Continuing on from blog ‘Ben Nevis’ which is at
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.
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 ….