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Jam Side Down
Traveling the West Highland Way by William Kerr
Chapter 6


Wednesday 05.45am

“Johnny”

“Johnny”

“Johnny” James shouts in loud whispers for the third time. We are all wakened.

“Whit is it” annoyance is showing in Johnnys voice, coming from his sleeping state.

“Do you have any fifty pence piecies for the metre”

“Ah asked you last night if you needed any” Johnny sounds a wee bit angry as he shouts his reply at James and not in whispers.

“Ah thought a had some, but ah huvny” James replies in a whisper.

“Here, in ma wallet, take whit yi need” There is no change in Johnnys` tone as I hear the wallet hitting off the wall of the wigwam, or did it hit James?

James takes the change he is looking for and closes the wigwam door as he leaves, our home is now very cold.

Ah don`t believe it. I can only think of Johnnys last words at lights out last night. Its almost six o`clock and I am up and probably the rest of the house as well. The top of my sleeping bag is soaking wet, well what am I supposed to think, surely not. I touch the walls of the wigwam and notice that they are very wet as well, all around, top to bottom. No this is not what I am thinking, no man can do this much damage with his bladder, not without wakening up everyone around him . Is it possible to have a burst pipe in one of these, no, there is no running water, except down the walls at this time. Was there a door open, a window open. My head is busting. The one morning I was not expecting a headache from a hangover is the only morning I wake up with a throbing pain in my head. I feel dry, parched, my throat is sore, my tounge seems to be filling my mouth. I need to get out of here.I get up, crawling past Johnny and George who are still lying in their bags and grunting as I climb over them. I open the door and crawl out, noticing the single ring gas stove is still burning away, still warming the kennel.

 Entering the communal kitchen in my stocking soles I see James is busy making breakfast. He asks how I am doing and and I give him all my symptoms. He says he felt the same way and had to get up and out of the wigwam. I remind myself that he also got the whole house up. I take a drink of water and a few more. My tounge soaks it up and in no time I have feeling back in mouth. The head is still soar, so I go to the van and  get paracetimol from the first aid kit. I feel guilty taking these when they are not supporting a hangover.

My first port of call is the shower block after downing the two pain killers with more water. I go via the van again for my toiletries bag and a change of clothes, including socks for that promised shower after last nights efforts. I shouldn`t have any issues this morning with the hot water, as myself and James seems to be the only people awake in Tyndrum not alone the campsite. Going into the shower block I notice the goods train taking the high track out of Tyndrum heading north towards Fort William. The noise it makes climbing up the slow incline would waken the dead and I  think that the racket it makes will certainly waken those who have not yet been wakened by James already, as metal grinds against metal supported by the struggles of its diesel engine.

The shower feels good, hot water at last warming me against the cold for the first time since Ardlui twenty four hours earlier. I am feeling a bit apprehensive about todays walk but keen to get started as soon as we can so I can get it over and done with. I know the demon today is the climb out of Bridge of Orchy. The weather didn`t look too bad, although the cloud had returned it was high and the air did not feel cold as I thought it would have after last nights clear skies. I think I will start off in my shorts this morning and keep off the waterproofs for as long as it stays dry. It will certainly be a lot more comfertable than walking todays distance in long trousers. 

The kitchen was busy. As I thought the train had wakened the Coatbridge boys and they joined us lot in the kitchen, well the two wee guys anyway. They told us that it was the giant taking a fit that had wakened them and that they have called a doctor and are waiting on him now, as well as the giants father. They assured us that he was alright and concious and was talking to them, so the vital signs where showing ok, I think shouldn`t one of you not be with him? This no doubt has brought the walk to an end for the big guy as the two wee guys have decided to bus it to Kinlochleven, have a rest day and  finish the walk from Kinlochleven to Fort William tomorrow. Like us they are doing the walk for charity, for cancer research after the loss of a family member spurrned them into doing it. With this in mind they know they have a responsibility to do the walk and finish it. They leave us in hurry after we have given them sufficient toast and tea, not forgetting rations for their sick companion as well.

Our own breakfast is full and hearty to say the least. A plate of Frosties followed by ham, eggs and toast with a big mug of tea. After the bad start this morning the sore head is gone and I am feeling fine. The other guys have also said that they too are not feeling up to par and describing the same symptoms as myself and what James had mentioned earlier. Kenny`s theory is that this may be down to us all sleeping in such a confined space with no air flow and a gas stove burning all night. We are in agreement and this would explain why the tops of all our sleeping bags where wet as well as water running down the walls, no fresh air getting to us and constantly breathing in our own CO2 ommissions. For the record, I studied one science at High School, chemistry was a `D` at `O` Grade, so not a bad conclusion without a Biologist in sight.

Johnny and Kenny head off to the shower leaving myself George and James to get tided up and arrange to break camp. Again I think that although the wigwam was small it was effective and turned out to be not a bad experience. If we had left the window open slightly to ventilate the place to avoid the headaches this morning it would have been a lot better but a lesson has been learned and it certainly beats camping and well worth the extra four pounds a head to avoid putting up and taking down a tent.

Johnny and Kenny return and the last thing we have to do prior to leaving the camp is arrange our back packs. As the only place that the Sherpas can meet us today is only six miles up the way, leaving us another fourteen miles to our own means we arrange to meet them at the six mile marker, Bridge of Orchy. So for the first part of the walk  all I load into the bag is two bottles of water, my water proofs, bonnet, the first aid kit and a re-filled hip flask. George says he will get a packed lunch ready for us and give it to us when we get to the meeting point, the car park just before the Bridge of Orchy hotel. As we move off Johnny reminds both James and George to keep their phones with them at all times and to have them switched on, unlike yesterday. They both look at him as if they are being spoken too like kids from a disciplining father. The hippies are out and todays toast is made.

“Absent friends, sore feet, sore legs”

We get on our way and wave to the Sherpas as they start collecting the sleeping bags from the wigwam as well as the two wee Coatbridge boys who have took the time to come out and bid us fairwell. Coatbridge people are really good people. Us Airdrie folk tend to give them some stick now and again as they do us but we are all the same, no difference. Having been schooled in the burgh as was my Mother and worked in it I have got to know it well as I have a few friends also from the `Tims Town`, I cannot be too hard on them. There is a lot worse places than Coatbridge and not many better people, just the ones a mile to the east.

Things are looking quite promising. We are all walking with a skip in our feet and no pain, well from me anyway. The weather seems fine, not cold at all, just crisp. We join the walk at the edge of the campsite and follow it up through Tyndrums main street. Its only later that I realise that this in fact was the wrong way. We should have turned left on leaving the campsite and not straight ahead to the main Street. However it did not shorten the route by any distance and we joined the WHW proper at the edge of the village. As we approach the pub we were in last night, I hear as do the others the call from behind.

“Wullie” its James “Wullie” he shouts again waving us to come back as he runs towards us.

“Whits he wantin, and running all the way from the campsite up to here, he is going to take a heart attack” Johhny says

“Well guys he can run up to us, rule one applies, no turning back” I add

James continues to run towards us and I realise that this is wrong. James does not keep the best of health and under no circumstances should he be running. Sometimes I think he shouldn`t even be walking when I play golf with him.

“Now what was the last thing I said to them both, use your phones. We are a half mile from the site and James wants to run after us, I don`t believe it”. Johnny adds.

For the first time we decide to break rule one, only for James Stewart, no one else. As we walk back we can hear his shouts clearer.

“Where is the key to the wigwam” Johnny imeadiately shouts back and tells James to to tell George to look in his pockets as he has it, he opened the door last night.

“No Wullie opened it”

“No Wullie didn`t” I shout back. “Wullie wasn`t there yesterday when you both got the key”

We tell James to head back and decide to call George on the mobile phone.

Johnny tells him to look in his own pockets and George informs him that he has already found it (in his pocket). Well once again for the third time in sixteen hours Johnny reminds George that he  has a phone and to use it, and also to remind James to use his also as it might avoid a potential heart attack. We are now walking again, heading north just a wee bit anoyed about the hundred yard detour south we have just taken, not to worry we are on our way and just short of twenty miles to go.

We cross the main road and join the way at the end of the village passing Tyndrums famous Green Welly shop, anything from beans to midge repellent can be found in one of Scotland’s most famous stores. Walking towards Clifton, Tyndrums near neighbour we start to follow the West Highland Railway that will be with us almost all the way to Bridge of Orchy. It climbs on the long straight line of the old military road along the side of the corbet Meall Buidhe (Lucky Hill) and onto her big sister Beinn Odhar. At this point we here the horn of the van and we look around to see James and George overtaking us on the A82 road up to our left. We give them a wave and know that they will be in Bridge of Orchy about an hour and a half before we arrive.

