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Jam Side Down
Traveling the West Highland Way by William Kerr
Chapter 7


Thursday  06.55

My eyes open, startled for a few seconds I don`t realise where I am. Peters voice quickly brings me back to where I am at. The first thought in the real mind, in contrast to the drunken hangover mind is `Jesus, I cannot do this today`. I have said all week that I will not drink and walk, so far I have managed one night out of five. I convince myself rather quickly that todays eight miles will be easy, one hard climb and then I can glide home all the way back here to Kinlochleven, no fuel required. I now realise that Peter is ranting and Kenny is in agreement. I soon realise that James has managed to waken us all and before reveillie at eight thirty by the sound of it. I don’t know what time it is and I am not going to move to find out. I believe that Kenny and Peter have the same idea, no need to move just yet as silence quickly follows the fracas and I think I could `hing it oot` until nine, I know I can`hing it oot `till nine no problem this morning. The thoughts of todays walk quickly wanes as I fall back to sleep and James intrusion is just a dream.

Peter is up and it sounds as if I should be up also, there are no signs or noise for that matter to indicate that Kenny is on the move also. My eyes are still closed and I wonder what time of day it is. My eyes are more than closed, they feel as if they are glued shut. I don`t try to prize my eye lids apart as I am content to lay here still fast asleep and awake. Kennys voice now comes into play as he enters the room I believe from the bathroom. There is not much being said between the other two, this is good, peace and quiet and they are making no attempt to waken me, practically respecting the deep sleep I am supposed to be in.

“Whit dae yi make ae that waz this morning banging on the door at seven o`clock” Peter no longer respects my long lie in.

Kenny makes a grunt of disaproval, well it certainly dosen`t seem to be a grunt of approval if that is possible.

“The last thing a said to him last night, ah warned him don`t come near that door until half eight and he starts to batter it doon at seven, a thought there wis a bloody fire”

“Ah jist heard all the commotion, you telling him to `F` off, I think that worked rather well”

Peter and Kenny are oblivious to me once more as I concentrate on more sleep, I need it. Can I call for a change of plan, why not start todays short walk at twelve o`clock this will still have us back here for four`ish at the most. I play with this thought, to do this I would have to get out my bed and talk to the others, seems a pointless exercise really.

Lying in bed, I wander what I’ll do, need to get up
Can’t lie around here so much to do.
No another 10 minutes wont do any harm
Cuddle in… it’s nice and warm

Kenny and Peter are not long in leaving the room and I consider my options one more time. It’s pointless really even contemplating a later start as everyone is up and running except for me and they will all probably tell me to bugger off anyway at the suggestion of a stay of execution. I crawl out of bed and sit staring out the window. It looks a fine morning, quite bright and dry, a good start to the day I think and I ask God to keep it that way for us. Decisions, decisions, shower before breakfast our shower after. No contest here, I pull on the shorts and head for the kitchen.

I must be a vision to some. As I enter the kitchen I get a few looks from complete strangers. Its not the look of `do I know him, he looks familiar` more of `would you look at the state of him` but in German, Spanish or French, `Regarde l`homme est merde`. I feel like shit. My own crew also has an air of indifference towards me showing no concern for the pain I feel walking the ten yards from our room to the kitchen.

“Morning all”

No one is talking this morning; all I get is more grunts. The feeling is more like sitting in your daddies aunties, don’t say anything, don’t touch anything and speak only when you are spoken too. Maybe the various camps that are with us this morning cause it. We are all acting shy towards each other as if something terribly embarrassing had happened last night, they don’t look at us and we don't look at them. There are two foreign females making their breakfast with the concern of a gourmet chef, so obviously not from Coatbridge and speaking in a distant tongue to hide all their culinary secrets from our Sherpa. The man and woman sitting eating sandwiches while reading a book at the table, could be Coatbridge but its not an Oor Wullie Annual they are sharing so the possibility is also foreign as the white skin colour is not of these parts along with the expensive rainproof jackets that has never graced the rails in Matalan. Why are the raincoats on at breakfast anyway, as there is no newspapers lying around I can assume they haven’t been out for the papers, feeling the cold maybe?  Strange to say the least.

James offers me the breakfast menu. Ham, egg, tattie scones and lorne sausage. I say” aye” to the lot and don’t hold back on the portions. I am more occupied by what our fellow hostlers are up to. People watching is a fascinating past time. I believe I can study a person for a few moments and come up with a profile that includes social group, marriage status, profession, country of origin and occasionally what football team they support. What are they two reading and what are the other two making. I am sure the lassie is going to stir a hole in the arse of that pot. Mr. and Mrs. Walking Jacket are both engrossed in the one book and I can tell the woman is a quicker reader than her man as she lifts her head and looks around waiting on her man finishing the page and turning it to the next. Girl number two places two halved boiled eggs on to two separate plates and the stirrer pours over the eggs something that resembles a cheese sauce, definitely not Coatbridge people.

Breakfast is served and literally disappears in no time. The others having already eaten are sitting about waiting for something to happen. Although everyone is quiet I know that this is not a morale issue like we faced on the morning leaving Ardlui, this is more of a `I had too much bloody drink last night and I could be doing with an other hour in the shawl` quietness. Even Johnny is very quiet this morning, that’s the secret, feed him with vodka the night before. I make the first move and agree that we will leave at ten sharp. This will give me a good hour to get ready, no hurry; I am tempted to jump into bed for another half hour. But I think no, get showered, get dressed, get the brain ticking over, get today over and done with, attack is the best form of defense.

All that had to be done in the wee room was done, I felt quite good now although the head was still a bit fuzzy, having showered and shaved certainly makes a difference.  I am a man with a mission this morning, get ready and get this show on the road because today’s the day I am going to kick the Devils arse, not often that opportunity is made available. Having thought about this demon for the past ten months I had come to the point of no return. The Devils staircase, the dreaded Devils staircase, the one that everyone feared, the one that everyone talked about, the one that braggers and soar arses shouted about, `it’s a dawdle `. I’ll be the judge of that and let us hope that it won’t be an air ambulance paramedic.

Peter was sitting on the bed, as was Kenny when I came out the loo. Our Akeala looked the part as usual organising his bag, getting ready for the way paying particular attention to the detail, the important points; water and whisky safely stored in the backpack. He hands me my hippy and I place it into my bag as Peter also hands me a couple of bottles of Highland Spring. I immediately open the water and have a swig, I say to Kenny “I can’t understand why I am so thirsty” as the bottle is downed `in a wanner`.

“That was good”

“Feeling a bit thirsty Wullie”

“Aye just a bit”

Peter now hands me another two bottles of water. He obviously notices my thirst and starts to dictate the woes of the evil drink and it’s devastating effects on walkers as well as sell us on the healing aspects of `Highland Spring` the almost magical water that his employer `Highland Spring` so graciously provides for us to cure all our evil doings.

As I get dressed I notice Peters attire and wonder when he is going to change into his walking gear. Looking more like man at C&A or Matalan in this age, I didn’t think for a moment that he was going to be walking in his grey slacks and black casual dress shoes. He is not making any attempt to change so I think better of it and ask him if he has any walking shoes with him. He says he has a pair of trainers and shows us his white running shoes.

“No room for another white gutty man on the WHW” I say to him. I hand him my walking shoes and tell him to wear them, as they will be more comfortable than trainers when walking on the Drovers roads. Kenny asks him if he has any other trousers as he may well end up soaking wet and grey flannels would not serve the purpose of walking through the Western Highlands. I pass him a pair of heavy cotton shorts and tell him that if it rains it would be better walking in them than the flannels he had on.

“What kind of underwear do you have on I ask”

“Just ma boxers, ah didn’t know I needed special knickers to go for a walk” indignant in his reply.

