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Jam Side Down
Traveling the West Highland Way by William Kerr
Chapter 5

Tuesday 07.45am

This morning I was first awake. Although it was later than usual for us walkers, seven forty-five in the morning told me that once again I had a complete nights sleep. The old legs however seemed rather heavy this morning and a bit sore. This is the first time I have felt this and I don’t no if this is a good or a bad sign, healthy pain or un-healthy pain. I lie in bed and start stretching my legs and bending my toes towards me, as I am sure this helps to prevent cramp from kicking in. Not that I am in anyway qualified to make such assertions but it certainly helps doing this as I have had previous experience of cramp in the legs. The stretching of legs actually feels good, one at a time and then the two together, also lifting them together, up and down and then again one at a time. I realised that this is probably the first time in my life that I have wakened and done any form of exercise. The noise I make wakens Kenny. He doesn’t look to clever this morning probably too many ditchers last night, that must have been a new world record set, I try to count how many it was, but I cannot be bothered, why worry. As I am first up I get first shout at the showers and in no time I am ready and willing once more for today’s trials and tribulations.

As it’s my wedding anniversary today the first thing I must do is call Bernie and wish her a happy anniversary. I waken her at her normal time around eight o’clock for work. We talk more about what is happening now, how are we all doing on the walk, how are Ewen, Liam and Susan doing, rather than what we where doing twenty-three years earlier. Bernie was showing concern for George as Gerry had been on the phone to her last night also showing concern about what her man was going through. I told her that he did look a bit better last night before he went to bed but I would still try and talk him out of walking today and to rest. She also told me that she had taken up to the Presidents house last night my APS camera and three spools along with one other pair of walking socks, inners and outers. I told her of my mysteriously disappearing dress socks and she assures me that I did take them with me and there is no sign of them around the house. Another Scobby-Doo experience.

Kenny and myself went down stairs for breakfast, chapping the door of the Copeland Road stand on the passing. The restaurant was empty, except for myself and Kenny there was an American family, Mum, Pop and teenage kid. The calico coloured skin always gives them away. We said good morning and they replied back although indicating that no more contact would be necessary, do we look that bad I think. As mom and pop eye us from head to toe. `Don’t talk to the locals honey, they look as if they will steal the sugar out of your coffee and sell it for beer money`. Maybe it’s going for breakfast in your shorts and bare feet that does it as we are in a respectable hotel, or maybe they’re just American snobs and we are letting the homeland down again, Look at the local yokels honey, don’t they dress funny honey! Wait to they see the resurrection of a dead Pope walking into the restaurant shortly behind us.  Thinking of the dead Pope, himself and Johnny are right behind us and join us at our chosen table. The chat this morning was all about football, not walking, maybe this was getting shoved to the back of our mind. I considered what we had spoken about when we all met up on Saturday morning. That was all about what was going to be happening over the coming week, where we were going, the big adventure, the laughs. There was more of a feeling that today we where attending a funeral, all competing for the role of head mourner, not walking fifteen miles to Tyndrum. No wonder the yanks wont talk, talking about dour Scots! I got the distinct feeling that we where not all in the mood for this. On the bright side I could see out of the restaurant window across the Loch and it was dry, for the time being anyway I think to myself.

Moving away from football to the task in hand I ask George how he feels about walking today. He says he feels fine and will walk as long as he can. I suggest that this might be a bad idea and that he should give himself a break, have a rest day. No way he said, he was up for it. I felt proud of my mate after seeing his pain the day before. I don’t milk the situation, no insistence that he does not walk today, as the saying goes `we are all big ugly boys` and more than capable of making up our on minds. I don’t mention this again. We head to our rooms after a hearty breakfast, saying good-bye to our American cousins to get ready and pack up for the next part of the journey.

As there is no Sherpa with us this morning we have to rely on Johnny Parks’s fun size Mars bars and the remaining Tunnocks Caramel Logs as the only available trail food, somehow the fun size bars don’t seem appropriate. All we need now to go with today’s soakings, sore feet and aching legs is toothache. With this in mind I again brush my teeth for the second time since wakening this morning. I load the trail food into my back pack and then fill the Hippies with the whisky that was left from the night before, one for me and one for Kenny.  There is a knock at the door and I answer to find a hotel employee returning all our clothes that where left to dry over night in the hotels drying room. I was handed my waterproofs, boots and fleece jacket.

