Now and again, I shuffle through the photos lodged unhelpfully in far too many folders on my hard drive. Photos of a past life, when work trips to places like this were the norm.
They are as disconnected from me as abstract paintings now. Bhutan, Nepal, Alaska, Chile, Asia, Australia. With frequent-flyer points no longer amassing in their thousands, I've been demoted from silver status to..well, brown class... But no amount of exotic travel can make up for feeling settled somewhere, for knowing what home is, other than as an abstract concept.
In this part of the country, they have a special word for this. And it's 'hefting'. Derived in some way from 'heaviness or weight', it decribes the way that sheep flocks in the Lake District know exactly where their territory is. The natural instinct for knowing their home patch is passed on from mother sheep to their lambs with no real need for fencing on the fells.
I wonder if humans can be hefted as well as sheep. It feels a bit like it.
There's a funny thing about climbing that goes something like this: sometimes, getting to the crag can be the hardest thing, and even finding it at all is never a given. I'd even go so far as saying crag-finding could almost be classed as a sport in itself. For some guide book writers, the actual geographic position of a crag is a mere add-on to the main business of route description. It's clear from our ramblings in Spain that guide book writers must have been taken to some crags wearing blindfolds. On the back of a scrambling bike.
Take our recent trip to Font D'Axia. The crag is described as a small but pleasant crag in an idyllic setting, and so couldn't have sounded better. After driving several bumpy kilometres down a gravel track, we came to a clearing where the path surely weaved off to meet the crag. We parked up and started heading into the bush in approximately the right direction. The guide book assured us that we needed to climb up a couple of terraces and onto a plateau. So we climbed a few terraces, scratchily swashing past thorny undergrowth. I could tell from Stu's demeanour that he'd already given up hope of finding this one cleanly. I soldiered on, battling flicking spines and broken terrace walls until it dawned on me that we'd commando-crawled in a full circle, and were now right back at the car....
We decided to regroup over a lump of Manchego in the shade of a tree. A group of walkers were already sat having their lunch, and it occurred to me that they may have local knowledge, or even, maybe, just maybe, A Map. We approached them, quickly establishing that they were English.
Stu: "Do you know the paths around here?" Walker "Ohhh, YESSS.....like the back of our hands! We've been walking here for over twenty years..." Stu: "You don't happen to know where this path is do you? (pointing to map of crag and path)" Walker: "Err...no..."
One of the others offered to phone a friend, while another told us that he had a son in Cambodia who might be able to help.
We decided to go it alone at this point. I eventually found it a few kilometres back, on a lovely path, absolutely nothing like the book's description.
Hot, tired, and a little scratched, we felt like we'd done the hard bit by the time we'd got to the climbs.