Climb every mountain
17th January 2013
Rather like last year the weather forecasters had been announcing snow “next week” for ages. Then, suddenly, it actually happened. The good news was that on the odd day it brought with it (find trumpets) Ta-Dah ! The sun.
We have all become just so fed up with grey, grey and rain. Snow and sunshine has to be better.
Any old excuse to get out of the house, I had to go and get some beer from my mate Thomas at St Glinglin. I had missed the arrival of his Winter Beer but he had promised to put a case aside for me. Thursday was looking bright and sunny so that meant I could go and take some photos and collect the beer.
It was cold when I left and the temperature dropped and dropped as I headed inland. I reckoned that it was not worth taking the risk of my usual short cut across the ridge to the autoroute so stuck to the major roads which were pretty clear of snow. By the time I was approaching Lens it was -12C outside but the sunniest day we have seen in months.
I paused to have a look at the monument I inaugurated back in September with the Canadians and then wandered on to say hello to the local Maire. After that it was a quick bit of shopping — it was sales time here in the north of France — and then I decided that the two great crassier of Colliery 11/19, looked magnificent with their coating of snow.
I found a place to park and beetled off up the path. The mining basin of Lens-Liévin was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2012. These two giant pyramids are the tallest slag heaps in Europe at 186 metres (though to be honest we have to knock off 50 as they are not at sea level).
The entire ensemble of pyramids and plateau contains about 24,000,000 cubic metres of waste on a surface of 90 hectares (that’s a third of a square mile).
By comparison the Great Pyramid of Cheops has a volume of 2,500,000 cubic metres, was originally 146.5 metres high and has a base of 5.29 hectares. A wee bit higher than our crassier but we win on volume. If you can’t afford Egypt come to Loos-en-Gohelle.
In fact the plateau between the two pyramids (Okay so they are cones !) was destined to become a third mountain before the mining industry was finally closed in the eighties. Engineers were worried that the two mounds would collapse under their own weight so they insisted that the local pits commence a new one.
My original intention was to take a few snapshots; walk out to the plateau and see if I could get a snowy view over the Loos battlefields. However, by the time I had reached the plateau I had realised that although it was cold, with the sunshine it certainly didn’t feel it and well, why not, whilst I am here and it’s a lovely day, I’ll climb it.
There is a footpath and although it is a wee bit steep it was not too difficult. I was mindful of every step up that this was a step down to come. But see me. Once I have decided, there’s no changing me.
The final ten metres or so was off the track and pretty much straight up. I did have a slight pause whilst I thought it over. But come on you don’t climb 120 metres of snow capped coal heap to turn back with only a wee bit to go. You have already proved you were out of your brain when you started the ascent.
The view from the top was fabulous, if a little hazy away in the distance.
Then came the climb down, I was as nimble as a mountain goat (in sludge) as I carefully made my way down. I wasn’t too worried about falling because narrative causality would suggest that I could descend a hundred and thirty odd metres of vertical snow and coal and then slip getting into the car !
I had a wee while to fill before my appointment to get the beer so headed via one of the cemeteries that I have not visited at Philosophe.
Tucked amongst the houses and old mines it was covered with a pristine layer of snow, but even here the sunshine had melted a patch here and there allowing the plants beneath to show through. Amongst the rows there are : one fifteen year old; two sixteen year old and five seventeen year old soldiers.
My beer collection went array because having sampled a bottle — and it was very nice — Thomas couldn’t find the case he had held back. It looked as though we had just drunk the last bottle. Never mind I bought some Triple instead.
Heading back to the coast I was happy enough to see the temperature steadily climb to -4 C. That was as warm as it was going to be for the next ten days as more snow arrived and we went through a decidedly cold patch.
Never mind it was warm sitting behind the windows in the afternoon sunshine, and was certainly nice enough to go walking again. Outside, the birds were content to eat their way through kilos of sunflower seeds and peanuts.
I have just finished reading a book on the battle of Stalingrad and making my way over the hill one afternoon made me think of the prospect for German soldiers of thousands of kilometres of never ending snow.
But the grey rain is back again and the only sunshine on the horizon is that Thomas mailed to say that he has fallen over the case of missing beer. Could this have been a ruse to make me buy two cases ?
Posted : 26 January 2013