The waterproofs where bone dry, my boots where bone dry but the sleeves of the fleece where absolutely soaking. Its as if the hotel had taken the time to submerge the arms of the fleece jacket in a basin of water before returning it to me. I wonder, how can the sleeves be soaking and the body very dry. I have to wear this, as there is no other jacket I can wear. I go into the toilet and squeeze as much water I can from the fleece sleeves. This barely makes a difference. I decide not to wear the jacket, but to wrap it around my waist in the hope that it will dry before the rain comes on. I know it will come on. There is a bit of a debate and many theories are given as to why my fleece, and the arms only are soaking, another Scooby-Doo experience, first the disappearing socks and now the soaking fleece jacket.

We all gather in the reception area to pay our bills, or to let Johnny pay the bill for us all. The receptionist is very pleased with herself probably because they managed to get an extra three hundred pounds last night off the soaking wet walkers, desperate for a bed after Loch Lomond. I wonder how often that scenario arises. We arrange to leave the clothes bags with the hotel so the Sherpa can pick them up later as they are more than pleased to hold onto our luggage for us.

Everyone now seems happy with what welcomes us outside, the weather is dry and it’s looking good. I look across the Loch to Ben Lomond and can see it’s top.  I say to the others and I am given back a look of optimism from George and Johnny but I think Kenny knows better.

“Looks a great day for it,” I say, but no verbal reply is coming forth. I am beginning to think that these guys don’t want to talk to me, well talk about walking the WHW anyway. We all walk towards the pier through the hotel garden but the gate to the pier is locked and it’s too big to climb over. We walk back around the side of the hotel to the main A82 road, so we can walk towards the pier and enter from the roadside. Again no luck, this entrance is also locked, again double gates about eight feet high. As we walk back the short distance towards the hotel I look at the hills on this side, the west side. I cannot see the tops, I cannot see half way up them. I look at the east side, to Ben Lomond, its all clear. But on this side I see rain falling. It has not reached us yet, but it’s coming our way, crawling down the glen, hugging the hillside practically on top of us. As we get back to the hotel we walk around to the back past the caravan site and enter the pier from there. I notice the boat and see Para Handy is busy firing her up. Dead on nine thirty, he is there and ready to his word. It starts to rain. It starts to rain heavy.

I am told that if you don’t see the top of Ben Lomond it is going to rain and if you can see the top of Ben Lomond the chances are it will rain.

We all stop immediately and put on the waterproofs. I first put on the fleece with soaking wet sleeves. It feels very cold and uncomfortable touching my skin as I have only a short sleeved t shirt on, I didn’t have a long sleeve one with me as I felt that this would have kept me too warm and uncomfortable while walking. I say to myself “Here we go again”. I ask the good Lord to look after us all, with a special mention for George and to make our day a bit better than what we had experienced yesterday with the weather and the walking surface. Regarding the weather it is obvious that I should have put that request in a little bit earlier this morning.

Johnny gathered the three pounds ferry fare from us all and gave it to Parra Handy. The good ship Vixen pulled away from the pier with George, Kenny and I sitting at the back in second class exposed to the elements while Johnny took the opportunity to grasp the only first class berth on the boat to get out of the rain, sharing the cabin with the captain. I asked him if he was passing on advice as to where the captain of this vessel will meet speed cameras, a reference to Johnny’s superior knowledge of all locations of these money-spinners for the treasury. On a golfing trip to Aberdeen two years earlier I was tasked with driving eleven drunken golfers. With Johnny sitting on my shoulder for a hundred and sixty miles and pointing out exactly where every camera was and also every turn I had to take turned out to be a very hard shift and only got better when I threatened Johnny with getting dropped off early and having to walk the remainder of the way. Threats can work; don’t always believe the advice of the Psychologists.

Approaching the eastern shore I notice a woman at the Lochs edge about forty to fifty yards from the pier directly in front of the cottage that I had noticed last night with the lights on while waiting for the ferry to come and pick us up. It looked very weird, another instance of someone who was elderly at the Loch side and staring into the water. She was about seventy years old, wearing all black, skirt, blouse and cardigan with brown suede like boots, no head covering or coat. Her grey hair was long but thin, thin enough for the wind to drive through it and not lift it off her shoulders or was that because of the rain that now had her drenched from head to toe. She would have noticed us but made no sign of it as she only had eyes for the Loch, I could gather her stare if she would give it to me at the pier forty yards from where she stood. Para Handy informs us that she lives in the cottage, a bit of a recluse who stays there with no modern utilities or conveniences at all. No mains electricity or gas just fossil fuels and paraffin lights. She is probably waiting to bathe he says and as a modest lady she will wait for us and the boat to leave before she indulges herself in the very cold almost icy waters of Loch Lomond.

