Day 15 – The Ullapool Conundrum

I awoke before dawn having slept poorly. I had drifted to sleep to the sound of midges hitting my bivvy. It had been like listening to the sound of rain on a caravan roof. The midges weren’t up yet but neither was my willpower. It wasn’t even 5am, I couldn’t walk without more sleep, so off I dozed.

I had a very surreal dream. One of my co-workers was starring in a play and we were late. For some reason we were also lost in the highlands in what looked suspiciously like the Falls of Glomach crossed with where I grew up. The “we” included several work colleagues, my PhD supervisor ( who offered to buy me a drink before disappearing into the throngs of people, because, you know, the wilderness is where you find all the best throngs.), and also there was my old chemistry teacher. For some reason he was married to one of my work colleagues. Perhaps more believable was one of my co-workers turning out to be an anarchist. He proved this by filling out a form with all the correct information, just in the incorrect boxes. He also signed his name a bit funny; he wasn’t a very good anarchist. Anyway, we all started running to escape the great clouds of midges. I then woke up to a great cloud of midge.

This was a midge cloud of epic proportions, I mean like the weird smoke monster in Lost before that series started getting crappy. If you imagine you’d scraped the burnt bits off your slice of toast, you look down and the sink is covered in little black bits, well that’s an approximation of what it looked like through the mesh window of my bivvy.

Having packed my sleeping bag inside my bivvy, I summoned he courage to jump outside; I was promptly eaten. Anything that wasn’t midge was more or less either me or dead midge as I hastily packed. Wearing only a t-shirt, the midges targeted my arms. I wiped them off leaving black spots of dead midge on my arms. You’d have thought that evolution would have made it so that most animals could recognise the smell of dead peers and think “hell no”, instead I seemed capable only of attracting more midges. Ears, nose and eyelids were particularly unpleasant and I ate more than a few. Soon I was packed and off ready for an uneventful day.

My shoes rubbed as the heels of my trail runners were slowly disintegrating. My socks were still damp and I’d had no chance for a proper foot check that morning. For now all I could do was plod on.

The plodding on went well and I tried to remember that I’m on an adventure, one I should enjoy each moment of and not wish it away. I’m still not going back to midge-land, but enjoying where I was lasted well until I hit the A835.

There’s always a question mark hanging over Ullapool on the Cape Wrath Trail. It’s a good halfway point and place to rest and resupply. I was already low on food and although it was a bit out of the way and a long and boring walk, I’d always known that I’d not take a shortcut through the hills here. I phoned ahead and booked a B&B (O2 coverage has been good thus far), then on I limped down the road.

As far as roads go, this one isn’t fun. Well, it may be fun for motorcyclists, is has the special reflected N road signs that stand for fun corners, but for me it was long and boring. It reminded me why I had opted for as little road as possible on. The only thing it was good for was getting miles done quickly.

Quick those miles may have been, but my joints and feet suffered on the hard road surface. Tired from a bad night and an early start I must not have looked my best as drivers gave me a wide berth as if I were about to fall into the road gasping for water like a drowning trout on a hot summer day. Some time later I arrived in Ullapool.

Food and medical supplies were quickly ticked off the list, a shower and shave would come later (my first in a week), but not before dinner. Apparently one of the best chip shops in the country can be found here. I found it and has a large haddock and chips with onion rings and irn-bru. It was glorious, the best fish and chips in living memory, if only I could find such a chippy in Cambridge.

I now have over 21,000 calories in my rucksack, plus extra fudge and an irn-bru flavoured macaroon, so I’m all set for the final leg of my journey. There are about 100 miles left to go and I’m now counting down instead of up. Each uphill takes me a little longer and each downhill hurts a little more, but I’m currently good to continue, one day at a time, and once again I have to say, so far it had been completely worth the effort.