Then spree

Website of Nia Davies, poet, editor, writer, performer

Tag: mountains

All the tea in Turkey, Çamlıhemşin

Tea in Turkey

Where I knew it before: a weepy pale delicacy in dinky china, with cake and cotton napkins, milken in wide brimmed cups built for the poised circumference of two hands. Now my image of tea is overturned.

It darkens. And becomes the viridian stripes of knee-high hedges, terraces on steep slopes. Dark green leaves trimmed as privet is. Bunched in a sack on the back of a truck or stuffed into bags by women standing in the mid-day dim, caked in mud the colour of black tea.

Tea that tumbles vertical from cloud. Green air. A dark wooden box of a house high on the cliff to which supplies are delivered by winch.

Staring at the rapids of the river Fırtına (the ‘storm’ river) I get a dizzy magic-eye  effect when I move my gaze up the still pattern of the trees on the far bank. Banks outrageously lush with tall forest.

It’s dizzying too, to not be able to see the top of that hill. To only feel it above the mist. To feel that where the mist gives way are the alpine plateaus, the yaylaları, and then the peaks of the Kaçkar mountains themselves.


Moyy Pension, Çamlıhemşin

Ortan village

The far banks of the Fırtına, from Moy guesthouse, Çamlıhemşin

Humpback bridge over the river Fırtına

Ortan's houses

Elevit yayla

above Kavrun yayla

Cow in Elevit


When I was 14, as a vague rebellion against my ski-mad father, I took up snowboarding. I put up with the sore bum-cheeks and burning biceps, I made regular trips to Sheffield’s dry scratchy ski village, I tumbled over repeatedly and had some knee-swelling encounters with ice. But I learnt to love the curving turns and slippery movement over the snow when eventually I reached it in one piece.

But it’s not an easy relationship with the sport. I am uncomfortably aware that ski resorts do a great deal of harm to the alpine environment. And I have a strong dislike of the preening, chortling upper classes that pile into the resorts every winter to splurge on an expensive and extravagantly wasteful pastime. I’m not keen on the over-heated apartments that pump out heat inefficiently. The way the trees are uprooted to plant ugly lifts from which pleasure-seekers flick their cigarette butts. Then there’s the carbon emissions of all the people who fly to the Alps to find the snow that has disappeared from lower slopes closer to home in the new warmer climate.

But I still love this deceptively simple activity.  The exhilaration of speed and curvature, the alpine breath fast in my throat and the glint of sky on snow, the view of god-big mountains all got up in their clear white finery.

I spent the last week with a group of friends in Risoul – a budget resort in the southern French Alps, full of students from the Sorbonne behaving in a surprisingly stereotypical Britishly drunken way. It was not the lavish get-up of Val d’Isre or Courchaval and on a quiet week we spotted red-black squirrels in the conifer and crested birds nibbling seeds on the decks of the empty après ski bars. The sun shone and I had the most raucous week. I read and wrote not a word and was tremendously happy.

On my return to London I picked up a copy of David Abram’s The Spell of the Sensuous. Back in the city, jumping through tubes and over road works, making angry phone calls to my internet company demanding to be reconnected, I began to recognise the disconnection from the sensuous non-human world that Abram writes of. I missed the snow, I missed the connection with the mountain.

And I wonder if I’m behaving like the bourgeois who experience their physical connection to the non-human in one short sharp burst only to return to their over-rich London lives for the rest of the year, craving snow for 5 months then heading to some seaside place to spend more of their mindlessly-made earnings. I hope not. I’ve lived in London for nearly 3 years now and I still miss my old home by the sea in Wales. But I love this city and its human surprises. In the meantime, until my next adventure, Hampstead Heath must be my reminder of our ‘contact, and conviviality, with what is not human.’

Skye, November

Camasunary and the Black Cuillin

Skye. For me it’s Katy Morag land. With Granny Mainland and Granny Island. Skippers steering through the mid afternoon dusk. Sunsets as rum-red as the island’s Cuillin red ale.

By the time we reached Camasunary – a beachy crook in the Cuillin’s deep pockets – it was too late to climb the last leg to Loch Curuisk. The bothy, where we ate our sarnies, had been bagsied by three excited demobbed marines. Having abandoned their open-roofed jeep on the rocky road, they were now stumbling down the hill carrying their weight in Stella.

Several times I think: don’t even try to take photos, they come out too flat, the colours dimmed. And how to describe now the light in dark without resorting to grey? Do we leave the gradation of colours to the Romantics? To Elgol-visitors Turner and Scot? In paintings the ‘warped’ perspective of multi-angled wrap-around  viewpoints seems appropriate here, more living. We made a steady crunch of onwards before dark.

In Elgol you can find what is possibly the world’s most picturesque primary school, looking out over the Black Cuillins and the shifty sea and that Lofoten-like crashing of mountain into Atlantic. A big red cow chews seaweed off beached pontoons. As soon as we reached our car, parked in the village’s small harbour,  a huge curtain of squall was rolling over the mountains we had just left.  As if we knew too much of a secret thing and now it was being withdrawn. The marines would have to light their fires early and bunk down against the battering on a log

Driving back the snow began.  A white shred of shroud slid up the dark sides of Bla Bheinn; a strange backlit mist hugging the black rock. On the other side of the peninsula the skies were still clear.

Weather races here. Be careful, they say. The glows in the crofter cottage windows came on through the dark. Many houses stayed unlit; holiday homes. It was the off-season, and didn’t we know it.Elgol Primary and sea-cow

The Highlands, 21st November

Loch Lomond 2pm

We are driving north, out beyond the flat-fronted housing of Glasgow. Stuffed with the city’s finest ‘Nuclear Beans’. Into the Trossachs and there is an unexpected straggle of late colour, copper clinging to twig, golden needles in their final throws.  At Luss the scream of gulls and lap of loch. We are free of work for one week, and woollens and fleeces and no makeup never felt so flush. I had forgotten the purple of bare birch.

Loch Tulla 3pmLoch Tulla

Last show of bright sunlight in the grass, burning out the edges of the peaks. The trees grow wizened in the beginnings of a great bog. There is the drift of snow like a flag streaming off the tips of the mountains, or is it a snag of cloud? Here is the drama of northern light that bursts and fades so early.

Fort William 6pm

Standing on the pier looking back towards the town. The lights and sounds that reach us, come to our senses from a dark distance. There are the sounds of students shrieking and of roostless mud birds calling over the invisible expanse of water. The luminescence around each coloured lamp bravely strikes out across the night, nearly but not quite reaching us. We stand at the edge of the deep shadow, the 18-hour shadow that is the loch and mountains behind our backs, the shadow that these almost painfully bright streetlights and illuminated forecourts are up against.

Fort William at night

Parked up next to The Underwater Centre is a huge red bottle. Bruising metal, inch-thick red paint, rungs to climb over a curved back. Tiny portholes built for pressure. We can only guess that it’s an old decompression chamber, or some deep-water bathysphere.

The sense of sound chiming out from the bottom of an inky amphitheatre is wiped clean in the Grog n’ Grill with its piped folk ‘Singing Kettle’ CD and over-scrubbed wooden furniture. The bored staff seem genuinely shocked to see us. None of us would like to swing their partners round and round on a Monday night. But the Birds n’ Bees ale is good and my nose finally feels warm again.unidentified deepwater chamber