“Fancy waiting for the show boys” Johnny asks “Or will we just wait for the video to come out”

“Aye, a horror that would be, don’t watch alone” was Parra Handys advice.

We leave the ferry climbing onto the narrow pier as Parra Handy wishes us well we walk the ten yards to the shore. As we watch the Putt-Putt pull away I take out my hippy and raise it too toast today’s walk ignoring the somber looking lady.

“Here’s to blisters, sore feet and sore knees” I take a swig and pass it around for the other three to join in this mornings toast. They are no way as eager this morning as the previous three, and who could blame them. Its not ten o’clock yet and already it looks as if darkness is about to fall. The sky is heavy and grey, almost black. As heavy as we have ever seen so far and practically sitting on our heads.

 We all walk off. Johnny and Kenny take a quick lead and I walk at Georges pace. The first part of the walk today is a gradual climb away from the Loch. We head up past Inverarnan to Beinglas Farm and on towards Crianlarich through Glen Falloch. I never thought I would ever say this but I hope it is a long time before I see Loch Lomond again well certainly under these circumstances.  A place epitomised in Poem, Song, Story and History, renowned throughout the world for its beauty, so natural, lovely and breathtaking. Epitomised in the words of Burns and Wordsworth It was a place I always loved to come and visit and did so many times. I see it as one of the most if not the most beautiful places I have ever been too. I have traveled through the French and Italian Alps, the Pyrenees the glens in Ireland, Southern and Eastern Europe and never have I saw one sight that offers so much as Loch Lomond. It has colour and sense only God could create and if you do not catch them quick enough you will see it all change before your very eyes. The mountains may not be majestic but no others will tell a story of grief, trouble and strife and they do not need to reach up to the heavens as the heavens will always come to meet them. However I have had my fill of this place. Having almost giving into it yesterday I had called upon and used every emotion I had in my bag. I hope I don’t have to call on so many of them again, not in one day anyway.

We carry on, not a word is spoken. I know George is feeling bad, already I see pain in his face. He walks with his head to the ground. This was normal for us all yesterday but to day the way underfoot anyway is being a bit kinder. We have a good path, although we are walking in single file as this is all the space the way provides but there are no roots to slip on and the rain runs off so it is firm on the feet. The landscape around us now is quite different compared to yesterday. I can see all around. Ben Vorlich (Beinn Mhurlaig, Vorlich is a canoe shaped basket) to the southwest and the foothills of Beinn Dubhchraig (Black Crag Mountain) to the north and of course Ben Lomond and all its neighbours in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park now falling behind us to our right. The incline towards Beinglas farm is not hard on me. I suggest this to George but the pressure on the knees is irrelevant whether going up or down or straight-ahead, he is again feeling pain. As we climb away from the Loch I look around and say farewell, I do hope that I will be back, my thoughts on her have been hard this morning one thing is for sure the next time I meet her I will be better prepared for what she has to fling at me.

The rain is now falling on us as heavy as it has since we started on Saturday morning, that now seems so far away. We have now done the best part of forty miles and I have never felt so wet. The sodden wet fleece I am wearing is not helping. I feel very cold and damp so early into toady’s walk. George has fallen about twenty yards behind me, I am ok with this and I am sure George is to. I cannot walk at his pace today, I know I have fifteen miles to do and I can only do that at my chosen pace and in my own mood and mind set. I will not leave him I will keep him in my sight. I hear his phone ring and I don’t wait to hear who is calling him. If he wants me to know I know he will call me and I have a good idea that it will be his wife Gerry enquiring about how he is coping so far this morning.