The way is very good to us today as the walking surface is not hard on the feet, the weather is dry and all around us we have spectacular scenery.  In all my travels to the northwest I have never felt really in the highlands until I have left Tyndrum. Seeing the spectacular Beinn Dorain always makes me feel that I have arrived. It looks majestic, what a real Munroe should like. It is your typical textbook looking mountain. Give any kid a pencil and piece of paper and ask them to draw a mountain and I am sure all of them will draw something that resembles Beinn Dorain (Beinn Dobhrain, Otter Mountain). I must be getting good at this walking or is it the easy walking surface and no big climbs so far.

 After four full days I feel like a walker this morning and I think I am actually walking like one for the first time. No street walkers here, just good hard hill walking movements the full body walking in sequence, hands moving in tandem with my legs, and not placed in my pockets, shoulders straight and head up. I am sure we are doing at least four miles an hour that means we will reach Bridge of Orchy by nine thirty at the latest. This is one of the few times since we have started the walk that we can get the chance to see what is going on around us over such a long distance and I must say the views are absolutely spectacular. If I can achieve one thing today that would be to stick with Johnny and Kenny all the way and not have them waiting for me at anytime. I know this will be a problem coming out of Bridge of Orchy and the climb up and over Mam Carraigh. We are walking three abreast and commanding this road as if it is ours. There is no sign of anyone on the way in front of us; just as well as no one is going to take it off us and we can see for a good two to three miles ahead. All they walkers in the pub last night are probably still tucked up in bed.

As we head down towards the bottom of Auch Gleann and the almost Pyramid like Beinn Dorain, we cross the Allt Chonoghlais at Auch by bridge and the dogs in the near by house find us interesting and sound as if they want to have us for breakfast if they could get the chance.

“They sound vicious, ah hope they don’t get oot at us” Johnny remarks showing concern about the barking dogs.

“They’re no scary dogs,” I brag. ”Scary dogs are Calderbank dogs, especially Fir View dogs” I proceeded to tell them of my many frightening experiences walking down that street. Being savaged almost by Jackie Queen and Jackie Rankin. We then discuss this phenomenon; I think it is a Calderbank thing, as I have never come across it before. In Calderbank, dogs where always talked about using their full name, and I don’t mean their Kennel Club name either. This being their first name and surnames together in the one breath. Whisky, my own dog would always be known as Whisky Kerr. Now its not that there was another dog in the village called Whisky and we only had one dog, but as I have mentioned in Fir View there was two dogs named Jackie, so surnames where a must here. If this was not the case there would have been many a dog wrongly blamed for misdemeanors committed. Our dogs even had relations from different breads, as their bloodline did not count but the bloodline of the owner. There was never any full pedigrees to be seen, they where all from the HJ Heinz kennels, 57 varieties. Now occasionally adjectives would be added to the name and always used too, such as Suicidal Rover Reilly and Bonkers Bruno Brown.

At Auch to our right the horseshoe viaduct stands in grandeur, running for 180 degrees around the base of Beinn Odhar (coloured mountain), Auch Gleann and Beinn Dorain. The Fort William to Glasgow commuter train travels south towards Tyndrum and again I think of Friday and our return journey to Glasgow, it doesn’t seem so far away now.

 We keep with the old military road, taking a slight left turn just above the river and across the shallow burns that feed Allt Chonoghlais (Kinglass) following the base of Beinn Dorain with the railway above us on our right. The walk so far has been very good, certainly the best surface we have had since leaving Balmaha on Sunday. The weather has also been very kind and I do believe that we can get through the morning anyway without the waterproofs.

Behind us as we walk three abreast the accent is familiar.

“My I thought that was `Free` young guys the way you guys are moving along there”

We look around and are met with our first companion of the day. An Essex man doing the WHW for his sixtieth birthday has invited himself to join us for this part of the journey. He tells us he has been wild camping and arrived in Glasgow in Sunday morning off the overnight bus from London and started the walk straight away. He spent his first night at Balmaha and his second night at Beinglas and last night at Tyndrum. What we see is lock stock and barrel. Other than the clothes he is wearing he has a small rucksack on his back, looks more like a school bag than all his worldly possessions at this time. He goes on to tell us all he has done in the past forty-five years of his life and what he intends to do over the coming year in celebration of reaching this milestone of sixty years. Now I have my own theory as to why this guy is doing this walk and its not celebrating a birthday.

By the time we get to Bridge of Orchy, having had Essex man with us for an eternity I am sure I can feel blood pouring out of my ears. This guy does not shut up. He is out here walking because he is not allowed to speak in the house, I’m telling you, I am sure that is the true reason. For someone to talk so much without a breath he must have been curtailed elsewhere. I bet he has a wife at home who is the same, worse even, and this is the only time he gets to talk, when she is not there. She goes everywhere with him so to get a chance to talk himself he says he is away to the remotest place in Western Europe knowing that she will never go with him. I say to him it would be a great surprise if his wife were waiting for him, just off the train at Bridge of Orchy. In all honesty he wasn’t a bad block, worked all his days after leaving the army as a chemist, with the Bank of England, now working with under privileged kids in London. Sounds as if he has led an interesting life and intends to carry it on. Of course Johnny had to ask him if got access to the dyes and printing plates and the fact he did not answer the question had me believe that what he told us was the truth.

I think to myself that could be me in fifteen years time. I hope not. I really cannot see the point in doing something like this yourself, where is the fun in that. Who are you going to have a bit of craic with, who are you going to have a laugh and a few beers with. I am lead to believe that drinking yourself is the first step to alcoholism, no fun in that. Although it must be an experience to savour, sitting at the top of a mountain on your own, no one near you, just you the earth and the sky. Now that would be a great experience but not all the time, not everyday for seven days in the trot. Surely the great things in life are for sharing, not for keeping to oneself. Walking through this Glen its self is something to be shared and I am glad I have friends with me to share all that we have seen and done, even if it’s just to confirm to the non-believers. 

 We enter Bridge of Orchy at the train station crossing the line by an underpass. We leave Essex man who wants to look at the restaurant and Bunkhouse that was once the train station now converted to better use to support the walkers, as ticket offices and station masters are no longer required on the West Highland Railway. Having offered him the chance of some hot soup that our Sherpas will have ready for us he thanks us but declines. Wishing him well we leave him and walk down from the train station towards the car park just off the A82 before we reach the hotel we notice the van.

Bridge of Orchy sits at the top of Glen Orchy a fine walk or drive as the road runs alongside the River Orchy. The village takes its name from the bridge over the river it literally sits on, the River Orchy. The bridge was built as part of the military road network in 1715. It is a reputed salmon river and also supported by other river sports such as canoeing and white water rafting. The village consists of a hotel, train station and a few dwellings. It is also a favourite stop for Munroe baggers as the Breadalbanes are to the east and Lorn Mountains to the west.

As we arrive at the car park I notice that the cooker is set up with a pot of soup warming on it. I have made my mind up that I will only have a quick drink of coffee and leave immediately and try and get some distance between myself, Kenny and Johnny. If I can get to the top of Mam Carraigh before them I know that I will not hinder them in any way today. It would be nice if I would be sitting waiting on them for a change.

There is a choice, soup or coffee, or booth. I give the soup a bye. A quick cup of coffee will do me fine I think as the big breakfast this morning is still lying in my stomach. I ask George if he managed to make up any sandwiches, and was pleased to be handed a packed lunch including the fun size mars bars, it must be official the Tunnocks Caramel Wafers must be finished, or less these two are holding out on us. Johnny and Kenny opt for the soup first and the coffee to follow.

I tell the guys as I fling the dregs of the coffee to the ground that I am getting on my way so I can get a bit of ground between myself and them or height in this case on the way up this hill staring us in the face. Mam Carraigh is a climb up to around twelve hundred feet. Its not gradual but quite steep so I would expect this to be the toughest climb yet and the good news is I am up for it, no longer afraid. It is one of the foothills of the larger Lorn range that borders Argyll and the Highlands regions of Scotland stretching from the A82 across Rannoch Moor to the sea Loch, Loch Linnhe in the west. I am very conscious of holding Kenny and Johnny back, slowing them down. They have walked at a faster pace than myself all week and it is not my intention to be a burden on them and have them change their walking pace to accommodate me. Although this morning I have kept up the pace, the fastest we have managed so far this week about four mile an hour at a guess.

I don’t know if it is a look of worry or shock on Kenny’s face when I mention that my intention is to walk on ahead of them. Maybe it’s a look of `well if the heart attack comes we will find him`. I walk on leaving the guys to finish their tea break saying to George to keep in touch and let us know how he gets on at the Doctors tomorrow. Walking away from the car park I get the oddest feeling as no one says anything, not a thing, not even a `We will see you at the top` or a `Take care`, nothing, strange to say the least. Maybe they are thinking that this is my way of dealing with the demon climbs, do these bits on my own. Maybe they do believe I am better on my own. Or they are just to polite to say, `Aye get ahead as much as you can so you don’t slow us down`.

I take a mental note of the bunkhouse behind the shed, for the next time. The next time, aye that sounds good. Having not completed the walk for the first time I would consider taking notes for the second time inappropriate, well I suppose it would be OK to do it for the second attempt. Now that is a defeatist attitude and is one that I will not allow myself to tolerate.

