Glen Behaving Madly

(the ‘lads’ walks’ have taken place most years for the past 20 years to wild places such as Dartmoor and Exmoor and along the West Highland Way, the Isles of Scilly, Brittany, Arran, Hadrians Wall and many more. I think it’s time to tell the stories behind the walks. So names of people and hotels have been changed to protect the guilty)

So what you may ask are the stories behind the walks? Well the honest one word answer is drugs. We still do the walks, one is in planning for later this year but nowadays the drugs are mostly Prozac, Paracetamol, Ibuprofen (for the hardcore amongst us) and of course arthritic cream – but this wasn’t always the case.

One year we decided to do the West Highland Way and this post better describes the background to the censored version which is at
https://kevollier.com/2012/09/21/west-highland-way/

As we were to fly from Bristol to Glasgow it was considered prudent to post the skunk weed, the only drug for this particular jaunt, ahead. This we carefully wrapped in silver foil and two envelopes and posted it , recorded delivery, to the youth hostel we had booked near Ben Nevis.

We had however overlooked that two of us were each carrying a ‘budbomb’.
A budbomb is a beautifully engineered metal smoking device allowing surreptitious toking as it doesn’t emit any smoke but as it’s name suggests it is the shape of a bomb and this was post 911 and we were going on a plane.
Luckily for us, Bristol airport, although they will dismantle your cellphone and leave you standing in holed socks and tugging your trousers up and being bereft of any water you had or desperately wanting to urinate because you decided to dispense it down your own gullet,  don’t seem to have a remit for anything that comes up on the X-ray machine looking like a small bomb. So, slightly relieved we go on to the flight, one that is so quick that Nigel, the other budbomb carrier, had only just managed to fasten his seat belt as the call came over the PA to fasten your seat belts as we’re about to land.

It was then a beautiful train journey from Glasgow to Fort William through stunning scenery that we were to walk back through. On our trouble free arrival at the hostel I nonchalantly asked if we had any post and the receptionist said that we had indeed got a padded latter which she assumed was either a package full of cat piss or something smelling of a similar nature and then she queried that if it was the latter would it be ok to ‘have a little bit’.
Seeing as we hadn’t been met by the Scottish Constabulary, we thought a thank you was in order.

Walking the West Highland Way – the wrong way as high as kites is the only way to do it on both counts. We’d started from Fort William after a day up Ben Nevis and were heading Southwards. The  benefit of doing any trail the wrong way is that you have it to yourself after meeting a mile of people at around 10am all fresh out of their B&B’s obediently going the other ‘correct’ way and apart from a lone walker or a few straddlers the mountains are yours.  The backpacks can seem feather light or like leaden weights depending where your thoughts decide to attach on your stoned mind. Rest stops are frequent and long and sheep become very interesting, but not in a Welsh way I might add,  and chats about William Wallace and his conquest are the order of the day. One such revelation was that he and his army marched from the Highlands, at one point, to sack Carlisle, a distance of 153 miles as the crow flies. But they didn’t fly by crow, they didn’t have cars or even roads to speak of but did this over freezing cold midge invested bogs and fields of thistles that are chest high, whilst wearing kilts no less, itchy woolen kilts at that, and for the grace of God go I, no underpants! I hope Carlisle was worth it. And then they went back!

After a couple of days sauntering we came over and down Glen Coe to our one posh overnight stop, the rest being bunkhouses and hostels and this was a Friday and the top hotel was fully booked and the restaurant too. We all showered and dressed back in the clothes we’d been wearing and headed down to the Walkers bar at the back where you can wear your boots and basically be loud. Easily seen through the bar is the packed posh restaurant with many a silver haired, plaid adorned, hungry customer.
We must have had an odour about us because one of the bar staff asked if we happened to have some cannabis in tow and could he have some. It was agreed and he came to the corner of the bar where you are able to lean behind a large plant and do suspicious things.  He hadn’t seen a budbomb before and Nigel instructed him on its usage which was on the lines of hold lighter to end and then suck lightly. He was an adept at the holding the lighter at the end bit but obviously didn’t listen to the suck lightly part. After two huge pulls he asked if he thought that would work to which we inquired whether he is intending to work the rest of his shift. He said that he ‘had only just come on’ and ‘had a full restaurant to serve’. Nigel turned to the other four of us and we knew that tonight was going to be interesting to say the least. It was then that the hotel manager approached….(to be continued)

