The trouble with the blue stuff, vertical walks and beautiful views – mentioned in part one of day four – is the number of times you have to stop for drawing of breath and taking of photos, in addition to the: sniffing, cocking of leg and the taking of treats, that are standard practice.
This means you keep falling even further behind the time suggested by the very fast man (who wrote our main guide book), than you would have anyway. We weren’t even doing well by the standards of the other writer, who put in margins of fast and slow. There was no way we were going to be back to my van in five hours, let alone the more optimistic four, and then we had the long drive home. Back on the hill both the huffing and the puffing, together with the taking of breaks, accelerated. B started talking to me, as a substitute human, taking issue with speedy Gonzales, over his description of Ben Vane as a little hill. If this was a little hill B said, “Perhaps we should call the whole thing off”. I really wished I could have replied because I would have pointed out that: we were ¾ of the way up a v. v. v steep mountain; it was hot, hot, hot and we hadn’t even stopped for our lunch yet. I also would have said, “B, with all this in mind, perhaps it isn’t the best time to be thinking of ditching the whole plan”. I can be a very wise dog at times. I think we must communicate through that thing called telepathy because B felt better after this and began to think of today as one for the annals, even if it was going to put both of us to the test.
Beinn Naranin and Beinn Ime hugged us to the south and east, while Ben Vorlich rising to the north, spelt out her bold contours provocatively against the blue and white sky, sending the message: I’m on the list too, you know. By this time other Munros were incidental; B was done in. She could just countenance a crawling posture to the top, but hung onto hopes of something a little more dignified on the way down. Thoughts of the long drive later were cast aside, to maximise the enjoyment that could still be taken from such a Kafka-esque position; meantime, the reverberating phrase, bitten off more than I can chew, was banished from consciousness.
The word chew held the key to resolving our current difficulties. I looked at B with the adorable look that I can summon up when thinking of food. It said, time for lunch NOW, please. There was a quick cuddle before our snack, some shut eye for me and suddenly the rest of the slog uphill (and the drive home) seemed quite manageable.
We started off with gusto, who was a welcome companion but he abandoned us fairly quickly, as soon as we came upon all those false summits. While I was doing my best to help B out, I must admit that I was feeling the strain a bit myself. Obviously I’m younger and fitter but, I’m no more in favour of sun on a thick fur coat than – let’s say – Elizabeth Taylor might be. I had managed to squeeze in a few zzzs over lunch but I was still looking forward to some more at the top. THEN, oh my dog, would you believe it? Right up at the summit, between the two cairns, was a circumference of water. Admittedly, it couldn’t be given the status of a lochan (or a Lake District tarn) but it was water, so I was straight in there forgetting my exhaustion and, spinning around, put on a face that said, Ball now, pleassse.
B always says that people who own animals are the best interpretors of non verbal communication. We can’t speak but we get our needs across loud and clear and – fair dos – most of you learn our language; though some take longer than others. Obviously, I also do a bit of writing, but then I’m of Border collie extraction.
If I ever needed proof that B does love me, I had it that day. Despite the ongoing ankle nipping situation, and her current horizontal position – she still extricated my ball from the rucksack and threw it for me a few times; oh, what joy. After that, I thought it only fair to do my bit in return. I posed very elegantly at the two summit cairns (though I say so myself), even popping an ear up to see if I could pick up some good vibes, to share, on my radar. This is a skill I reserve for very special occasions, as I normally like to wear my ears close to my head.
It was such a shame that the immaculate blue wasn’t sustained. Our views from the top were wonderful but perhaps, a touch short of the magnificence that earlier skies had promised. B didn’t care a jot; she had put another Munro in the bag and the next couple of hours were all DOWNHILL. We looked across to Ben Lomond. It was somewhat of a baby Munro, topping the qualifying height by just 125 feet, but still – ranking 184 in height – having the edge on 98 others. Ben Lomond was another iconic mountain, standing sentient among lesser fellows around it, on the eastern shores of Loch Lomond; it was billed as our last Munro because – lying furthest south – we might attract some friends and family to do it with us (this is my first indication to the Cousins family, in Pennymoor, that they need to be thinking if Tink could manage this, on a cat lead, and putting in the necessary training). Ben Lomond is rated as a four star Munro, by readers of the website B often goes to for support, http://www.walkhighlands.com
By contrast, Ben Vane, B’s most difficult climb to date, is the runt of the litter, coming in at a mere 3019 feet. Walk Highlands readers rate this as a 3.5 star Munro. I rates it as my bestest Munro, because it is the highest place in the world where I have ever played ball.
Not surprisingly, going back down was quicker than flogging uphill. On the way we spotted a young man, who looked worn out. He had sat down for a rest and had his head in his hands. B, thinking of her great age and her recent conquest of another Munro, felt vilified. But, after arriving at his perch and engaging in conversation, we heard that the young man had already nipped up Ben Vorlich, which had only taken a few hours; therefore, he thought he would ‘bag’ Ben Vane too. B’s vilification dissolved on the spot but, further questions about the wisdom of this project, were held in abeyance, pending a safe journey home.
There endeth the account of my Munro adventure in 2016. I’ve got 15 of them under my belt, or in my bag (neither of which I possess), and I can’t wait till next year, or can I?
All that this winter holds for me is:
lovely coal fires
short walks with my friend Amber
resting up on the sofa
treats without terror (on the ridges), and
the odd morning cuddle on our lovely big bed
Lots of love,