Day 3  (38.2km, 554m)

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WHAT a beaut of a morning, again. It is 7.30am and the sun across Loch Arkaig casts a scene of calmness akin to the morning before at Loch Beoraid.

It is light and bright so early that being awake at 6am seems like you are slumming it. Soak it up. It is a special feeling lying there tucked up in the sleeping bag in the Troookstar with the inner door open looking out across the water. Drifting off three, four and five times into snoozettes before the proper wake-up. Each time waking up to the fabulous view across Loch Arkaig. There is an element of Groundhog day about the scene, but that does not detract from the enjoyment. And gazing out in early morning fashion is when a Troookstar, with its big open door, comes into its own.

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Sunday morning looking east from the Troookstar along Loch Arkaig

On the air there are no Sunday morning sounds, no church bells, no smells from coffee shops or retail parks humming to the noise of car engines. There are no jets and their vapours scorching across the blue sky; no Canadian rescue helicopters speeding their way to Gleann Donn. There are only birds flying in the middle distance, and even they respect the silence of the Sunday morning sunshine. In truth, who knows what day it is and who cares? The world is as quiet as a librarian’s dog.

The car park up the track last night was home to ten vehicles. Their owners, wherever they are, cannot be heard. The fishing parties, if they have woken up, are quiet and out of sight. Not a soul can be seen anywhere. Only hills, calm water and blue skies to absorb.

The pan that had pasta stuck to it has been steeped overnight and is easily swished out and fresh water boils ready for a brew. The serenity of the loch towards the east in the far distance is seen through a touch of haze and the single track road that runs along the length of the loch would be noticeable only if there were cars driving along it.

Two successive days of glorious mornings in Scotland in May. What is going on? Global warming, a new kind of Scottish independence or just pure good fortune? If the Loch Arkaig Informer publishes a Sunday edition, its front page story will be: “Another day of highland sunshine sparks public inquiry.” Mercifully the day will not be a long stretch of unbroken sun, although it will remain warm away from the water’s edge, where a strong breeze off the water will keep the temperature cool.

A thin layer of moisture on top of the Troookstar lifts away as the morning warms up and the sun rises higher and brighter. Brew in hand, looking across to the south shore of the loch, is a derelict homestead called Kinlocharkaig. Legend has it that within half a mile further east, not far from the shoreline, lies hidden some of the hoard of Bonnie Prince Charlie’s gold – Spanish gold – sent in 1746 to help the young prince with the Jacobite rebellion. It is intriguing to think there really could be gold in “them thar hills”, but finding the gold is about as likely as sighting the kelpie that is said to inhabit Loch Arkaig. You couldn’t blame it for living here. Lovely place to hang out. Anglers or no.

The first brew of the day is drunk from a big fat handle-less green plastic mug and is a reminder of the frenzy of reducing the pack weight before the start of the challenge. Frenzy is overcooking the procedure, it was more a case of “well I suppose I ought to”.

Going away for a backpacking weekend wander, a couple of nights, the few extra pounds here and there in the rucksack are not particularly a problem. They ramp up the workout, if anything. But on a trip of two weeks the extra pounds do make a difference, adding to that build-up of tiredness and fatigue as the days clock up.

Strathan. On left is Fraoch Brainn. path to Kinbreak in bealach to its right
Sunday morning looking west and the bog trot from the evening before. Sguirr Thuilm is the peak  with the snow on top. Stratham is to the right, as is the Troookstar

My dedication to the noble backpacking art of gram counting extended to the loss of seven pounds (3,175g) in body weight in the 10 days prior to the start of the TGO challenge. No cheese, chocolate or beer. That is a real sacrifice.

The big green mug, weighing in at 30 grams, usurped an old blue cuddly titanium model, at 125 grams, giving a tidy saving of 95 grams, which is a fifth of a pound in old money. Little savings here and there add up and are needed if carrying several days’ food. Swapping the Hilleberg Akto (a belter of a tent) for the Troookstar saved in the region of 1.8 pounds (800 grams) and offered a whole new working space. Think three-bed semi-detached as opposed to one-bedroom flat.

The holding lip of the green cup – bought from the Swedish Woolworth-style chain Clas Ohlson – was cut away with a hacksaw, then smoothed down with 120-grade sandpaper, the fine stuff, to make for ease of packing rather than weight loss. The cup is cradled in the hands – not gripped and tipped – and would make an excellent handwarmer if needs be. Besides the saving in weight, the green cup has two big gulps of extra volume more than the blue cup with its karabiner handle.img_1785

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The uncut Clas Ohlson mug, and the amputated lip, above

There are walkers, trekkers and people on expeditions that use the karabiner on the side of the cup to clip it to their outer wear and scoop water from streams as they walk. Cool idea but a lump of metal bouncing across you chest at every step? Do me a favour, John. Greater volume makes for more tea to be drunk and more shortbread-dunking opportunities and longer to stay outside, like the day before, with the sun on the back looking towards the previous evening’s route, snaking down into bogland and Stratham. In the morning sunshine from the side of the loch the route looks stunning, nothing to betray the scary bog trot. Seeing the peaks of the mist-free mountains and their blue backdrop is peach, even with the first tufts of a cloud edging in from the horizon. They are all light and dark browns, with green from the pine trees and snow dotted across the higher elevations.

Pity the poor Jacobites traipsing across this place being hounded by Hanoverian soldiers. The rebel Scots did not have lightweight kilts nor did the English soldiers have packaway Goretex redcoats, high-tech rucksacks, lightweight gas cookers, freeze dried food, polycro groundsheets, plastic mugs and global positioning satellites. They wish.

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My old blue mug – battered and bruised but loved

That little tuft of white in the west is the one cloud on the horizon. The one cloud on my horizon is the niggling, itchy, scratchy feeling from the day before – it has returned. Another tick check of the intimate Heineken variety is required in the Troookstar. It has to be inside, just in case the two sets of anglers rise early. A naked English contortionist along the bank might ruin their breakfast cigarettes – and increase the clamour for independence. Inside the Troookstar, flamin’ Nora, wouldn’t you know it, more bloody ticks have appeared. One on the bottom of my stomach underneath where the strap of the boxer shorts was; and a couple at the top of the left leg, where one has delved into the groin. The stomach one is getting stuck in as well – it’s been there so long the little bugger is asking for the cheese menu. The Lifesystems tick remover is useless. This tick has so little of its body protruding from the skin that even the smallest snaring groove on the credit-card size tick plucker can’t latch onto its body.

The blighters have to be squeezed out as was done the day before, pushing out their bodies and all the germy nasty baggage they carry. Fingers crossed, everything that has come with them has departed. An alcohol wipe is applied to snuff out any whiff of their presence.