“Oh aye, whit happens if you need to go, you canne drap your drawers with all they midges fleeing about, no known where they will end up”

“Aye they get everywhere” Kenny backs me up” Anti midgey boxers Peter, I’ve got an old pair here if yi want them”

“Aye anti midgey boxers they’re the berries”

“Well shuv yir midgey drawers up yir arse, I can do without them,” he informs us.

James comes into the room and I notice for the first time this week his nice blue raincoat. Immediately I offer it up to Peter who gladly accepts the use of it as much as James gladly offers its use. Johnny is right behind him now ushering us along, telling us to `get our fingers out` as he wants back in time for a couple of pints this afternoon before dinner.

We are all ready to go, all the backpacks have the assigned contents, first aid kits, waterproofs, water and hip flasks. No packed lunch today as we are on a short walk and should be back here by two this afternoon. I have extra weight to carry as I decide to take along for the first time this week my portable CD player and three CDs, The Berriez, the score from the movie `Braveheart` and the Scottish traditional/rock band Wolfe Stone. I consider this an excellent choice for the walk at hand. Wolfe Stone going through Glencoe in the van and walking down into Kinlochleven followed by Braveheart finishing off with my two sons band The Berriez when the first two run out. This was always something I wanted to do. Sit on the top of a mountain and listen to some really good traditional music at full blast, that’ll clear the head for sure so why not do it at the highest point of the walk at the top of the staircase.

James is at the van, engine running and back doors open. I fling my bag in after removing the CDs and player reminding everyone that I am on a reindeer hunt today and have `bagged` shotgun out to Kings House. If the heard that was seen by the others last night going through Glencoe is still there this morning, I am going to see them. Kenny, Johnny and Peter climb in the back and I slam the door shut after I tell Kenny to keep his fingers well out of the way. As I get in to the front passenger seat my observation to Kenny has prompted him to tell Peter of the near loss of limb accident he had experienced earlier in the week at Loch Lomond, pointing out in detail as he holds the thumb up to Peters face. His squeamish look informs Kenny that there is too much detail here, no more. Once again James takes `pelters` and once again like the salmon he jumps and bites the fly. As we drive out of Kinlochleven the conversation is now on a par with what five guys walking through the Western Highlands should be talking about, Golf, Drink and Sex, Johnny Park stile;

“Peter did a tell yi whit happened to us last Saturday in Milngavie when we came out the bookies”

“No, whit happened” Peter is curious.

“As we whir coming out the bookies there wiz this auld tramp sitin` by the door and a fell ouer the tap o` him, he wis bloody putrid stinkin` too and the auld bastard had the bloody cheek to tap me for a couple of pound”

“So that was you snookered then, did you have to go home skint once you gave him the money?” Peter asks

“No, wait to a tell yi, a took out a fiver and ah said to him "If I gie yi this money, you’ll no go and buy beer wi it, will yi, and he said no that he had stopped drinking years ago. So ah said to him "You’ll no go in here to this bookies and gamble it all instead of buying food and he said he didn't gamble as he needs every penny he can get just to stay alive. So I’m beginning to feel sorry for the old Jakie but am no goin` to gie him money for swally. So then ah asked him if he will be spending it on green fees at a golf course, you know, jist kiddin` like, instead of buying food then, and he said to me, the old bastard; “Are you know the full shullin` `av` no played gowf in twenty years!"

Peter laughs.

“No wait, then ah said to him, y`ill no be away and spending it all on dirty wumin then, and he said no way is he goin to catch some bloody disease for a fiver, and who wid hiv me anyway son, ah smell like a Calderbank close (getting a dig at Peter)”

Peter again laughs

"No listen” Johnny tells Peter.

 “Right Ok ah said to him, I’m gonae gie yi a tenner and take yi hame wi me for a terrific dinner cooked by my wife, ah tell yi the wee boy was flabbergasted and then he asked me, if the wife wouldn't be furious with us for doing that because he wis bloody stinkin`"

”No ah said, that's okay, I just want her to see whit a man looks like who's given up beer, gambling, golf, and sex.

I let the rest of the guys enjoy the craic from Johnny and put on the CD player with the first choice of the day being Wolfe Stone. My mission this morning is to track down reindeer or to be precise Red Deer. Having completed five days of the walk through one of the remotest areas of Western Europe and I have not seen any sign of the beast. Maybe this is our Sasquatch or Yeti; maybe they visit the Loch Ness Monster every second week in April, who knows?

Glencoe is truly a fantastic sight to witness. No matter when I travel through it I see something different, something changes every second, nothing stands still at all not even for a moment, the colour shades move along as do the clouds above for ever telling us that this glen has been here forever and will be here forever more but forever changing. It’s said that everyone, everything, every place has a double and that most places could be anywhere; this is not one of them.

We past the point where the heard of deer were seen last night, no sign of anything, well living anyway. At the road side a massive stag lies dead, half on the road and half on the grass verge, causing the oncoming traffic to stop, to allow us past before they can pull-out past it. Another fifty yards on the scene is repeated, someone had a field day here. It looks as if a truck has caught the heard crossing the road and took at least two of the beasts out, two that I can see anyway. The carcass looks massive laying there, no movement, lifeless, its last breath long gone now. The Monarch lies in state as others and we crawl past it. All passing it stares in awe of its size and its sheer mass, the King is dead, long live the King. For the beasts to take second prize it must have been a very large vehicle to win these bouts. The three guys in the back make no attempt what so ever to checkout what I have just described to them obviously they think it is another `hunti-goot` as did I last night or maybe they cannot be arsed.

We arrive at Kings House, its half past ten and all is well. The butterflies in the stomach are a bit active to say the least. All the fears I have had about doing the walk are now rushing back to the core of my thoughts. This is the bit I have been scared of. I look west from Kings House towards Altnafeadh, my path is clear between Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag to our left and Beinn a Chrulaiste to our right and sitting in the middle is Stob Mhic Mhartuin, the top of the Devils staircase. The view is clear in respect to there being a distinct lack of trees with the exception of a cluster at Kings House and Altnafeadh, there is nothing other than heather, moor and mountain. Peter is practically hyper; his keenness to start the walk is almost manic or is it just irritating to me to see someone so keen to get on with it. We tell James that we will be back about two thirty at the latest, this giving us four hours to walk eight miles, two on the flat to the base of the staircase then straight up and another six mile long decent all the way to Kinlochleven.

As James drives off leaving us at the Kings House Hotel Kenny takes out his hippy and makes this mornings toast;

“Here’s to soar feet, soar blisters (and pointing to Peter) soar arses” welcome to the walk Pedro.

He passes the hippy around us and we all take a swig each, some more than others. We walk off and join the way behind the hotel and I notice that there is one solitary tent sitting in an area away from the hotel no bigger than a drying green. I wonder if that is the young couple that we met yesterday in the bar and if it is they are still fast asleep by the look of things, probably been sitting half the night in the bar.

Walking on now today's route follows the old Glencoe road for about three miles, running alongside the A82 as far as Altnafeadh, after which it leaves Glencoe and heads north, climbing demon number one the Devil's Staircase to the col between Stob Mhic Mhartuin and Beinn Bheag (Small Mountain) somehow I think this will be a rest point today but not the first. I have a terrible pain in both my shins. This had started as soon as I started walking. I stopped and slackened my boots to see if this would ease the pain but that was a false hope. The pain is excruciating to say the least. At this point I feel that there is no way that I can carry on, is this pain emotional, no way its in my shins not my head, is it another walking hangover, dehydration going straight to the important parts. In comparison to the others I am walking at a snails pace, I will walk it off, it shouldn’t take long. I have fallen behind now by about a hundred yards. My pain is oblivious to the others as they march on without me. I start to get a bit anxious as I think of the distance that has got between us now, what will it be by the time I get to the top of the staircase.

