Sunday, 1 March 2015

Botanical Book at Bedtime: Part Four

Fraoch Bheinn: about to start the descent
Image: P. Llewellyn
Last Sunday, we left Peter and his intrepid team of plant-hunters on a high mountain peak, ecstatic at finding their incredibly rare quarry: Diapensia lapponica

But they still have to get safely back down the mountain before the sun sets. And there may be the odd plant to notice on the way...

So, if you are all sitting comfortably, Peter will begin the final instalment in our Botanical Book at Bedtime: 

Treasure hunting in the Wester Ross uplands
Part 4: The Descent

Alchemilla alpina (Alpine Lady's Mantle)
Image: P. Llewellyn
"It was too much to hope that our descent would be a joyful wander down the way we'd come up. Our leader decided that we would descend by a route better suited to hang-gliders and we went directly down the mountain at a steep angle. As those of you will know, this is the time when you are really glad of your stick. Two would have been even better. Descending a mountain doesn't get you out of breath like climbing but it can ruin your knees and it's very easy to slip.

On the descent the soil seemed to change because plants such as Alchemilla alpina (Alpine Lady’s Mantle), Dactylorhiza fuchsii (Common Spotted Orchid) and Dactylorhiza maculata (Heath-spotted Orchid) were dotted around even though there’d been no sign of these plants during the ascent.

Dactylorhiza fuchsii 
(Common Spotted Orchid)
Image: P. Llewellyn
The sun shone all the way down and we even started to worry a little about sun burn. Eventually we reached the track by the river where we were able to splash ice cold water on our feet and faces. A two mile stroll back to the car park led to a very happy group saying their goodbyes.

Unencumbered by fickle youth, our successful expedition of oldies had been on a trip seven and a half miles long (measured only on the flat), we'd taken about eight hours and that included at least 2,800 feet up and down again. However the day had just one other special surprise for us.

The sky was now completely clear of clouds with no trace of cloud or mist even on the highest peaks. 

Dactylorhiza maculata
 (Heath-spotted Orchid)
Image: P. Llewellyn
As we travelled back towards Fort William we were treated to the sight of Ben Nevis basking in the rosy glow of early evening sunlight. A few snow filled pockets and all the splendour of its crags and huge cliffs presented a sight not too often seen.

A few of us were then privileged to be invited for a drink at the nearby house of one of our party. We looked down a neatly cut croquet lawn edged by specimen trees, rhododendrons and azaleas in full flower. In the background was the full grandeur of the Nevis Grey Corries backed by a blue cloudless sky and to the right, Ben Nevis itself.

We'd seen one of the rarest plants in the country at its absolute best and now looked out on a view the splendour of which even a London estate agent couldn't exaggerate.

Fraoch Bheinn: looking back up the mountain
Image: P. Llewellyn
I sipped my cold beer and reflected on a successful day seeking a rare alpine with good friends in one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland and thought that however materially rich you might be, you simply couldn't buy a day like the one we'd enjoyed." 

Many thanks to Peter for telling us his story and to all of you for following the four instalments in our first Botanical Book at Bedtime. I hope you agree that they have brightened up our Sunday nights while we botanists are all waiting for springtime and looking forward to the wild flowers that we hope to see this year. I'll leave you with the image Peter took of the fabulous Diapensia lapponica and hope that you all reach the botanical heights this year! 

Diapensia lapponica at Fraoch Bheinn
Image: P. Llewellyn