I really cannot be trusted to do this on my own. Having walked all of three hundred yards and just over the `Bridge of Orchy` I cannot find the way. I have three choices. The road to the right along the river, up the hill to the right or up the hill to the left. I don’t believe it, the first time I go on my own I cannot see the Thistle logo to show me the way. Looking at the map I rule out the road as this takes me around Mam Carraigh to Inveroran, the old Glencoe road, and I know I must go up the way. The road to the left is sign posted that logging work is in progress and the track is very much man made to allow access for large machines or transporters. I choose the middle road. Why am I thinking of the Wizard of Oz at this time. As I walk towards my chosen track I notice the Thistle logo and cannot believe how I managed to miss it, talking about not seeing the trees for the woods. I think my self-lucky that Johnny and Kenny were not here to see my embarrassment.

From the start of the climb I feel it heavy on the back of my legs. Walking alone feels quite good and I reconsider my earlier thoughts about the Essex man, although I don’t think I could do this on my own all the way, too bloody scared. Not that this is a terrifying experience walking up here all by yourself, far from it but I would say that anyone doing it by themselves would feel a little bit of dismay. Not even a murmur of wind can be heard or felt due to the cover of pine. All is silent. I know I will see a reindeer and there will be no one here to confirm the sighting. It will probably be a giant of a beast as well, the biggest reindeer in the world a giant stag, a true Monarch of the Glens. I hope not as I will probably shit myself and run all the way back down this hill, or up for that matter depending on what direction the beast decides to attack me from. I am beginning to get quite paranoid here convincing myself that something will happen. I start to look for some rocks, just in case I need to defend myself.

I am feeling quite breathless, but not as bad as earlier and easier climbs such as Craigie Fort on the second day. This must be good for me as I feel I am coping a lot better now than what I did at the early stages of the walk. I take a breather; it is a great feeling standing here all alone. I could be on the moon, a million miles from nowhere, the quietness itself is amazing. If I had to describe it, all I could do is leave a blank page and ask you to lift it to your ear, now close your eyes, can you hear the page, no it says nothing, just blocking out all the other sounds. Looking straight up I see a mist sitting above me, light and gliding along, transparent, ghost like. I can see through it to the heavier gray cloud above it, I am going up there today, I can practically touch it. I feel it on my face and running through my hands, moist, not damp, it feels good.

No time to be sentimental, I carry on, pacing myself. I am not racing anyone; the only thing to beat today is this hill and its not going anywhere. I have time on my hands; well enough time until the two greyhounds come chasing after me up this hill at my back, I am sure they will not be far away now. There are no views from where I am, just the Pine and me. Nothing to see here, so move along now.

I am only about twenty minutes on my own and my moment is spoiled.

“The bastards still livin` Kenny, there he is”

My Utopian moment is ruined. I turn around and see Johnny and Kenny battering up this hill at a fair rate of knots.

“Whits keeping you, Ah thought you would have been sittin` at the top wi` yir hippy oot”

“No, to many moments to savor” I answer.

The two of them sweep passed me, practically knocking me down. Well they are at their pace, I can only hope that they do slow down and this climb knackers them to the extent that they can walk at my pace. I follow behind, strolling along and I am glad to see the two of them stopping for a breather, again I take poll position allowing them the time to get their breath back and have a swig of water. I make a point of swigging from my hippy on the way past,

“Take your time boys, we have all week to do this” as I raise my flask to them.

Again we all move on and upward, out of the pine I see our goal. As we reach the top I notice the cairn and Kenny walks us towards it. As I reach the final ten feet from the top my eye line takes me over the near horizon on the ridge of Mam Carraigh (monument hill) and all Gods glory lies in front of me. The view over Loch Tulla up to Rannoch Moor is spectacular. To the north lies one of Scotlands jewels, Rannoch Moor with a heavy weight-supporting cast of Stob Ghabhar (Goats Peak), Buachaille Eitive Mor and Black Mount. The colours are numerous, greens of every shade, browns, greys, blues and orange, like a giant patchwork spread before us the pine forest, mountain, Loch water and moor entwined together. Where do my eyes go first, so much to tempt them? Inveroran and Black Mount Lodge are Lego like, lost in this great expanse at the bottom of Loch Tulla and the mighty Moor.

Johnny and Kenny gather a rock each and place it onto the cairn, Kenny gives me a look of wonder as I take my rock out of my pocket, with the` why is he carrying rocks in his pocket` look on his face. Another photo opportunity arises, first myself and Johnny take a Sir Edmund Hillary pose at the top of today’s Everest, shaking hands, all that is missing is the Saltire to place at the cairns top. Then Kenny and Johnny assume an identical position. We all take some pictures of the view itself. Johnny is sending them home immediately to his daughter. Its times like this that I would love to have a photo phone, I would send everyone I know a picture of this and ask them `what have you done today`. We sit quiet, just for a short time, saying nothing; we could not discuss this beauty between us. Kenny takes his hip flask out and we express our feelings as best as we know;

“Alba Gu Brath, slanj” – “Scotland for ever, cheers”.

We start to head back down now towards the Inveroran hotel, this is the bit I like best, going down hills to use the vernacular `are a dawdle`, no problems keeping up with the greyhounds now. I realise we are making really good time. Its not ten thirty yet so that rules out a pint at Inveroran as it wont be open yet, so onwards and upwards, Kings House here we come. Before we reach the hotel the rain starts. That cloud I said I was going to climb into has now fell on top of us. Its not too bad though, very bearable. I stop to put on my waterproofs and in no time we are on our way again as Johnny and Kenny are already `water-proofed up`.

At the foot of the hill we walk on the road surface of the old Glencoe Road that we crossed at Bridge of Orchy and passed the Inveroran Hotel. William Woodsworth and his sister, who described it as a `Jewel in the Desert frequented the hotel, but not today as the pub is not open yet. The old road took us up towards Victoria Bridge where after we turned right at the wild camping site for the straight and long ascent to the top of Rannoch Moor. At Forest Lodge we climb the stile after reading the information board that informed us of the work Telford, the Scottish engineer had done in designing and building these Parliamentary Roads, to serve the purpose of opening up the Western Highlands for economical reasons culminating in the `Clearances`.

This road from Forest Lodge to Kings House was the only direct root between these two points up until 1933, being a major part of the main road north to south and Scotland’s industrious central belt. It was a surface that I did not care for at all, probably the hardest on the feet yet. It was basically a drover’s road, but wide, with pointed cobbles. Where ever possible we would walk off this surface on the dirt path that was now being ground out alongside it.

The drizzle is coming and going. Someone up there is not sure what to do with the rain today. Will I soak them, will I not, turn it on, turn it off. We carry on pass Black Mount Lodge and the pine plantation to its north and stop at the plantations end on the bridge over Allt Doire nan Each (Stream of the Horse-grove). What was a rest break turned out to be an early lunch. Looking back towards Forest Lodge Kenny notices Essex man coming at our rear. Johnny calls for an extended tea break to allow our newfound friend the opportunity to get passed us. We can only give up so much blood in the one-day he says. As good golfers do we decide to declare slow play and let the `two ball through`.

 In no time at all he is with us and immediately starts to tell us everything he has done since leaving us at Bridge of Orchy inviting himself to sit down beside us while opening a bar of chocolate. Now we are not getting a chance here. I feel like putting up booth hands and surrendering now. I think of Rob Roy’s cave on Loch Lomond and why couldn’t we have saw him coming there, we could have hid out of his way. Maybe he is a modern day one man Highland clearance.

“Right gentleman”, Prime Minister Tony Blair tells his cabinet, there is still some of those Gale people up there in they Scottish hill things, let us send up Essex man and finish the job for good, get them all out of there`

I look around and all I can see that is handy to do the dirty deed is trees, the bridge is not high enough to jump off, I will have to climb a tree. The things you see when you don’t have a gun. The restaurant was closed at the train station, the staff were very unhelpful at the hotel because they wouldn’t serve him lunch at ten o’clock and he had missed breakfast as that finished at nine thirty and the chef wasn’t back until eleven. It’s really pretty sad that McDonalds have not built an outlet here in the middle of Rannoch Moor.

I notice a group of walkers heading up to us again from Forest Lodge. I think we will need traffic cops soon to manage the situation of too many walkers at the one time, or the murder squad to investigate a murder that is about to take place, or a mass suicide.

“Oh it’s the lads from the karate group” Essex man proceeds to tell us that what is walking at a running pace towards us is the British Karate team, doing the WHW over three days for charity. Well I think we will let these guys get past us and we’d better not make any comments to them. As Mr. Meagie and Daniel son race past followed by Hong Kong Fuey and Kane we wish them well, and only wish that if we could walk at that pace we could avoid blood rushing out of our ears. It was the guys with the accents who were all talking in shouts last night in the pub, well four of them anyway.

He is still at it but now asking us questions as well. What’s your worst part of the walk? What was your best? Done it before? Do it again?

