Writing Competition: Heaven Can Wait

Below is Ian Bonds writing competition entry based on his trip to the Italian and French Alps (28th June 2022)


It’s said that at the end of your life it’s not the things that you did that you regret, only the things that you didn’t do. I’m a lucky man in that respect, my bucket list is so short that things could rattle around and fall out with me hardly even noticing, but there is one large rock that weighs it down that I knew I either had to shift or regret it for ever. I needed to see the Alps.   

That I hadn’t done so in my previous 62 revolutions around the sun is due largely to me being the most timid of travellers. I was going to need some help. So, I recruited my son as a sort of modern day Passepartout and booked on a Naturetrek holiday, which offered both French and Italian Alps in the same holiday thereby saving me the choice. 

As promised, the holiday did focus quite heavily on listing things, but for me wildlife is more about context and the number one thing on my lifetime, wildlife wish list was an Alpine Chough in the Alps, maybe with a Marmot or two on the side. It turned out that I definitely didn’t need the good fairy for that one and by lunchtime on the first day my wish had come true. Frankly, if I’d had to go home then I would have been a happy man, but it would have been a shame not to have stayed and watched the lazy grace of the Lammergeier, or experience the fuse in my brain blow when yet another new plant triggered an overload. The Alps were just as the photos portray them, ever ascending rows of pointed limestone, a dragon’s teeth bared at an azure sky. But pictures don’t get the heart racing as it does when you weave up past the last of last winter’s snow; or again as the path gives you the option of exploring the full potential of gravity; or again as you stand in a meadow and realise just why people go on so much about Alpine floras. A week before our trip I’d visited the famous hay meadow in Swaledale, a mere handful of hectares but the best that the Yorkshire Dales had to offer. Here it might have been bested by the average road verge.

It wasn’t just about the scenery and the wildlife though, our fellow Alpinists were an essential part of the experience. These included a small pack of Orcadians, who turned out to be nothing to do with Star Trek but instead were Scots with a Scandinavian heritage or, as they put it, Scandinavians who had ended up as part of Scotland. There was a pair of Americans who were redefining the ninth decade and whose slow, deliberate North West accent could have narrated a 1950s wildlife documentary. And of course the guides themselves who could be relied on to name that bird in one, even if they did get a bit obsessive at times about the number of circles underneath a butterfly’s wing. Rather like a Bonsai, which is neither tree nor pot, nor even tree plus pot, but rather an inseparable blend of both, the whole package couldn’t really be separated from its constituent parts.

Would I do it again? I really can’t say. I’d worry that it would detract from this one. I don’t think you are allowed to go to heaven twice and I suspect that’s probably why. On the other hand having seen an Alpine Chough in the Alps, a Scops Owl in an ancient olive tree has risen to the top of my list. 

See our Writing Competition details to enter for yourself for a chance to win a holiday!

Champagny en Vanoise
Alpine Choughs (Arto Hakola)