I arrive at the bridge that takes us over Ben Glas burn. Johnny and Kenny have already crossed and are waiting for us like two sentries, guarding the entrance to Beinglas Farm Campsite in the pouring rain, carrying out a duty that neither had volunteered for. I join them first and while waiting for George to catch up there is not a word spoken. I know that this cannot go on like this all day. If we are constantly waiting for George to catch up with us we are more likely to get to Tyndrum after dark or if George continues bright and early by ambulance. There is a mood setting in, overpowering us all. This part of the walk should be easy, the walking surface is easy but the rain is pounding down on us. Along with us all thinking of George I know that this is not working, not today anyway. I look at Johnny and Kenny and think only of two boys playing in the rain, fighting it, not wanting to go inside, too much to do. With this thought I do laugh to myself as I notice the water drip off their nose.

I call the Sherpa on the phone. Kenny and George just look and listen. It is now ten thirty and I am sure he will not be far away. He answers and informs me that he has already collected all our bags from Ardlui and is already ahead of us and waiting in a car park at the Falls of Falloch. I think this is good, I ask him to have sandwiches and some hot drinks ready for us when we arrive. Johnny and Kenny seem to be perked up with this suggestion, but their looks change when I quickly switch off the phone while saying “I don’t Fucking believe it” to myself but the others obviously heard. They are keen to know what has happened. I don’t want to say, as I know how lowly they are all feeling. But I cannot hide my annoyance or have leapt out like a salmon and caught the Sherpas fly.

I had asked James to have something hot ready for us when we reach the Falls of Falloch car park in the hope that it will keep up our spirits as well as giving us something to look forward too because already we were very cold and very wet. But James reply was not what I expected. He told me that it was raining where he was and that this was not possible. I could only bite my tongue. I could see the looks on Johnny and Kenny’s face. They shrugged their shoulders, while wiping the water from their nose, saying nothing. George now joined us and we immediately started to walk off, not allowing George any respite at all. This was not the attitude of an army marching to victory but of one wishing that the battles where over and we could all return home to our families, in bags or in disgrace, it did not matter.

This must be our lowest ebb. It cannot get any worse. We walk on over the stile and by- pass Beinglas Farm campsite I could see the Drovers pub. Now that was a place I really wanted to visit being one of Scotlands most famous. I thought of yesterday and the physical obstacles that Loch Lomond had put in our way, she was still chasing us this morning but today’s weapon was more sinister, it was not physical torture but a mental pain. It was playing with our emotions a lot more than yesterday and I had emptied the emotions bag then. We had only walked two miles to this point with another thirteen to go, and already wet and cold. It was nothing new. Use the elements against the enemy, divide and conquer, cause discern in the ranks. I need to beat this, we need to beat this.     

The Falloch River appears on the left. It is running fast, feeding the Loch we have left, filling its hungry belly, pulling in the rain waters that pass through us taking another small piece of us with every droplet back into the Lochs basin. As we climb I notice the train opposite us on the west side of the river, climbing up Glen Falloch towards Crianlarich. I think of our return journey that will bring us back down this Glen on the same track, wishing it were today.

I know at this point it can only get better and in Georges case this means bringing today’s walk to a finish at the first opportunity. I know he will not like what I am going to say to him, but I have too. What is the point of brining yourself personal injury, no point at all? George (or his knees) is not up to this. George is more than up to this. I say to him if this were the Garvaghy Road in Northern Ireland it would not make any difference. I am the Grand Master and you should not be walking. He has to pack it in. If this was a mountaineering expedition or even a trek over the poles I am sure the Akeala will call a halt for anyone who is carrying an injury and take them out. If it gets worse it could also mean losing someone else to look after the injured. George decides that it is probably the right thing to do. He knows he will slow us down, not through personal choice but through circumstances that he wished he could control but cannot. He says he will see how he feels after our first stop.

Once again we are being separated by the way. Johnny and Kenny are pushing on up through the Glen. They have only one goal today, to bring this to an end and they are walking, as they know that the faster they walk the quicker the days end will come.

We approach the car park at the Falls `O` Falloch, only one problem here. We are on the east side of the falls and the Sherpa is on the west. Now I think of days gone past when the farmers wives would hurl the Haggis across the river to her husband for his tea, to save him a long journey home, well that’s what they taught us at Corpus Christi Primary, but somehow I could not see this happening here. Whether James had any Haggis or was capable of hitting us about fifty yards away was irrelevant, it wasn’t going to happen as no food was being prepared. The Sherpa had already informed us that no hot drinks or food could be prepared due to the rain, so there would be little chance of him hurling anything across the fifty yard gap between the car park and the path we where walking, although we could hurl abuse over at him.

