to and fro
the yo-yo years
|on the Big Moss|
Over 3,000 feet up, on the Moine Mhor (Big Moss), the immense plateau above Glenfeshie, studded with lochans and wee streams, surrounded by Cairn Toul, Braeriach and, far below, Loch Einich, as Kay and I put up the tent, I was impressed to find that she had carried a bottle of pinot grigio all that way, so that we could enjoy gourmet living. From quite an early age, she had been interested in cooking, probably because my skills were so limited, and it was great to be sharing the tent with someone who could do better than kippers and marmalade for breakfast.
In May, late winter, the snow was old and patchy, the day windless, the sun bright, and we spent the rest of the day plootering about the wee lochans, still part frozen, and coasting along the tops to the west of Loch Einich. Back in the tent, the gourmet nosh and nicely chilled bottle gave rise to a level of contentment with life that dived sharply in the wee small hours when I woke hearing the well-remembered whisper on the roof of the tent and looked out to see that there were already several inches of snow, and that the stuff was coming down very thickly indeed.
|above Loch Einich|
We packed up as fast as we could and headed for the valley, but it was uphill to start with, and in the snow and semi-dark impossible to see more than a few feet; without the compass, we would soon have been wandered; as it was, we were well off the track and battling through an ever-increasing depth of snow that masked boulders, heather and holes, until we were nearly down into the glen.
Had we been in too much of a hurry to pull out, wasting all that effort to take the tent up onto the plateau? no, the snow continued for the next fortnight.
Midsummer, and Ishbel, her sister Sheena and I had a gorgeous day up on the Big Moss, over to Braeriach, a little way from whose summit we found the Wells of Dee, where the infant River Dee first emerges from the stony hillside: a sharp metallic taste, but a few feet lower, trickling through bright green moss, the water became sweet.
This time we were camped down in the glen, by a cascading stream among the trees, dry level ground, rich in ants. That evening Ishbel insisted that we all do a quiz designed to assess our potential for survival. Sheena and I were not at all keen to find out our prospects, but Ishbel insisted, so we did the quiz. It turned out that Sheena and I would survive fine, because in the last resort we would eat Ishbel, but she, a much less brutal person, reluctant to eat us, would not. She was astounded and seriously dischuffed, a pity, up till then it had been a perfect day, and after all it was only a quiz.
Glenfeshie, much less spectacular than Loch Morlich or the Lairig Ghru, and with no chair lift to bypass the slog up to the plateau, was free from the tourist hordes, its river was good for swimming, and there was even a gliding club nearby. I found I was going back there a lot; for after coming home from the abortive Ulan Bator expedition, it had soon become clear that an early-retired body was still needing to travel, but not at all clear where to.
When Cee came with me to Torridon in the Mitsubishi van, there was cloud down over all the summits, so we followed a slightly furtive Japanese angler (who claimed to be heading for a loch with an exotic fish - but we may have misunderstood) up the track that goes round the north of Liathach to look at the wee loch, but without sunshine it was a dreich, dismal place, and the angler had disappeared. Fortunately Cee was happy for hours sitting in the van drawing cartoons or reading.
|in the van|
At the river, as I bent to fill the water container, the bank gave way and I fell in, landing on a finger which came out of the water at an unusual angle. Quicker than thought the other hand pulled it straight; it swelled up and turned an interesting dark colour, and was so painful that I couldn’t easily change gear, so for the next few days Cee worked the gear lever while I de-clutched. (In retrospect, should the van technically have had an L-plate?) Later, back home, an x-ray showed a fracture, but it was already healing fine and nothing more needed to be done.
|on Stac Polly|
Kay mostly had good weather, and she cruised up Beinn Eighe, Ben Mor Coigach and Stac Polly with what looked like enjoyment, and at a rate of knots that made me realise that now she was, though still inexperienced, definitely the strong element in the duo, while I was the fading laggard.
Maude and I went to Torridon in October, in her huge car, which stuck in the mud, so we spent a day building a road out of whatever flat stones we could find nearby. After many hours we thought the road was firm enough and long enough to drive out of the mud; cautiously Maude tried, and the great beast rode out onto the tarmac, no problem.
Too late for a hill, so we went along to the pub, where the locals looked us over and wondered where we were staying. In our tent, we said. Local eyes glittered with appreciation: “Och, you will be as hard as the deer.” Well, we hoped it was appreciation rather than irony, and ever since have raised our spirits from any low ebb by saying to each other “but och, we are as hard as the deer …”
And in the following days our hard hooves sewed up Beinn Dearg and Beinn Eighe.
It was becoming obvious that each of these quick visits to the high places was costing a return ferry fare and a previous booking, which made it impossible to simply go when there was a spell of fine weather and come back when it turned bad. Perhaps it was time for a change, a longer journey, to … where?
A plan started to form: away south to the sun, maybe France and/or Italy? Fresh-baked rolls, local cheeses and wines? Tiny hill-towns pulsing with history? Major centres of renaissance art, enormous paintings by famous names? Very different from the wilderness of the homeland, but very appealing.
Was anyone interested in coming along? Yes, Cee and her current boyfriend, both art aficionados, would like to go to Venice and Florence.
(To be continued)
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