I am glad Peter turns round as he notices I am not with them. He shouts back asking if I am all right and I shout back that the shins are soar and I am struggling a bit.

“You’ll be fine, walk it off” he shouts back, turning and walking on with the others.

Well thanks for the diagnosis Mr. Physio. It would have been all one if I was lying dieing, `Heart attack, walk it off`. Again they turn around, all three this time but they are to far off now for a man with one good ear to hear them. They are signaling for me to look over to my right. At first I could see nothing other than heather and moor and then I noticed the deer. There was two grazing about four hundred yards ahead of me but they never stuck around for the introductions thanks to all the shouting my fellow walkers where doing. Soon there was nothing to see other than the three deer chasers now what seemed like a half a mile in front of me.

 The weather is being very kind to us just now, to the southeast, behind us the skies are pretty clear and driving towards it gave me a bit of a lift as we approached Kings House. But above Stob Mhic Mhartuin and across all of Glencoe where we are heading the skies are once again very sinister. The cloud is just sitting there at the moment, not moving probably waiting to see what direction we are going in before it decides on its final strategy, what weapon it will choose for today’s battle and what will be its plan of attack. It looks as if it is planning to ambush us at the top of the staircase as it sits there peeking over the other side of the mountain, waiting.

Where the old Glencoe road meets the A82 the way takes a sharp right and the climb starts. Kenny, Johnny and Peter are waiting for me, not to show concern for the pain I am suffering, not to help me on my way and offer assistance like carry my pack, but to carry on walking as soon as I reach them, bloody sadists. I am sure I am the only one of us who has walked the whole walk without a break, as every time I catch up with them they have always walked off, well it seems that way.

“Whit do you do if you are ready for the toilet” Peter asks

“Do it” our Akeala informs him.

“Where”

“Where do you think”?

“What if I am ready a shit”?

“When in Rome do as the Romans do”

Peter looks perplexed. “Whits that”?

“Do it as the animals would”

“Have you got toilet roll with you”?

“No, you use your fingers, eco friendly and all that” Johnny suggests

“No use the heather, that’s what the bears use” our Akeala keeps him right

“The only bears you’ll see Peter, or we’ll see is a big bare arse”

“You’ll no be seein` any bare arses here, well no mine anyway, I’ll walk it off”

I thank Peter for sheltering us from the possibility and showing concern for what could turn out to be a traumatic event for all who may wittiness that dirty deed.

The climb starts, now my strategy is simple, just take your time William. The best plans are always the simplest. If the other three want to run up it, let them. I will take my time knowing that I have all day to do this. In no time there is plenty of space or in this case height between the others and myself. I do not see any other walkers about. Maybe we are too late for everyone today. One step at a time I take, the legs are coping ok, the added strain of the climb and maybe the use of other muscles seems to have driven away the pain in the shins. Now all I want to think about are all the other problems that Dr. Ferry had warned me about a week earlier. There is no way I am going to take a heart attack, I know. If I am going to die it won’t be here, not today anyway, maybe in forty years time.

I cannot believe I am thinking like this. Changing the subject with myself I think of Bernie and the weans and what will they all be doing at this time. I wonder if they are thinking of me. I keep my right hand in my pocket, firmly grasping my rosary. If no one wants to talk to me well maybe the big yin above will keep me company and give me the strong legs and heart that I will require to complete this mornings task. I take a break and turn around and realise I am about a third of the way up. The real climb, the zig zagging staircase is the final third. I stare up at it; I know I can do this. I take in a bottle of water and open another to have in hand as I do the rest of the climb. There is no sign of the other three at all. The rain is just beginning to threaten. I feel its drizzle beginning to spray my face. It is quite welcoming, refreshing, cooling. Onwards and upwards, one step at a time. I walk about fifty yards, and then a quick break during the second third.

 I reach the final third, the start of the staircase itself. I move forward very slowly for what seems a while then I decide to stop and once again take an extended break. I sit on a stone that will save me from the damp path and damp heather. For the first time today I really see what I have done and where I have been the past couple of days. I have to say it again the view is stunning. Looking down on Altanafeadh towards Kings House and Rannoch Moor with Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag, the great and little herdsmen to my right, and Beinn a Chruiaiste (Mountain of the Rocky Hill)) staring me in the face. It is all in perspective now, life and the elements, a moment to savor. I think of why I am here, the fastballs life was flinging ten months earlier; I can catch them, or dodge them. Dodging is always easy, but it will always come back and probably hit me right in the kisser. The breads landed jam side down again. So I got to deal with it properly, this was my chosen path, go and do something big, something charitable and challenging and thank God for all he has done. I take from my pocket the bookies pen I picked up in Milngavie and my map from my bag, the only paper I have and start to scribble my thoughts on where I am;

If I don’t see tomorrow would it mean anything to me?
As I have walked through heaven on earth
There’s nothing else I need to see
I have walked in his crowning glory
His jewel, gods gift to me
Under the brow of
Buchaille Etive Mor
This beautiful place,
His kingdom in its glory

No man will be poor who sees this
There life will be enriched
To see through the eyes of the eagle
To look down over this land
Is the purest feeling God gives me,
the pride in what I see.

Too place it in my heart, do I deserve
Only my soul is worthy
To accept what lies before my eyes
Scotland’s glory

For the first time in a long, long time I feel that the bread has landed Jam side up, this is an achievement, for me anyway. I would consider what I have done this week a bit of an epiphany, an awakening. There is a lot more to working twelve hours a day, going home getting your dinner and falling asleep on the couch. My thoughts go back to what we have all done this week, the laughs, the highs and lows and missing pals who are not here. I am glad of this small moment in time, a minute moment, I have to myself, its mine and no one else’s, a moment I will never forget. All the big things that I have went through in the past year rush my head, the death of my Mother, moving home and all the reasons and pressures that brought, being made redundant and the choices faced at work, my sisters cancer diagnosis, I know she will get through that and coping with my dad who had a bigger loss than I could ever imagine, the doctor and the heart thing I know that’s ok, no problem there.

But like Gods story in creating Scotland, the story gives us all hope. No matter what negatives we have I am sure we can think of a positive, create balance, it’s dealing with the ugly neighbours that is the problem, all the shit around us can always be balanced out by all the good things. Bernie, Ewen, Liam and Susan, all my sisters, their husbands and kids and my dad, Bernie’s family, I could fill a page on the good points of family its self and not forgetting a special cuz as well. There is the crew doing the walk, all great friends who I know are doing it for me as well as with me along with all the absent friends. All in all I would say that the balance at this time is very much in my favour although I do wish that Scotland could win the World Cup and Celtic could be crowned Kings of Europe, ah well it’s just a thought. 

“Are yi alright” Johnny interrupts my solitary moment, “Ah came back to look for you to make sure everything was alright, yi hud me worried there for a minute as a couldnae see yi”

“Ah just enjoying the view John boy”

“Aye its something else is int it”

“Special, very special”

“Come on you huv nae far tae go, another hundred yards and yir there”

Johnny leads the way and I follow, I think of a line from one of my poems;

If friendship is sustenance
then I am fulfilled

I am feeling quite emotional here, get your act together William.

At the top the President is waiting for me and I as approach I notice the eagle sweeping down the other side of the coll out of view, I shout to the others but they do not see as they are waiting for me, looking to see that Johnny is not carrying me, I hope I haven’t disappointed them.

“Whit kept you” Peter asks.

Walking past him I tell him I was having a shit and run my right hand over his face.

“Ya dirty stinking bass yi”

I walk on; it’s good to laugh.