Five Lads on the Isle of Arran

The day before ‘the lads’ went over to the Buddhist car free Holy Isle for a few days of reflection – (as previously blogged at https://kevollier.com/2012/10/06/buddhists-peace-and-yoga-turrets/ ) we partook in our annual get together hike – something we’ve been doing now for twenty years and this year and on that day we all hiked through the mountains of Arran and it was on a day that was the hottest Scotland had witnessed since the days of William Wallace.  Something that should have taken reasonable preparation but unfortunately the only preparation had been arriving off the Ardrossan to Brodick ferry the day earlier and hiking off the jetty the full 100 metres to The Douglas beer garden.

Goat Fell

just off the ferry, Goat Fell ahead – the Douglas left

The sun had literally come out, (for the first time in 83 years on Arran if a later hired taxi driver was to be believed), as soon as the ferry docked.
And there is no better combination than four men (free of all the shackles of modern life for five days) the sun and amazing scenery for one to be drawn to a nearby, and quite frankly, begging, beer garden.

The Famous Five of 2012

It was some pints and a couple of ferry arrivals later that we were joined for a few hours by an old friend from Glastonbury who had since moved back to his native Glasgow.  So we now had a Scotsman and his bagpipes.  At some point we remembered that the next day we were supposed to climb Goat Fell, Arran’s highest peak, and we vaguely agreed on a route that we might take.  We drank up, eventually, and wandered over to the beach to be treated to some bagpiping.  This I remember.  We all felt very Scottish watching a piper pipe away the ferry back to Ardrossan and we all agreed that Mel Gibson was indeed correct to sack Carlisle and we then all imagined what it must have been like to have marched with Wallace that amazing distance from the Highlands to Carlisle and with no shops on the way and all the time wearing an itchy skirt and no underpants, walking through waist-high thistles in the most midge infested landscape on Earth.  No wonder they were annoyed.

Craig McFarlane Bagpipes Arran

And then someone went to the off licence and introduced us to a Scottish delicacy that ironically is brewed in Devon known as Buckfast Tonic Wine (Toxic more like)  and that is approximately where I lost my memory until the next morning.

Bagpiper Craig got the last ferry to the mainland, I wore a hat for the rest of the evening and then went missing at midnight but where to I have no recollection but I did find the hotel – the Ormidale, in a copse and managed to awake hotel staff at 4am enquiring where my room might be and was subsequently helped into bed.

Kev Ollier Hat

Me – apparently – totally hatted

I was enlightened with this information at the breakfast table by staff who were so nonchalant about it, that it seemed as if someone does this sort of thing quite regularly and possibly on a nightly basis.

Ormidale

The Ormidale

I managed to eat a full Scottish breakfast and get 200 metres into the hike before the hangover kicked in. It was 80 plus degrees and not even a whimsy of a breeze was to be had as we started the slow climb through the beauty that is Glen Rosa. We all had a bottle of water each which we sipped at, as it quickly became evident that one small bottle of water wouldn’t be enough. It is here that you have to understand that we are not advisors to Ray Mears or Bear Grylls though I’m sure we have a much better time and don’t have to wear make up  (It’s still a choice). It was quite a busy path as we mingled with day trippers from the ferry as well as local teenage lads, who were heading for a natural rock plunge pool. Something I imagine that only happens on very hot sunny days – so that would be once in a lifetime.

Kev Ollier Glen Rosa

into Glen Rosa

One of our party is terrified of heights and another was already out of water. A debate ensued, considering the temperature, about whether to go up Goat Fell, turn back or take another route. The one terrified of heights wasn’t intending to ever go up it, ‘if it looked steep’ and the one without the water was determined to.  Neil and I were not bothered either way but certainly wouldn’t be turning back so we strolled onwards and upwards towards’ The Saddle’ where we would decide a definite plan of action.