Like yesterday the redness on the skin marks the points where they have indulged. The redness caused by the two ticks from the left leg will not die down for a day or two. It is disconcerting and creepy, when you think of the diseases that they sometimes carry. Don’t think about it, then. Move on.

Another brew for breakfast is prepared.

It is hard to move on. The ticks are preying on my mind. They’ve had their breakfast, dinner and bloody tea on me. Freeloading. Chomping away on sumptuous layers of chub, a tasty capillary or voluptuous vein. They have been there all night at the Cafe de lard arse. Nimbling away. Scoffing flesh. One of their five a day. The bastards! They make the prospect of a plague of midges feel almost affectionate.

When the base layers were whipped off for the tick check, holes look to have mysteriously appeared in the wool fabric. They are holes too, not frayed wool or little snicks. Two tops were bought new just weeks before the start of the walk. They were in pristine condition, even the night before when one of them was worn inside the sleeping bag.

It has to be the ticks that have made the holes, munching their way through the fibre hunting for flesh. If they can chew through flesh, eating through a strand of wool would be a piece of cake, as it were. There can’t be another explanation. It must be the ticks picked up on the way down to Corryhully bothy. The grass and vegetation at the pitch by Loch Arkaig is too short for them to have moved in overnight.

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Murlaggan, looking west along Loch Arkaig

And there can be no other reason for the holes; it has to have been ticks clinging to the cloth. There were no moths; no thorny bushes, no passing through rough, chest-high vegetation; no bog is going to rip a hole in the fabric, even at chest height, neither are the walking poles, dressed in zinc oxide plaster or not. The holes were not due to carelessness with the Swiss Army knife – there was no slashing at the wool in frustration at not being able to sleep. It wasn’t the flames of the gas burner, it wasn’t a cuckoo, it wasn’t the Canadian couple, it has to be the ticks. The ticks. Jumpin’ Jesuits, it makes your skin crawl to think the little gits have been there a good 18 hours.

It is also damn annoying that they cut one of the wool tops. It took ages to source them after numerous false starts with so-called Merino wool base layers that were bought from retailers who really should know better – one so-called Merino base layer contained only 20 per cent wool, and not all of that was Merino, or wool possibly. Another so-called Merino wool base layer contained only 11 per cent Merino wool. Whatever happened to trade descriptions?

In our short time together a fondness has developed for the tops – 100 per cent wool but not-Merino. After two days of egregious sweating, they do not smell, they look okay when worn plus they do not have a company logo streaking across the left breast.

The sleeping bag receives a hefty shakeout as do the base layers in case more tick trolls are lingering. There are no tears or bites through the sleeping bag fabric, so with luck they are not holed up there.

A fresh layer of zinc oxide plaster is applied to the tootsies. They are okay, certainly not 100 per cent, just something to keep an eye on. They have been wet and are tender, but should be fine.

It is decision time about the day’s route. Do me and the ticks take the track back along where we came from the night before to near the spot at which the MSR Hubba tent was pitched and then head over the hills. Or do we take the single track road along the shore of the loch with the prospect of spotting a sea eagle or two?

At the MSR Hubba the path heads up the Dearg Allt and eventually comes out at Kinbreak bothy (NN002961) and into Glen Kingie followed by a trek through forest tracks to Glen Garry. This was the intended route for yesterday, with a stopover somewhere in the Greenfield area. Today’s route would have been a trek from Greenfield through the forest and eventually to the Great Glen Hostel, where a pitch has been booked. The hostel has hot showers and a drying room and after the latest tick encounter both have a strong appeal.

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Raw material – “Jose” Merino sheep

If the day is going to be sunny, the walk across to Kinbreak will be pleasant enough, apart from being wet. The plod along forest tracks after that does not appeal, because it is a long slog. Walking that way to the hostel would be three to four miles longer that walking along Loch Arkaig and then up the side of Loch Lochy. There would also be more miles of walking through pine forests.

Being 10 miles behind schedule because of the late start from Lochailort is not a problem, or is it? It is at times like these that a walking chum is needed to bounce ideas off and to reach a reasoned and sensible conclusion to a discussion about a day’s walk – preferably inside five minutes, not 55 minutes.

Scots are helpful people, but it would be a step too far to ask a friendly angler: “Can I bounce my ideas off you?”

“Hey Tam, he’s wants tae bounce his ideas af mi.”

“I’ll call the polis.”

The ticks have clouded the issue. Making camp at the Great Glen Hostel means taking a hot shower and washing the body beautiful and the kit – the ticks have to be flushed away, psychologically if nothing else.

When you read up about the road along the north shore of Loch Arkaig, walkers, TGO-ers and other trekkers call it something along the lines of a “slog along the loch”, which does not sound appealing.

Decisions, decisions. That hot shower and the ticks prey on the mind: loch slog it is. The feet will stay dry and the shoes have not shown the resilience that was expected so heading for Kinbreak might prove a bog too far. (Somebody is trying to convince themselves to take the easier route.)

Kit packed. Off me and the ticks trot. The anglers are just stirring.

From a distance more vehicles have appeared in the car park at the end of the loch – in the south of England that would be a cue for a parking meter. On the other side of a knoll, that was passed the evening before making for my pitch, two backpackers are striking camp – they are camped well away from the left-hand anglers. These two were not there the night before or maybe they were missed in the fug of tiredness. They are too far away for a “you TGO?”.

The older of the two left-hand anglers appears and is greeted with a hefty “Morning.” My  attempts from Saturday night to speak the lingo are abandoned.
“Hellooo,” he replies.
My arm is outstretched. “Just wondering, are these of any use to you?”

Before his eyes are two wedges of oatcakes that between them weigh 400 grams – this is not the gram counting gone mad, they have not been weighed with the anglers’ scales. The weight is written on the packaging. Two hundred grams times by two equals … About 53 grams short of an imperial pound. Not that we are gram counting, of course, but there’s a long walk coming up and they are not going to get eaten. The appetite has gone. The food the evening before was forced down, and the shortbread dunkers for breakfast were habit as was the tea.

The angler is very polite.

“Ach no, thanks very much, I dinnae touch ’em maself.”

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Thick – Stockan’s red

It is tempting to say something along the lines of “well wear gloves”, but that is Victor Meldrew kicking in again. A sign of hunger. Maybe a few oatcakes should be eaten.

For the record, there is nothing wrong with oatcakes, although the fine milled versions are preferable to the rough ones. In truth, rough or fine milled, Stockan’s or otherwise, if the appetite was there they would have been wolfed down. In the sweep of the supermarket at Morrison’s in Fort William two days before, the word Stockan’s had popped out from the shelf and, without a second thought, two packets were slung into the basket of food to be taken into the hills. They weren’t really needed. My three-day menu was already fulfilled.

