I’d been woken a couple of times during the night by the sounds of small scurrying things. A mouse had taken the opportunity to take a nibble out of one of the mesh pockets on my rucksack’s hip belt. That would teach me not to leave empty wrappers unguarded in my pockets.
I waved goodbye to the people I had shared the bothy with and attempted to claw some distance back. It didn’t go well.
The journey started with footpathless bog and then got worse. There was no point in trying to keep feet dry. At least the bog-water flowed easily out of my trail runners.
As I came down a slope some mud gave way beneath me which in turn led to me falling onto my backside. Moments later this was followed by my foot slipping off what had suspiciously looked like a stepping stone at a river crossing. Despite not falling in, I still ended up in the unenviable position of having a wee boulder stepping on my left foot. That hurt.
I kept trudging forward and discovered the first level of despair – that point where you find yourself standing still, seemingly unable to continue, your feet being enveloped by the bog. By ankle deep you realise you have to find the will to keep moving. If the ground had been dry enough I’d have probably just had a lie down.
For all that, there was a moment of almost overwhelming joy when I reached the top of that stretch. It was now all downhill to Barisdale.
As I made my way down, I came across a group of five people. A weather-beaten Scotsman, following him was a tall man in tweed carrying a gun and behind him three hound ladies, one of whom appeared to be his daughter. The Scotsman asked where I had come from, after I told him he laughed that “it must have been a nice easy walk then”. He wished me luck and I continued on. It was now lunchtime and I was finally ready to really start my day.
I made my way slowly to Kinloch Hourn. During the walk to Barisdale I had doubted I would make it much further than that today. By now I was certain of it. As I slowly lost and found paths and moved onwards I wished I could take a boat like Tweed Jacked and co. had done. 10-15 miles a day seemed difficult at the moment, 20-25 seemed impossible. I couldn’t see how I was going to make it. This is easily the hardest walk I’ve done on my own, and I still have another 200 miles to go.
As I approached Kinloch Hourn the sun peeked out. I checked the time; it was 16.15. There was plenty of daylight left for walking. I might not be able to make it all the way to Shiel Bridge, but I’d be damned if I was going to sit here and not try.
My luck turned once more as I pushed on. I came across fresh water and a good path. I followed the path until fit stopped. I had trouble locating the next path, which was easy to understand once I realised that there was no path. My route was just an arbitrary blue line drawn on a map saying “you are here, get there”. Again the going became slow and as the sun dipped behind the hills to my left I found the second level of despair – not having anywhere suitable to camp as the sun set.
I continued down and around, the mountains gave way to allow me a little more sunlight. I darted towards Shiel Bridges but with the light beginning to fail I knew that it was in vain. Tired and aching, I put up my tarp in the fading light only a mile and a half from Shiel Bridge. Even though I was still four miles away from where I had planned to begin tomorrow’s long day, I felt that I had snatched some measure of success from the jaws of defeat. I felt ashamed that I had contemplated a B&B in Kinloch Hourn; I knew I was better than that. I’m glad to be a bit further down the trail; I’m now exhausted.