Its like Sauchiehall Street up here, where did all these walkers come from? There must be another half dozen walkers here. Some sitting about, some taking photos. This is a good point to walk off the WHW and take a walk along the Glencoe ridge to our left. Now that would be spectacular but it is not part of this week’s agenda, maybe another time, now that’s a promise I have to keep myself. We walk to the cairn that sits on the highest point on the coll and there are a couple of dames sitting there, one is smoking like a chimney. Johnny makes enquires;

“How did yi manage to climb up this smoking they bloody things”

“It was the thought of sitting down here and having a cigarette that got me up here” the chimney replies. Her friend then informs us that she has done in three hundred fags since Saturday.

“And yi managed to climb this” Johnny is amazed at her testament and I notice that the chimney seems quite chuffed at her accomplishment.

“Do you know smoke then hen?” Johnny asks the chimneys pal.

“No I don’t have any vices, but I could kill a cup of coffee”

“Yir in luck then, just at the fit of the hill here there is a coffee bar and they serve a great cup of coffee, its just a hundred yards doon there” he points in the direction we should be moving off in.

“Oh that’s great” the pal replies. Now I really cannot believe how thick this dame is that she believes there is a coffee bar a hundred yards down the other side of this mountain.  

We all walk on. The main peaks in view are Am Bodach (The Old Man), An Garbhanaich (The Coarse One), Binnein Mor (The Tall Pinnacle) and the conical Sgurr Eilde Mor (Hill of the Big Hind), giving out a feeling of wilderness smothered in Scottishness.  Now my plan for today was to get myself a Braveheart moment. I think of the scene in the film where Wallace is running across the top of some mountain, the music is the Uileann pipes, their drone chased by the beat of a Bohrain at the pace of Wallace’s run. In his kilt with his claymore tied to his back heading home, running home to the place he feels safe amongst his own after his defeat by Edward and betrayed by The Bruce, a load of shit! Why do Hollywood script writers get away with writing all those lies and portraying tartan biscuit tin images, why not give us more of what we really are, a vibrant country, wanting to play its part as it has in the past and has given the world so much from something that is so little and made it so much better to be part of. I reckon the Scots people should sue them for liable. But in the end it was a great film and did finish focusing on our countries greatest day in history at Bannockburn, (just beating that day at Wembley in 1967), the day that gave us what we have always wanted, well for four hundred years anyway until sold off by a parcel of rouges and scoundrels. 

Today was going to be my reward, my personal reward. Not the feeling of achievement in handing over a cheque to the sisters at the hospice, that was my promise, but the feeling of being at home, in my roots, being part of this great land of ours. One of my personal ambitions was to walk across a mountaintop and if it was in Glencoe all the better. Sharing in its glory, feeling it beneath my feet and in my heart, all around me, surrounding me with a feeling of greatness in our past and what we can achieve in our future, only if we all believe in us, us, we can do it, we can, all by ourselves, we have been given so many chances, we can turn this into reality and the sooner we realise that this is all ours and only us have the God given right to it then that will be our greatest day, our awakening. I deserve these thoughts today.

I dig out the Braveheart CD from my bag and place it in the Walkman. The others have already left me and as I head down the decline towards the Allt a` Choire Odhair-Mhoir (Stream of the Big Dun Kettle) passing first over the Allt a`Choire Odhair-bhig ( Stream of the Small Dun Kettle) where the steep decline over a mile flattens out. Again the emotions bag is bursting open and they all fall out, sad, happy, achievement, loss, gain, wonder, awe, and thoughts of my future as well as my countries. The greatest Demon was beaten and I was where I wanted to be. Once again my thoughts are with Bernie, Ewen, Liam and Susan, wouldn’t it be great if they were here also. I have shared so much in my children’s successes, cup finals, school celebrating success ceremonies, dancing exhibitions and the Berriez first gig to name a few but I have never shown them or shared my successes or been in the situation where I can. I want to phone everyone I know, not to gloat at them in their sad eight to five lives but hopefully share with them and give them some of this if that was possible, because these are not feelings that should be repressed but shared with everyone, let them all see this wonderful place, come here, don’t take my word. 

The rain gets heavy, and then heavier, in no time at all the heavens have opened and what threatened us earlier has now kept its promise. I now see the rain as part of the magic that this walk provides. Not like at Loch Lomond where it was a major hindrance as there was nothing to see along with it except a narrow path, trees and the occasional view of the Loch. Here it was very much part of the occasion, a major player with the staring role being given to the Mamore range stuck between Glencoe and the Nevis ranges, all supported with the London Symphony Orchestra rattling out the music of Braveheart all builds up to quite a spectacle. It wouldn’t be the same in clear blue skies and eighty degrees, I guess that would make it just another place.

From the bridge over the Allt a` Choire Odhair-mhoir I stop and take the time to take in the view across to the Blackwater reservoir at a guess is about two to three miles away to the north east, again truly spectacular. The Blackwater shines now like a torch lightening up this day that has now turned dreich and grey. It dawns on me I haven’t brought my camera so this makes me take in this moment just a little bit longer, not a sight to forget. The River Blackwater was dammed in the early 1900s to supply the smelter at Kinlochleven with power, carrying its water as it left the reservoir via the river Leven all the way to Kinlochleven. The smelter has now closed with its buildings being put to other uses and the turbines now providing power for the National Grid.

 I don’t want to hang around too long as I cannot see the others at all, I suppose I held them back enough today waiting for me to climb the staircase and there is no way now they are going to hang around in this rain. I switch off the Walkman and once again my head is to the ground as I walk watching my feet on the loose rocky surface.

 I approach a narrow ridge and at first I am a bit shaken as I cannot see the way in front of me as it bends around ninety degrees on its self with a drop of about thirty feet to my right and quickly turning back again moving ever downward. I come across two women huddling together against the rocks that I had just walked over above them. They look more frightened than cold and miserable, maybe it was me stumbling around the corner uninvited or was it the three amigos a head of me that have already done the dastardly deed. I say hello and ask them if everything is ok and they tell me that all is fine and that they are temporarily taken shelter from the rain. I wish them well as they do me and I move on with one intention only to catch up with the others.

The way quickly straightens out again and I can see the long path fading into the distance, disappearing out of sight about half a mile ahead steadily going downwards, this is a dawdle. I am now walking at the best pace I have managed all week, if I keep this up home will be upon me in no time.  I notice the pump house that sits above Kinlochleven but this is only a false hope as it constantly comes into view and again out of view for the best part of what is left of today’s walk. The rain goes, I barely notice it disappearing as the air is still very damp. However wet it is it actually feels quite warm now, more body heat than air temperature though, so I remove my bonnet and the waterproof jacket giving me greater comfort in my efforts to catch the others. I still don’t see them and begin to curse them all into myself, no malice intended as its ok to curse your friends even to their faces because only true mates would know the difference, understand when it was meant and when it wasn’t and if it was meant they would realise that it was said for a reason. I know that what I have done this week could not be possible without them, the shower of Bastards, leaving me.

I hear an incoherent noise ahead of me; I cannot make it out. It’s shouting, I’m not sure, certainly some sort of commotion. My first thoughts are of the others, I hope all is ok with them. I don’t believe they are shouting on me, as they would only have to walk back to meet me. This inarticulate noise is now getting closer, it has more of a rhythm to it but still not audible.