“What do you do for a living?” he asks, now getting personal,

“I worked in a factory that made three piece suites,” Johnny tells him

“Still there” he asks

“No, I worked the machine that upholstered the chairs and couches, and I had to give it up”

“What happened” he is now being a nosey bastard.

 “Ah fell into the machine that upholstered the chairs,” Johnny explains.

“Oh my, that sounds nasty” Essex man shows in a concerned voice” Everything alright now”

“Och aye, I was fully re-covered at the time”

The water I had just placed in my mouth was spurted out like a major release valve coming into play as I realised Johnny’s joke. Coughing and spluttering I had to make excuses to our Essex friend as he told Johnny that he was pleased that he had a full recovery, Kenny now had his head between his knees biting his tongue.

“Nasty business that falling into an upholstery machine.”

“As I said ah was fully recovered no problem” second chance at the punch line and still no response.

We decide to get our act together and move along. In doing this Essex man jumps to his feet, thanks us again for the company and walks off, “Bye now and take care” he says walking away. We wish him well and wonder if the penny had just dropped and realised that we never asked him where he was stopping tonight so as we can avoid it like the plague.

The track climbs steadily towards its first summit on the moor where the way crosses the Argyll / Highland border heading to Ba Bridge. Here again we take the time to use the camera, as the views from the bridge are superb as the river runs out beneath us down into the Lochs and Lochans ahead lying on the moor. The walk at this part was very enjoyable by far the best part so far. The only issue was the walking surface. Mr. Telfords roads may have been ideal for the carriages of the day but they are certainly hard on my feet and I would say the same for Johnny and Kenny as they have the same tactic as me and walk on the dirt path that has been tread by previous walkers at the side of Telfords road. All around me is a vast empty space, just the occasional clump of forestation breaks up the vast brown shaded moor and the grey still Lochs and Lochans dwarfed by Blackmount - the mountains of Stob Gabhar, Stob a Choire Odhair (Peak of the Dun Kettle), Beinn Toag (Taogs` Mountain at a guess!), Clach Leathad (Rock Slope) and sitting tallest above us Meall a Bhuiridh (Hill of the Bellowing) and its snow topped peak, only moor, mountains and water. The long flat bog and moorland seem to run for miles to the east until they arrive at the feet of the Grampians.

Once again I would say that this is the most spectacular view so far, I will find it hard to call what really is the best. I new once we started this walk towards Loch Lomond that I would probably see better, more spectacular views than what we had seen there. But today we have been blown away; everywhere we have walked has been better than where we were before. First walking through Auch and along the base of Ben Dorian, then the views from Mam Carraigh and now this. Standing alone on Rannoch Moor. I remember a thought from days past, look back, take the time to see where you have come from and don’t always keep your eyes to the front. It is absolutely magnificent to say the least. I am so glad I took the time to turn around and see where we have come from. Never in my life have I ever experienced the sight of such beauty, magnificence. Rugged, rough, wild, bleak, dreich, isolated, it is all of these and all at once. Its brown, black, grey, yellow, blue, purple, green, I see them all, this is surely Gods pallet.

Kenny walks on leaving Johnny and me standing and staring that little bit longer. I ask Johnny if he had heard the story of God creating the earth. I could tell from the look on his face that he thought he was in for another one of those catholic stories. I proceeded to tell him that God on the seventh day called his Archangel Michael to come and see what he had been doing all week. He says,

“Look Michael, see what I have created, it will be known as perfect balance and I will call it Earth”.

“What do you mean Lord?” Michael asks.

“Look he said, I have provided water and that is balanced by land. I have provided desert and the people who live there will fight famine. I have provided lush green land and the people who live there will be well nourished. I have built mountains and balanced that with massive plains. Where there is cold I have balanced that with heat. I have created rich men and balanced that with poor men, I have created war torn lands and peaceful lands, I have created man and balanced that with woman”.

“It is surely a magnificent sight Lord” Michael says, “But what is that great light, that Diamond that shines so bright”

“That Michael is my special daughter, I will care for her, love her as my own. I have given her people water, plenty of that. I have given them food in abundance; I have given them summer and winter both to enjoy. I have given them all I can and I will call her Alba (Al-a-pa), Scotland and her own sons and daughters will be revered wherever they go. A land of great scholars, engineers, entrepreneurs, writers, poets and philanthropists”.

 “But Lord, why give them it all, where is their famine, their wars, I don’t see the balance you talk about.”

“Look at what I have given them as neighbours”  

From Ba Bridge the way continues its` long gradual climb, past the remains of Ba Cottage where the parliamentary road has a junction with a track that leads up to a ridge that follows us and meets us again before Blackrock Cottages at the White Corries. I am thinking at this time that maybe we could do more than twenty miles today. I look at my map and think it will certainly be possible to walk on by Kings House to Altnafeadh, just another two miles, leaving us only six miles to do tomorrow while facing the biggest demon of the walk, the Devils Staircase. I feel as if I could walk all the way to Fort William today. It really has not been difficult at all and a part of the walk that could certainly be done as a one off in a day and enjoyed on its own. It is only two thirty in the afternoon meaning we should get to Kings House by three thirty as we only have about three miles to go. We had told James that we would not be at Kings House until five o’clock today but obviously the good track and only the one hard climb has ensured a quick finish to today’s walk. We could certainly do an extra two miles. This could give us an hour and a half in the pub and have James pick us up at Altnafeadh. I will not share this thought with Kenny and Johnny until we get Kings House incase they have other plans themselves.

As we reach the highest ridge on the moor at the base of Meall a Bhuirdh and before we have the long shallow decent to Kings House, Johnny’s phone rings. This signifies that he has had a few missed calls, as we were well out of range of all civilised forms of communications today it is only now that our phones are picking up a signal. He sees by the message left on the phone that George and James have been trying to contact him, my phone and then Kenny’s phone does the same about one minute later with the same missed calls. It is a sad state of affairs when such modern technology wastes the tranquility that surrounds us; it really spoils the moment by bringing us back to the present.  But the reality is they are a good tool to have in the bag when something goes wrong. Johnny gives James and George a call to see how things are and if they got to Kinlochleven all right and secured our lodgings for the night.

They tell him that they are still not in Glasgow and will not be back in Motherwell to drop George off and pick up Peter until around three thirty. This would mean that James and Peter would not be back up to Kings House until about six thirty. I couldn’t help but notice the smile on Johnny’s face when he told James to take his time as this would mean that we could all spend a good few hours, at least us three anyway, in the bar of The Kings House Hotel before they both get back here to pick us up.

So much for plan `B` and marching on to Altnafeadh. I was OK with this as there isn’t really any difference doing six miles or eight tomorrow after walking twenty today. Anyway I think a few celebratory halves are called for today after completing our longest walk of the week.

The way joins the tar Mac road from the main trunk road up to the Glencoe Ski Centre car park opposite Blackrock Cottage. From Blackrock the way swings downhill over the moor where we meet once again the A82. As we approach the road again its there. No it’s not the reindeer. In a large puddle twenty feet away lies Buckfast bottle number two. Now I know that this is not the Coatbridge two as we left them at Tyndrum waiting for a doctor for the giant. Unless they have got off the bus here from their planned trip to Kinlochleven and walked the rest of the way to their destination by the WHW. Feeling guilty albeit about giving up so much of the walk. All will be revealed tonight if we meet them.

“Do you know Johnny, I have seen more Buckfast bottles now than I have reindeer” I point out to both my comrades.

“Wullie, you’re no going to see any reindeer, how often have we got to tell you, you don’t get reindeer here, they are only found in the artic circle” Kenny seems a bit annoyed.

“ No, I don’t believe that!” I protest. “I bet you can get reindeer in this country”

“Aye at some zoo or animal park”

“What about Christmas Eve, you get reindeer then” beat that smarty.

“Aye but you still don’t see them, do you” Touché Kenny.

“Ah don’t think there is any difference between reindeer and red deer anyway,” I point out.

“Och aye there is, a big, big difference,” Johnny informs us all

“And what’s that? I ask

“Red deer cannae fly”

I give in, if Park hits us with one more reindeer joke I am sure I will have to take a life. Is there a crime for murdering comedians? Jokeacide! 

We cross the A82, allowing the long string of traffic to pass before it is safe to do so. On the opposite end of the trunk road we rejoin the drover’s road down to Kings House. Again there is a shallow decline down to the hotel. Now for some reason all of a sudden my legs are extremely soar at the shins and heavy at the thighs. I don’t know what can cause this. Is it the change of surface from tar to rough track brought this on, as Kenny is supporting the same symptoms as myself but we are only on a tar surface for about four hundred yards, maybe half a mile? Johnny seems fine but this last mile seems like hell on earth as I really struggle. I’m feeling as if all of a sudden I have some sort of crippling disease as the pain in the legs slows us down to a crawl. Strange to say the least. Myself and Kenny struggle on, knowing that a pint of Guinness awaits us, true substance for weary legs.

