September 2010


Day 6: Rain stopped walks. Phew!

Day 7: Again you cover your feet with plasters and leave at 8:00 for a guided walk, meeting at Lochinver. Not much time for breakfast. You take the post bus to the start of the walk along with three others – all women.

Two of the women are accomplished walkers; the other one also walks well. You manage to keep up – just. Twice, you have to take your boots off to cross streams. The little stones dig into your feet. You wonder how the others cross so easily.

Again you take some pleasure in being better at something. Two of the women, despite living in the area, come from the south of England. You can pronounce “loch” better than they can.

In the evening, you drag your other half down the road without supper. The wrong way, it appears, when you examine the map pinned to the post office.

“We didn’t find it last time,” he complains. But this time you’re more persistent. You try every possible direction and eventually you discover it: The Coigach Community Hall [with apologies for linking to a site with a spelling mistake/typo in its first line]. Fortunately the concert hasn’t started yet, because when it does start it’s really good. North Sea Gas.

A wonderful evening that nevertheless keeps you wondering what the difference between Scottish and Irish music is.

***

Can anyone tell me?

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the lyrics or a video of my favourite song which goes (roughly):

I’m looking for a job with a sky high pay
A four-day week and a two-hour day
Maybe it’s because I’m inclined that way
But I never was one to be idle

complete with actions. But I did find this:

Bowing to popular opinion, I continue with second person POV. But I reserve the right to revert to first or third or any other at my discretion. LOL

***

Only foureen-and-a-half kilometres today. The weather is good and you’re ignoring those sores on your feet. You’re also getting used to the bogs, to skirting them or jumping at the narrowest part. The river is more of a hurdle. He jumps, barely reaching the other side. You decide not to risk that, and he holds your hand while you step on a convenient stone in the middle.

You’re proud to have the upper hand when it comes to finding the way across the barbed wire fence. He tries to climb over it. You crawl underneath and he follows.

“That was our last hurdle,” he says. Maybe it was his last. You find the eighty metre climb through heather bushes very tough. And the path down to the beach is rather perilous.

The walk back from the beach is better, except for another water crossing, where sticks and stones have been positioned to assist you. From the other side, he says, “It’s harder than it looks.” You say, “It looks hard.”

You dash from the car to the restaurant. Looking out of the window, you can’t help smiling at the sight of people outside rubbing their faces. One man manages to smoke a cigarette while his face is covered with netting. Midges!

Oh dear. I’d thought I’d missed the rest of the summer by going to Britain, but today is hot and humid. Ugh! I’ll try and pretend I’m back on Day 4 … after the walk!

***

He says, “We’ll get a short walk in before the rain starts.” Actually, you were wondering whether to give your feet a rest from those boots, but seven-and-a-half kilometres – how bad can that be? You cover your sores with the plasters you had the good sense to purchase yesterday.

It’s better than yesterday’s walk. There’s an actual path to walk along, except for where you have to skirt the bogs. After an hour or so, you catch up to see him scanning the map.

He looks up. “Where are we?”

This doesn’t sound good. “What d’you mean?”

“I think we took a wrong turning.”

“Oh dear. So are we going back?”

“I think we can carry on and rejoin the path.”

You put your trust in him. A bad idea. It’s raining. The bogs are getting more numerous. And he says, “Where’s the bridge?”

From the top of a small hill, he looks back down at you. “That looks more hopeful.” When you join him, you spot the bridge. Your relief is short-lived.

A minute later, ahead as always, he says, “That looks less hopeful.” True enough, when you reach the new spot, you see a stream between you and the bridge. You walk up and down and decide there’s nothing for it. You remove your boots and socks, and clamber across the stream over slippery rocks. It’s still raining, but at least the water’s not icy.

He puts his boots on and continues without socks up to the bridge. You fear your feet would complain about that, so you walk barefoot for a little, then sit down on the wet bushes to put on socks and boots.

At the bridge, you eat a sandwich in the rain. “What are we going to do now?”

He gives one of those embarrassed laughs that say, You’re not going to like this, but. “Either we walk back along the road or we try to get back to our original walk.”

It’s another decision he’s already made. But as you head towards a point on the original walk, he looks at the map again. “Actually, this path crosses a stream – the same stream that we crossed before.”