I turn again a quick left as I approach a wooded area where the way now swings south around in a loop on the slopes of the Coire a` Mhorair (The Nobleman’s Cauldron or kettle), a picturesque and well-forested valley falling from the Munro of Am Bodach, away to the southwest. The descent is surprisingly steep in places but feeling a bit softer on the feet as we have more of a forest track now rather than loose rock. I see the commotion ahead about three hundred yards in front of me, they’ve started a singsong without me, Bastards. Only Peter Smith would do that. I may add that Peter is probably seizing the opportunity knowing that if I were there I would be the choirmaster, being the better singer. I pick up the pace a bit more, it is now very clear to me. They’re singing hymns; only Peter Smith would be singing hymns walking through the Western Highlands. Maybe a bit of Divine Intervention can be called on to help us on our way, after all they are probably the only songs that three of us anyway could sing together.

I recognize the tune as I close in, un-noticed “Walk with me O my Lord, through the darkest night and brightest day”. Peter and Kenny are singing and I am sure Johnny is appreciating the sentiment. Behind now I hear it all word for word, only Smith would do this. Changing the words to suit the occasion they are singing “Walk with me Johnny Park, through the darkest night and brightest day, be with me Johnny Park at my side and show me on my way”

“Haw Smith am reporting you to the St Vincent De Paul, that’s sacrilege” I break up the singsong.

“Where have you been” Peter asks me for the second time today.

“I’ve been appreciating the moment, and it wouldn’t have made any difference if a was laying back there dead”

“Aye it’s been a while since I’ve had a good bit of steak pie, we should be so lucky”

Bastard.

Together again we all head downwards towards home for the day. Around a lush, mile long green valley, Kinlochleven is temporarily out of site. The singing continues, communal and soloist’s spots are fought over. Amarillo with the Peter Kaye walk, ten guitars, to name a few finishing off with a `Sound of Music` medley, all that was missing was the Nun outfits and the Corleone boys to break up the party, but I am sure that can be kept for another occasion. Peter Smith is just to good at Doe a Deer, it’s an Airdrie thing you know.

Johnny informs me that James phoned from the hostel only half an hour into today’s walk so that must have been on his return to Kinlochleven. He was enquiring where we were and at what time he could expect us at the hostel. I am sure he doesn’t listen or is scared in his own company, all by himself. Johnny told him that it would be another three hours at least and in response to this James said that he should take the soup off the gas just now in case he burns it. The man’s all heart I add.

The way joins the River Leven sitting above it, following it all the way home to the Loch. At this point the path becomes very steep and I now realise why most of the walkers we have met this week are using walking poles. We do manage although the strain on the front of the legs is immense, worse than what I had experienced at the start this morning.

I can also feel a bit of heat building up on the soles of my feet at the heels. The pressure of walking down the very steep decline is causing our heels to act as shock absorbers as well as breaks, it may well take its toll and having avoided blisters so far I can only hope that this isn’t the start. The two pairs of socks theory must work here. I do notice that both Kenny and Johnny have a slight change to there walk also. Both are trying to avoid walking on their heels.

This is very hard at this point, I thought the going down hill bits would be easy but I realise that for almost five miles straight we have been walking downwards and now the decline is so much greater as we enter the woods above Kinlochleven, the added pressure to the feet and shins is taken its toll on us all. There is no way that I can take blisters now surely having walked eighty miles with only another fifteen or so to do, can this be the ways final swing at us, after all the past two days have not been too bad. Even the notorious Devils Staircase was conquered, but I’ll defend its descent to be tougher on the limbs than the ascent and that’s a fact.

We carry on, steeply down, zigzagging to the base of Coire Mhorair. Our attention is captured by the noise of hard running and falling water. Taking time to stop and look we see through the trees about twenty yards in to our left a small reservoir and the waterfall over the dam. Again I wish I had my camera as this would certainly make a great photo as the water pours out falling about twenty feet into the burn heading to join the River Leven. We couldn’t see it at first through the woods but a short walk in towards the noise of running water opened up a Brigadoon scene spoiled only by the markings of some wild campers.  We take time out here to rest our weary shins and give the soles of our feet a rest after the very sharp decline. Nothing much is said, a time of reflection, probably not, just soaking in the tranquility. The hippies are brought out and we all have a few swigs except Peter as he usually doesn’t touch the stuff, good I think he’s daft enough without it, again I have a vision of a singing nun, but this ones a ghingher, with glasses.

“Its just like down the sloush at the canal gates, isn’t it?” Peter points out referring to the area of Calderbank where the River Calder fills the Monkland canal.

No one answers, well I don’t as I am the only one who is qualified too and could probably verify Peters observation, and you know what, he is not far from the truth.

 We now have dogleg back to the northwest leaving this peaceful scene behind us, the rain is off and the sun is starting to shine on us, life is good and all the signs of this mornings hangover is well out of the way. The craic is good, the company is exceptional and all in all life is wonderful, a Jam-side-up moment, no doubt about it. We talk about what we are doing tonight, what is on the menu for dinner and what can possibly go wrong.

Questions are asked about the Coatbridge two and their French connection and if we will see them back in Kinlochleven or if they have headed out to Fort William failing to conquer the foreign hoards.

“You know its now been about three hours since James has phoned” Johnny shares with us “ I wonder if he took the soup off the gas as I told him”

“Ah hope so, or there will be shit all left of it by now”

“Do you think it will be fish suppers the night” I ask

“I hope so, I’m feeling gie hungry at the thought of it”

“It’s a hard old road this is it no” Peter points out.

“Aye that slopes a killer on the knees and shins” Kenny adds, “It’s the slope that’s done the damage too and not the surface”

“Aye this is probably the best surface we’ve had” Johnny points out and Kenny and myself agree.

“Some of they drovers road where hard going”

“Whits a drovers road” Peter asks

Kenny carries on and describes to Peter all the various surfaces that we have walked on and why they have different names, Drovers, Parliamentary, Military as well as the various types of forest tracks.

“Aye a bet yi didnae think yi wid get a bit of education when you whir oot walking wi us boys, eh Pedro” Johnny points out.

“ Ah don’t believe anything you two tell me but I wid believe Kenny all right, he seems to be an educated man, no like you two”.

“Ya cheeky bastard, isn’t he Wullie”

“I’ll tell you a story, I `ll tell you all a story and its true, believe me”

I proceeded to tell them the story of the Drovers and their dogs.

In the past, the WHW was the main route used by Cattle Drovers to get their stock to the markets in the Scottish Central Belt and thousands of beasts would be moved each year. The drovers kept dogs to help them in their task and to protect the herds at night, just as Sheppard’s use sheepdogs today. When the herd reached the markets in Glasgow and the sales were completed, the drovers stayed on in the city for a few days to have a wee swally and enjoy some of their hard earned cash. So they would send the dog’s home on their own as their job was done and there was certainly no room in the busy inn’s to keep them.  The dogs would be traveling at a fair speed, as they had nothing to slow them down and would be back home in Fort William waiting for their master coming off the boat from Glasgow.

The drover would have paid for all their food and water on the way down to Glasgow, as the dogs would follow the same path back home. When the dogs arrived at the pre-arranged stopovers along the route, they would bark loudly and persistently to announce their arrival. The cooks and landlords would supply them with food and water. This also happened in Fort William. When the short celebrations in Glasgow were over, the drovers would return to Fort William by ferry where the waiting dogs would be re-united with their masters.

“Am I supposed to believe that” Peter asks.

“It`s the truth” I insist

“Aye, It`s the truth, ae Kenny, he’ll be telling us next that there is Kangaroos on an Island on Loch Lomond” Johnny adds.

“No, that is true” Kenny backs me up.

“Whit Kangaroos on Loch Lomond, ah take back what a jist said about you Kenny, ah no Kerr’s a lying bastard, but ah didnae think you were to. Is it the whisky that makes you all talk a lot o`shite”

“If it wis you would have been on your back a long time ago” I fling in to the ring.

