It’s the morning after the walk before and I’m sitting on a large flat stone outside the bothy drinking hot chocolate. I wonder how many other walkers before me have sat on that same stone and watched the early morning light slowly claiming the glen. I’ve already overcome one challenge this morning, I’ve made the transition from horizontal to vertical without too much difficulty. After the long walk in to Maol Bhudhie I thought my legs might be sulking and refuse to move the following day but, to my surprise, they seem to have forgiven me the 14 mile walk in.
The glen is still and silent, not much moves, there are some deer a long way off across the loch, grazing in the early morning sunshine, but apart from them the glen appears empty. There is no bird song, there are no insects buzzing and the treeless landscape remains unmoving despite the breeze. I find myself imagining what this place might be like if the forest ever returned, how different it would appear if there were trees populated by birds and insects and a huge variety plants and other animals. What it would be like if squirrels populated the trees, perhaps a woodpecker drummed against a distant tree. Even, a forlorn hope I know, how would it be if, as I drifted off to sleep in the bothy, a wolf howled across from a far off glen.
It feels like we have created a kind of mono-culture in our remote hills where only deer thrive. This has been a good year for the deer, they are sleek and well fed, the result of a benign winter. This year the lower slopes of the hills have remained mainly free of snow giving the deer access to easy grazing. Low temperatures have been rare so the deer have survived in great numbers. Last year winter was harsh and cold and lingered long in the hills. By the spring the deer that had made it through the cold were emaciated, moth eaten specimens looking a little like the remnants of three months fasting. Not so now, fat healthy deer stroll beside the loch, confident that the season ahead is unlikely to be one of scarcity. I’m not sure if it is true but I always suspect that a mild winter is also good news for the midge population so this year our summer is likely to be blighted by even more of the vindictive little demons. Certainly, after the cold of last year the midges seemed less numerous than usual. I was even able to sit outside a bothy near Loch Arkaig in June and enjoy a brew without even one set of tiny jaws removing a portion of my sadly over abundant flesh. That experience is one I’m unlikely to ever be able to repeat unless global warming manages to plunge us into some kind of nuclear winter. An event I for one would relish. I’d be quite happy to see the whole of Scotland sink beneath the ice if it meant the demise of the midge.
A couple of hours later I headed away from the bothy and up over the gentle climb that leads to the steep descent into Glen Elchaig. The previous night I’d sat beside a roaring coal fire having carried in about 6 KG of the stuff. The walk out was made much easier due to the consumption of my fuel supply and went well until I stopped for lunch beside the Iron Lodge. The day was warm and friendly so I allowed myself the luxury of cooking some soup for my mid-day meal. I’m not sure if it was the soup that did it but when I rose to walk the remaining seven miles or so to the road my legs seemed to be being controlled by an alien force. I stumbled over a small pothole in the track and tried to put my feet out of harm’s way. Oddly they refused to move and I careered about like a toddler experiencing a sugar rush. I stood for a moment bent over my poles puzzling at my feet. Unless I could get some control over my legs I realised that the remaining miles back to the car were likely to be long and painful. I’m not usually the most perceptive in times of adversity but it occurred to me that my sudden onset of exhaustion might be caused by dehydration. Yards away a bright little stream bubbled its way beside the track as if provided for this very moment. The effect of half a pint of water was immediate and electrifying. It was as though I had poured a can of petrol into a stuttering lawn mower engine and turned it into an F1 car. Well perhaps that’s an exaggeration, maybe just a mini, but I wandered back down the glen without pause and undue fatigue and only the occasional cube of chocolate.
A mile or so before I returned to my car I stopped to ponder the map and decide on the easiest way back to the tarmac. A ghillie pulled up in his Land Rover, “Are you lost?” he asked kindly.
“No” I replied, and then thought for a moment, “not yet.”