The going did get a bit tough as it was so hot and I’d perspired the last drop of Buckfast and was now seriously in need of water. We’d followed a stream all the way up the Glen and we decided we were now high enough to drink straight from the stream. Refreshed by Gaia we continued on and the path veered away from the stream for the first time that day and we suddenly realised that we now had this amazing valley to ourselves. Soon though Robin fell ill with what we expected was heat exhaustion and I was asked to get water for him but as the path had now veered about 100 metres from the river it meant I had to traipse through waist-high thistles in shorts disturbing plagues of sleeping, dusk awaiting midges and then scramble down a gorse cliff, over rocks and hang on by one arm whilst plunging the other into a mini waterfall and then having to make the return journey whereupon I disturbed more midges or maybe the same ones only now  more aggravated at a double intrusion. On my bedraggled and sweaty reunion with the lads Robin said he would have to go back to which I said something on the lines of, ‘I don’t bloody think so’. We had no mobile reception so we couldn’t call a helicopter rescue and we were alone but only a couple of hundred metres from the Saddle which was the half way point and for all we know there might actually be a tree over the other side that could afford us some shade as there were none the way we’d come.

We were climbing the last steep bit when some walkers appeared coming our way from over the Saddle. I smiled at this. There were two couples who on traversing the peak came upon us, me topless, legs torn by thistles with my shirt over my head (think Lawrence of Arabia), with a guy who looked as if he’d barely survived a Cessna plane crash in a desert with only mirages for comfort to be confronted by Phil concerned at how steep the other side was. One of the women didn’t help one iota when she said, ‘that’s so dangerous, be careful, you might die’ which was rubber stamped by her friend. I actually saw Phil turn grey.

The Saddle however was worth it. The views were immense and the wind that hit over the top was so cooling.

Robin Whitlock The Saddle to Glen Rosa Arran

Looking past Robin back to Glen Rosa from The Saddle

Kev Ollier The Saddle to Glen Sannox

and looking down into the future, Glen Sannox

We took rest and convinced Phil to keep going. I volunteered to go first so if he fell I’d break his fall.
And it was steep. It wasn’t even a footpath but a scramble. It says so on the map apparently and it’s one of the most notorious on Arran but it actually did get the adrenalin going as we had no ropes and it was indeed touch and go dangerous – the one slip and you’re dead dangerous – not even a halfway house of an injury – just dead, ex-parrot death.

Kev Ollier Scramble Glen Sannox

The scramble…

Glen Sannox

…and breathe

Suffice to say we got down, we walked the few more miles to Sannox and stopped at the hotel on the beach for an Arran single malt – to celebrate being alive and a large glass of iced sparkling water – bliss. We caught the next packed bus (they’re not often) back the 7 miles or so to Brodick to discover that I’d left my phone on the Sannox hotel lawn and there are no more buses today. Hence where the taxi driver came in….

Porthcurno. Seals and Dolphins

It was decided that our dog Reggie would be taken with us on a 3 mile circuitous walk within the Penwith peninsular of Cornwall. We drove to the car park above Porthcurno and followed a guide picked up from our lodgings. It was windy of course as this was Cornwall after all. It has wind a lot here as evidenced by trees standing shocked at their perpetual efforts to  escape eastwards, their stubborn roots being their only thwart. We parked at the car park above Porthcurno beach and walked back up the road to find a lane opposite the telegraph museum. The museum is sited here as Porthcurno, ironically, was the spot where the first telegraph cables came ashore connecting Britain to India and the rest of the world. Ironic because today 142 years later you’d be hard pressed to get a phone signal and in some Cornish villages the ‘internet’ is regarded as an urban myth.

Artists impression of the first comms to come ashore via telegraph in 1870

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We took a left along a footpath and came out past a stone cross on to open land. Just as I spotted the church of St Levan, the sky turned black – because of approaching rain – I’m not called Damien – and the stroll turned into an its about to pour down jog and then to a canter and we reached the church porch with convenient bench seats literally as the heavens opened.

