Hills lies the Broomhall. It was built in 1874 by John Foukes and Frances Mackison for James Johnstone. He was the younger of two brothers who owned a shipbuilding and mills business. After a family argument, James had the hall built in the style of Balmoral Castle with the tower so that he could look down on his brother. It is situated next door to where I lived from the late 1960s to 1974 on Long Row in Menstrie.

In 1906 the Castle was sold to an Italian Riding School and in 1910 became the Clifford Park Boys Prep School run under the auspices of William Herbert Leetham. Some sources say that in the early hours of Friday 28th June 1940 (others say in 1941) the building caught fire whilst the boarders were camping in the grounds. The fire seemed to originate on the second floor towards the rear of the building and the alarm was raised by the Local Defence Volunteers who were out on their night-time patrol. It took hold quickly and could be seen for miles as it lit up the sky. Under the direction of Fire Master Robert Cairns, water was pumped from the county mains near the old Menstrie railway station and it was brought under control before 9am. By this time a large crowd had gathered to see what had happened and offered what help they could. No one was injured but the building was completely gutted, although some furniture was saved. The cost of the damage ran into several thousand pounds but luckily Leetham had the building insured. Meanwhile, the boys were shipped elsewhere to continue their education. Information in the hotel (and other sources) state that a German schoolmaster took the boys camping on Myreton Hill and then set fire to it so that it could act as a beacon for the Luftwaffe returning from bombing Clydebank Shipyards in Glasgow. The Clydebank Blitz took place on the nights of 13th and 14th March 1941; nine months after some say the fire occurred at Broomhall. In 1946, and mostly in ruins, the proprietor of the house was Walter Alexander of Kork-N-Seal, a metal bottle cap manufacturer. By 1950, he had moved on and it belonged to Walter McAlpine Chalmers who rented it out to radio operator William James Sillars. During the 1950s the gardener’s cottage was sold to Tommy Kettles. I lived next door and went to school with his daughter; we used to play among the ruins although we were not supposed to as they were inevitably unstable and dangerous. The stables were converted into a house in 1977. In 1985 Broomhall was rebuilt and turned into a nursing home. In 2003 it was purchased by the current owners, who turned it into a small hotel with 16 bedrooms and a restaurant. The field which was in front of the hall and our house is now full of houses.