Stockan’s are made in the Orkney Isles and are lovely. But as every oatcake aficionado with an ounce (or 28 grams) of common sense will tell you, the thin and dainty Stockan’s are less chewy. Don’t knock oatcakes, though and don’t knock Stockan’s. These babies are sold at Neal’s Yard cheese shop opposite The Market Porter at Borough Market in London, no less. That’s how well regarded they are. Top baggin [food]. And at somewhere in the region of 450 calories in energy per 100g, they are not to be sniffed at. They are like flattened porridge, a slow release system for fuel that might be thought of as bland by some people’s taste buds, but they are very palatable. On a cordon bleu note, oatcakes are lip-smacking with a drop of Primula cream cheese or extra-mature cheddar or, creme de la creme, proper creamy/tasty Lancashire cheese (not the dry crumbly rubbish) with a sliver of onion plus an extra-red ripe fresh-picked tomato on top. Obviously such tomatoes grow wild in the Highlands, especially in May. If only.

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Thin – Sockan’s blue

These oatcakes are not going to be consumed – by me – and will be excess weight on the road to Laggan Locks. What better altruistic way of making sure these beautiful creatures do not end up in a bin, unopened and wasted, than to leave them, with a note, for some lucky oatcake-loving walker/ outdoor enthusiast to consume. Stood in the car park another vehicle has arrived. Sunday walkers are moving in. The oatcakes will soon get a home.

A note written in pencil on a page ripped from my notepad reads: “Please help yourself. Unopened. Free to a good home.” It is a dry day, a little windy, so they won’t get rained on. Hang on, a potential oatcake muncher is approaching.

“Hello, you walking today? Would you like some tasty Stockan’s oatcakes to take with you? I’m not going to eat them, there’s nothing wrong with them. I’ve just lost my appetite and they weigh nearly a pound.”

The lady is curious, spotting a freebie but at the same time wondering why anybody would give away Stockan’s.

“Oh right, yes, that’s very kind thank-you.” She looks them over as she speaks. The lady is English and very polite. She and her companions are trekking up Glen Dessary.

The oatcakes have a home and the walking for day three finally begins with the pack 400 grams lighter.

Looking around heading for the road, there are no bins, so the oatcakes could not have been put in a bin even had lived-in-south-too-long numpty wanted to throw them away. And he is a numpty, because it is only later that it dawns on me that leaving the oatcakes in a car park, even with a note, is a form of litter. Or is it just advanced recycling? Dream on. Thank goodness for the lady in the car park. My apologies, anti-litter campaigners.

Down the road from the car park, another backpacker is half a mile ahead making steady pace along the road. Is it the person who was in the MSR? “You on the TGO?” has not been said today. People on the challenge can suffer from withdrawal symptoms.

The driver of a four by four truck is lashing a canoe to the roof-rack of his vehicle, but stops what he is doing to chat. (NM993917). Oh well it has been a walk of about 15 minutes, if that, including a quick stop to fiddle with the shoes.

“Awreet?” he says. That twang sounds familiar. Lancastrian.

We chat for five minutes about the serenity of where we are. Then the nosey bugger wants to know where my accent is from.

“It is probably from near where your accent hails from, at a guess.”

Of course as it turns out he is another exile from Lancashire. He lives in Dumfries and Galloway and works on the railways. He is wending his way up the west coast canoeing in various lochs and locations. But he hails from Slaidburn, a beautiful area of Lancashire in The Forest of Bowland/ Trough of Bowland, an unspoiled gem of a place. A childhood refuge for me and, as people in the know will tell you, a secret haunt of the queen. Who could blame her.

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Forest of Bowland – pictured from Whims Fell

“Why did you leave Slaidburn?” A small village is Slaidburn, but like all of Bowland the area is beautiful. Just beautiful. Wild in places, but untouched and country-fied, a forgotten place of beauty between the Peak District, the Dales and the Lakes

“Every sod wants to know your business, it were too claustrophobic.”
Smiles all round. He wants to know what lived-in-the-south-too-long is up to! Excuse me, what were you saying about nosey?
“Walking across Scotland.”

“Bloody hell, what d’ya wanna do that for, yer daft bugger?” he laughs, little realising that lived-in-the-south-too-long will be thinking that himself in the days to come. We chat for ages, 20 minutes more and the rest of a long natter about the outdoors, Lancashire cheese, Trough of Bowland, Slaidburn, Chipping, Bashall Eaves, Clitheroe, Parlick Fell, Wolf Fell, Preston. All familiar places, connections in Lancashire. Nostalgia. Why did we leave?

Slaidburn man departs with a cheery: “Good luck. You’ve got 15 miles of that.” He makes wave motions with his right arm, like he’s at a seventies disco. “Up and down all the way to Clunes [the settlement at the end of Loch Arkaig].” He is only trying to cheer me up, of course.  “Take care.”

The slow and steady backpacker is out of sight, lost to the distance, and out of earshot for even a yelled “you on the TGO?”. Viewed from the back and from afar there was no discernible feature about him except that he walks like a bloke, he is wearing dark greys and blacks and he is tramping at a steady consistent pace. No limps, no discomfort, no problem. For me, a combination of halts for foot massages, water and natters will mean he is lost from the radar almost for good. He never looks back once in the time he is followed, so his facial features remain a mystery.

Slaidburn man zips past in his truck with a “pip, pip” of the horn, a long wave from his right arm sticking out of a window and his canoe on top of the roof like the prow of a ship strutting through the morning air. “Pip, pip” is the loudest sound in the area this morning. Solitude returns.

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Loch Arkaig from the eastern end, with Sgurr Thuilm pointing up in the far distance

The house marked on the map at the spot called Murlaggan is empty. Its white walls stand out against a backdrop of subfusc browns and yellows. Inside it looks lived in, there are possessions and a few children’s toys littered about the place. Murlaggan looks like a holiday retreat, but saying the name brings to mind Cornwall and Poldark and the Warleggans, it has that olde-worlde feel to it. Low blood sugar level, possibly, maybe you had to be there. Oatcakes?

There is no live stock or visible means of sustenance about the place. No clucking chickens, grunting pigs or stomping horses. Nothing round the house that requires caring for. How do they get supplies – what a nightmare driving down here for a Tesco delivery man, woman or drone. There is a gas tank in the garden, electricity, but internet access would be pushing it.

Onwards and alongwards. A blanket of cloud has slipped in from the west, obscuring the blue sky of the morning, cooling down the day. When the sun does shine the best place to be today will be at the edge of the water with a cool wind rolling off the water.

The road yomp is growing on me. Great views across the loch and back down the way looking west to the head of the loch and the previous night’s camp. It’s not as tedious as had been thought, and there are only a few cars.

