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Travelogue I20

July 26, 2016

Our eyes on the ridgeline ahead, we crossed the half-kilometer separating the nearest section of ridge from the shoulder where we had left the car. We followed a well-worn earthen track, two meters wide, with loose stone embedded therein to slow erosion. The slope remained manageable for the moment and so was the going easy. The track carried on straight ahead for another hundred meters before bending left to run beneath the ridgeline, a parallel path to that line traced by plate movements.

While, to either side, the land rose and fell gently beneath the stubble of sheep-shorn grass and ungrazed scrub, the ridge threw itself up menacingly as if to hinder the wanderer’s progress through the heath, and its bare piles and outcroppings of grey stone seemed two shades darker against the overcast sky behind. I might even so far as to say that, from a distance, the grey mass gave off the air of a stronghold, with the way its flanks broke near vertically from the surrounding ground.

Without a doubt, I could easily picture a defensive structure like the ridgecastles which I had on occasion learned of when perusing the internet late at night. In contrast with a spurcastle, wherein both outlying defenses and inner keep clustered about a single central stone formation unapproachable on three sides, the ridgecastle offered more in the way of spectacle in that it drew itself out in a series of keeps and gatehouses running the full length of the ridge, content with being unapproachable from a mere two sides. From my late night readings, I had come by the impression that spurcastles far outnumbered their ridge cousins in Europe and Southwestern Asia, although I could not speak for other parts of the world.

Nor could I say precisely why it seldom occurred to castlebuilders to opt for the ridgecastle over the spurcastle. Perhaps it proved a simple question of geometry, one open side providing less exposure than one. Unless it were not instead a question of economics and logistics, in the sense that the spur variant called for fewer materials and a more concentrated worksite. Then again, it could just as likely owe to another set of considerations altogether, for all that I knew of medieval castlebuilders’ mindsets.

By that time, we had cut off from the parallel track and reached the base of the ridgeline. After a few minutes looking over the near-vertical rockface, we managed to locate some way’s down from our initial approach a sloping path upwards through a grassy defile. A minute’s walk brought us at last to the top of the ridgeline from where we could see that the stone formation stretched into the distance for miles and farther still than we could see either way. Both near and far, a few colorful specks advanced along that stone causeway towards a destination which necessarily remained obscure for me, the watcher.

Yet watcher again became wanderer, and we shortly came across the first of those specks, now become fellow humans, headed in the opposite direction. As was my habit on the old ways, I raised a hand and offered a few words of greeting at their passing. Both parties then made rapid progress away from one another as the level ridgetop track offered few obstacles, with the exception of a rock scramble now and then, and thus allowed one to cross the countryside far more easily than one might have done in the heather and isolated stands of fir. In places, the track led out to the ridge’s brink, from where my companion and I leaned out to get a better idea of the rockface’s height. At a glance, we estimated that the rock wall fell away some ten or twenty meters in places, a sheer drop and nasty spill for the uncareful.

In time, the wind picked up and bit through the loose layers in which we had clad ourselves for our impromptu outing, driving us behind one of the larger boulders lying loose atop the ridgeline. My companion made the most of the leeside shelter to remove lighter and cigarette from pocket and take a pull while I attempted to gauge the distance between our boulder and the next high point down the way. I judged it to be beyond what we could reasonably manage in the short time remaining us and told G. as much. He gave his assent, carefully pocketed his butt, and we took the old ways back.

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