The Kings House Hotel is just off the A82 Trunk road, just before the entrance to Glen Coe. It also claims to be one of Scotland's oldest licensed inns having been built in the 1600's as a Drover's Inn. Its present name came from it being used as a barracks by government (British) troops in 1745 after the Battle of Culloden when the majority of Scottish clans under the leadership of Bonnie Prince Charlie were defeated. It's not a village, like so many markers on our map it is just a few outbuildings grouped around the 22 bed roomed hotel, which has a drying room and laundry for residents use only and not for the wild campers. It is also reputed to be one of the most haunted buildings in the country as is the moor itself.

The WHW is a favourite location for film makers in Scotland, especially from the middle of Rannoch Moor up to the mouth of Glen Coe, Braveheart, Rob Roy and Harry Potter to name but a few. My own favourite being Trainspotting and I am looking forward to the train stopping at the site of the Rannoch Moor scenes on the way home. If you have seen any of these movies you may well feel part of what I am saying about it and what this place brings to the world, but it`s a lot more than theatrical beauty, something very special indeed. Spielberg could never do this justice, unless you have stood here, on the spots that we have stood today, then and only then will the true feelings hit you. To feel its winds, to breath its air, to touch it, listen to it, feel it and smell it is for you and only you, no one can take it from you, there is nothing manufactured, produced or directed here, try it. A place to waken the inanimate and stagnant, It has woken me.

We walk to the back of the hotel, it seems that is what walkers do, look for the tradesmans entrance. Our instincts were right and we enter the `Climbers Bar`. It certainly did what it said on the sign. It was a bar and decorated out to welcome climbers. The walls were covered with allsorts of climbing equipment along with pictures of climbers in action and some of the more difficult climbs in the Glencoe area. It wasn`t very busy. There were three tourists, all elderly, one male and two females, senior citizens as deduced by their wrinkly dress and appearance along with five walkers, three guys and a young couple. We had to climb over three backpacks that I assumed where the guys as one apologised for leaving them in the middle of the floor.” No problem” I answered him.

We take off everything we possibly could, with the exception of socks, shorts and T shirts I thought the others in the bar were waiting for us to go all the way, another scarry thought. The tourists give us a `Do they think they own the bloody place` look on their faces. They are definitely not of this parish and none within two hundred miles either.  They look so cosy sitting there,by the door, the two `senior` females in their summer wollens and open toe shoes, I can guess that they are passing through, only the females stare, the male avoids us as if we don`t exist but knowing the other two will fully inform him of all that is happening once they get back into the sanctuary of their own car.  I shout to the bar maid;

“ Two pints of Guiness, two Islay malts, one with ice, a Lager and Vodka and Coke, and three plates of soup, in that order when you have the time thanks”

“Coming right up” she replied

The tourists give us even more dirty looks as we all walk into the loo in stocking soles. We are not going to eat with our toes. I  want to tell them this but think better of it and consider I have done my bit for the tourist industry today. On returning the pints and shorts are sitting on the bar and we all carry our own back to the seats nearest the bar. We toast each other and at seeing this one of the three guys starts asking where we have come from and where we intend to finish for the day.

“Done enough for the day, no more, there is definitely blisters there now” Kenny informs us all.

“Ah ken the feeling and we`ve stull anither eight miles to do ken” the tammy informs us.

Now I call this guy the tammy as this, along with his Brown Doc Martin boots with yellow laces is the only walking attire he has on. He must be an extra from “A Clockwork Orange”, aye, I have seen it all now walking the WHW in your Cromby coat. Only someone from Edinburgh. His two pals however looked the part so maybe the `Tammy` is on a free weekend pass from one of the capitals many less desireable institutions, I`m just a bit dissapointed he has not got an orange silk hankie sticking out his top pocket. I can hazard a guess due to his dress sense that he is also a `Jambo` so that would also rule out any conversation regarding football so we will try and keep all the chat to talking about walking.  

 The three of them are all  young guys about mid twenties who started off this morning from Bridge of Orchy and intend to carry on to Kinlochleven to finish off the day. Maybe the two in sensible gear are doing a `Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme` and part of that is bringing along someone with lesser abilities than yourself i.e. `The Tammy`.  We inform them that we are also going to Kinlochleven but we will be traveling by van and get brought back here again tomorrow morning to continue the walk as there is no way we fancy camping outside in the middle of Rannoch Moor tonight.

Johnny offers to take their three bags in the van as they are camping at the Blackwater  water hostel where we are staying also. As the van was coming back from Motherwell practically empty so we can all get in the back, there should also be room for three more bags. They seemed pleased at the offer as two miles down the road from here they will have to climb the Devils Staircase. We swap mobile numbers incase of emergencies, you never know we may or they may also run in to difficulties and don`t make Kinlochleven.

The young couple now join in the conversation and like a band of brothers we all discuss what we have done so far shareing our experiencies and expectations. This is something that is very evident in walking the way. You are never invited into anyones company, but are expected to accept them as well as join them, complete strangers without invitation as part and parcel of the walk. The Corleone Boys, The Coatbridge Three, Essex man, The Edinburgh three and now the two young and innocents. The tourists don`t seem amused, they are not playing along. The young and innocents are telling us of their experience at Keilator Farm with the path. All the talk of cows shit is putting the tourists off their Fish teas. The boyfreind tells us it took them an hour and a half to get by this point as the girlfreind refused to walk through the shit sodden path and he had to eventually lift her for the forty yards over that part of the way, she got a bit of stick for that as she also said if the cows were there she would have turned and went home.

“Aye mans work this walking no room for women” Johnny flings his cap into the ring. The young girl takes the bait and starts a rant about how she has done this, got this far and men she knows have failed packing it in before now. The actions of the fly fisherman casting his line from Johnny makes her realise that she has risen to the bait and grabbed the fly.

“That’s no fair” she says smiling” All you guys gangin` up on me”. Don`t go there Johnny, please don`t go there. 

The young lassie did however come up in all our esteem when she told us that the two of them had decided to camp at Kings House tonight, better man than me I said. We gave her a bit of stick about ghosts and wild beasts but Johnny assured her the only wild beast she will have to worry about is her boyfreind. I am sure one day he will not get away with it.

The tourists left after the dominant male payed the bill at the bar and we all made a point of saying cheerio and wishing them a safe and happy journey. With a nodding head only the potentate acknowledged us and left the bar. It would have been all one if they were on their way to the funeral of a dearly departed loved one I thought.”Have a happy journey” the tammy said, it must be an east coast thing. Shortly after that we said cheerio to the Edinburgh three who I can now say are definitely not Duke of Edinburgh Award candidates, a good bunch of guys by the looks of it. Johnny told them that we will be at Kings House by seven thirty at the latest  and that will give us plenty of time to rifle through their bags and try on all their clothes.

“No they`re the wrong sex for that Johnny, and its no Saturday night” I add.

“You should all be able to run it now that we are carrying your backpacks” Kenny taunts them.

“Ah can hardly walk it” the Tammy replies

“You can get a lift we us, it will only cost you the price of a taxi”

“Na, that`s less beer the nite ken, al suffer”

“Good man” 

The talk continues with the young couple with the Devils Staircase now being the main topic of conversation once again. I don`t know if Kenny is trying to make me feel good but he is now insisting that, that part of the walk is not as bad as people make it out to be. It could be `I am King of the World` talk through the drink as we have now had a few. We move the conversation on and decide to arrange a we wind up on our President who is about to arrive at anytime now soliciting the help of the young lady and her boyfreind.

The bar door opens and we all turn around;

“Hail to the President” Johnny shouts.

“Bless all in this pub, especially those with blistered feet” Peter has arrived. It is good to see El Presidente. Not many folk would walk into a strange bar and bless everyone with the sign of the cross in the West of Scotland. We all have a laugh and the young couple join in, good they are not offended as some people may be. They have already fell into the script and ignored us saying nothing. Straight to the bar he goes, wanting to buy us all drink;

“By the way, I have a forty ouncer of whisky and a forty ouncer of vodka for you in the van” he tells us.

“Did you know bring anything for Wullie then” Kenny asks.

“James Stuart says you don`t deserve anymore drink as you have done in two forty ouncers already”

“Aye that’s just the two he knows about it” Kenny adds

“It would have been a lot more too Kenny if some daft bastard didn`t keep drappin the carry oots”

“Ah got yous another wan” James pleads the case for his defence.

Peter gets the beers in and I am now feeling a bit full. We have been sitting in here for over two and half hours and I need to slow down a bit as the thought of the Devils Staircase tomorrow is a bit daunting to say the least. The plan was to have Thursday as a short day, after Wednesdays(todays) long `twenty mile`r`. So hopefully it wont be too bad, not a long day by no means, hopefully done and dusted in three hours.

“Excuse me” the young lassie touches Peter on the shoulder. “Ah hope you don`t mind me asking, but are you Peter Smith”

“Aye”, Peter actually looks a wee bit embaressed as he obviously dosen`t recognise the young lassies face,or is that panic!

“Are you Peter Smith the Irish dancer” she presses.

