24th post of series what is introduced here.
Tuesday 5 June 2018
My son Marcus and I wake early, it’s freezing in the campervan.
We are at Durnamuck in the northwest of Scotland and are organising ourselves before our road trip continues a few miles further to Poolewe where we will then set off on foot for our summit camp on A’Mhaighdean. This mountain was a favourite of Marcus’s Papa whose dying wish was that his ashes be taken to its summit and scattered.
I’d put Marcus’s Papa’s ashes into my bag the night before. They were secured in a glass jar, the sort I use to make overnight oats. I open my bag to start re-packing, I slack off the cord and notice – to my horror – that Papa is all over the inside of my rucksack. I stare dumbly into the bag. ‘Umm, Marcus…I need to tell you something,’ I say. ‘The lid of the jar that Pap’s ashes were in wasn’t secure. He’s gone everywhere.’ Marcus takes a look.
‘Oh man,’ he simply states.
I empty my entire bag and scoop Papa out with a measuring spoon Marcus finds on a shelf in the van. We are mortified yet giggle uncontrollably.
Our long walk takes us at first through gorse, then along coastal edges and rock. We cross farmland and walk through a forestry plantation. It is stinking hot. We pass through a tall wooden gate and begin to move through a vast expanse of green and heathery moorland. Big hill country lies ahead.
It takes us three hours to get to our next kind of landmark, a hairpin bend. We sit on a rock and relieve our backs from the weight of our packs for a few minutes – and also, having noticed a trail several hundred meters back, grumble that we’ve come further than needed.
The climb upwards now begins.
We refill water bottles at a fast flowing stream and take five.
After a bit of deliberation we cross a steep sided gully. We leave the path we’ve followed since Poolewe. Now it’s all about reading the map, the landscape and following a bearing.
I’m out of my comfort zone and suddenly feel scared. We are actually in the middle of fucking nowhere. I become aware of how fatigued my legs feel and internally scold myself for undertaking this – the biggest walk since all the stupid cancer business. How could I have forgotten I’ve been ill and that my body still needs time to recover? Why do I push myself so hard? I realise we will be in a whole world of trouble if anything happens. Silent dialogue is interrupted by a more immediate problem – I hope I’m leading us up these crags the right way. I’m also aware my son is tiring rapidly, but I press on scared to look back too often in case I see that he is not there because he has toppled over the mountain’s edge.
‘I’m spent,’ Marcus says. He fuels up on a Lucozade Sport and an energy bar. Of course I know he’s burst. But we are committed to the route. We either continue – or pitch the tent where we are.
‘Do you want to give me some of the kit from your pack?’ I offer.
‘No. It’s all good,’ Marcus answers, ‘I’m just not as fit as you are. This is the first walk I’ve done in ages.’ I ponder his words. Poor kid has no idea of the fears rampaging in my mind or that I’m struggling physically too.
Still hoping I’m making the right choices we continue the scramble up over good, grippy rock and reach a cliff. The way ahead seems impossible and all efforts to get this far are for nothing. But back a touch and to the left we discover it is possible to drop a few meters into a steep, exposed gully. We squeeze round to our right through a gap. From here we go to the right around the base of two rock towers. We’re tired so are careful on the loose red scree. Another scramble, this time over a small boulder field, brings us to a wide grassy ridge before a last pull up to the narrow summit. Relief that all trickiness is behind us floods in.
We are fucking glad we make it to the top. We pitch our tents (unbeknown to me Marcus not only carried up the heavy half of my two-man, but also brought his own tent) and collapse into them temporarily.
I feel cold and am sorry I haven’t brought leggings, but good old Alex Supertramp has also brought his stove up the mountain too. He boils water and fills my Sigg bottle up which I cover with a sock and throw into my sleeping bag. The light is still bright, but as the sun lowers the most wonderful colours wrap around the horizon. Lochans far below shimmer and twinkle like silver ribbons. All is still and peaceful. We walk up to the summit cairn. It’s time to say goodbye. I hand the ashes of his grandfather to my son.
‘Well Papa, you old bastard. You had the last laugh getting us to come all the way up here didn’t you,’ Marcus says with fondness and humour. I watch him as he scatters the ashes and feel a huge sense of pride. We are quiet until he turns to me and says, ‘You know mum, it was bloody hard to get here but I can see why the old guy loved this place. It really is beautiful.’ We hug. We drink hot chocolate and eat some homemade blueberry brownie. The sun sinks. We are listening to James, ‘Born of Frustration’ which ends just as the sun disappears. It’s a perfect moment.
In memory of James B Kinnes.