I’m not sure if I’m going to make it. This is a race and the stakes are high. I’ve been walking this forestry road for the last half hour, kicking my way along the track as fast as I can go. Poles thumping into the dirt, breathing hard, sweating and wondering, wondering if I’ll get there in time. At last I emerge from the forest and all around me there is devastation. Trees lay shattered, limbs splintered, branches broken and twisted a scene of carnage as though some huge battle was fought here and the spent protagonists left only minutes ago.
The valley opens up before me. Freed from its shroud of trees a small river meanders lazily in the boggy floor of the glen. I can see Glen Pean bothy now, perhaps only half a mile away. Beyond the little stone dwelling the green hills steepen and the glen narrows enticing you onwards towards Oban bothy. I’ve never visited Oban, this is early October and the bothy is locked until February. The rumours say it’s a little gem of a place, remote and beautiful and only recently open to the public. I file that information away for an adventure in March.
That’s a dream for the future, it’s today’s adventure that holds my attention right now. The sky is dark and huge black rain clouds lurk behind the outlines of the hills crowding the end of the glen. Beyond the bothy, and approaching fast, is a curtain of grey rain that’s been heading my way for a while now. It’s that rain that has given my steps urgency through the broken forest. My mind is set on one thing, getting to the bothy before the rain gets me.
I have an aversion to rain, I treat as if it is liquid acid that will strip my body of its flesh in minutes. I play cat and mouse with it, timing my walks with precision to dodge the rain drops. The rain knows this. It tries to fool me, luring me out from shelter with little shafts of sunshine, encouraging me to stray in to the open where it can pummel me with airborne oceans.
The ancient Gortex jacket I own has long since given up the struggle to hold back the bombardments of water that lurk in the Highlands. It’s so old the last time it got wet the tapes on the seams all came loose and left me looking like a soggy Christmas tree. I like the snow, love the cold and can tolerate the wind but rain is as welcome as a rattle snake in a lucky dip. I’ve been wet before http://johndburns.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/the-wet/ and I didn’t enjoy the experience.
Now you might wonder why I don’t just get a new jacket, the answer is simple, I’ve made a trade. In the exchange we all make between time and money I chose time. More simply put, I took early retirement so I have plenty of time, but not a lot of cash. So far it’s been a good trade. I delight in the freedom. I don’t have to get up every morning and go and talk to people I don’t like about things I don’t care about. I don’t have waste days, looking out of the window, sitting in meetings the outcome of which are of no consequence. I can climb in my car beside the river Ness, any time I like, and head for wilderness.
Loch Arkaig is an incredible place. You turn off the main road to Fort William and drive off into a kind of lost world. The loch is huge and the road that runs beside it was designed by Evel Kinevel on an off day. It’s around fifteen miles of rollercoaster with the added spice of blind bends and on coming Land Rovers. (What mother looks down at the little bundle of joy in her arms and decides to christen him something that sounds remarkably like “evil?” Years later, “What’s that son, you want to spend your life trying to kill yourself on a motorbike? Why would you want to do that Evel?”)
I’d watched the weather for days as endless fronts swept in from the Atlantic bringing with them wind and rain. Initially I’d planned a four day trip but the weather didn’t want to cooperate. I almost cancelled the whole thing but then I remembered just what a luxury it is to be able to wander the hills as I please. I thought of all the commuters jostling together on the London underground, how many of them would dream of a day like this, would they stay home because of a little wind and rain?
So here I am, eyes fixed on the wall of water heading my way. Although the bothy is close the devastation in the forest is caused by harvesting the trees and the heavy forestry plant has ripped the last few hundred yards of track to shreds so the going is slow. Eventually I fall through the bothy door. Moments later the rain arrives and bombards the little bothy with bullets of rain. I’m grateful to have the tin roof between me and the deluge.
One word of warning, if you plan to head for Glen Pean bothy and arrive after dark, take extra care navigating the last few hundred yards. At night these could be very tricky. The track has been chewed up by forestry vehicles and, in the last few hundred yards before the bothy, the path is boggy and indistinct. If it’s snowing you might never find it, so take care in the darkness the bothy is not as obvious as it appears on the map.
The rain encounter convinces me that I will somehow have to raise the cash for a new jacket. Five minutes later and I’d have been wringing the water from my clothes for the rest of the evening. Deciding which jacket is now the issue, the range is bewildering. If I’m going to buy a jacket I may as well get a good one. I’ve been casting my eyes covetously on a Paramo Alta jacket, watching the price rise and fall, with special offers here and there, with all the fascination of a bankrupt stockbroker. I’m just waiting for it to come within range so I can use my cheap gear buying technique I described in an earlier blog. http://johndburns.wordpress.com/2013/03/26/how-to-get-cheaper-gear-legally/ Anyone out there got this jacket? Is it as good as they say?
More information on Loch Arkaig here. http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/speanbridge/locharkaig/