But the feet are not happy. Hot, hot, hot and getting hotter. Too hot even for a warm day such as this. Something is not right with them. Cool dips in the burns along the road side help chill them and the blue Zuuks, coming in as substitute footwear while the trail shoes take a time-out, manage to air the feet for a while before the trail shoes return, refreshed, for an encore.

The pleasant slow plod wends its way in and out of bits of trees, and chopped down plantations and areas of brown fern. There are a few cars and plenty of stops for water. The water consumption is high. The views, sights and silence continue.

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Sea eagles, after dropping off their luggage

Socks are changed at Rubha Cheanna Mhuir by the water’s edge on a rocky outcrop shaded by trees. People have lit a campfire here the previous evening, but it has not been extinguished properly. Embers and half-burnt lumps of wood are being brought back to life, fanned by the growing westerly wind. It is alight. Abandoned bits of wood are piled on to the red glow to get the flames higher. A temporary laundry for sock drying is established, with the smell of wood smoke replacing the staleness of foot rot. The wind is forceful, sending wisps of smoke horizontal along the edge of the loch. It is my good fortune that the fire is still live. It is a great place to stop, admire the changing weather and have a brew and a bite to eat – shortbread. Where are those flamin’ oatcakes? It is lovely sat there by the flames and next to the water, with the little waves across the loch getting choppier all the time. Must put the windproof on. It is a surprisingly sharp wind off the water. Warm by the fire, feet cooking, wind battered and watching. Lovely. Where are the sea eagles?

A piece of damp wood thrown on the fire produces a horizontal line of smoke that is thicker and more noticeable than the smoke produced by other bits of wood and carries itself along the edge of the loch, creating a screen for what seems like an age but is probably only a minute.

The fire, continuously pumped up by the wind, has quickly regained its prowess and is throwing out heat within the confines of its enclosure, a circle of rocks. The stiff wind also means that the fuel will burn quicker than if there was no wind.

With the smoke the socks have a hint of Manx kippers about them. Manx kippers are yummy, especially so in the days when they were wrapped up in old newsprint and fresh from the docks at Fleetwood and latterly Liverpool. But eat a pair of my socks? Not today, thank you.

The majority of backpackers and walkers are aware of causing too much of a fuss when walking; wary about drawing attention to themselves and being a nuisance. It’s always best practise to proceed through the country quietly and unobtrusively. It’s comforting to be silent and discreet. The horizontal line of smoke from the fire might be upsetting some folk further along the water’s edge. But another check reveals there is nobody about.

Wait on. Wow, wow, wow, hang about. Look again. It is. Yes it is. Up ahead is the greys and blacks backpacker. He must have stopped. He is chatting to the driver of a truck/ van thing. Bugger, he’s off again. “You TGO?” will have to wait.

Standing there, the wind blowing off the water hits home, it is really chilly for the upper part of the body. Finally the windproof jacket is rooted out and put on. The feet are toasty, but the torso is feeling it. Get warm and then we’ll catch greys and blacks man. Huddled down next to the flames, looking across the water is ideal for sea eagle spotting. And it is remarkable how many there are. Zero.

A guy in a caravan just minutes down the road and upwind had told me with pride, and a deep Scottish accent, that: “This is their favourite place in Scotland.” He spoke like the eagles arrived every year, suitcases in claw, for their holidays, to the disdain of every other loch in Scotland.

“Loch Morar this year?”

“I’ll thank you not to mention that, Mr Seagle.”

“My apologies, Mrs Seagle.”

“Apologies accepted, let’s fly.”

Uncalled for sarcasm because the man in the caravan was just being friendly, but he had raised my hopes of seeing one of these magnificent creatures. After 30 minutes, it is clear that the eagles are not playing out this Sunday. Day of rest probably. These birds have a wingspan of about seven foot – a couple of feet more than the impressive, elegant and numerous red kites that hang tough across the Chilterns and my back garden. It would have been thrilling to have seen a sea eagle.

The feet aired. Socks and shoes on. Fire out – for good on this occasion, because it is doused with water from the loch – it is time to make some mileage.

Looking round to ensure I have not left a mess or equipment, it hits me that the area is full of discarded tins, and bottles and bits of rusty metal. Here’s me worried about a couple of packs of oatcakes.

We’re off again, feet fell better after a rest. It is cloudy, then sunny and cold, by dint of that wind off the water, then sunny again.

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Kippers – Manx for the memory

There are plenty of refuges, caravan spots and holiday plots by the side of the loch. Some are occupied, some are not. Some are in bits of woods and forest areas. One refuge is home to a couple of yappy dogs, and their owner says “hello”. In another there is a large immobile bloke who stares out of a window from a caravan. There is no  response to a friendly wave and then a mouthed “hello” in an over exaggerated fashion – my efforts to be friendly probably made him more wary.

As the road wends its way ever closer to Clunes more and more houses that are being renovated or built litter the area. There is some money being offloaded here on holiday homes and lets. At one loch-side location that houses a couple of caravans are a party of chaps supping beers and stood round a barbecue.

“How ya doin’?” says me.

One of the chaps – it must be his pad because he seems the dominant one – replies in a Glaswegian accent.

“We’re good, man. De ye wan ae beer?” He holds up a can.

“I’m in the groove, as it were, big man so I’m going to keep goin, but thank-you all the same.”

“Nae bother, have a good one!”

“Cheers big man,” shut up, stop trying to speak the bloody lingo again.

“By the way, I know what you are thinking … I’d rather be supping a beer here than be that poor bastard over there right now.”

He laughs, they laugh. And that makes me want to stay even more. Have a beer, a natter, a bit of banter. Talk football, walking, Scotland. They seem like a really chilled gaggle of blokes. But keep going. It is one of those parties where one beer would lead to three or four more … you wouldn’t be able to leave after just a beer … nice thought, but not this day – sadly.

At another point, on an uppy part of the walk, there is an overheard conversation between two men on a speed boat in the water below. One guy sounds like he owns the boat and is boasting and showing off to the other chap. It is a deal here, a £100,000 there “you know what I mean, Gordon?” kind of conversation. They are faffing about with the motor boat and revving it up and getting all middle-class macho men. Leave me out of it, just passing through.

A car that belongs to a couple that were passed near their wild campsite at Rubha Giubhais – shortly after Murlaggan – flies past. The woman is driving, she would have seen me wave in the rear-view mirror after stepping to one side. They are wondering: “Who the hell are you?” But she waves. Friendly. You feel guilty because she had left their tent backwards in her none-too-functional underwear and gave me an eyeful of her nether regions, unbeknownst to her. Looking on from the roadside it had felt like an invasion of her privacy. But she did not know that. They had not spotted me, wandering past. If there had been a theme tune for that moment, it would have been The Waterboys and The Whole of the Moon. And it was possible to confirm that she had no ticks.