Church-at-St-Levan

So we sat and ate a Crunchie each waiting for it to go off but this didn’t seem likely so we thought we might as well carry on but not before having a look at the church. Stepping inside we found a bubbly lady addressing the Christmas decorations as tonight was St Levan’s big night – the annual carol service. We chatted and learned that they would be using real candles and Health and Safety be damned as the glow sticks from previous years just didn’t cut it.

She told us that her father was born, bred and died in Cornwall and only left the county once in his whole lifetime and that was to go one mile into the Devil’s county of Devon to Plymouth hospital when nearing the end of his life. We discussed the ongoing hippy influx to Penwith and the local lady explained that England is the shape of a Christmas stocking full of fruits and nuts with all the nuts always finding their way to the big toe.

As for the church it was thought that it, or more accurately the site, had pagan origins – don’t they all – as there is a stone outside that was said to have been venerated for its holy powers and fertility rites and St Levan himself decided to riven the pagan rock and then uttered the prophecy,

When the panniers astride,

A Pack Horse can ride,

Through St Levan’s Stone,

The World will be done.

St_Levan~Stone

Thing is, Christianity has been playing with me a bit of late. For example, when we were on the plane to India the man sat on the end seat of our row of three told us that he was a British born Pakistani Christian and said that if were ever travelling out of Gatwick again, to come and stay with him for free as he only lives 20 minutes from the airport and he has a large house. He said it was the Christian thing to do. When we were in India and stuck at a train station not having a clue what to do, what train to catch, where to go, an Indian youth who spoke perfect English helped us – at the station, on the train on what to do and how and even got us transport from our destination to the hotel and he thought it was the Christian thing to do.  Later that night and two hundred miles further on a family took us in, made us tea whilst ringing around to find us a room, all to no avail, but not before arranging us transport. Their home was adorned with Jesus and Mary’s. The transport took us to one of the best and friendliest hotels we’ve ever stayed at where we were made very welcome and invited to meet the whole family and eat with them, which we did. They were Christians. None of these people wanted anything in return. Then later in the week, when we were in Cochin, we were hit by a horrendous storm whilst out walking and the first doorway to run into happened to be that of a church – in mid service. We went in with such a head turning bluster that we decided to sit down and wait the rain out which of course stopped about the same time that the service did.

All this Christian help in a predominantly Hindu country wasn’t lost on me and it was reminisced upon as we left the Cornish church of St Levan  – at exactly the same time as the rain ceased.  It was then that I quipped, ‘well maybe I’m Jesus’ and at that exact moment my foot slipped on a wet stone and for the first time in over 20 years I fell over with my elbow hitting the ground first followed by my arse which settled in a deep puddle. Arm in agony and bottom drenched I involuntarily looked up and shouted ‘WHAT?’

Just saying.

After this we traipsed over a headland to join the South West coast path and quickly got the dog onto his lead as cliffs were new to him and he kept jumping on to overhangs doing his best impression of the Lion King – which we know he’s never seen.

the-lion-king-gal-431

The path was muddy and I no longer trusted my boots but under the circumstances I tried not to curse at them. We soon came down into the coastal hamlet of Porthgwarra, pronounced Porthgwarra. It has a rock with a hole in it.

P1000588    P1000586

You can of course continue on the South West coast path and head to Lands End only 3 miles away but we turned around here and back tracked a few hundred yards before taking a right fork and passing St Levan’s Well. St Levan, it seems, was obviously a bit of a lad in these parts in his day as he had his own church, cracked huge rocks open whilst making up prophecies and has his own well – and a sacred one at that!  But no matter how we tried, Reggie was not going to drink from its water. Reggie will drink from any vestibule or puddle, even from water that’s settled in concave cow pats, but he was simply having none of this, hind legs dug in and reverse lights on. I took this as a sign so I just bathed in it, meaning I splashed some water about my head rather than lolling around in it, in my altogether splashing and singing auld lang syne.  It was much too cold.

2515078-St_Levans_well_Cornwall

We continued on walking just above Porth Chapel beach with its untrodden sand like freshly fallen snow and so we left it that way. We climbed up to the ridge to traverse the car park of the dramatic outdoor theatre that is Minack. The lady of St Levan’s Church had told us that hardly a show had been cancelled in 2012 despite it being the wettest year on record in England. Minack’s astounding setting is iced off by the view it affords of Porthcurno beach and I think you would have to trudge more than a few miles of coast path to find a better view.