We all wave to James. Kenny and Johnny before George and myself as we fall farther behind. I give him the fingers, or to be more precise `the two fingers`. When I get to within shouting distance I call across to him, to try and find somewhere farther up the way where we can get across the river and stop to meet up with him, the sooner the better for Georges sake. I will leave that decision to James as I cannot, or more to the point I will not pull out my map due to the fact that I am soaking wet, pissed off and knowing that the A82 follows us all the way to Crianlarich and is never far away at this point.  James should find somewhere, hopefully sooner rather than later where we can stop and hopefully get George into the van.

As we progress up through Glen Falloch the way moves from birch, alder and oak to open pasture, changing back and forth from one to another in small clumps of forestation. The single file path that takes us along the glen by the river turns into a rough track as the way approaches Derrydaroch. I notice two guys coming our way as the path leads down now towards the busy A82 a good place to have met the Sherpa I thought, but there is no sign of him. The guys are heavy hooded, well covered to fight off the elements that have been battering them as it has been beating us. I think to myself I will steal some of Parks patter here, I cannot see him so he want know and it maybe get a smile on Georges face.

“What’s the weather like in Fort William boys?” I ask,

“I don’t know” one replies. ”We are heading that way ourselves”

“But you are walking the wrong way”

“Aye, and so are you” he replied with an `I’m not the only stupid bastard walking this way look on his face.

George and myself looked at each other. We had to laugh, and it was good to see a smile on his face. It’s obvious now that we are not to be trusted to do this on our own. We wonder if Kenny and Johnny had done the same as us. We had stuck to the rough track that leads straight down onto the A82, not noticing the thistle logo that should have informed us to move onto the dirt track that would take us away from the road up to Derrydaroch.We both thanked our fellow walkers for showing us the right way and carried on, breaking rule number one to find the way once again. I think we will keep this to ourselves I say to George unless the other two have done the same, then we can rip the piss right out of them.

How small this error may have been actually gave us both a little hope. I am sure we both realised that mistakes will be made and bigger problems will arise. At the end of the day there is a lot bigger things going on in life than four guys walking through the Western Highlands of Scotland. If we do this, we do, if we don’t we don’t, I will. The hospice will get its money, I am sure of that.

We approach Derryvaroch. On the map it looks as if it is big as Chapelhall but it is one house and a barn. The house its self is called Derryvaroch and this is something that I will learn during this walk. That places such as this are very significant no matter how small they are, as they are a beacon, or a milestone, or a marker. It tells us where we are and what we have achieved and what we have still to conquer. In front of us I see a welcoming sight. The Sherpa and his van are on a dirt track road at the entrance to Derryvaroch. As we climb up the track, a short detour of twenty-five yards to meet James I notice the Corleonie boys taken shelter in the barn at Derryvaroch. They look as if they are enjoying this trip as much as we are.

Johnny and Kenny are there and eating cold meat rolls and drinking hot soup from a mug. I should have known James was only taken the piss when I called him from Beinglas farm, not unless he came across a Burger van on the way up the glen in the van. I now have a bit of a complex; the guilt is eating away at me. After cursing James earlier I should have known he was only taken the piss. I should have known the Sherpa wouldn’t let us down. It is a welcome site. We all have our own individual wee plastic bags that contain two rolls on cold ham, (although he has been a bit miserable with one slice of meat per roll), and a biscuit. I know my own mother could not have done better (I know she would have put at least three slice on each roll). This followed by a hot cup of Chicken Cup-O-Soup is very much appreciated at this time. I look down at the Corleones who have left the barn and have started to walk again. They look up at us at the road end being served the finest of packed lunches and being looked after by a Sherpa, the envy is staring out of them straight at us, it makes me feel good, I know its not right to gloat, but to hell with it, its been one of those days again and we deserve every little pick-up we can get and a great Sherpa such is James Stewart.

I need to change out of these clothes, well the top half anyway. As I have started off with a soaking wet fleece all I have achieved is to pass the water on to my t-shirt then on to my body. I am very, very wet and very cold. I tell the guys this and straight away I am offered another jacket from Kenny, I have other t-shirts so If I can get these wet clothes off and dry myself and get dry clothes on I know I will feel better, a hell of a lot better.