The road slowly makes its way to the head of the loch and the dam, a couple of miles before Clunes. Window shopping for campsites, they seem few and far between along Loch Arkaig. It is full of the private plots, with permanent caravans in situ and many have wood sheds and car parking with a hard surface; flower gardens and all the paraphernalia of a long-term stay around them. But nothing much for wild camping.

The best possibility would be a picnic area (NN120911) where a Natural Scotland information board informs those that care to read their sign about the wonderful butterflies in the area: chequered skippers, pearl-bordered fritillary, large heath and Scotch argus. There are dragonflies, dippers, chats and flycatchers in the area, with the possibility of otters, pine martens, golden eagles and ospreys.  Fantastic. But what happened, why is there no mention of sea eagles? They have gone out of fashion since up the road. Sea eagles could do us all a favour and kill a few cuckoos, bolster their public profile and increase their popularity with the walking public.

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Glen Mallie – and Invermallie bothy (somewhere) – from the north bank of Loch Arkaig

Between Ardechive and Achnasaul from a rocky beach the view extends back down the length of Arkaig. Hills and heights either side of the water, and clouds allowing only short glimpses of intense sunshine and blue sky. The demarcation between water and hills fades and fudges in the distance. On the shore, bits and pieces of trees and logs have washed up and been dried. There is a thin layer of vegetation where the water from the loch has not reached for some while. Along the shore, about 300 yards away, a golden retriever wades into the loch, oblivious to the cold wind sweeping off the water.

Approaching Achnasaul, the road moves away from the loch’s edge and the stiff cooling breeze, a blast of sunshine and more still air sap the strength as the temperature jumps. Gorse bushes and other vegetation take the sting out of the breeze.

At Achnasaul the road, still single-track after about ten miles, crosses a small bridge, and edges onto a sneaky, sharp pull up a short, severe hill. Three walkers have been ahead of me for the past 15 minutes. Slowly, but ever so slowly we are getting nearer. They disappear from sight.

A chap who runs a salmon farm on the loch stops to say hello. He is a good craic; we talk about the TGO challenge. He knows all about the event from its earliest days as the Ultimate Challenge and talks of it fondly. He is very encouraging and friendly. Scottish.

“How you getting on?”

“My feet are killing me.”

The salmon farmer was just being polite, he did not want to know the knitty-gritty of ailments past and present.

“Ach, you’ll be fine, you’ll make it, just keep going.”

There’s truth in his words. Just keep going. We talk about the area, it’s beauty and what a glorious place it is to work – for him.

Farewells are said and just moments later a motorist approaches, coming from behind, engine revving, gears crunching. Further away than thought, but nearer because of the loudness of the crunching. He or she is driving a new car, which is worrying for the car. On another steep short rise the car is behind me, driving slowly. It is polite to step to one side on the approach to an incline to allow a vehicle to pass. In truth it is a sensible move to dodge out of the way given the gear crunching, but the car/hatchback vehicle thing stops in the middle of the road on an incline.

The driver steps out. It is an older lady – older than me, that is, so still young. Her car engine is running and the driver’s side door is left open. Not half closed, not slightly ajar but open wide, at full stretch, ninety degrees to the rest of the car and at the mercy of the road. If this were a suburb of any number of metropolitan magnets across Britain, the vehicle would be carjacked, unless the car owner was a robber and leaving the door open for a quick escape. What is the score here, Jimmy? Is she going to mug me; grab the backpack and high-tail it to Fort William? Eat something, get a grip, man – low blood sugar levels.

The lady steps daintily from the car and approaches. Grey hair, tweeds and pearls. Ma McBaker? The Karrimor walking poles, repaired with zinc-oxide are ready for action, in defensive mode. Like they will be of any use. At the first sign of trouble they will wilt like a fresh-plucked bluebell.

The lady driver has a mesmerising, comforting soft Scottish brogue: “Would you like a wee drop of water? It is sweltering oot here. Just wait while I open the boot [it’s a hatchback] … my husband usually does this … now where is that button? … och, it is such a nuisance.” After a struggle with a concealed switch the lady pings the catch and the hatch flings itself into the air.

“Och, there we are. It’s no my car, it’s ma husband’s. I cannae get used tae it.” It is a new car.

Where is her husband? Shouldn’t he be here? There are no passengers in the car. She rummages in the hatch of the hatchback, struggles to pull out something big. What is going on? (Eat something).

But oh joy, this is not Ma McBaker, this is a saviour. This lady is offering bottled water – and without a hint of irony, bottles of Scottish spring water – that were placed in the back of the vehicle probably at Morrison’s in Fort William.

Such kindness makes me feel stupid for being so suspicious. Low blood sugar again and lack of water, mind working overtime. What was there to be suspicious about?

“Would it be rude to take the whole bottle?”
“No, no, you take it. It is a hot day.”
It is. Autumn has turned to high summer once the road rises above the loch. It is sweltering. One litre of a two litre bottle of Scottish Highland water is downed in double quick fashion. Seems a little excessive. But it is Highland spring water and not Chiltern Hills (ie chalky) or Cheviot or Mendip bottled water.

Just saying thank-you to this lady is inadequate, but giving her a big, huge corpulent hug to say thank-you for being so kind to a tick-ravaged grade-A chump of a dehydrated lived-in-the-south-too-long walker would be a step too far.

Whoever you are, thank-you, thank-you, thank-you, kind Scottish lady. After a dubious hill start she is away at high revs in low gear in her husband’s car – bless her and her kindness.
The two-litre bottle of water is just a quarter full on reaching a row of rubbish bins in a layby. The bins spill over with empty beer, lager and cider bottles and cans, plenty of red and white wine empties too, plus three cheap vodka bottles and an empty litre of bacardi. We are not talking a few discarded empties, we are in the realms of mountains of the things. Eight tall rubbish bins overflowing with booze detritus. Rubbish from parties up and down the loch side. With one exception everybody encountered on the loch road has been warm, welcoming and chatty. Maybe the rubbish in the bins is the reason why. More power to your elbow.

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Montane 70l Grand Tour

The backpacker who had been half a mile ahead at the start of Loch Arkaig is again a distant memory. But soon back within sight are the three walkers that were spotted half an hour earlier but who are at this point just a few hundred metres (yards when we leave the EU) ahead. Two Geordies and a Scot, it turns out when they are finally tagged.

Geordies? Well their accents are certainly north east. It is an educated guess. One of the Geordies helps retrieve the bottle of spring water from the side pocket of the rucksack. He is a thick-set chap.

They, presumably all three, had the previous night camped higher in the hills north of Loch Arkaig, judging from their talk. They had also been offered water by the kind Scottish lady. God bless her indeed.

