Thursday 4th May, evening.
Been a social day – talking to a lot of people about my expedition, letting information in by degrees. Sat outside the pub this evening in the sunshine, along with many more folk. A Glaswegian guy there came to talk to me. He noticed I mentioned bushcraft and said “we’ve all been down that route and left it behind -Its all fat blokes sitting round fires. Didn’t mention Farafoot, where there are women too and no fat blokes. Wonder where he did his bushcraft. He said he’d seen my bivi up at the end of the campsite and told me there are otters up there, on the estuary. He also asked me if I knew there was someone living there, just a few feet away from me. I didn’t. He is doing up his boat in the little bay behind me (I had noticed that!). Anyhow, he said he’d come to talk to me because “its nice to meet someone doing some shit”. I like that. He said he likes Rum and Skye, and comes over here a lot.
More conversations at the pub, and I find myself being quite open since everyone else is. I have had 2 pints of ‘Remoteness’ Ale, the only food I could get (packet of chilli peanuts), and I’ve foraged greens on the mile-or-so walk back to my bivi. It seems the Forge pub restaurant is out of action due to bereavement in chef’s family.
I was talking to a couple doing some of the Cape Wrath trail. They said they were here 20 years ago (or maybe it was 10 years that they said) on New Year’s Eve. They came over on the ferry, were booked at the pub for food, but found pub not serving and ended up in the kitchen of a local being served venison stew. They are from the Brecons, and he is a fell/ultra distance runner. I got into an absorbing conversation with his partner about bunions and the agonies they inflict. Recommended my boots.
Met a climber/walker from Falkirk, there with a friend to do some routes. He turned out to be a fell runner too, his physio being the inspirational fell champion Angela Mudge. He and his friend and others have recently started the 45 degree mountaineering club.
WHAT AN INSPIRING BUNCH OF PEOPLE TO HAPPEN ACROSS.
Friday 5th May, am.
Went to the snack van this morning for breakfast. Had portobello mushroom and garlic halloumi in a large bap. Free tea refil. Wonderful. Rather more than your standard snack van. Was approached there by another couple who’d heard about my foraging. Also got back into conversation with the couple from Brecon. We got straight into bunion stories again! She’s been having treatment for years and years. She was persuaded against surgery because they were going to put plates in her toes that would prevent flexing. Instead she wears footbeds. I feel very relieved that the boots work for me. Had yet another foot conversation with a young Bavarian woman hiking here alone. She is having a day off because her rigid mountain boots aren’t suitable for the terrain and are wrecking her feet. I noticed she had rock climbing boots on to rest her feet – ouch! Not exactly slippers.
Love being able to leave my things just lying around here. Feels completely safe in every way. Locals set the tone with use of honesty boxes.
Still hearing cuckoos all the time. Will forever after be nostalgic when I hear them, just as I am for the Pennines when I hear grouse.
Had a newborn baby kind of poo this morning – green, but thankfully not smelly! (Sorry – these kind of details take on some significance when I’m ‘out there’).
Friday 5th May, pm.
I’m sunbathing on the beach – on the west coast of Scotland, in early May! I am so well recovered that I feel like going for a run. I think that’s just my glee expressing itself. Lying here looking up at the hills they look comforting – soft, like antler velvet. This place feels like my Burgh Island of the North (notwithstanding their utter difference, both humane places of sanctuary).
Friday 5th May, late.
Met another man (from Manchester) staying on the campsite who is doing the Corbetts (now he has done all the Munros). Told me he was at the Sourlies Bothy 10 years ago and there was a mouse who notoriously stole food. The mouse at Sourlies is, apparently, legendary (and its descendants too obviously). NOBODY sleeps in the bothy because of the noise – they all end up outside (except myself then and probably a few other folk who have their own reasons for staying under the roof).
Friendly couple I met in the tea room yesterday also arrived in the pub. She has a sun allergy so is finding the weather difficult!
Saturday 6th May, am.
Over the past few days have spent quite a bit on presents and a ‘Trophy’ pottery chalice for myself. Want to mark this occasion. Have also spent quite a bit on drink since ale is almost £5 per pint at the pub.
As I’m writing, lying in my bivi bag, there is a squeaking and the flattened grasses in front of me move in a ripple across my eyeline. The sun is just coming up behind me.
