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  • Alistair Tait

Where How Many Doesn't Matter

One of the beauties of my other passion is there is no need to count strokes or stableford points. I don’t even have to worry about a fellow climber/walker hanging a 7&6 dog licence on me. All I have to do is make it to the top of the hill.

Oh, how I wish golf was sometimes like that.

Ben Hogan didn’t appreciate that a six-inch putt was worth the same value as a well played drive. We all know how he feels. We also know that the beauty of hitting a number of really good shots in a round of golf can be spoiled when the strokes/stableford points we’ve taken add up to more than the sum of our expectations.

I’ve got a week where how many doesn’t matter. Yes folks, I interrupt this blog post to bring you breaking news:

“I’m Heading for the Hills!”

I’m journeying up to God’s country, Scotland, to lose myself on the high plateaus of the Cairngorms. And the beauty of it is, whether I take 10,000, 15,000, 20,000 or even 25,000 steps to reach the summit cairn doesn’t matter a jot. All that matters is putting one step in front of the other until I reach the summit.

Don’t you wish sometimes all you had to do was hit one shot after another until you holed out on the 18th, and it didn’t matter how many you’d taken? That the only thing that counted was being out in green and pleasant spaces, being at one with nature, rather than stressing because you’d already played nine holes and are three, four, five strokes over your handicap?

Often reaching the summit cairn isn’t what really matters in a hill climb. Yes, it’s satisfying to knock off another Munro, another Corbett, but many times I’ve come back from a climb and thought about what I’ve encountered on the way up or down rather than standing on the top of the mountain.

Three years I did a winter climb of Sgor Gaoith with a guide and two other climbers. We branched out to a nearby top after we’d climbed the summit. As we neared the wee summit cairn on the other top, the guide stopped about 30 yards away. “What can you see?” he whispered.

We followed his outstretched arm to where he was pointing. I had no idea what he was talking about. Neither could the other two groups members. I couldn’t see a thing, just snow.

“Look hard,” he said. “Watch for the ruffle of feathers.”

Sure enough we saw the white bird perched on a rock, a ptarmigan with its winter plumage. Before I could get my phone camera out, the bird took flight. Unbeknown to us, its mate was hidden behind a nearby rock. The only difference was it didn't have its white plumage. It was completely brown.

We tracked the brown bird for about 500 yards towards another peak. We lost sight of the white ptarmigan within about 30 yards. It blended seamlessly into the snowy back drop. It was a lesson that we don’t always see every living creature that’s near us in the wilds, but they can certainly see us.

I climbed Mayar and Dreish the afternoon before the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie. As I crested a rise up onto a plateau, I came upon a massive herd of red deer. Almost as one they turned and peered at me for about a second, a look that seemed to say "what the hell are you doing in our domain?" Then they turned and gracefully took flight down a nearby wee glen. Within about 90 seconds I was on my own. They were nowhere in sight. It was almost as if I’d dreamt the herd up in my mind.

And the winter hare who raced past me as I was lunching near the top of Beinn a'Chaorainn in February 2019 could’ve had the good manners to stop and pose for a selfie with me!

This is one of the first climbing weeks I’ve done in 13 years without my faithful friend Izzy, who passed away on the 5th of June. She accompanied me up many hills, never complained, and was thankful for the treats and pork pie portions I packed for her in my knapsack. Oh, and I’m pretty sure she was far more aware than me of the nature that was all around us as we sat peering out over the empty skylines to the beautiful, lonely hills of the highlands.

#JustSaying: “Summer on the high plateau can be as delectable as honey; it can also be a roaring scourge. To those that love the place, both are good, since both are part of its essential nature. And to know its essential nature is what I’m seeking.” Nan Shepherd, The Living Mountain

P.S. Since I’ll be in the hills, I won’t be blogging for the next seven days. Normal service will be resumed Monday 28 June. I’m sure the royal & ancient game of golf will be fine without me for seven days.

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