Banter is exchanged and three become four until the waterfall at Eas chia-aig (NN176888) as the end of the Loch Arkaig is reached. The thicker set of the two Geordie boys looks familiar. But where the hell from? My last visit to Newcastle upon Tyne was 20 years ago. Maybe this chap has one of those familiar faces – whatever that means.  On the trek leading up to the waterfall, one side of the road is decked in forest trees, the other is decorated with lines of the intense, hypnotising yellow of gorse bushes, which are higher, brighter and wilder than have been seen so far. In the wild, on the hills, sheep and livestock keep the vegetation trimmed in their role as nature’s bush barbers. Here though the bushes are free to grow and their brightness is a tantalising contrast with snow on the mountain tops in the distance. Is that Ben Nevis over there? It might well be, it is not a million miles away. No, it is Ben Nevis, it has to be. That knobbly top. The familiar-face thick-set Geordie disagrees, he thinks Ben Nevis is miles away.

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Thick yellow gorse and possibly Ben Nevis in the background

This is a situation where having a proper sized Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 fold-out map, not the printed sheets of my route and foul weather alternatives (or fair weather alternatives as they have become), would be very useful. A quick compass bearing would clear it all up. But being a slave to gram counting the printed sheets are all that are available on my route planning until just outside Newtonmore, where the full-size OS maps will be deployed. That summit has to be Ben Nevis. Check it later, online or with a map. Move on.

The waterfall is a lovely spot, especially as the sun has reappeared. Oh, it has gone again. Hang on it’s back – playing peek-a-boo – then gone once more for a while behind a hunk of grey. That is the pattern for the rest of the day. Clouds that are not carrying rain and drops of sunshine.

The Geordie with the familiar face is saying what a great pitch the waterfall would make. It would. It looks fantastic. And the sound of running water, when not making you want to go for a wee every five minutes, is a great accompaniment to a good night’s sleep.

Looking down at the stream, the bearded Scottish chap points to a row of stones that has been laid through the flow of the water, forming a shallow barrier, with a gap at one end.

“That’s the poachers for you,” he says. “They funnel the salmon in there through the gap and they are easy prey.”

“Really?” Hmm, fresh salmon cooked over an open fire, that gets the digestive juices flowing. False dawn. There are no salmon in the pool or thereabouts. It is not the season, as the anglers the previous night would probably have told me.

Above the clear pool and stream with the salmon trap are two decks of waterfalls. Beautiful. If salmon are going up there, that is a hell of a climb. Good luck to them.

The potential campsite is a perfect spot. Picnic tables on flat areas of short-cropped grass. Up ahead is a car park. Not a good sign. The Geordie with the familiar face is talking about staying at this point for the night. The three decide to linger and are mulling over whether to make camp at some point here or hereabouts, when the tourists and malingerers have departed, then the next day saunter up Loch Lochy to Laggan Locks, where they are due to stay.

They talk about having a few pints at The Eagle – the floating pub/restaurant at Laggan Locks. There would be beds available this evening at the Great Glen Hostel, it being a Sunday. But they have a few slugs of whisky left so will stay put. Looks like they have made a decision.

It proves the point that decisions are more easily made when you have walking companions. These three would have been ideal at the Loch Arkaig pitch, instead of drawing up lists of pros and cons; taking to myself like some over-egged fruit cake, all that was needed was a couple of Geordies and a Scot. They have made a decision in minutes. Not 55.

It’s unclear whether the three of them are one party or have just met up while walking. The north-east boys are definitely a tag team, you can tell from the way they talk to each other and the way they interact, they have known each other for some time. Walk mates and work mates, at a guess. Their body language says they know each other well. But the Scottish chappie seems apart from them, but together right now. Anyway they are a good craic, which is all that matters.

The north-east chap with the familiar face has a Montane Grand Tour 55-litre sack, which appears virtually the same as the 70-litre version, the one that disorganised people – ahem – use to ensure that all their stuff fits in without having to complete a logistical puzzle each morning when striking camp. The straps on the pack allow the user to tighten up the body of the pack to stop the load wobbling and off you go. We talk about the pros and cons of the sack. It’s generally favourable.

Laggan Locks and that hot shower beckon. The hot shower in particular.

Time to bid the Scot and two Geordies farewell. [The two Geordies are later revealed as Darren Fowler and Stuart Dixon.]

The course is set for Clunes along a road called the Mile Dorcha, or dark mile. It is road walking, with a ditch on either side of the strip of tarmac that is barely wide enough for one car. It will spell trouble if two cars meet. It spells trouble when a new red Mercedes C220 kindly speeds up as he passes by me – a little too close for comfort, thank you very much. On the ground in the trees either side of the road, everything is covered with a layer of moss, a green layer that numbs the edges of rocks and fallen branches and is at once scary yet enticing – making you want to touch it, yet its menace suggests it will suck you in like a squelchy African swamp. Should be called the green mile, not the dark mile, or maybe the dark-green mile.

During the sock-drying fire-by-the-loch halt an idea had formed to divert across the head of  Loch Arkaig, where the dam is, and traipse over to Invermallie bothy, the one that is known for flooding. Pure curiosity, nosiness, just to see what it looks like. But that thought resurfaces only on the Mile Dorcha, by which time it would mean turning round, back-tracking and that goes against the grain.

It is only a short tab to the turn-off to the bothy, but does it have a shower? So the tentative plans to visit Invermallie are ditched in favour of a seven-mile yomp through the forest path that forms the Great Glen Way in this neck of the woods, to Laggan Locks. Reaching the hostel is the goal as is that recurring theme: the nice warm shower to wash away the ticks.

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The waterfall at Eas chia-aig (NN176888) but no salmon. Bottom right is the edge of the trap

There must be a name for people who collect bothies in the same way as there are names for people who climb hills: Munro baggers, Corbett collectors, Graham grabbers, Donald doers and Marilyn mounters. Call them bothy boilers; bothy bounders; bothy braggers? Maybe not. Move on?

The path through the forest along the west side of Loch Lochy is tedious and unrelenting, with only the roaring sounds of cars on the A82 on the other side of the water in Laggan Forest to add interest in the form of trying and failing to identify makes and model (by virtue of the sound of their engines – sad.)

A Spanish couple at Allt Na Faing (NN233911) say hello. She sits on a ground sheet reading a book in a 30ft by 30ft clearing in a bend by the side of the track, while he cooks on a roaring open fire. The fire has those flames that are seen in old western films and look too high and powerful and yellow to be real for a wood fire. He’ll have to give the outside of the pot a good scrub at some point – soot has covered it. These two look really chilled and in our conversation – they speak excellent English – it is clear they love Scotland. They say there is room to pitch another tent, it is a kind invitation, but to stay here would be an intrusion of their privacy. Actually that is not the reason the offer is declined, it’s my fixation with getting a hot shower and getting those ticks out of my head. Otherwise it would have been excellent to stop there.