The Forge last night were miraculously serving food but were fully booked so the proprietor said. He is a very tall Belgian showing no hospitality. The band who were booked to play (and to eat I think) went outside when they got no food, nor audience. He complained about the way our group were occupying tables, although the pub was nearly empty, and removed my stick saying it was dangerous (I do see his point there since it kept falling over, still his manner didn’t help). Eventually he offered food to the man from Manchester who’d had the ambition to try and get fed there – soup and muscles since he obviously had some left over, but was annoyed when he at first couldn’t decide if he wanted both soup and muscles. (I’ve since discovered that soup and muscles are all anyone can ever get there, if they are lucky enough to get served anything at all!)
I took the Western Isles ferry at 10.45 am. Was ready to go hours early, thinking it would be hard to lug my pack the mile or so up the road, but when I lifted it it felt light, and I strong (with even a heavy croc bottle of gin now in there). Said my so-longs to the 45 degree mountaineering club and went and waited at the wonderful tea room/pottery (which I found didn’t open till 10.00 on Saturday). Was longing for a word from home but nothing, so disappointed. People kept turning up with bags and they were all fretting over whether they’d have time for breakfast before the ferry. I got influenced and started to worry too whether I might miss out on my cup of tea. Tried to stop myself being silly and thinking “I was here first!”. They annoyed me with talking about vacuum cleaners, but I didn’t want to shift and lose my place as first in the queue. I thought, had Andy been with me he would have let everyone in before – another good reason to do these things alone!!
Another couple came and sat opposite me. Assumed they’d annoy me too but liked them. We got talking. They asked me about my walk but didn’t say much about themselves. Learned they were from Perth, but only when he got talking with the couple from Brecon I learned that he is a very experienced climber/mountaineer.
There seems to be a type of Scots male climber – stout and hardy looking with an intensity about them that isn’t expressed verbally except when they look at a hill and start talking about it. They don’t have airs and affectations, just knowledge gained on the ground.
On the boat he and the Brecon climber/runner viewed and discussed the Cuillin (ridge on Skye) and gave me goose pimples saying the gabbro (type of rock) is good but you have to be really careful because of the sheer drops and the loose bits. It’s been a while since I’ve climbed with that level of exposure, but you don’t expect chossy Rock on Skye (that’s a feature more in the Alps). He said he had to concentrate really hard there. Such an easy-going and relaxed person who seemed to know the entire west coast area in great detail. I’ve been really impressed in Inverie with the dedication of the walkers and climbers to the region, but their quiet confidence rather than bravado. Bravado would go down very badly in Knoydart.
I took a ridiculous number of pictures of the Isles: Rum and Eigg but mostly Skye. You could see the black and red Cuillin, but it’s hard to do them justice in a photo from a boat.
Sunday 7th April, am.
Arriving in Mallaig on the ferry yesterday I could feel myself getting emotional, turning my back to everyone incase I cried. Sister, Louise, and mum were at the ferry terminal, so by the time I’d found them it had worn off. IT WAS LOVELY TO SEE THEM and to see that they looked so chilled. Lou took the Morar coastal route out and we ogled the views. It was what mum called a “Brigadoon day” (from the film where a place appears only sporadically and so can’t be returned to at will), referring to the rarity of this kind of weather in the Highlands and Islands. Sunbathing and PADDLING/SWIMMING! going on in the gorgeous bays.
We made for Glenfinnan (very odd to arrive by car) to have a drink. Then Lou set-to taking pictures of me on her made-for-the-job iPhone 7 for the film credits! (She said you always need a good picture of the actual person for the film credits and we need to take it before the ‘look’ wears off!).
When I saw myself in the mirror – just my face – I was quite shocked and worried that perhaps I wasn’t as healthy as I thought. I even had an emotional moment thinking “sorry Andy, sorry Katy, I’ve gone too far”, anticipating their shock. Lou reassured me, though, that actually I look strong and healthy, and just like someone who’s done something monumental. She talked about her wild swim (when she went to Mexico) and how it was possibly the best experience of her life. I feel that way about this. LIFE CHANGING MOMENTS.
Lou took us to the Argyll Hotel in central Glasgow for Saturday night. It feels completely acceptable to come to the centre of a bustling city after the solitude – in a way that going to a duller, smaller town wouldn’t. In fact it’s a bit like going to Kathmandu after Everest – there’s the charm of the contrast (and the relief of safety). And even more similarly, all night I’ve had the window open (so nice to have a hotel window that can be properly opened) and the life on the street hasn’t stopped. The funny thing is that there are some characters who’ve stayed put and been talking to various others, who’ve come and then left, all night. They’ve been talking in such broad Glaswegian accents, though, that I haven’t known what it’s all about – it’s like listening to music (with high points in expletives and emotional renditions), or listening to birds. I loved it. I did sleep, but not very much. I don’t mind at all.