“Kangaroos on Loch Lomond, I’ve heard it all now”

“Skippy, Skippy, Skippy the Loch Lomond Kangaroo, Skippy, Skippy, Skippy a friend ever true”. I’m sure Smith will use any excuse to sing and I don’t think he will let this one lie for a long time. 

The way now swings north along the other side of the Coire Mhoraire descending gradually to the black pipeline that tears through the glen all the way to the river just before its mouth at the top of the Loch. The map shows a `Grey Mares Tail` up to our right but it is never in view. I ask the guys if the fancy walking up to see this waterfall and I am told in no uncertain terms to go and take a hike to myself or words to that effect but more in the Calderbank vernacular.

It feels good to be home, we walk down the final slope when directed by the sign pointing us in the direction of the Blackwater Hostel. There is no sign of James. But as we mention that once again the Psychic Sherpa is on the phone.

“Where are yies?” James asks.

“We can see the hostel and should be there in five minutes, so get the soup on now”

“Good see you then”

“Bye”. Short and sweet and knowing that a good plate of soup is only five minutes off it helps us all put on a quicker step, not worrying about the pain in the knees and shins we hurry along, day six of the walk is over and boy does that feel good. Its only two forty five, all in all today’s walk has took us just short of five hours, not bad I think, considering the stops we had. Today was certainly a stroll, our slowest day yet averaging a mile and half per hour. I put it down to the obstacles we had to overcome, the Devils Staircase and the long slow descent into Kinlochleven, but it was certainly worth five hours out of your life.

“Well, put your hand up if you kicked the Devils arse today” I ask

All at once, four hands rise in to the air, we all look at each other and for the first time we actually congratulate ourselves on a job well done. Walking on to a chorus of `Faldi-ree, faldi-raa` we all realise that we did kick its arse today; this is probably because we walked over our biggest demon, tramped all over it, in fact it’s the bit we have all spoke about and all probably worried about. I don’t think that I was the only worry bag here, probably the only one that was showing it. I do believe that the others were just as anxious as me when it came to this mornings walk over the staircase.

On arrival at the hostel we seek out James. I could have predicted this scene, James drinking coffee and eating scones with the hostel owner, or as it turns out to be the hostel owners father looking after the place while the owners are on holiday. Pat the temp makes us very welcome. We had not met last night and Pat was certainly making up for that. Good Irish hospitality comes to mind. We renege all offers of coffee and soup for the time being, only temporarily I may add as some first aid is called for.

We all head for our room, walking hard and sore. The sudden slowdown or stop once again is taking its toll; we are all showing the same symptoms, sore leg muscles as well as the pain in the knees and shins. Our Akeala looks out the ice packs from his bag and hands Johnny, Peter and I two each. They are the type that is worked by thumping them hard with your fist and I believe that nitrogen is released freezing some sort of crystal, that’s my theory anyway. I remove the waterproofs and place ice packs on my knees and shins, it works, Along with the whisky that our nurse has now poured I do think that the prescribed treatment will work.

Kenny and Johnny remove their boots and socks. As I had thought blisters had formed. Although the skin was not broken they where big and looked very soar. I thanked God for soar shins and not blisters. Two pairs of socks, that’s the difference, I take a mental note to buy Michael McLaughlin a half at the first opportunity for having the foresight and sharing the two pair of socks theory with me.

Vaseline is rubbed on the blisters and Ralgex on the muscles. In no time the room smells more like the changing room of an amateur football side. However all the treatments seem to work and we are thinking once again of what’s for dinner. The Sherpa informs us that tonight’s menu will consist of soup, tinned tatties and cold meat. My guess would be the soup would have been on the stove from ten o’clock this morning and I would also hazard a guess that the potatoes would have been ready since then as well. Also the soup that we are looking forward to now is probably the soup that James has in mind for tonight’s dinner.

“Do you know fancy a fish supper and save all the bother?” Peter asks.

“Good shout” Kenny seconds the motion as Johnny and myself third and fourth it.

“Well that’s that settled then, just make sure the shops open first James, eh” Kenny reminds him.

“Are you wanten them the now” James asks us all.

“No its too early, what do you all think” I ask.

“ A plate of soup the now and then fish suppers at six after cocktails sounds good, whit dae you think o that” Johnny asks.

“Aye” was the reply from us all.

“Whit am a goin to do wi all the food that is left them” James is concerned that it will be wasted or maybe it’s the unnecessary cost.

“Well its pointless carrying it all back home, why don’t you just leave it in the kitchen and place a note on it saying help your self” Kenny suggests.

“Aye good idea, and mark it with compliments of the Spikey Shoe Golf Society” says The President.

“All they foreigners will think we are some sort of aid organistion, supporting walkers” I add.

I get the look of `you can talk a pile of shit so you can` from the others, so that’s my last attempt at humor today.

James immediately goes to work, emptying the van of all foodstuffs and drinks (non alcoholic) and starts ferrying them into the kitchen. He is back in no time saying that he left a packet of pasta, two packets of Cup-O-Soups, a pint of milk a half a jar of coffee, two packets of biscuits, two packets of cold meat, two packets of bacon, two packets of tattie scones, two packets of square sausage, a dozen eggs, four big tins of tatties, butter, sugar, tea bags and a loaf.

“So what’s for supper the night and breakfast the morrow?” Kenny asks.     

With a look of ` I better get this sorted` James does an about turn out the door, we can only assume that he is away into the kitchen to salvage the situation and ensure we are sent off tomorrow morning with a hearty breakfast and have a good chance of a cup of tea before lights out tonight.

We follow shortly after into the kitchen. James has the soup ready and some of the salvaged bread is on a plate for dippin`. The soup is served in no time and finished just as quick. This is followed by salvaged coffee and salvaged tea biscuits. I think the kitty must be at an end as this is the first showing this week of plain biscuits. Well beggars cannot be choosers I think as we all delve into the tea biscuits knowing that this is all we will have to keep us going to fish supper time tonight.

At this point Pat our hostel host comes into the kitchen, introducing himself to the rest of us and it is very obvious that James has already met him as the two of them talk like old friends. The two dames who had the boiled eggs and fancy sauce breakfast quickly follow in behind him. We say hello to them and are rewarded with a smile only as they head into the food prep area and start working away on their lunch or early dinner, it looks like spaghetti, they look as if they are German, I am sure of that.

The usual questions are asked of Pat, what brings you to these parts, where are you from and the same questions come our way. He tells us that the local barman in one of the pubs is from our part of the country so we say we will go there later rather than the Tail Race Inn where we were last night. James finishes washing up the soup plates and joins us at the table with his own tea. Once again he doesn’t eat with us. As we continue to knaw away at the tea biscuits James from nowhere produces a packet of Mr. Kipplings `exceedingly good` Bakewell slices. We all watch together, Johnny, Peter, Kenny and I waiting to see what he is going to do with the fancy cakes, trying not to be obvious in our curiosity we all stare at the packet of nearly finished tea biscuits we are sharing. James offers Pat a cake, Pat accepts, he then removes one for himself it must be the last of the pack of six as he crumples the empty box up and sits the crunched packaging on the table in front of us. We all look at each other.  

“They cakes good James” Kenny asks.

“Aye, they’re ma favorites” is the reply.

“Aye that good then, I’ve never tasted them before myself” I add picking up the empty packet, flattening it out and looking at it. “Mr. Kipplings Bakewell slices, Aye they sound as good as they look. Look guys” I say unraveling the empty packet” Sure they look good”

“Aye they look great Wullie” Johnny agrees

“Well we will never know how they taste that’s for sure, eh, here we are out there walking for Scotland and are rewarded with scabby tea biscuits” Peter adds, “The next time a bags being Sherpa”

 “Ah bought them earlier for me and Pat to have with a cup of tea” James is defending his right to be eating this extravagance.