Minack Theatre and Porthcurno

minack     cornwall

At this point the pathway down to the beach turned into what was nearly a scramble – very steep – and I was still wearing the same boots that had been the earlier victims of divine intervention. Reggie had run ahead to check out what the only other dog on the beach below was chasing after.  Then I noticed that two large rocks on the beach were moving and that a man further down on the path had grabbed Reggie to stop him getting on to the beach and approaching these rocks because these rocks turned out to be huge grey seals having a snooze and seemingly the gent wasn’t worried about Reggie attacking the seals but the seals attacking Reggie. The man obviously was ignorant of Reggie’s fears. Reggie is a sheepdog and his dad was a farmer’s cow herder but the genes didn’t get passed down as Reggie is scared witless of sheep, cows, alighting Heron’s, hay bails that are covered in black plastic, scare crows, other dogs and definitely moving rocks. Reggie just ran for the sea and I was saluted by one of the photogenic seals.

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Sadly further up the beach, a baby Dolphin lay. Thankfully at least it had been reported as it was tagged.

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Back to the car to make our way back to St Ives. We stopped for refreshment at The Engine Inn in the hamlet of Cripplesease (which I thought aptly poetic).

engine

This is one of those pubs that you would take visiting Americans to, if you had any, as it is so quintessentially English that it feels like it’s straight from a Hollywood set – just remember to stay on the road, keep clear of the moors, beware the moon lads…

werewolf1

The British Buddhist Holy Isle.

On the 18th April 1992 Buddhist Lama Yeshe Rinpoche bought a whole island off the coast from the Island of Arran which in turn is off the coast of Scotland. It is called Holy Isle and must not be visited, indeed given the widest possible birth, if you can’t cope with peace, beauty, tranquility and serenity.
The island came into Buddhist hands via a devout catholic no less, Mrs Kay Morris, who owned Holy Isle and had been ‘instructed by Mother Mary in a dream’ to pass Holy Isle to Lama Yeshe to be used for peace and meditation. See –  http://www.holyisland.org/

We went there this year as the second part of the annual ‘lads walk’.  We’d spent the first part, a couple of days, walking the wilds of Arran getting sunburned and heat stroke as we’d managed to marry our trip with the hottest weather Scotland has had since Dodo’s were a menace to outdoor chip eaters.

Arrival on Arran


There was only four of us this year and one of us, a freelance writer, was writing an article on our visit for Kindred Spirit magazine. It was the third day of our trip that we caught the small ferry over to this car free paradise. The plus with Holy Isle is that nobody is playing at being Buddhist. There was some disappointment by one of our group as he’d genuinely expected that our boat, on landing, would be met by a line of purple cloaked, bald blokes ringing bells and welcoming us on to their island. I wondered if he also thought they would be saying Aloha and passing garlands of thistles around our necks.
The resident Buddhists are simply average people of all ages who are trying to follow a peaceful existence via the teachings of Buddha. This, in other words, is not a pretentious new age centre.

The main building

The island consists of a main building which houses the dormitories, library, kitchen and dining room. There is no TV room, no amusement arcade or gym because like the world over they’re not really necessary. Behind this there is another building where the courses are held and at the far end of the island, about half a mile away, was a not for visitors retreat centre where twelve women are currently on a three year, three month, three day retreat. They were 18 months in to it at the time of our visit in May 2012.  The disappointed friend drew looks, accompanied by frowning eyebrows, when he inquired if this was voluntary on their part, obviously having decided to himself that we were on some sort of unwelcoming Zen Alcatraz.
In the hillside above the retreat centre there was a couple of eco-lodges for people on a lifetime retreat and once the resident has passed on the lodge also gets passed on to the next person on the waiting list.

The retreat building

The lifetime retreat lodges and the home of Lama Yeshe when he visits.