We went walking off last night to find somewhere to eat but everywhere local and suitable for us was fully booked. We ended up in Sauchihall street (infamous according to mum), in an Indian street food restaurant (called Tuk Tuk). Loved it. They didn’t serve alcohol but would just charge corkage for your own. I was happy to go without. Will have that kind of celebration (a toast) with Andy. Felt quite right to be having street food to celebrate completion, especially with the spiritual aspects so strong. I’ve borrowed some pantaloon style leggings from Lou, after being unimpressed with the bag put together for me (not sure whether by me or Andy – I forget). With my hazel pole and big boots I look like an Edwardian gentlewoman climber. All I need is a hemp rope over my shoulder.
Over the course of the day yesterday in catch-up discussions I learned that actually Katy had been in hospital in the later stages of my expedition because the penicillin for her urichal cyst hadn’t worked and she needed IV antibiotics. There had been a debate over whether I should be informed and brought home. Lou’s view was that, since Katy didn’t have a high or low temp there wasn’t a need, and that the consequences could be bad for all of us to let me know unnecessarily- guilt, regret, blame etc. Andy agreed but had the task of mediating everyone’s views. So glad they understood, and of course that Katy is so thoughtful and resiliant. (Andy since told me that I was out of range anyway by then so they couldn’t have let me know).
When I looked in the full size mirror in my room it shocked me to see my body, more that it had to see my face. I look starved. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been so thin (not even after Everest). It’s a bit scary. I even thought I need to put on some fat immediately.
I find, though, in this semi-starved state I feel quite attuned to things – I can feel my emotions and my thoughts acutely. Maybe there is a big difference between the anorexic starvation and the fasting ascetic – in the impacts and state of mind. I know that in an anorexic state (which I entered for a few years as an adolescent) I used to get euphoric (so maybe no difference), but it was driven by unhappiness and insecurity. This leanness has brute strength underpinning it, and a direction for the future. It is something to grow and learn from.
I’m sitting in my (noisy) hotel bedroom window writing and watching people. They all bounce. The morning runners bounce/prance delicately, and pedestrians take jaunty steps to wherever. Is this the effect of the sunshine? Do they grit their teeth, heads down and set against the elements, in the winter? Or is it the Glaswegian swagger? – habitual and maybe even obligatory. It’s Sunday morning and still no sleep goes on. Since dawn and before they’ve all been on the move. The road sweeper truck has just done a bit of a pavement clean-up (8am), making some sort of demarcation between last night and this morning.
Looks like another gorgeous day as we prepare to travel back home – weather which apparently we are taking back down to Shropshire with us after miserable conditions all week!
One week after returning home.
Travelling home was an exciting time to wonder over the distances between points in the walk. The occasional Irishly-inflected comment went through my head – so that phenomenon hasn’t worn off yet!
Then there was a gorgeous welcome from Andy and Katy, with a card and a cake from Katy. The alcoholic toast finally happened, and in style too! Half a case of champagne from Bob (Andy’s dad, but I prefer to say my father-in-law), and much congratulations. But I had nothing at all from my loving Labrador, Faffy. I mean NOTHING. Not even the kind of glance that she’d give an uninteresting stranger. She ducked under my hand when I tried to stroke her. I take it from this that she DID recognise me, but preferred not to acknowledge me. She only forgave me when I took her out for a run.
The run! It wasn’t one really. We are both at square one again. I have nothing in my legs for running, and she has too much round her belly. I suppose that my fitness now is very different: low intensity, endurance. We will get faster again together.
The fitness effort is continuing, and I’ve been intrigued to know what kind of physiological impacts there have been. My body fat mass is 7.9kg, which is quite low – not ideal for staying healthy. The weight loss is obvious (down by a stone), as well as the muscle definition, but I’m a bit horrified by the loss of over an inch (3cm) in height. I NEED TRACTION! It’s probably a mixture of dehydration and compression of the discs from the weight of the pack – hopefully impermanent
I’ve had an MRI scan of my spine since coming home that was booked before I left due to some sensation loss in my left leg (I have check-ups every two years to follow up from my broken back in 2003). It will be interesting to see if there is anything noteworthy happening.
Two weeks after returning home.
My habit of grinding my teeth when I’m asleep seems to have returned, after none during the expedition. I don’t like how my head feels after a night of muscle tension in my jaw, which encourages me to start planning the next expedition (extreme self-medication?!).
Notwithstanding the teeth grinding annoyance I’m still feeling the calming effects of the walk, even to the extent that I feel quite happy with our ramshackle little house and it’s outdated (and many broken) facilities. I’m reminded why we bought it – because it feels like our very own mountain hut: our Bothy.