Finally, you put your foot down. [This is where I tried to think of a pun and gave up.] “No. I’m not doing that again.”

Back you go. By the time you reach the main road, it’s raining heavily. The car is two kilometres away. Two cars approach. You stick your arm out. They wizz past. You walk back to the car in heavy rain. He drives home in light rain.

You peel off your clothes, shower, dress and go downstairs to see bright sunshine. Later, you go out to walk round the little harbour. Surely that downpour was imagined. Yet, when you return to your temporary home, the four boots in front of the fire are still soaking wet.

***

I’m thinking of reverting to first person POV for the rest. Second person is fun for a while, but then it gets tedious. What do you think?

I keep playing the song I quoted in my last post, which is here. I think it’s brilliant. I remember liking it at the time, even though I had no idea what triggered it. There was no Internet in those days. Oh well, on to day 3.

***

You know how it goes. He says, “What sort of walk do you want to do today?” You say, “Nothing too strenuous for the first day.” He says “Oh,” in a slightly mournful tone and you realise he wanted you to endorse his decision but you’ve just done the opposite.

“You’ve decided on a walk, haven’t you,” you say.

“Well, I thought we’d do the walk round the peninsular from Reiff. There’s hardly any climbing in it.”

He shows you the map. It looks long, you’re not in practice, you haven’t worn those hiking boots for a long time. You know it’s a bad idea. “All right,” you say behind a false smile. “Good,” he says behind a real one.

The flat walk, as you’d expected, isn’t really flat. It’s boggy. Each time the ground drops to a bog, you have to climb up the other side. Sometimes you have to jump across to avoid getting wet. Nineteen kilometres would have been plenty in normal terrain.

Then there’s what you’re walking on. It’s not a path. It’s more the sort of thing a guide book would call rich vegetation: long grass, areas of little bushes, anything that requires you to lift your feet higher than you would on a normal walk. This is no walk in Switzerland, where you went last year. There are no paths here; just land.

You see no one else the whole time. And he’s always well ahead of you. You like the quiet. And worry about being so isolated.

Finally civilisation appears in the form of several cars in a car park. “There’s a camping site here,” he says. “Maybe there’s a little café where we can get some tea.” You walk over to it, but there’s no little café. You walk back to the car park.

The tramp back to the car is along the road. It’s long. Towards the end, apart from the places where your feet have been getting rubbed during the whole walk, something is digging into your left foot.

But the Victorian bath in the house is delightful. It’s so long, you can lie in it fully stretched. Last time you stayed there, you didn’t have time for the bath between the children, the food, washing up and washing clothes. Now, you revel in this bit of luxury. And while you’re getting dressed and combing your hair, he makes supper. He even shares out while you sit. Luton Airport? No – paradise!

They even say, “Look into my eyes, darlin’, are you from paradise?”
Well I tell ’em don’ I. No mate – Luton Airport.

Cats UK, 1979 

We land at Luton Airport in the morning, drop off our cases and go for a nostalgic walk in Richmond Park. The park is familiar to both of us, especially to D, who grew up in Richmond. Yet we marvel at it. There’s nothing like it where we live now – no vast expanse of countryside so close to a metropolis.

Our walk ends at Kingston, where D buys a waterproof coat-in-a-bag. I advise him against the black one because it doesn’t show up in the dark, so he gets the only other colour in stock – bright yellow. He’ll definitely show up in that, although he might be mistaken for a road worker.

On the train journey there and back, between Mill Hill and Hendon stations, I keep my eyes glued to the window. I have to see the back of the house where I grew up – even in the fleeting moment as we whizz past.

The next day is uneventful. The flight to Inverness, picking up the car, driving west. Even the drive to Achiltibuie – 45 minutes from Ullapool, including 35 minutes along a single-track road – is familiar to us. We stayed in Achiltibuie ten years ago. By chance, we have booked the same house we stayed in last time, although then we had our three children with us. Even this part of my five-and-a-half week trip leads me down memory lane.

On Day 3 the fun starts. I hope you’ll come back to read about it.

…to say that I’m having a wonderful time in the old country and will try to tell you about it without boring you – starting in about two weeks.

Hang in there!