There is a also a wonderful cafe/shop on the grass beach which caters for visitors and helps fund the island and sells lots of mediation bowls which everyone seemed to try out and I imagine were there as some special meditative training test for the shop assistant.
Above the cafe was a meditation room which I visited at several ungodly hours to spend time, cross legged, cutting off the blood flow to my feet. I didn’t take my reading glasses into these meditations and was put on the spot when given a 2 inch thick set of cards to be able to recite the Chenrezig prayer, which was written in writing so small that I had no choice but to mumble along in a low Buddhisty sounding, throaty tone so as not to be exposed and glared at.

The Holy Isle passenger terminal looking towards Arran


Before meditation one morning as the sun was just up, around 5am as it happens, I decided to practice some yoga outdoors. There was a time when 5am was when I’d think of getting off home from a party and not heading for seclusion to do a yoga practice. I found a lovely spot by the sea edge looking across to Arran. I stripped down to my underpants because 1/ it was already hot and more importantly, 2/ I was alone – and so I began Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) and by the time I’d reached my first downward facing dog I realised I was not at all alone. I was joined by an ever expanding cloud of wee midges and these midges were not at all Buddhist and brought on what I can only describe as yoga turrets and a quick desertion of my practice as I ran back to the meditation hall with my new friends in hot, biting pursuit.

In the main building one could help oneself to free teas and coffees 24/7 and the food, three meals a day that are included in your £28 a night stay, was gorgeous vegan fayre. We all occasionally chipped in washing and wiping dishes and very quickly became part of the community  and after only three days it was as if we’d never lived anywhere else.

On Holy Isle, you are not expected to go to meditation or to do anything particularly. You are simply free to be. It is relaxation personified and still quite a secret.

Peaced out. Last night on the island. Arran in the background

On returning to Arran the next day with it’s one bus every two hours, seemed akin to being dropped into Manhattan on Christmas Eve. It took a while for the peace to dissolve back into distraction which suffice to say most of it eventually did – except for a small part that now sits there still – I guess, waiting for me.

There are currently plans to put a power plant on Arran which the Buddhist community fear will spoil the tranquility of Holy Isle causing noise, pollution and smoke.
see – http://tinyurl.com/9a387jd

The West Highland Way

Continuing on from blog ‘Ben Nevis’ which is at
https://kevollier.com/2012/09/13/bennevis/

Leaving the youth hostel the next morning, four things struck me. One was how there was a definite lack of youth at the hostel and having visited quite a few over the years I do wonder why the Youth Hosteling Associations don’t simply leave off the word youth in their name as youth is in the minority at every hostel that I’ve ever been to, unless of course everyone really was aged between 11 and 19 (which I assume is the age range of youth) and all the hiking and panting combined with rising pubescent, testosterone levels has prematurely triggered the onset of grey face hair, bony knees and bad shorts. The second thing that struck me was how very seriously hung over I was finding myself and the third thing was the awareness that I now had to walk 16 miles today to our next stop (with no cafes or pubs or even a hot dog stand en route) which brought me to the fourth, which was I’d never in my life actually walked more than 8 miles in one day before and then I wasn’t carrying a weighty rucksack and walking through changeable weather in the Scottish mountains and all this on stiff legs from the record-breaking Ben Nevis ascent and descent only a day earlier.

As we wandered to the path the other lads insisted that I toke on the budbomb as, I think they said, I’d feel better and despite my rebuttals I succumbed and no more than ten minutes later I could no longer feel the rucksack and I was smiling the sort of smile that rather quickly makes one’s face hurt especially as we reached the beginning of The West Highland Way only to be met with this sign

This was the moment we learned that we were doing this most famed of British hikes the wrong way. This however, if you want to experience the trail and its surrounding grandeur of mountains in peace, we discovered, is the only way. Kinclochlevan is the next stop, 16 miles away – nothing between us and there except wilderness, and thankfully a nice path so we didn’t once have to resort to machetes, so all the other walkers that would be coming the correct way wouldn’t get to us for hours and indeed we had the mountains to ourselves for a good four hours. To ourselves, that is, except for a convention of sheep. Gazillions of them and all welcoming us into and out of their view, which was 100% of the time, with their melodic bleating.

