With three days of beautiful weather and minus the dreaded Scottish midges that would accompany the later days of summer, I started out on the fourth leg of the West Highland Way.
I had enjoyed the company of Andrew over some traditional haggis, neeps and tatties the previous evening.
Only twenty seven, Andrew was a freight train driver. He had chosen his route for the scenic countryside back and forth from Carlisle. Required to work just 129 days in the year (or maybe it was all but 129 days?) his well paid job, he asserted, gave him lots of freedom to spend time motorbike racing, flying small planes and walking. We had odd things in common like wearing our contact lenses only on certain days – neither of us had worn them so far on this particular journey. He grew up in Kilbarchan, the same small village on the outskirts of Glasgow that my niece had recently moved to. We were unalike in that, at his age, I was a single parent with three young children; he was a confident young man who knew where he was going. I pondered as we chatted, was it too late for a career change?
We parted company as we set out that day, a knee injury was slowing him down, I was still running the downhill sections where paths allowed.
Light rain was falling as I made the first climb over the hills from Bridge of Orchy, through the forestry plantation and up to Mam Carraigh. I stopped at the top to take photos of the cairns before descending down the other side of the hill to Inveroran. The light shower was getting heavier. Heading towards the moor, I recalled the cautionary red text enclosed in the yellow box on the map “the way across Rannoch Moor… is very exposed… there is no help or shelter… Be prepared for this 9 mile section”.
I was jolted back to reality. Three days of uncommonly dry, warm weather in the Scottish Highlands in March were clearly over. Apart from a brief toilet call, fear of being unable to get started again prevented me from stopping at the Kingshouse Hotel, the spot marking the end of that particular exposure. I soldiered on up to Altnafeadh where, I was aware, the Devil’s Staircase awaited. “Part of the old military road built by Major Caulfield around 1750. At 1,850 feet above sea level this is the highest point of the Way”. The map went on to inform that this section was also an exposed one with no shelter of any kind provided, “unpleasant” in bad weather.
Well, April showers had shown up exactly on time. I watched my breath. Kept my mouth tightly closed. In and out of the nose only, as Russian Professor Buteyko’s research concluded one should. Mouth breathing results in excessive carbon dioxide expiration and, I now know, CO2 is not, after all, just a waste gas. I congratulated myself for my ability to march onwards in this manner.
I wondered though, was I a fool to be exposing myself in this way? “Remain a witness” I told myself, all is temporary.