I’ve been trying to ignore it for a while but now I’ve had to accept the something is happening “down below.” My inner sanctum has been invaded, dignity lost, genitalia moistened. The unthinkable has happened, my underpants have filled with water. I am, in the immortal words of my old climbing mate Glasgow John, “Soaked to the Ys.” For a while water has been oozing down the back of my neck, seeping into my boots and accumulating in my armpits. These intrusions I can tolerate but the moistening of my underpants summons within me a dark, deep despair.
I am a few miles out of Fort Augusts on the old military road built by General Wade in order to subdue the rebellious Scots. It’s late October and I’m heading for Blackburn Bothy. To be fair the weather forecast had cheerfully predicted, “upland gales with continuous rain,” but I hadn’t been on the hills for months, was desperate to get out and thought they might have got it wrong. Now, with dark, heavy clouds are circling me with malicious intent. These clouds Are not the light ethereal things you see floating around on a Summer’s day, these are serious clouds, they are the heavy mob and they mean business. Most of me is damp by now and I try and cheer myself up, as the boys close in, that I’ll make it before I get much wetter.
Hope may spring eternal but isobars don’t lie. I’ve read The Road, heard The Darkness, watched The Deep and now I’m about to meet The Wet. I’m only a mile from the bothy but it’s a mile too far when someone upends Loch Ness and pours it over my head. I may as well have been dressed in tissue paper for all the good my jacket does. To be fair I’m equipped better for cold than rain and it’s now that the few dry corners I have left succumb to the deluge. I’d run but the weight of the water in my trousers means I can only shuffle.
I arrive at the bothy like a ship wrecked sailor dragging himself out of the sea and up on to the beach of some uninhabited island. Stepping through the door water floods from every part of my anatomy and forms a huge pool on the floor. One of the unintended effects of walking with trekking poles, I discover, is that water runs down your wrists and pools at your elbows only to come gushing out of your sleeves when you finally lower your arms.
I decide to take everything wet off, this turns out, of course, to be everything. Fortunately my sleeping bag is dry plus the white silk liner I sleep in. This I arrange about my midriff like an makeshift skirt, if David Beckham can get away with a sarong so can I. I flatter myself that the billowing skirt probably looks rather fetching although in truth, in the unlikely event of another wandered being out in such weather and entering the bothy, they would probably think they had encountered some kind of extreme weather transvestite. I ponder this for while and decide, should this happen, I’ll simply introduce myself as Jennifer and rely on British reticence to prevent anyone actually asking me why I have “taken a walk on the wild side” to quote the sadly departed Mr Reed.
Blackburn Bothy is a small, one room affair that proudly boasts a green metallic roof which proved impermeable to the deluges of water falling from the heavens outside. It’s over twenty years since I’d taken a bus with the Inverness Mountaineering club that deposited a disparate groups of walkers in the Highland village of Laggan from where, on a sunlit day, we walked the length of the Corrieyairack Pass which follows the old military road running past the door of the bothy. I was grateful that I’d not chosen a day like today to walk that distance and had only had to walk, or perhaps more accurately swim, the first few miles of the pass. The Corrieyairack is second only to the Lairig Ghru as a major through route in the Highlands although the huge pylons, currently under construction, with the network of hill tracks built for their construction, does spoil any sense of isolation just now.
That night, encased in down and whisky, I dreamt of snow and was disappointed to awake to a dark grim saturated reality. To my amazement the rain ceased and I quickly threw on my still sodden clothing and headed for the glen hoping to escape the brooding clouds that darkened the skies above. This was an ambush. I got about half a mile from the bothy and the first few drops began to spatter off my rucksack. I hurried on with the hope that I might outrun the storm an d make back to my car with some semblance of dryness about my person. The clouds, however had me firmly in their sites and within minutes I was a s soaked as I had been the previous day. An hour later I was back in Fort Augusts, now that I am off the hills I am, of course, bathed is sunshine. The petrol station in the village has become a kind of super store and I was grateful for their delicious hot pasties as is stood dressed in my long johns and jacket watching the clouds float by.
The forecast for November is, I am sad to say, for above average rainfall and more high winds. It sounds like I might be meeting The Wet again fairly soon.
Find out more about the Corrieyairack pass here