Friends, collies, homeless dogs,
Morning broke over the mountains with a choral symphony of birds serenading the new day.
Or so we presumed!
Me, and the person breathing next to me, were deep into zzzs, making up for the long hours of twisting and turning during our first night away in my van this year. Though the hour of 5.30am had been witnessed, through a clink in an eyelid, it was quickly obliterated by just one flicker. Thoughts of an early start to beat the pulsating sun, took a back seat in favour of – in my case – more dog dreams.
Finally, an hour later, we prised ourselves from slumber and, at 7am, were confidently able to predict a return of no earlier than 3pm; my person always being at the upper limit of the estimated walking times for any route. Of course, I could have done a quick run around the circuit in much less that half the time but… what sort of buddy would that have made me? So instead, I trundled along, taking in the views and musing over the fate of my cousins on the continent, as Brexit negotiations nudged toward something not very conclusive at all.
The early part of our walk followed the Allt Ur, a flat walk in, as we Munroists say. Therefore, a steep climb was a near certainty when we made for the hill. Along the way we past the ruins of Tom na Grobh farm, broadcasting the story of how difficult it was to sustain a living from farming in these parts. While B was waxing lyrical about the families who would have made their home within the sturdy walls, my grey matter was elsewhere, pondering on the nutritional make up of the pets diets, if there would have been a comfortable mat in front of the lovely roaring fire and, what about the soft furnishings. We’d only left my van an hour ago and already our conversation (for we do converse) had covered: geography, history, economics, architecture and internal design. Next came a more technical discussion about how to cross a river when the bridge is down. There was much exchanged about the rocks: how flat, how big, how much above/below the water line, how covered (with moss, with lichen), how near was the next one, how big/flat… Honestly, I don’t know why we bother. I wade across anyway and B always gets a dunking half way across. Today was no different.
Next we ventured south on pathless terrain looking for an underpass crossing the West Highland railway line, the sight of which, my person says, makes the heart beat faster. Once on the other side we picked up one of those paths that goes up, up, up, in this case beside the Allt Coire an Lochain. Meantime, the sun had taken it’s hat off and things were warming up considerably. Walking up hill with my person and warming up goes alongside a musical accompaniment comprised of two notes. Those of you who have followed my Munro adventure will know them all too well, the inevitable huffing and puffing. As a new departure this year, and in response to scare stories on social media, I seemed to be subject to the liquid form of force feeding, water being thrust upon me every few seconds. As I spluttered up hill v. v. v big hills were manifesting their presence.
On reaching the ridge a welcome breeze gathered strength, ruffling my fur and making the remainder of the climb more comfortable. Glistening in the sun were stubborn pockets of snow that remained in crevices on east facing slopes, sparkling with memories of the hard winter just past.
The going was easier now and, before you could say Vogue magazine, there I was – the centre of attention – beside one of those piles of old stones that mark the summit and our achievement that I remember so well from our past Munro frolics.
The view across Rannoch Moor, that flat expanse of hinterland, always bleak, always shrouded in fog – swamp like and pitted with pools of dank water the size of lochans – was, in the summer of 2018, transformed. The moor simmered in the heat, with water an unrecognisable shade of blue and outstanding visibility stretching north, picking out the magnificent hulk of the highest mountain of them all, just topped by cloud, – my namesake “The Ben”, alias Ben Nevis, boasting an ascent of 4,413 feet from sea level.
Looking west our path dipped down and then slunk along the flank of Meall Buidhe, arriving at the foot of Beinn Achaladair at the start of – those most formidable of descriptions – a “very steep climb”. Such geographical challenges changed the musical intonation from the bi-ped crawling beside me and the rhythm became fast and furious. Eventually, six hours into our walk, we flopped down next to another pile of old stones, notching the number 49 on our Munro bag.
I had been looking forward to a bit more peace on the descent so I could truly absorb the blessing of being among these magnificent hills; no such luck for The Ben. If huffing and puffing were the order of the day when walking up hill then oohing and aahing notated the score on the way down. Climbing, age and joints, it appears, are words that don’t hang easily together. The jolt given to B’s Knees, on the descent, made for a discordant orchestration owing more to Schoenberg than Mozart. Nevertheless, the beauty of the scenery descending Coire Daingean won out. How could we be anything but smug, winding our way down, with the conquests for our first day completed, and that first milestone of our Munro bagging – number 50 – beckoning tomorrow.
First I need to get my beauty sleep to prepare for the paparazzi 🙂