Friday, 13 May 2016

The Last Train North

It’s funny how all the things you do or learn in the past, seem to be needed later in life. 

Who knows what it is, maybe the universe dropping down little hints, or lessons, that it knows you will require at some stage. On the other hand, it might just be one big coincidence.

My father had taken me to climb Ben Nevis, at over 4000 feet, the highest in the UK (or what’s left of the UK) when I was about nine years of age. And over the decades I’d climbed it with friends and then latterly with my own son.

I didn’t know it then, but this activity was to save my life, both mine and my boy’s.

Looking back I realise how foolish we had all been. I guess we had been waiting on someone else to raise the alarm or call the shots. 
Analysing it from where I am now, I can see that the warning shots were fired again, and again, and again - but we were all too busy enjoying the strangeness of it all.
When it came, it did come quickly – probably within eighteen months. Some scientists had predicted it would probably take years - but where were they now? Being fish food in some flooded town down south.

London had sunk very quickly and when it happened it had really come without warning. People had died trapped in the underground systems. Some had sought out the tops of skyscrapers. When several thousand people tried to (and stay) at the top of the Shard, fights broke out and the stronger threw the weaker off the top of the building.

We consider ourselves social and kind but when it comes to survival we revert to being animals. Who would have thought that the same souls who had donated money and energy into Live Aid, would now be killing each other in order just to keep going?

Me and my son, Robert had walked north keeping to the highest of ground. Firstly, it ensured that we avoided the rising water and secondly, that we avoided the bandits, thieves and murderers who were now roaming the countryside in gangs.

I started to realize, too late perhaps, that there was probably only a church, or a belief in a god, or some social pressure between certain individuals being civil and some being psychopaths.

As for the train, I had heard about it in a tented camp which had sprung up in the hills above Loch Lomond. Apparently an old steam train was shuttling people between a little village below The Black Mount and dropping them just outside Fort William. I have to let you know that all of this took place in the West Highlands of Scotland.

Both Robert and I didn’t sleep well that night on the mountain above the loch. We thought we would get off to a good start and so set out at first light. There were a few with the same idea but us being fitter, we managed to get some distance between ourselves and those behind us. We cut over to a route we had known from a path taken years before - known as the West Highland Way.

Just as we rounded the point going into the valley to follow the River Fillan, Robert tapped me on the shoulder and pointed east – the water was rising and coming towards us. It would probably be where we were standing in a couple of hours.

We increased our speed and ran up the old railway line which passed through Tyndrum before heading due north. The steep climb would bring us to the Bridge of Orchy – and this was where the train would start its ferrying north.

As I looked back one more time, I could see that the water was gaining on us and we only had a short time to catch the train.
Just as we climbed over the lip into valley, Robert spotted the smoke coming from the steam train. Ahead of us, it appeared that 30 or 40 folks were heading the same way.

As we arrived at Bridge of Orchy station, it was clear to see that there were more people than the train could hold. It reminded me of one of those Asian trains where folks sit on the roof or hold on for dear life.

Without warning the train started to move off, and looking over my shoulder I could see why - the water was quickly rising. Robert and I made a desperate attempt to grab one of the last carriages and had to avoid those who fell or were pushed from the train.

As we passed over that bog known as Rannoch Moor, I felt that this train, this last escape north, might not make it to its destination. I persuaded Robert to jump with me.

We immediately took to the high ground on the hills above Loch Leven, and coming around the back of the Mamores we headed straight over towards Ben Nevis. I would say there were maybe five or six folks also in our company.

Climbing the north face of the Ben was a tricky task but by the grace of God we made it. At the very top were perhaps another hundred souls who had decided to aim for the highest point in the country.

Once upon a time there had been an old observatory established at the summit of the mountain. Those few souls who had made it before us were beginning the task of building a boat large enough to take us all.

I smiled to myself as I looked over what was left of the Great Glen and wondered if we’d find someone called Noah amongst us. 

bobby stevenson 2016

wee bobby

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