The jewel of the mountain top

4. Rock Speedwell (Veronica fruticans)

Early July, 2008. A vile day, with swirling force 6-8 winds thrashing heavy rain about with violent abandon. Not a day for botanising, and certainly not a day to be at the top of Ben Lawers, the most famous of the Scottish botanical mountains, with a feast of alpine plants not equalled elsewhere. But here I was, soaked to the skin, barely able to see further than 100m in front of me, and at times that view was down to 10m. Fortunately the path is well marked and worn, and as long as I kept to it and did not wander from it, I was safe.

I had been sheltered somewhat from the elements by Ben Ghlass's shoulder, but, as I ventured towards the final stretch of the summit path the weather got at me unimpeded. What part of me that was dry now became very wet indeed. Every so often the fog-like cloud parted for a few seconds to reveal the way ahead. A boulder strewn grassy rise led up to the cliff base but it was not until I was close to this wall of rock that I could appreciate the size of it towering above me. The maelstrom gave the mountainside a forbidding persona, a roaring shriek seemingly emanating from the vertiginous weeping rock. I found the 'botanists path' that hugs the very base of the cliff and held on to the vegetation hanging over the lower shelfs. Slippery under foot, with the wind grabbing at me, I was aware of the steep decent below and was reminded of this every now and again as the swirling cloud broke up to reveal my fate should I fall.

I inched along the cliff base, with each careful step rewarded with yet more botanical wonders - Rose-root, Alpine Forget-me-not, Purple Saxifrage, Hoary Whitlow-grass, Mountain Whitlow-grass, Alpine Fleabane... this was worth every minute of wet discomfort. I reached a narrowing of the path, the wet grass trying to slide me away from my firm footing, so I reached up to grab hold of the jutting rock face and pull myself up higher - and as I did so came face-to-face with this...

In my sudden fit of excitement I almost lost my balance and fell down into the scree field below. Bloody hell, Rock Speedwell! I had longed for this moment during the months leading up to the trip. The pictures did not do it justice. Two perfectly formed flowers, shining out from the dull sodden turf. Like jewels in the dirt. Even though the rain still fell and the wind tried to whip my camera away, I had to try and take a picture. Needless to say, they did not come out well. The picture above was taken on the following morning, when the sun shone and these little beauties were also out...

Alpine Gentian - not in the Top 12, but possibly should be!


Jonny D said…
Blimey! What a great account. That's botanical porn, that is. :) Taking myself on a little island odyssey this weekend - one worth blogging about if I can find the time next week. Three new islands for me coming up... and one old favourite.
Steve Gale said…
Thanks Jonny, can you please send me the link to your blog.

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