Glencoe, Scotland. June 2018
Stop Dearg – I was so excited to see this welcoming giant
Oddly, I was in Glencoe mainly to eat fish and to climb Ben Nevis (UK’s highest mountain: 1345 ms), which my firstborn daughter had said I should do before I die; in retrospect, neither of these feature in my memory much at all.
Two factors come into play here. The less important of the two was that I got bitten (inevitably? Considering exactly who I am, I think so) by the Munro bug. But the primary distracting factor was the scenery: I was far more enchanted by the captivating landscape, and by the joy of camping out in those particular mountains than I could have ever guessed in advance. My nights in B&Bs were endured merely for the showers they offered; they were a very poor alternative to being in the real mountains in my trusty tent, munching slowly on my cud and staring out at the prolonged sunsets, and the delightfully protracted sunrises.
I particularly loved the area around the Buachailles, with Stob Dearg being my favourite. I became especially motivated to climb it when the ladies at my first B&B implied that it was too dangerous for me. That was a red rag to this “bullette”. I discussed my route in the local pub with the guy who brought me dinner, who knew all about the surrounding mountains. He told me the best route, and off I set as soon as possible next morning, having already climbed Am Bodach kind of opposite, and the other Buachaille, Etive Beag, with its Stob Dubh and Stob Coire Raineach, the day before.
Be that as it may, the Buachaille I wanted was Buachaille Etive Mor, subject of so many gorgeous photos (and, of course, I, too, had already photographed it, but I also needed to stand on top); the Stob of my quest was Stob Dearg. I suppose the ladies in the neat and tidy B&B were right, that the climb was dangerous in that it ascends steep, loose rock, but I was not the only person to ascend that day. A little doable danger adds spice to life. I am not reckless, but I do welcome a challenge, and if you don’t want me to do something, telling me it is impossible is definitely not the way to go about stopping me. I always ran my best races when someone told me I would not do well. I reached the top in mid-morning glare, which is hardly conducive to exciting photos. Next time, I need to lug my tent up and stay overnight. At least I got to surmount the challenge.
On the way up, a guy called Bruce caught me from behind, and chatted to me while we ascended together. He then politely warned me not to be too close behind given the nature of the loose stones, and went on ahead. After maybe ten minutes, I caught him back, along with two other guys who had had a head start, but who were all now resting. As they saw me approach, they set off again. I saw their route, didn’t like it, chose my own, which was not directly underneath, and climbed.
I was eating at the summit when Bruce arrived. The other two never appeared. There are millions of guys who would not talk to a mere female who had done that, but Bruce is not one of them. I have to say, it was really weird for me, talking to a guy called Bruce so soon after my own Bruce has died, but I got over it, and he was very nice. We are still friends. He ate up there too, even though it wasn’t yet time to eat, and we both photographed some more, not because the photos were going to be any good in that light, but because you’re excited to be there, so you take photos to commemorate, and then we went up the next couple of mountains together. I was going to do more, so we parted, but then I decided he was wiser than I was. The day was exceedingly hot, so I turned back and climbed back down with him. I love meeting people in the mountains. They’re my kind of people.
Stob Dearg from my tent site
If you are not Scottish (and even if you are), you will have noticed that names are long, and also hard to pronounce, as the letters actually seem to bear little relationship to what you end up saying. Many animals are also, of course, different to what I know, and many terms mean nothing to me, so that when a guy I met near the summit of one of the unpronounceable mountains told me he had seen two goyals up there (pointing), and expected me to be interested, I didn’t have a clue what I was to look for. Was this a bird? A wild animal? A military special marker of some sort commemorating a battle? Was I expected to be watchful, pleased, full of wonder …? I didn’t have any idea, so, with a confused face, asked him what a goyal was. Now he was the nonplussed one, trying to seek out a way of clarifying this. Hesitantly, he said it was, well, a female. OK, so, a female wild animal? He kind of waved his arms about, lost for words. He told me it was like me. (Ah ha, then definitely a female wild animal). Eventually, the penny dropped. There were two more girls on the mountain. I chuckled as I progressed to the summit, hoping these wild females would get the joke when I told them the story. They did. We laughed as we descended together.
I know that I struck unusual weather in Scotland, and that the fact that I actually swam is totally epic, but that is the Scotland that is now firmly implanted in my memory, and the one I wish to return to. And then there is this little matter of over 270 Munros that have not yet been climbed. Oh dear. Life is way too short.
The obligatory climb up Ben Nevis
Ah yes, Ben Nevis. Sorry, but I found it possibly the most boring mountain I have ever climbed. For a start, that was a B&B day, so I had to wait for the obligatory 8 a.m. B, thus missing the best part of the day. I didn’t get underway until about 10 a.m. One starts from near sea level, and climbs to 1345 ms, so there is the challenge. I strolled along the hugely wide dusty road, singing to keep myself occupied in this boring task, and was at the top in 2 hrs 30, having not taken a break, as breaks in such territory are not necessary. I took some photos, made friends with an American lawyer called Andrew with whom I seemed to have much in common, and strolled back down in a two-hour descent. It was a pretty good workout, but not much more. I’m glad I can tick it off the list ‘though. If I climb it again, I will go up one of the interesting narrow ridges that I eyed up. I think I’d prefer to tackle new mountains than do a repeat, however.
And soon enough, it was my final night in Scotland, and I had driven some of the way towards Edinburgh airport, as my flight next morning was frighteningly early, and I was nervous about getting there in time. I chose a town called Callander as my final resting place. I had done no research before getting there, but once I had arrived, I chose Ben A’an as the mountain I would climb after dinner as my farewell mountain. It was absolutely magic up there. I met others who’d decided to do the same; two couples had even pitched their tents to stay all night. Others, like me, had just popped up to witness sunset. We were a merry bunch of nature lovers. I was glad, however, to descend alone in the gloaming, thus able to soak myself in the mood of the evening, and in the bitter-sweet aspect of the joy of the night, yet the sorrow of leaving this place that had stamped itself in my heart.