The path, for what seemed a very long time, followed the bottom of a valley bereft of trees and it reminded me of a time when in a Geography lesson at school I’d nearly convinced Dave Black, who fancied himself as ‘half Scottish’, that there were no trees in Scotland and as luck would have it that very lesson had a slide show about the geology of the highlands and every slide that graced the overhead projector was devoid of trees. Shaking my head and gesturing to the proof of my argument Dave got so enraged he raised his hand to interrupt the one teacher you never interrupted and asked, ‘Sir, are there any trees in Scotland?’ which was so random to the lesson that Mr Statham sent him immediately to stand outside the headmasters office for being a buffoon.

But by now, four of the five of us were, what we referred to, as off our trolleys, and I was walking alongside Phil who ‘doesn’t do drugs’ when we both became aware that if you stood still, you could, if you paid close focused attention – and this is a great thing to do with your kids – pick out one bleat from the cacophony of baas and mews and marry it, eventually, to one sheep. You must remember, we are probably looking at a thousand sheep on the  slopes on each side of the valley constantly bleating and we knew we’d picked out one bleat to one particular young sheep (I think they’re commonly known as lambs) that was moving slowly down the slope. Now, if this wasn’t amazing enough we did the same to a sheep on the other slope which was also making its way down and we observed this for what seemed like hours, but was likely about ten minutes, and as if Walt Disney himself was directing proceedings these two sheep both walked on to the path about 100 yards in front of us, touched noses and then walked off back into the melee. Pure gold.

But the weirdest part of this day wasn’t known until 10 years later when photos were finally browsed over. Duncan and I had been captured on camera in a ‘look at the majesty and how off our faces are we?’ moment and we never did see anything in the sky, none of us did. But the photo wasn’t messed with and there are several replica prints showing the exact same thing even though there is nothing on any photos taken before or after.

                                                                                                                             Dunc telling me how wonderful it all is and note the lack of trees but what are those things in the sky?

It was after this that the first walkers appeared and for a good hour it was a constant stream of them, all with their ski sticks marching away saying hello with a look on their face as if to say, ‘are you mad, you’re going the wrong way man and you have no ski sticks, what are you, townies’? – though I except this could be paranoia given the amount of plant life we’d set alight inside that budbomb – before they dwindled down to a few every ten minutes then a straddler or two after another 20 and we mused on how their experience, going in the right direction, was so much different from ours as they’d all be near together all day and there would be no time or space whatsoever to get involved in bleat focusing whereas we only saw people for that two-hour window and then we had it all to ourselves once more – and on we went for a good nights rest at Kinlochlevan before another jaunt the next day, through Glencoe to our posh overnight stop at the Kings House Hotel where we basically, but unwittingly caused total chaos ….

NDE on Ben Nevis

I knew this was going to be a classic ‘lads walk’ when checking in at Bristol airport and newcomer Reg decided to put his budbomb through security. A budbomb is a highly sophisticated polished metal, chambered pipe designed for smoking the buds of cannabis, free of tobacco, delivering a direct hit to the brain. That’s where the bud part comes in. The bomb part isn’t called such because it does this type of delivering but because it’s shaped like a small bomb and therefore not the most ideal thing to put through the security scanner at airports. But this was pre 911 and security were not looking for bombs or narcotics at that time, having their hands full with people smuggling an extra bottle of Archers or having 20 cigarettes over the limit, so suffice to say we landed at Glasgow without interruption.  We transferred to a train that lolled through the scenery of Scotland to finally drop us at Fort William which is the town at the end of Scotland’s greatest trail and the reason we were here, to walk part of the West Highland Way. It seemed however that we had gone in through the out door so to speak as we were about to walk three days over this trail the wrong way.