“Oh, Aye, ah bought them for me and my pal Pat” Peter keeps it going.

“Aye and I’ll get ma other pals a packet of tea biscuits, aye yi know who yir real pals are at times like this, Wullie, eh” Johnny asks me.

“ Aye your right there John boy”

With not the slightest embarrassment or look of guilt both James and Pat finish their cakes in no time.

“Ah sure that was lovely James, thanks a lot” Pat says as he leaves the kitchen, “Enjoy the rest of your stay boys”

“Aye enjoy your cakes Pat”

I notice the time is just after three, I decide I need a wrap in the shawl for half an hour anyway, after all this walking does knock hell out of you. I leave the guys sitting and find myself asleep in no time back in the room.

“Get up oot o` there ya lazy bass, laying in yir bed at half three in the afternoon” Johnny gives me practically no respite at all as I hear him clattering the carry out. “C’mon the bar’s now open.

I decide I may as well, as it looks as if I am not going to get any peace here. After all that was half an hour and it’s said that half an hours sleep in the afternoon is as good as a full night.

 Back in the kitchen, relaxing and having ourselves some pre dinner cocktails, this is what life is all about but not quite yet for me. No one has brought me a glass so I am turned quickly around to find one. I grab one from the bathroom and I hear the phone beep where I left it on the windowsill. Checking the message I see it’s Tams song for the day and the rest of them are not here to help me out in singing it, it wouldn’t be the same anyway singing it in the hostel and not out there. `Walking on broken glass`, Annie Lennox’s` superb song but I would doubt if we would all know the words and it’s just not the same humming it. I head back to the kitchen and inform the squad of to day’s song and as I thought, it never made an impression. Mental note, discuss provision of morale issues with Sinclair on return to work.

 James has been sent post haste to the local shop to buy coke, as there is only one can left. I notice there is a new face, a sorry looking dame, sitting all alone. The two Fraulines who arrived before my siesta are now sitting at a plate of spaghetti and a glass of wine, facing each other across the table they have their own company and not wanting to share in ours.

“Whits up hen” Johnny asks the poor lonely soul, the sorry looking dame.

A female about our age, she looks as if she has had a hard day. Sitting there in her walking gear looking a bit distant. Johnny tells her to take off her jacket and join us for a drink or in `Gow talk, a swally. This brings a smile to her face telling us by her actions that she fully understands our offer, so she must be of our ilk, saying she would kill for a drink after the day she has had and gladly joins us.

“Right you can have vodka or whisky, whits your fancy” Johnny asks.

“A vodka will do nicely, and tonic if you have it.”

A posh Scottish voice she has, seems very much snobby Glasgow, yes it is possible. Without acknowledging the request Johnny takes his phone and calls the Sherpa.

“James, we have an emergency here, a young lady requires tonic water to go with her vodka, could you bring a bottle back, a big bottle just in case, …Good man hurry along and don’t spare the horses.” Johnny has developed a rather posh accent, where that has come from I don’t know. “ Don’t you worry hen we’ll have yir tonic watter here shortly, do yi want wan the noo with a wee drap coke?” Good it was just a wee episode, obviously speaking in a foreign tongue for the benefit of the snobby Glasgow dame.

“No thanks, I’ll wait for the tonic if that’s alright with you”

“No problem pal, not a problem at all” Johnny reassures her.

“Are you doing the walk?” I ask

“Yes, I gave up at Kings House and got a taxi over to hear. I am walking with my sister and her husband, they carried on so I am waiting here for them”

The snobby dame continued to tell us that she had started at Inveroran this morning and had to give up at Kings House, as her legs were too sore to carry on.

“Ah yir a poor soul” Johnny sympathises with her. “A couple of swallies and you will be brand new, guaranteed”

We pour our own, myself and Kenny a whisky, Johnny vodka and coke and Peter has a bottle of beer. We are joined by another lady on her own, a rather small woman to say the least, no more than five feet tall. It was not her height or lack of it that made her noticeable but her smile, a smile that would light up a very dull day in Kinlochleven.

We all said hello and she immediately answered back with the same. It was obvious she was foreign.

“Where ir yi fae hen? Dae yi want a drink?” Johnny asks

“Sorry” was the reply

“Wher ir yi fae, where di yi cum fae?”

This is looking good for a laugh here, the `Gow meets Gaulle!

“Sorry”, the girl looks perplexed, shaking her head from side to side, but still smiling, I tell you it would melt your heart.

“Wid yi like a drink, for Gods sake, a swally”

“I am so sorry, what you say” her English is not to bad, it’s her understanding of the Scots that is the problem.

“Di yi want some tinned tatties?” Johnny tries a different tack.

As Johnny asks this Peter chokes on his beer at what he has just asked and blows the beer from his mouth back out at us all. I am now soaked in regurgitated lager, but cannot help but laugh as the others do at Johnny’s offer to our new smiley friend, tinned tatties, what is this lassie wanting with tinned tatties. As well as not understanding a word he has just said, she now wonders what the hell we are all laughing at. Our snobby Glasgow friend takes the time to explain what has just happened, thank God for sensible, good speaking snobby women. I cannot imagine this wee lassie being apprehensive as to what is going on around her and if she is upset she is doing a great job in hiding it.

She now understands us and thanks us for the offer of a drink but refuses. She is now given the third degree, questions coming at her from all angles, it’s the smile I tell you, it`s compulsive. She informs us that she comes from Lourdes in France. I am not going to even try and communicate with her in her own tongue, not sober anyway and I am sure this rabble would just heckle me anyway.

“An angel from Lourdes” Kenny says, that’s it nothing will go wrong now boys, we are all saved”.

“Can you do anything with these hen?” Asking our Angel from Lourdes this question Johnny lifts his blistered feet up onto the table to show her. “Can you fling some o` that holy water yies have got over there over ma feet `cause there bloody killing me”

“We all have a good laugh at this and again our snobby Glasgow friend has to interpretate for the French. The German birds are lapping all this up and understand every word that is being said; maybe they are not German at all! I try to add a bit of sense to this routine and inform `Elle sourire` about my wife’s recent trip to her hometown.

James is back with the coke and the tonic water. The snobby Glasgow dames` eyes light up as Johnny pours one of his larger halves I have seen this week. The dame makes no attempt either to thwart the flow. Practically grabbing the glass off Johnny she shows her gratitude by killing half the drink off in one gulp.

“Aye its thirsty work this walking” Johnny says as Peters gives us all the ` for God sake` look, `did you see how quick that was drunk`. I am a bit amazed myself; Johnny Park could have a bit of competition here in the drinking vodka stakes. Our smiley French angel again refuses Johnny’s` offer but also shows a look of awe at the way the snobby dame can down the vodka. I believe that this was our angels cue to get the hell out of dodge, four Scots men with a carry out and a Scots woman with the taste for vodka, some people would buy tickets for it.

She went on her way, smiling and shaking her head. We all say good-bye except John boy, he says areverderci. I don’t want to go there, I know it will lead to a routine of Italian jokes and I am not quite sure if our spaghetti eating Germans could be spaghetti eating Italians, and I thought I was good at calling these as well.

Snobby Glasgow woman does not need any invitations at all. She has declared Johnny’s bottle is her own and with no signs of hesitation pours her self a drink and offers Johnny one as well.

“Aye, that’s awffy kind of yie” he thanks her for one of his own vodkas and she does not see the sarcasm. She pours her own, this could be dangerous and I now see what the French angel probably saw as well, a greedy bass for the vodka, no shame, would drink it through a shitey cloot.

“She is a beautiful looking girl the French girl” snobby woman says.

“Aye” we all agreed at once.

“Its that smile its infectious, you just want to cuddle her don’t you”

“Aye” I am sure we are slabbering now.