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Mile Dorcha: green, green, green

It is and has been pine trees, pine trees, pine trees almost all the way from the end of the Mile Dorcha. Nearer the end of the forest (NN268949), heading towards Kilfinnan a walker from Germany is camped on a five-foot wide verge along the side of the trail. Great pitch spotting. It is 7pm. He is reading a book, outside his tent, cross legged while his food cooks. This young bloke’s love of Scotland – like the Spanish couple – is matched only by the fluency of his spoken English – again like the Spanish couple. He has spent three weeks walking in the north west of Scotland. He does not want to return to Germany … the job … the hum-drum. His affection for Scotland comes across in his conversation, as does his knowledge of the place. There was a clan battle, he says, near the Mile Dorcha, and also one up at Laggan Locks. The latter was the Battle of the Shirts, the former is news to me.

He – the thought of exchanging names never entered into the conversation – is walking south. Had he continued south he would have encountered a sign at a block of locked toilets that indicates there is an official wild camp site nearby. The words “official” and “wild” contradict each other. While he tells me of battles of yore in the Highlands, all he gets in return is details about a padlocked toilet. Great guy. Move on. The shower beckons.

On the road through Kilfinnan there are signs outside the houses that warn would-be car parkers not to even think about it. The route slips down past a field of sheep that have given birth or are just about to. On the map is marked a graveyard (NN279956). No headstones are visible.

The route dips onto a narrow road, away from the Great Glen Way, and then at right angles towards the canal lock. Navigating – that’s a bit strong – walking my way across to the other side of the water a chap stops to chat and tells me of a campsite down towards a telephone kiosk to the right. My route indicates that the hostel is to the left.

“There’s a couple of geysers there already.” Geysers? Hot springs? Showers? Doubtful. Anyway, who is this chap? Is he on commission – ten per cent of the pitch fees? Whatever, the conversation does not feel right, besides, the campsite does not have hot showers.

Stood outside and above The  Eagle pub, in its watery berth, the remaining walk to the Great Glen Hostel is just a short tab up the road. A pitch is booked, so feeling knackered, The Eagle sounds like a great prospect for a bite to eat despite, even after walking 24 miles, the lack of my appetite – it is a paltry appetite that shrinks to almost zero after ordering a pint of lime and soda for £4. People pay more for drinks in the south of England, but come on, £4 that is a tad on the heavy side for a lime and soda.

“It’s bottles of soda, I’m afraid,” says the lady behind the counter. “That’s why it is so expensive.”

She is smiley and Northern Irish and very welcoming.

“Fair enough.”

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The Eagle where me and the ticks landed

The first gulp of the drink and £4 no longer sounds expensive. Lime and soda is refreshing, it’s a non-alcohol version of cold dry cider on a thirsty day.  The mood inside the boat is calm, warm and inviting, but me and the ticks think the rucksack, left up top, needs company. Plus, food tastes better when eaten outdoors.

It is refreshing to sit outside on the benches above the canal boat, boots and socks removed and the left foot resting along the line of the picnic bench. People come and go, couples and foursomes disappear into the bowels of the boat. Three blokes smile and have a chat before beers beckon them in.

These people mean that waiting half an hour for the food to arrive does not feel like an eternity. Stockan’s oatcakes where are ye? There are warnings all over the shop, or ship, that the orders of the haute cuisine customers at The Eagle take preference over the pub-grub orders of the hoi polloi, but even so a wait of more than half an hour is excessive.

Stodge is best after a long day of walking, but the stodge at The Eagle, in the form of the sausage and chips with extra chips was poor, poor and poor. Cheap and nasty sausages – think Richmond sausage adverts, think smooth paste kind of stuff, think cheap – plus dry freezer-rescued chips all for £6.50. Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish and more rubbish – even when doused in sachets of ketchup and mayonnaise. The beer might have been fantastic, the “proper menu” might have been top banana, but the long-awaited bangers and chips plus lime and soda are the only items tasted and the sausage and chips are atrocious. Blood is boiling, despite an empty stomach being satiated, and a vociferous complaint is compiled in my head.

To put matters in context, Simon ‘Marcher’ and me each had a breakfast in The Crofter in Fort William that cost about £6, and that included a cup of tea. On the piping hot breakfast plate was fried eggs, bacon, sausages – yummy sausages – baked beans, fried bread, hash browns and a tomato too. That was excellent value and tasted great.

The lady from Northern Ireland who took the order and served it and was a real sweetie, climbs the stairs out of the barge.

“Everything alright?” Crap but warm food for £6.50; £4 for a lime and soda.

To cries of “wimp” echoing round my head, lived-in-the-south-too-long bloke says: “Hit the spot, thank-you.”

Bottled it! Vociferous complaint out of the window.

“Hello!”

A fellow backpacker, head down and determined, zips past on the tow path.

“Oh hello!”

He has to be TGO. But there is no time to ask because he is gone in an instant, like a whippet on speed.

Amid all the crap sausage and chips turmoil, the thought pops into my head that the north-east chap who had the familiar face was a backpacker who posted a video on YouTube about erecting an Akto tent in storm-force winds somewhere in the north east. Was it him? Was it Ben Nevis in the distance? Who knows. Move on.

The Northern Irish lady is back to clear the tables.

“Another lime and soda?”

“No thank-you, that also hit the spot.” (Hit the wallet more like).

She provides directions to the Great Glen Hostel that will mean avoiding most of the road.

“Follow the path up from here. Turn right at the wooden bridge and follow the road back on yourself for a short while. Just don’t go beyond the wooden bridge.

“Did you enjoy your food?”

That is the second time she has asked. Does she suspect a lie has been spoken.

“Just what was needed, thank-you,” says a Catholic-guilt-trip-infested chicken.
“That’s good, I’m sorry it took so long.”
A lying, lily-livered, limp, lummox replies: “Not a problem, thank-you.”

And really it was not a problem. The stodge was just what was needed but not at such a price or taste. Move on. The thought of a shower puts a spring in the step as does the thought of a bed. One phone call later and a mattress for the night is booked. The price of a phone call could have been saved with a 15-minute walk to the hostel, but maybe the fact that a phone could be used, meaning there was a signal, meant so much.

A phone call home and a whinge about the blistered left foot is met with a “well you can’t give in now. You have to keep going.” Indeed. Children, despite iPhone-this-that-and-the-other can still cut to the quick.

It is easy enough walking along the path by the loch and right before the bridge, as the lovely Northern Irish lady had said, and then down to the hostel via the road.