“Aye” Intrepidation is now glowing from him, instant recognition.

“Ah danced against you, do you no know ma man there, he wiz a dancer too”

“No ah don`t recognise the face, who did you dance for”

“St Rochs Coaltas (Comhaltas), you’re a Brittish champion aren`t ye”

“Aye”

“We danced against you at Birmingham when you won the all Brittish”

“Oh youre going back about fifteen years now, I didn`t think you where that old”

“Ah wiz only fourteen, dancing for the seniors” Good I think she got out of that one perfectly.

We are all sitting deadly quiet, listening to every word. Myself and Peter in years gone past where Irish Set Dancers. Part of different groups of eight people doing this type of traditional celidh type dancing as members of the local Cohaltahas Ceoltori Eirrean branch. They swapped questions of do you know this one, do you know that one, where is so and so now? The young lassie remembers her lines like a real pro and without any direction she carries out the part worthy of an oscar nommine.

“Do you know remember Wullie (he points at me), him and his wife danced against us that day as well”

“Aye a dae but a don’t know his name, all a remember aboot his set is they should have won that day, ah thought they danced brilliant”.

A loud roar of appreciation goes up from us four and the young guy. I cannot help but laugh at the look on the Presidents face.

“Yous bastards are winding me up, int  yies”

“Wait to a tell everybody, gie me a phone to a phone Liz and Bernie, its now official we should have won that day, ah always said that”

“Youv`e never beat me boy at anything, remember that, a house full of second prizes”

“Not true, Scottish champion here, runner up there” I point at Peter.

“Luck, pure luck, nothing else we were saving ourselves for the big one, the All Britain finals” the President is now gloating.

“That’s something to brag about Kenny ae!, how many dancing medals have you got” Johnny enquires

“All ma medals were for Football Johhny, Scottish school boy championship medal I`ve got” Kenny informs us all.

“Och we`ve all got fit`ba medals” I add

“Hey listen to first reserve for the Protestants” Peter fires across my bow.

“No it was the cubs Peter” Kenny informs him.

“No it was the cubs and the protestants, he could nae get a game with the school team and because the public school hadn`t enough boys to make a full team they used to gie him a game for them to make up the numbers, well that was until Sandra Brody came along and then they dropped him for a lassie”

I put both hands in the air;

“ I surrender, no more”

“No surrender Wullie, no surrender” Johnny takes the opportunity to shout up the orange mans cry, not in support of me.

“Hey, that’s enough of that talk” Peter chastises Johnny.

“Whit you wanted to have been there when we were playing at flute bands walking along Loch Lomond, Kenny flinging his stick and Wullie playing his flute”

“They two will do anything to get a sing song going” Peter points out “It will all change now, we will be singing hyms from now on boy, and we will have you converted before you go home”.

“No chance Pedro, these two bastards have been trying to get me to sing Celtic songs all week, but us Teddy Bears are made of sterner stuff, not like all you bead rattlers”

Peter again is wanting to fling more drink into us and a bit of a rabble now follows as four grown men start to fall out with each other as they try and buy one and other even more drink.James sits by with a grin that says, drunk men, who would have them. Peter wins, he is feeling a bit miffed because we wont take any dig money off him for the hostel at Kinlochleven. This has already been paid in advance by George and James from the kitty money earlier today when they dropped off all the bags. Peter insists that he should be paying his way even if it is through the bar and buying the carry out. We let him this one time and accept another beer and half, it is breaking our hearts and we tell Peter this.

“Aye, ah believe yies too” Peter answers “Yies wid drink it through a shitey cloot”

“Come on Peter yir putting us aff whir swally” Johnny points out.

“ Put yies aff, ah wid need to sew up yir mouths to put yies aff, pointless sowing up yir pockets as that’s already happened”.

We enjoy a few more beers and are only stirred when we realise the time, its ten past seven. Having told the Edinburgh three that we would be at the hostel in Kinlochleven for half past seven we thought it better to move now or the chances are we could quite easily be persuaded to stay here for the night. Gathering our gear together we say cheerio to the young couple and not taking the time to put on our walking clothes other than our hats and boots and not tieing the laces. We are spooned out of the pub and myself Johnny and Kenny are litteraly flung into the back of the van.

“Home James and don`t spare the horses”

It actually felt quite good in the back of the van, lying on the floor I felt quite tired and if it wasn`t for Johnny and Kenny talking nonsense between themselves about the football and Peter adding in his tuppence worth I would have closed my eyes there and then and fell asleep. But this wasn`t going to happen;

“Haw wake up, there is no sleeping allowed” Johnny hands me a half in a paper cup, quite a big half, more of a house half, having sought out the carry out from one of the bags. I don`t know if I can keep this up.

“Slanj”

For about the fourth time today again we toast ourselves and welcome the President officially onboard. As I lay on the van floor I look up through the vans back windows and notice that it is turning out another fine night and wonder if we will be lucky enough to get two big skies in a row tonight. James informs us that as a special treat we will be getting Fish suppers tonight as it is getting too late to be making anything in the hostels kitchen. Sounds good I think, substanance at last, it has only taken us five nights to get a decent evening meal and tonight I could eat the proverbal`scabby horse` the hunger pains in my stomach remind me how hungry I am at the thought of the food.

“WULLIE” Kenny screams at me. “LOOK REINDEER”

I scramble to my knees, spilling my whisky in the process over my bare legs (bastard).

“Where” I scramble and press my nose against the window, there is nothing to be seen. The bastards are winding me up.

“Aye `hunti-goot`  boys” I say.

“No, am telling you, there was a full heard” Kenny says and he was backed up by James and his shotgun Peter.

As we entered Glencoe the heard was grazing to our left just before the van turned downhill into the gorge, I had missed them. Bastard.

“Right the morrow I`m shotgun ok”! I make it clear that I have claimed that seat beside the driver. If they are still in the glen in the morning I am going to see them. Reindeer indeed, you don`t even get them in this country.

We follow the A82 to Glencoe Village turning off the main trunk and follow the minor B863 along the banks of Loch Leven to the small town of Kinlochleven and tonights bed in the Blackwater Hostel. It dawns on me that there has not been any song for the day come in from Tom Sinclair. I think that he has been to busy at work and forgot his task for the week, surely he hasn`t forgoten about us already. I get the phone out and fire off a text;

Wheres the song? Now singing hyms.

On arrival at the hostel we litteraly crawl out of the van, Peter having to give me a helping hand as the legs have now seized up after lying straight for the last twenty minutes. I do a few stretching exercises as I hit the ground and in no time all is in working order once again. The phone rings, it’s the Tammy wondering where we are. I tell him entering the hostel kitchen as he turns around and sees us entering the room. The phones are switched off.

“Ah fought fur a meanute yis wirrny comin ken” the Tammy informs us.

We hand them their back packs and they thank us again and quickly leave us to get their tent errected. As the kitchen is quite full we decide to retire to one of the rooms. We are given a few funny looks so I think retiral to our own environ would be wise. It must be the `Jakie` look we have about us at this time. Our image is surely dented or not helped in anyway as Peter stands in the middle of the kitchen with around twenty other hostel guests all probably foreign. With a bottle of whisky in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other with stretched out arms he clutches the bottle necks with his thumbs holding down both corks. He resembles a whisky terrorist, ready to pull out the pins of the fuiled laden bottles of alchohol and pour the deadly swally amongst the terrified tourists; he asks, practically demanding,

“Anybody want a half” as he lifts both incendiaries above his head. Silence….I could hear the tumble weed blowing by.

“Oh well please yirself” he responds to their reticence by leaving the room. How to make new friends?

 We all follow suit and James shows us the way to our rooms having placed all our bags in their earlier today when he came to pay and secure the rooms with George.

“Wullie you should have took that daft hat aff before yi went in there” Johnny says    ”Did you know see the funny looks they whir gien yi”

“Given me funny looks ! Take us as they find us Johnny boy, nothing to be ashamed of here” I respond

“Well just remember and don`t start any sing songs then” was Peters advice.

 “Bastard”

James and Johnny are shareing while myself and Kenny are with Peter. Johnny announces that we are in the Presidential suite and then sticks his head into his room and imeadiately calls for a get together in ours and to bring the swally.

All our wet outer clothes are removed and hung throughout the room. There is no mention of a drying room or as the case maybe no one is really bothered. We are sitting once again as a group discussing todays walk and what is to be expected tomorrow. Johnny tells Peter that tomorrow is a “Wee easy day, only eight miles”. I hope he is right as I  think of my number one demon the Devils Staircase. I have come this far, only twenty three miles to go, nothing is going to stop me now. We are all feeling really chuffed with ourselves. We have completed the longest single day, twenty miles in all and Peter has joined us also and already started to brighten the place up a bit, but I tell him its no his patter that is doing it, it’s the two forty ouncers he brought with him and he can go home in the morning once the carry out is finished.