“Do you know when I went to France with the school when I was about thirteen the bus stopped at a service station. The teacher took the microphone and informed us all to be careful, watch our money, all the usual stuff but he also gave us some words for food like waffles, crepes, hamburgers, frites, all that sort of stuff so we could all order something to eat, and there was this guy called Jazzy Reilly put his hand up and you’ll never guess what he asked the teacher”

“Whit?”

“Sir what’s French for Bridies”

We had a good laugh at that one, as did the German/Italian dames eating the spaghetti.

“I’ll tell yi a better one than that” Kenny shares.” Our teacher gave us all out calculators and a lassie in the class asked for one that would add up in English as the one she got was Japanese, it said Samsung on the side of it.  

It`s getting stupid now.

“So hen where are you fae?” Johnny asks the snobby dame.

She proceeds to inform us all about her past where she has been, where she came from, what she does now and how she has managed to end up walking the WHW with her sister and brother-in-law. She pours another half for herself and again offers Johnny. Now being a holder of Liquor Licence I have to know the effects that alcohol has on the body and how quick it enters the blood stream and starts to play on the brain. I reckon she has not had three halves in the past three quarters of an hour but going by the size of the measures she has been pouring it would seem more like twelve. Johnny also senses this and places the bottle out of her reach. I am sure he is not being miserable as all the eye contact between us is all about the dame and the extra generous measures as well as the rate in which she is going through them.

Her phone beeps, she looks at the message and informs us all that it is her sister and they are approaching the hostel.

“I’ll go and meet them” she tells us.

As she stands up, she seems shaky, she grabs hold of the table to stabilise her self. Not saying a word she darts for the door. The German/Italian birds gasp aloud as she walks sideways like a line dancing crab and bounces off one wall to the next and the bells in her head must now be ringing as she hits the third on the way through door. I am sure she sees flashing lights and `tilt` as she now runs down the narrow hallway to the front door. Kenny follows to ensure no damage is done.

We all look amazed, at each other at what we just witnessed. Then laughed, holding it to ourselves so she would not hear.

“For God sake, did you see that” Peter says.

“There is no way she got like that on three halves,” James says.

“Three halves, she’s drunk nearly half a bottle” I tell them all.

Kenny comes back to say that there is no damage done and she is leaning against the front door watching for her sister.

“You know what a think,” Johnny says. “Ah think we should all get the hell out of here before she comes back in or we could all end up in a lot of trouble once the sister arrives on the scene”

“Aye good shout”

In no time the bar is closed down, the public bar anyway and we all quickly move into the lounge, our room to continue our cocktail hour.

“That wiz close” Johnny says “Ah thought she wiz gonnae drink all ma vodka”

Cocktails last for another couple of hours, but not for me. I am thinking of tomorrows walk and the fifteen miles to Fort William. I realise once again after today’s walk and not for the first time this week that walking and drinking don’t mix. So I will slow it down, no I will cut it out for the rest of the night, that’s it no more to Fort William. 

All the talk is about the walk in general. To my surprise I am toasted by Kenny, Aye toasted, not roasted. “I am really proud of you Wullie,” he tells us all, you’ve done really well this week and I’ll be honest I didn’t think you would make it, but you took it, took it in your stride and battled through it all.” He must be pissed.

“Aye you have all done great” the President praises us all. Now this must be the back slapping time. I didn’t expect this until tomorrow when we cross the finishing line in Fort William but it looks as if the Whisky, Vodka and beer have kicked it in a day early.

James offers to go and get us fish suppers; there is no argument there so while he is away we all get shifted. The plan is to go to the Antler pub and have a few beers, just for a change.

The night is dark, but very mild as we leave the hostel heading for the pub, no need for jackets. The Antler is hid in the village from the hostel side but we find it quite easy, as Kinlochleven is no metropolis. As last night the streets are empty, no one around at all not even a sighting of the two French blondes and the Coatbridge two, I can only assume that they are in Fort William tonight as there was no sign of them at the hostel, so no French conquests.

The Antler looks the part, the way a pub should look. There is only us however visiting at this time and the barmaid makes us more than welcome. As usual the President has to get us all drink. He just doesn’t understand the `Kitty` concept at all. Well that’s his way I suppose. I remind him that I will have a shandy only and after that its coke for the rest of the night. Again I notice the look on their faces the  `you are taking this too serious look, all this walking`. The pool table is soon opened up and I think of George, George and pool tables seem to go together and I wonder how he got on at the doctors today. I am sure he would have enjoyed the past couple of days, but the bread has landed Jam Side Down this time for him, maybe another time.

“Not a bad juke Box” James informs us

“Daniel O’Donnell there”

“No, ah canne see it”

“It can’t be that good then”

I go over and see what James is bragging about it. I flick through all the screens and eventually find something that meets my taste. Although there is no Status Quo I manage to find some Runrig, that’ll do nicely. Peter requests some Foster and Allan and I give that request the response it deserves, a rubber ear. The chat with the barmaid is all about the walk and what we can expect tomorrow. She has done the final stage north to south and assures us that we will be alright, however she has heard others say that the walk south to north, our route, is very hard for the first four miles as it is a long steep climb, so something too look forward too tomorrow. 

Tonight feels like a bit of an anti-climax. Maybe it’s because this is our last night, or tomorrows the final day, the final furlong. Airdrie train station seems so far but this time tomorrow night we will be walking off it’s platform heading home. I know that Fort William will be so far away when I turn out for work on Monday morning, how will that feel? The others play pool but I want this time to myself. I go through each day in quick time, like life images in the pre death scene of a third rate movie the highs and lows are very clear. I think of Saturday morning, what will I do when I wake up? I realise that that moment may well be the hardest moment of the week as I have nothing to do, back to the same old routines, I cannot let that happen.

“So what’s the next big project?” I ask them all.

“Ah fancy stayin` to Saturday and climbing Ben Nevis” Johnny says.

“Send us a postcard from the top then” Peter asks.

“What about doin` the Great Glen Walk next year,” Johnny suggests.

“Aye” is said, “Not a bad idea”

“Same charity” I ask

“I’m no bothered” 

We all agree to give this one some thought. I feel quite pleased that we are talking about doing something else, something to stop the bread from falling as well as doing it for a good cause and I am sure we can cajole others to join us next year, the more the merrier,

It`s a quiet night after all, not another soul appears in the pub until we are about to leave. Maybe that’s why we don’t see anyone, all the locals wait until the walkers are away out the road before they show face and I could relate to that. Could you imagine going down to your local every night and having to listen to five guys like us spouting on about all their great achievements, hearing the same thing every night, Kinlochlevens very own Groundhog day scenario, that’s how they don’t come out to the pubs, mystery solved.

We are all back in the digs for eleven o’clock. As usual everyone is in our room as the word ditcher was called out as we walked in the door. I take the now customary drink and then choose to climb in my bunk and hopefully fall asleep before the ditcher word is mentioned for the second time. James offers to make toast but points out that it will be toast only, nothing to fancy at this time of night plus what meat is there will be needed for tomorrows packed lunch and breakfast. Everyone says aye and likewise we all refuse the offer of tea to go with the toast. As he heads off to the kitchen and as the others talk away I climb into my bunk and before the toast returns I manage to fall off to sleep.

“Wullie, get up oot `o there, it’s our last night and you want to sleep” Johnny wakens me from what I think is a long sleep. I don’t know what time it is or care, I want to sleep.

“Here” he forces the final ditcher of the day into my hand.

“Cheers” Kenny says as Johnny, Peter and James all respond. I make the gesture lifting my glass to the roof or the bunk above me.

We all toast each other; I place my empty glass on the floor beneath my bed and close my eyes without a thought about today or tomorrow.  


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