This is a story about setting out to achieve everything, achieving none of it but remembering that the little things in life can be just as important as the big things.
I was desperate to get out. I felt like I was rotting in front of my computer screen. I had been knocked down all week with a chest bug and had been trying to spend my time productively catching up on all the IT, admin and writing that needed doing. Sitting behind a computer for days on end is my worst nightmare however and I was beginning to get pretty grumpy and feel sorry for myself.
Mountains will solve this I thought, scolding myself for being so pathetic. I will take the weekend off, go North and achieve a summit both literally and as a metaphor for my perception of me.
I decided I didn’t even care what the weather was going to be, one way or another I was going out so, expecting howling winds and pouring rain as is the norm in Scotland, I packed all my and Siula-Dog’s yuk-weather mountain kit and we set off.
Ok, Little Dog, what are we going to do? I had picked up my copy of ‘Great Mountain Days in Scotland’ and chose a good looking route. My selection criteria had been fairly arbitrary, not the biggest route but not the smallest either. Now for those of you not familiar with this book, its a series of route ideas and even the easiest suggestion is a MASSIVE undertaking.I had settled for something on the small side that still came in at a tasty 25 kilometres ground and a good 2400 metres of ascent. Potentially not the best choice for someone who had been suffering with some bug all week and was still coughing up chunks of phlegm. But hey, nothing a good beasting wont sort out, right?
Saturday morning we set out full of good intentions. We will go for a wee bimble somewhere on the way up and put ourselves in position for an early start on Sunday for our big day. Well Saturday morning rolled into Saturday afternoon and all I had achieved was the slowest bimble ever with Siula-Dog running laps around me before having to retreat back to the van to sleep for two hours. In retrospect this was an indicator that actually I wasn’t quite up to full working capacity after my bug! I felt like shite. After the morning’s walk the achievement of the afternoon was to make it to the cafe at Loch Venachar for a brew, some cake and to read my book for a bit sitting in the sunshine. I bought myself some dinner at Tesco but couldn’t actually be bothered to cook it. It was just one of those kind of days.
So back to my epic Sunday plan. Late afternoon arrived as I drove further North and eventually found where my route was meant to start. But nowhere close by to park up for the night. Bummer. And Shitting Nora those are big hills now I see them. Hmm, time to consult the OS for potential park-platzen for our overnight in the van. I could see on the map slightly further on the there was a turn off from the main road, a single track road that winded its way along the side of a river down a glen and led to basically nowhere. There has GOT to be somewhere down there we can sleep for the night.
The weather at this point was ridiculous; luscious sunshine and warmth to a level basically unheard of in Scotland. It was glorious. This road I had found in the middle of nowhere apparently many others had also found as it was jam-packed with fellow weekend-warriors. I couldn’t help notice those lucky ones who had found a camp site in an open section of river bank were camped along the side sitting with a beer and a BBQ or playing with their kids basking in the evening sun and loving life. However for those who had parked in wooded sections seemed to be wearing a lot of midge nets and be doing a lot of frantic arm waving…
Eventually we found a sweet little car park at the end of the road nestled next to a raised tree area that felt more African Kopi than Scottish Woodblock, lovely and warm and not a midge in site. I wish I had brought beer.
We made a couple of friends that evening, a chap who had just come off a day in the munros to the North West and three teachers out enjoying the air with their new Spaniel puppy. My favourite was the mountain man as he gave me an idea for a much shorter, easier and suitable route for tomorrow instead of my overly ambitious initial plan. Siula Dog’s favourite of course was the three women and their puppy who she enjoyed tearing around in the dust and wrestling with. Eventually dusk rolled in and so did the midges, time to shut up shop and retreat back into the protection of the van.
The sun streaming in through the window woke us on Sunday morning. The bright blue sky and glaring sunshine at half past seven in the morning was a bit of an indicator the rest of the day was going to be scorching hot, much hotter than yesterday. Shit, I did not plan for this! I had packed all our standard gear with my brain still in Winter/Spring mode. I had no sunglasses, no lightweight long sleeves, no shorts and no sunscreen. I did however have heavy boots, thick soft shell trousers and lots of fleeces. While this might not seem significant to you, I have, as Garth likes to describe it, ‘Jock skin’ which basically means its pale to the point of translucent and when exposed to the sun has only one response; lobster red and burnt to a crisp.
This careless admin was going to prove to put the absolute kibosh on any mountain plans for the day. One hours in and I’m already coughing up chunks of phlegm, sweating through my eyebrows and generally just being the grumpiest person. I later find out it turned out to be one of the hottest days on record for Scotland. I plonk my bum on a boulder to gulp some water and look miserably up at the mammoth slog of a munro I have in front of me. Even Siula Dog is obviously a little perturbed by the heat. I guess she is suffering the downside of that luscious black coat as she is panting like a good un’ and licking up every bit of water I share with her.
I sit in annoyance at myself for about twenty minutes until out of the blue, my brain says, ‘Fuck this!’ and I turn on my heels and find myself marching back towards the van!
I have to confess at this point, while we walked back to the van, I felt a little bit silly. Having put in all the effort and resources to get here and we have bailed an hour in with our only achievements for the weekend being essentially two small dog walks and a cafe stop. We turn onto the trail along the river and as we walk my mind is wandering to try and think of how I could salvage the rest of the afternoon. As I’m trying to think Siula-Dog comes bouncing in with a stick she has pulled from the edge of the water and keeps dropping it and looking at me expectantly.
It should be noted here that SD refuses to swim. I recently managed to persuade her to get into the water but if she gets any hint of going in deeper than she can stand she gets this strange look of panic on her face and rushes out. This river is prefect though, slow moving, easy to get in and out of. This turns out to be the best opportunity of the weekend though because having just stuck my hand in it I’ve just realised the heat of the day makes it a pleasant temperature even for me. I scoop the dog up in and wade into the middle, still fully clothed. The water comes up to the middle of my thighs and I let Siula settle in my arms. before gently lowering her into the water. Don’t worry, I’m not a total monster to my scared dog- I’ve still got a hand under her belly so I can get her out quickly if I need to! She looks at me with a strange kind of shock and immediately swims straight back to the shore! Yes! She swims! She shakes off and starts rolling around in an excited frenzy of chaos, all fur, branches and yips. Then, I call her… and she swims out to me!! My scared little dog that refuses to get in anything deeper than her chest is now voluntarily doing the finest doggy paddle out to see me!
The prodigical swim-puppy herself!
All my intentions of creating alternate use of our supposedly wasted day vanish from my head and we spend the rest of the afternoon chasing each other in and out the water. We’re cooled, we’re feeling better and we are happy. Happy playing with my dog in the river in the sun.
Eventually we find ourselves back at the van and leisurely driving back to the city, I do concede I actually have work to finish on Monday and we meander home to wash and go back to normal.
Although on the surface this trip might feel like a total failure as the stated aim was to climb mountains and not a single mountain was climbed. However this trip reminded me of some other things. It reminded me there is more in the mountains than ambitions and achievements; there’s space and sunshine and love. There’s making new friends, reading your book in the sun and swimming in the river with your dog ❤️.