Peter informs us all that he is wanting to walk and is not here just for the fun and games but wants to contribute to the walk as well. This now sounds a good idea as Peter can take over from where George left off meaning that four started the walk and hopefully four will finish. We all think this is great idea as another one walking will certainly add another view as well as having someone else to talk too and contribute to keeping the morale up when required. I hope Peter realises what he is letting himself in for. I do believe that most people, like myself prior to starting the walk think that this is some sort of stroll  in the country, far from it I know now. I hope Peter isn`t being as naïve as I was and turns out getting into some sort of difficulity. I remind him that he is at a funny age and should maybe think of getting the bus to Fort William if his reason for walking is not wanting to spend time alone with James.

“No way, I am walking” he says.

“Ye can keep an eye on James incase he draps anymore carry outs” Johnny adds.

We all laugh; James smiles seeing the funny side of our comments knowing we are all `rippen the proverbial piss` now. As we are no longer dependant on anyone to put up tents there is no reason why Peter cannot join us. James is more than capable of carrying out all the other Sherpa duties himself, although I do agree with Johnny that he should be supervised when going to buy the carry outs, we cannot take anymore chances.

James asks if he we would like our fish suppers now and offers to go for them. The concensus is no as we can get them when we go out to the pub saving him any bother. This prompts us all to get a move on as it is almost nine o`clock  I say it is too dangerous sitting here drinking and we need to get out, get fed and have a bit of a break from the swally.

“That’s enough of that talk, we`re on our hoildays noo, they`ll be no breaks from the swally” Johnny chastises me.

“Here, here” Kenny supports the motion.

“Shower a drunkards” Peter gets his tuppence worth in and James agrees, once again casting up to us all what we have actually drunk this week and also getting on to Peter for bringing more drink to the table, again we cast up to him what he has actually dropped so far this week.

In no time we are ready. There is no showers tonight, just a change of  clothes and I also change my footwear. The other walking shoes are called for to give myself a break from the boots. We head out of the hostel into the now darkness of Kinlochleven, across the bridge past the Ice Factor towards the pub all following our Sherpa who has become our Akaela for this part of the walk. Another good point about having a Sherpa is he is also in charge of reconnaissance. I  get the phone out and call home, Bernie is not in, only Susan. I ask her how is everyone doing and she tells me that her mum is away up to visit her Aunty Liz, Peters wife. I tell her to let her mum know that all is OK and we are going out now for fish suppers and I will call back tomorrow night. I ask her about her visit to Lochgilphead but she is more interested in knowing if I really had seen her on the bus at Loch Lomond. I remind her once again what everyone with her was wearing and what they where doing, she does believe me, I am sure of it as she says goodbye.

 James had sussed out two pubs earlier today and was taking us to the Tailrace Inn as this was across the road from the chip shop. The more I think of the fish supper the more my belly rumbles. The only substance today since breakfast was the Sherpas packed lunch and the plate of soup at the King House hotel. I could now eat a `scabby deid-it-wain`, as we say in our parts.

As we cross over the bridge we are approached by two females, about twenty five and wrapped up for the winter along with a male in the same attire. All walkers by the look of it. I cannot get a good look at the dames faces as they are well wrapped up with heavy hoods covering the top of their heads in the darkness and poor street lighting. Their rain jackets look as if they could have belonged to a much bigger sister or brother as it hit their kness with rolled up sleeves. Maybe they will grow into them.

“Can…..mmm ahhhh..pub” blondie one asks as she pulls off her hood showing off her blonde shoulder length hair.

“Pour aller le bar.. au…..pub” she tries again.

Obviously foreign, French to be precise and they have managed to pick up the key words in our lanquage.

“Di yi no speak Inglish hen” Johnny enquires.

“Johnny you don`t speak Inglish” Peter points out.

“Are you looking for the pub” Kenny asks

Peter and James look on in amazement. The two dames look confused with the ` why deed I ask theise numpties` look on their faces. I don’t know if Peter and James are mismerised by the blondes beauty or is it the look of disbelief as three drunk men are now trying to converse in a foreign tounge on a dimly lit and dark street in a deserted Kinlochleven. The tourists are baffled or is it fear. It may well be as we growl our drunken tounge at them, once again we manage to scare the hell out of visitors to these shores. I think, what is it that is wrong with us. I notice the look of intrepidation on the foreign males face but the two dames actually seem ok, not scared in the manner that we are going to murder them but scared that we may not be able to tell them where the pub is. I see them warming to us, maybe they are used to hanging about with weird looking older men who they cannot converse with, they seem `repos ! and quite at home talking to us. That’s it they are geriatric nurses, geriatric French nurses to be precise. Oo La la.

“Parlez vous Francais”

We all understand that.

“Petit” says Kenny, lying bass, I`ve heard his attempts in France, Quatre the au lait sil vous plait is his limit and these two lassies are no serving up tea.

“Non” says Johnny, now if these dames where from Larkhall or `The Gow` we wouldn`t have any problem as Johnny being a South Lanarkshire man could deal with that situation `nae bother at aw`.

Peter is not making any attempt while James starts to point in the direction of the pub. Now Larkhall ladies with speaking and hearing difficulties they are not, so Makaton is not called for.

“Over there hen” he says, pointing in the general direction of the pub.

 Our madameoiselle is totally baffled. I need to take control here. If Kenny can be the Italian speaker in residence then I can surely be the French speaker in residence. Having studied second year french for two years and having holidayed in France for the past eleven I consider myself a bit of a Francophile.

“Vous etes Francaise” I ask the blondes also gathering the attention of the male

“Oui” blonde number one answers. I am taking aback with her immeadiate reply as this is probably the first time in my life I have been answered while asking a question in French.

“Je suis Ecossais” I inform her to make her feel safe, talking to an ancient ally, a partner in the`Auld Alliance` should make them all feel safe knowing that they are not talking to the Sassenach enemy.

“Bon” she answers, we have a smile on her face.

“Enchante,mademoiselle. Bienvenue a l` Eccosse”

“Merci,” blondie one and two are responding while Jean Pierre stands in the background studying the means of escape.Maybe he is an enemy spy not wanting to open his mouth incase he gives the game away. 

“La pub est la, mademoiselle” I point in the direction that James had done earlier. They all turn around and notice the well lit sign fifty yards away.

“Ah merci beaucoup” I am given a smile and the dames and their guy walk off. We now follow them, well walk alongside them as it is also our intention to get to the pub as well but only after the chippy of course.

 “Eccosse, c`est beau, oui, vous plais” I ask our new friends. I now realise that I am doing an Essex man, what he had done to us I am now doing to the French. It must be an  unconscious means of trying to be accepted. After all I have been traveling to France for eleven years now and all of a sudden I have got one french person who can understand me, like Essex man I have the opportunity to talk and everyone is too nice to tell me to shut up. It’s a walking thing I remember my self, no need to be invited.

“Oui, j`adore il fait beau” “merci” Blondie one answers, its that accent that does it for me, maybe that’s what Essex man was thinking as well, scarry thought.

“Pour combien de jours en Kinlochleven”

“Wan maybe two, deux jours” Great she even speaks English with Scottish accent.

“Quel beau temps, oui, vous aimez?” I ask her.

“Very bad” she responds and I have to agree with her after all we have been through this week.

We leave our new friends and cross the road as we approach the chip shop. As the pub is in sight, straight across from the chippy the French three carry on towards that.

“Au revoir” I say

“Au revoir, Et merci”

“De rein” I feel good, not bad for a drunken Scotsman I think.

“Do yi think their `Free French`” Kenny asks, I laugh being the only one on his wave length as no one else does. Joke at 30000ft I say to him.

“I`ll put it down to the quantities of alchohol consumed” Kenny says.

“You can talk a pile a shit Kerr so yi can” Peter passes on his observation. That lassie was just been nice to you, you know. She didn`t want to offend yi”

“Whit dae yi mean” I ask

“Well we canne understand yi not alone a couple of lassies from France”

“Well consider Ah wis talking in French yir no gonnae un`erstaun me”

“French, yir French is as good as yir Irish dancing”

Again I am cut to the bone.

“You know how to scar a mans heart Smith” I point out to him

“Ah don`t believe it” Kenny has the sound of disgust in his voice.”The chip shops closed”

“Oops” says James.

Now there is two very big windows in this chip shop. One says `Fish and Chip Shop` and the other has a hand written sign taped to the window;

Chip Shop closes At
9.00pm tonight

“Now James, how did you no see that sign there the day when you wir doin your recky” asks Johnny

“Ah bloody choc`late watch comes to mind” says Peter “Ah don`t believe it” shaken his head as well as washing his hands all at once.

“Well the sign says closed, so you better believe it” James points out” The sign isnae telling any lies”

“Did you know see it the day James”

“It wisnae there the day” he tells us.

“Oh well not to worry “Kenny says “We should get something to eat in the pub here, look its actually a hotel”

Now that sounds even better. We all carry on across the road given James pelters for not seeing the sign earlier as he gave as much back defending the point that the sign must be recently put up.

“Just put up, look at it, it looks as if it has been up in that window for the past five years”.