Walked ‘correctly’ the 154Km (96 miles) Route starts at Milngavie passes through Mugdock Country Park, follows the shores of Loch Lomond, passing Ben Lomond, through Glen Falloch and Strathfillan, crossing Rannoch Moor, past Buachaille Etive Mor to the head of Glencoe, climbing the Devil’s Staircase, descending to sea level to cross the River Leven at the head of Loch Leven before entering Lairigmor and Glen Nevis and finishes at Gordon Square in Fort William. The thing was we weren’t going to be walking it correctly because for one we hadn’t got the latest fad that every other walker without exception was carrying, these ski sticks whose only benefit seemed to be of occupying one’s arms whilst the legs are busy – a bit like stabilizers for walkers and for two we had what probably every walker without exception didn’t have which was enough dope to wilt a field of thistles. Well at least we hoped we had, since we hadn’t risked taking the stuffed A5 envelope onto an aircraft but instead posted it, for our attention, to the Glen Nevis Youth Hostel which was to be our home for the first couple of nights and that was where we headed to straight from the station. On checking in, we smiled as the receptionist said, ‘ah, you have a strange smelling package here’. You have to love Royal Mail for their drug courier service and at no extra cost.

The next day saw three of the group hanging around Fort William for the day testing the contents of that package whilst Phil and I arose at the crack of dawn to surmount Ben Nevis, which looked very welcoming in the morning May sunshine wearing its thick snowy cap. Nevis is the highest mountain in the UK at 4408 feet (1344 metres) and the starting point is only about 65 feet above sea level still leaving 4343 feet to ascend, which we did in just over three hours since Phil informed me, approximately half way up, that he was terrified of heights but was ok if he didn’t stop and hoped I wouldn’t let him down being his mate and all.

We had the mountain more or less completely to ourselves and didn’t see one other walker whatsoever until we hit the scree zone, (always used in films that depict hell), at about 3500 feet which was now covered in cloud and visibility was only around 30 feet. This lone walker appeared out of the mist like a wraith whose only reason for being there was to inform a man terrified of heights ‘to be very careful, it’s deadly up there’. Phil had to be more than cajoled to continue but this he did, albeit even faster. I remember shouting to his disappearing form to slow down for fucks sake otherwise you’ll be on your own with a dead body to deal with. Not long after this we hit the snow line and within a hundred metres it was a foot thick and we experienced what was essentially a white out (as opposed to a ‘whitey’ which no doubt our three, estranged ground level companions were having around about the same time). The visibility was less than 10 feet and we’d lost the path as the local council selfishly don’t send salt gritters up this far, and it was very, very cold but as the ground still had a slope to it and knowing we were very near the top, we continued and then two things happened. We’d been discussing Marcus, one of our fellow walkers and a best friend to both of us who had died in tragic circumstances a couple of years before and as we were doing so a lone little bird flew beside us and landed right next to us at this great, narnian height to allow us enough time to look at each other and then to the bird and say ‘Hi Marcus’ before it promptly flew away. It raised one of *those* smiles. With this in mind I kept trudging through the shin-deep snow and got a tad lost in my own thoughts thinking about the movie Touching the Void and the Rivers of Babylon song, when Phil screamed at me to stop – which I did abruptly. He told me to re-trace my steps and not to move onwards one more inch. I obeyed because his tone was so serious, he must have obviously spotted a grizzly bear coming my way and if not a grizzly then possibly a dreaded winged haggis.
 Well it turned out that I owed him one as I was no longer walking on land but on a snow overhang which just happened to be overhanging the 700-metre (2,300 ft) high cliffs of the north face which are among the highest cliffs in the UK.

The snow overhang in question though not the same day. This one being clear

Although I was the one who nearly actually died, it was actually Phil who really nearly died and by now he was almost invisible as his face was whiter than the pure driven snow surrounding him and it didn’t seem sensible, that minutes later at the found summit, to open a bottle of whisky and to have no more than two minutes rest before making our anxious descent. I think we are the first people on Earth to get up and down Ben Nevis within 5 hours without running.  Alas, we soon met back up with the other three who had no interest in our adventures, preferring to giggle a lot. We all headed for a local pub which we sat in until closing time, making our plans and sharing our thoughts about what the next few days held walking ‘The Way’. We left Phil asleep slumped at the table and stood in the street looking (and giggling – bear in mind we were only in our 30’s and 40’s) through the window, marveling at Phil’s reaction as the cleaner prodded him for several minutes before he got up and wandered for what he thought was the door but what was instead the pub kitchen. These things have to be done.

To be continued…………