“There is only one other person in the dormitory,” says a very polite and efficient young Canadian chap behind the counter of the reception desk at the Great Glen Hostel. The dormitory can hold eight people, but two in the room sounds bearable with plenty of space to spread out. The receptionist says that nobody else has booked in that night and that Sundays are usually quiet anyway. Excellent.

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The Great Glen Hostel

Two bottles of cold Lucozade are added to the room bill – plenty cheaper than another lime and soda from The Eagle.

In the reception area people mill about. A few real Dutchmen and women, a German couple and another man whose accent is hard to determine.

The other person in the dormitory turns out to be the chap who had sped past The Eagle like a whippet during the crappy sausages and chips episode. He is Stan, from Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire. A Yorkshireman in the same room as a Lancastrian. Tribal warfare? Conflict? War of the roses? Get over it, this is Scotland not the bloody Pennines. Besides it is the 21st century.

“Pateley Bridge? That’s where the Backpackers’ Club held their AGM this year. Did you go?”

“No I didn’t, I am a club member, but unfortunately I was running the marathon that weekend so missed it on my home patch. It was a bit annoying. Can’t see as they will back up there again for a few years.”

Stan said THE marathon, not the Nidderdale marathon, nor the Marston Moor marathon, THE marathon. That can mean only London. Nice one.

The marathon took place on the weekend of April 24 and here Stan is three weeks later thrashing across country in the heights of Scotland. Stan is 67, has a bus pass, and is on his sixth coast to coast crossing of Scotland in the TGO and he runs marathons too. Not only does he run marathons at the age of 67, he runs them in four hours and 10 seconds. That is six and a half miles per hour. Blimey Charlie! What does this geyser eat for breakfast? There’s not a pick of fat on him.

We are either side of the dormitory in the bottom section of bunk beds. A huge wide window that separates our berths looks across the lawns of the hostel onto the A82 and beyond to the Laggan Forest where the walk continues tomorrow.

The Troookstar is opened out for a bit of an airing along with the sleeping bag.

“Do you mind if I spread mi stuff out.”

“No, no, help yourself.”

Stan is all neat and tidy and organised with none of his gear spread out.

It is shower time for me. Stan is off downstairs to make a bite to eat, having already showered. The door to our dormitory needs a good pull to close it properly. The key fits the lock and it is secure, so nobody can get in.

Being security conscious is one thing in inner city London or a crime-ridden metropolis but perhaps locking the dorm door at a quiet hostel in the Scottish Highlands is taking security too far. It is the behaviour of somebody who really has “lived in the south of England too long”, but having said that, when you consider the amount of money that backpacking equipment costs perhaps to some grubby urchin it might be worth nicking the gear to sell on. Top-grade high-spec equipment is expensive because it is lightweight, which to my mind makes it easier for a would-be thief to run off with. The voices in my head are telling me paranoia is bad for you.

Maybe equipment theft would happen at a campsite in Moss Side, Manchester, but not Laggan Locks, South Laggan. Nobody is going to come in and nab your tent and sleeping bag while you have a shower. Stan said nowt. It didn’t bother him. He just wandered off. Left his stuff. Never a second thought.

In the shower, the eagerly awaited shower, it is time for another check for ticks. Can’t see any of the blighters, but then it is not a full-on Heineken rubber man check. Must buy a mirror. The shower will not get hot, not even tepid, no matter which combination of knobs and switches are applied. There is nothing else for it. Cold shower.

Cold showers briefly take the breath away, but you get used to them after a while and they still leave you clean and it is amazing how efficient those micro towels are at drying off the skin. It takes a few wringing-outs, but the job’s a good one and the feeling of the body warming up after the cold of the water is lovely.

Back at reception, to report the cold shower, the amenable Canadian chap suggests using an alternative shower – the one that Stan tells me he has used – that will be warm for sure, because it is the one that the Canadian chap uses every morning.

Heading for shower number two there are plenty more people milling around in reception. Have they not got homes to go to?An Italian posse is mooching about.

My  “evening!” is said with a beardy grin.

“Si,” a signore in the party replies through a mustachioed smile. The laundry room is chockablock with gear, walking equipment is hanging off every available hangy thing. After washing my two wool tops and a pair of undercrackers, a smidgeon of drying space is found on a radiator, which is not hot. In fact the room is not very hot, just damp by virtue of the water swilling about on the floor of the building, which is a former dairy.

If there were ticks or anything remaining in the clothes then hopefully the hefty dose of detergent applied in the hand wash will have stuck it to ’em. Ta-ra ticks.

Wearing a down jacket, because it is the only practical top available, is piping hot. In fact too hot and it needs to be unzipped to let out some of the heat, but with nothing else being worn underneath that would make me look like the Seventies pop singer Alvin Stardust – but without the hairy chest. Perhaps an Alvin Stardust a la Brazilian.

With the clothes washed and hanging in the old dairy, and after the second shower, this time a hot one, it makes me feel that the lovely tick blighters are gone. No more of the bastards on the body beautiful after two showers. Double whammy. Cold and hot. Bad cop, good cop. Luxury – and well done to the micro towel. It is good to feel clean.

Tea is brewed and then a check is required to see how the washed wearables across the courtyard are getting on. Damn, the flamin door is bolted shut. It is just past 10pm – that is when the door is locked, as the notice in reception informs those that care to read it. Oh well, goodnight wool tops and undercrackers, sleep tight.

In the dormitory there is an important sentence to be uttered.
“Do you mind me asking; do you snore, Stan?”
“I’m as quiet as a mouse.”
Stan does not ask me about snoring.

“One other thing, do you mind if we keep the window open slightly? Just for the air.”
“Oh no, go ahead,” says Stan.
“Cheers, we’re on the first floor, so we should be safe from prowlers.”

What? Safe from prowlers. Get a grip. It’s Laggan Locks not Moss Side, for crying out loud. Stan says nowt – as he stifles his laughter.

Blinds down and window ajar, to let the air run through, it feels warm and comfortable on a mattress especially after being washed, fed and watered. It is bedtime at 10.30pm.
The bed has a duvet. There is temptation to grab the sleeping bag, unzip it and use that as the duvet, or more like a comfort blanket. The duvet is fine. Get on with it.

Stan is soon spark out, dreaming about prowlers. For me it is on with the eye blinds and ear plugs from the sleeper train, two silent northerners in slumberland. Not a cuckoo to be heard.

What happened to the oatcakes? What happened to the mystery grey-black walker and how did the Scot and the two Geordies get on? Go to sleep. The last sound heard outside is a car zooming along the A82; the last noise inside is from my throat, a reprise from the rubbish sausages.

Night Stan.

Night numpty.

Night Jim-Bob.

Night Mary-Ellen.

Night Scot and two Geordies.

Night anglers.

Night Canadian couple.

Night cuckoos.

Night sausages.

Night nurse.

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