As we enter the pub who is standing blocking the door way but the Tammy and his two Edinburgh buddies and they are all eating fish suppers. This just adds fuel to James fire as we have obviously just missed the chippy. A couple of minutes earlier and we would be all standing here eating warm Fish suppers. We discuss our problem with the Edinburgh three and without hesitation they all stop eating and give us what is left in their bags. Now this is definitely generousity of the highest degree. I will take everything back now this very moment about what I have ever said about the good burghers of Edinburgh,  the not so wise men who came from the east.

Without any hesitation we swarmed the remnants of chip pokes. In a frenzy we had a clean sweep in a matter of seconds. Like vultures attacking a dead carcas,pirhana stripping the fish to the bone as if it had been dipped in acid not a piece of meat was left, the very bones where licked.

“Ken, did you guys ever think o takin up strippin wall paper for a livin” as he holds up the bare paper with not a scrap of food to be found on its spotless edges like a matador he waves it from side to side checking that not a drop was spared.

We all couldn`t thank the guys enough. We carried on inside leaving them outside probably wondering about what they had just witnessed and checking that they still had ten fingers each. You see to everyone east of Harthill in central Scotland, everyone who lives west of Harthill is known as a`weedgie` ie a Glaswegian. I can just imagine what they are thinking right now about us greedy weedgie bastards. Its great when another town takes up the responsibility of your own misgivings.

The bar of The Tailrace Inn is trying to look trendy, trendy for the highlands anyway. I think it resembles a middle class lounge rather than a local boozer, trying to be something else and failing misserably. We all sit down and again Peter takes charge and automatically goes to the bar, not asking anyone what they want but assuming we will drink what he orders. He is always right of course because it never changes, Two whiskies, one with ice, one vodka and coke, two pints of guinness, a pint of lager, a lager shandy for himself and a coke for James. James supports him in this task as he is holding the kitty. On returning from the bar James tells us that all they can muster up in the way of food at this time, nine fifteen pm to be precise is sandwiches. We all say “Aye, anything will do”, scabby headed wains and all that.   

“Hows yous doin there”

Johnny spots the now Coatbridge two and they immeadiately come over and join us. We are all interested in how they got here as well as what happened to the giant. It turns out the big boy has had a bit of a stomach upset and they are putting it down to drinking too much water from the burns, more like drinking too much booze from Buckfast bottles. One of the guys said as they had all been drinking from the same sources so they couldn`t agree with the doctors diagnossis but hadn`t the heart to tell the doc about the amount of alchohol that they had consumed since starting the walk on Saturday, what the ears don`t hear the heart want grieve over. I would agree with them there. He was taken home by his father along with a prescription from the doctor and instructions to have further tests done at the hospital. The other two had done what they had said and got the bus up to Kinlochleven and plan to finish the walk tomorrow. So there goes the theory regarding the second empty Buckfast bottle.

I point out to the two of them that there is a couple of French birds sitting at the bar looking for some Scottish hospitallity, but they do have a chaperone with them. They inform us all that hurdles such as that have never stopped them before and that they might just stay another day here and finish the walk on Friday now that they have a true purpose to be here. As they head for the south of France we wish them well and Kenny says that he won`t be seeing them tomorrow night on our return to Kinlochleven  as they will be in Fort William. Taking up the gauntlet they walk away in search of the French challenge.

James returns with a plate of sandwiches, then another one, and another and they kept on coming untill there was eight. With eight sandwiches on each plate with side salad we had a grand total of sixty four piecies. This worked out about two for everybody in the bar. We were getting the `wid you look at they greedy bastards` look off of everyone in the place. 

“Whits going on here” Kenny asks.

“Yies wanted sandwiches so ah got yies sandwiches, two plates each” James has a smile that says I will never let you down I will provide. Hunter, gatherer, put food on the table.

“Are we feeding the five thousand” Peter asks. There must be the equivelant to three loves of bread spread before us. “Whens the fishes coming”

“My that’s a lovely spread boys, is that the buffet open” The Tammy comes over and joins us. Thank God I said and offer him a couple of plates of sandwiches.

“Here take them I said and share them with your mates, we asked for some piecies to be made up and the daft bass went and ordered a buffet, I`m too scared to ask how much this is going to cost”

“Haw James is this going to be dearer than the chips in Tyndrum last night” Johnny asks

“Just a wee bit” he answers

“Whits a wee bit” I ask

“Twenty Five pounds for the lot”

“Twenty five pounds, is that including the band and the bloody taxis to the chapel” I  ask

“Yies wanted fed didn`t yies, so there yi are. Yies are a shower of ungratefull gets so yies ir. All the bother I go to provide yies wi good food and all you do is moan”

“Feed us, you huv enough here to feed everybody in the bar” Johnny gets going. “Ask the boy to freeze half of them and we`ll get them the `morrow night”

“Presents Johnny, we can take everybody home a plate of sannies as a present” Is Kennys soloution to the problem.

“James does Brussels no subsidise these types of food mountains” he is getting it from every corner now. At twenty five quid for all this grub it works out at good value for money, that’s only a fiver a head, but there is no way we are going to tell James that.

The tammy is delighted with the added bonus of free sandwiches and we are only glad to offer them as they where good enough to gives us their last bite earlier. He calls over his two mates who quickly join us and they start to enjoy the extra scran. Kenny takes a plate of sannies over to the Coatbridge two and reports on returning that the French dames are talking perfect English and it looks as if the bhoys from the Tims Toon have got a click. I notice the chaperone at the bar talking to other walkers, looks as if he has got “l`elbow”

In no time the conversation moves to football and I was right the tammy and his friends are Jambos, followers of the Jam tarts, Hearts of Midlothian. When talking to Jambos the conversation always goes to “We are the third force” meaning that they do admit they will never break the Old Firms grasp on Scottish Football and that they are content to always chase third prize. The Coatbridge two had told us that Celtic had beat Livi 4-0 with a Hartson hart-trick and a Varga header, this ensuring Celtic stay top of the Scottish Premier league. We keep the conversation on an even keel not wanting to cause any offence always showing respect more for the tammy and his friends than for the Hearts, after all these boys gave us their last. Since Johnny was now the only Teddy Bear left since George went home and the balance against him was now more uneven since Peter joined us today there was not much point on badgering him either as this would have been terribly unfair, well poor game to say the least. I`ll just sing Celtic songs all day tomorrow and I am sure we will get a couple of hyms out of Peter.  

I am feeling full as the proverbial Infants School, full to the gunnels with beer and whisky and put my hands up in surrender and announce that I will have to retire, back home to the hostel and get some kip. All this walking, talking and drinking fairly wears you down. I just want to get to my bed. I see that it is only ten forty five and realise that it is still quite early if you are on a night out but I am glad to see that the rest of the crew are out in sympathy with myself and also decide to call it a night. The Tammy gives us all a bit stick reminding us that us Wedgie boys cannae handle it. I don’t want to contradict him on our alledged town of residence and agree with him that we cannot `handle it`.

We call by the bar and wish the Coatbridge two all the best. Johnny tells them that he hopes to run into them tomorrow night and that they enjoy the rest of their evening. The French dames don`t say anything other than give us all a smile. I remind the Coatbridge two that they have along walk ahead of them tomorrow and it may be a good idea  that they get an early night.

“Aye we where thinking of doing that anyway” was the reply  

We all head out into the cold night air of the deserted streets of Kinlochleven. It makes me wonder where everyone in this place is, do they all just stay at home, never venturing out, is there something mysterious that keeps everyone away. With a couple of Pubs in the place and an indoor climbing activity centre that has closed for the day a good few hours past now,  I can guesss why there is no one about, not much to do here. The hostel was quite welcoming in the dark with only a few lights visable. Again there wasn`t any activity here either, where did all the walkers who where in the kitchen earlier go to, some I know were in the pub we had just left. With twenty rooms in the hostel and all full tonight they all weren`t in the pub, far from it, maybe they are all tucked up in bed, a wish it was me.

We are just in the hostels front door and like clock work Johnny shouts ditcher. As the carry out is in our room we all bail in there and get seated on the two sets of bunks. James offers to make some tea and toast for anyone who wants it. We all renaeg. Kenny pours himself a half and then me, Johnny looks after himself. As there is no beer Peter does not partake and James has another fag. I want to get to bed. The talk is all about todays walk and this encourages Peter even more to take up the walk tomorrow. I don`t take much part in this chat as my own thoughts are on tomorows walk and the Devils Staircase as well as getting to bed. I don`t know what to believe now I have listened to all the conflicting stories regarding the levels of difficulty I may encounter and decide that it will be hard, expect the worst and if it is easier then it will be a bonus. Another ditcher follows but this is flung over the throat  in no time and we bid our neighbours James and Johnny good night deciding on a long lie untill eight thirty as they leave for their own room. James says that he will be up around six a.m. and Peter warns him with his life to stay away from this room untill the designated time of eight thirty.

In no time we are all in our bed and lights are out and as soon as my head hits the pillow I am sleep.


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