We all finish our early lunch and the main topic of conversation is Georges well being. He decides to call it a halt for today. I am glad on two counts. First is Georges well being and second, George can give James a hand to erect the tent and get things organised for us all at Tyndrum. I hope that dose not sound too selfish when I shared the thought with the others.

I ask James” Did Bernie leave a bag for me at Liz’s with a camera and spool in it?”

“I don’t know what is there, I never looked in to it, but Liz gave me a bag and its sitting in the passengers seat for you.”

Johnny says “Ah don’t believe you, ah bet you had a wee look in that bag”

“No ah didnae” James sounded offended in his reply.

“Dae ye think Bernie is going to be sending Wullie up dirty pictures or something, and you would be really offended if you saw them” Johnny adds.

“No it’s just no nice to peek into other peoples bags,” James concludes

“Did she give you a camera and spools”? I ask

“Ah don’t know what is in the bag I never looked” He now seems angry.

I checked the contents of the bag that I found on the front passengers seat. There was one camera and three APS spools and one pair of walking socks, one inner and one outer. That’s good I will manage with that.

I go to the back of the van and seek out my bag. I am lucky, as James at Ardlui has placed it in last. I go through it and take out a towel and a dry t-shirt.

“Wullie, you’ll find socks in that bag,” James informs me.

 “I thought you never looked in the bag” as quick as a flash Johnny jumps on James forgetfulness or his honesty.

“Ah didn’t”

“Well how do you know whits in it”?

“Caught rotten, I rest my case” Johnny shakes his fist in the air.

We are all laughing again. I take out the newly delivered camera to get a photo of us all. I think that this could be the last with George in it so I thought I’d better make the most of it. The Sherpa takes the first one of the four walkers and then Kenny offers to take one with James in it.

I get changed, removing all clothes from the top half of my body and drying myself off with a towel. I quickly put on the dry clothes, as it is very cold and still raining. Once I am ready Johnny, Kenny and I fill up with more water that James had brought with him courtesy of the President. We arrange to meet up at the train station in Crianlarich as Kenny tells us that this is the only place in the village that we will be able to get some hot food.

It now seems a bit weird, strange, there is a big thing missing as we walk down the slope at Derrydaroch to rejoin the walk. We are three, no longer whole. I am sure Johnny and Kenny are both thinking the same as George is no longer with us there is definitely something missing. I know one thing for sure that the pain in Georges knees will be nothing to what he is feeling in his heart and soul.   

The way crosses the River Falloch at Derrydaroch Bridge and turns sharp right over a knoll to return to the riverside. At the top of the knoll we all meet up with a guy from Texas, covered from head to toe in a dark blue plastic rain cover, that also covered his back pack, who to say the least is struggling big time. Now this is ironic I say to the guys, we have just left a Glasgow Ranger and the first thing we do is meet a Texas Ranger, who has to stop and rest after climbing the small knoll. I thought I was bad, I know George was under pressure and looked really bad with pain but this guy is ten times worse than anything I have came across so far. I worked hard at getting myself fit for this trip (well for my standards) and if the Texas Ranger had done the same I would not like to have seem him before he started his regime. A man about six feet in height and about twenty two stone in weight plus a kite that would shame a Sumo wrestler and who was stopping for a fag is not going to make it. He tells us he actually started this morning from Inverarnan where he had being staying at the Drovers over night and it was his intention to go all the way to Fort William. I can only say I am glad he picked the correct starting point, as I could not imagine him coping with what we had done the day before in his condition. I don’t want to be seen degrading to this guy but there is no way he should be doing this himself in that condition. I think that we will end up reading about him later in the week in the Daily Record having been found lying in a burn after taking a heart attack. As we talked to him he was very breathless and red in the face. By my calculation he is walking at one mile per hour. He says he would like to get to Tyndrum today but at that rate he will get there at around one o’clock tomorrow morning. We leave him saying cheerio allowing him to finish his fag; I hope it’s not his last.

 The way now climbs for about half a mile sitting above the river Falloch and below the railway and road heading north and south.  Crammed between them we can hear clearly what form of transport is moving through the glen at the same time as us. This only compounds the noise made by the falling rain and gives me a feeling of walking through a city park rather than a national wilderness. We take a sharp left turn as we first cross the West Highland Railway line by means of a small `sheep creep`. This is basically a small tunnel under the railway line, man made at the time of the railways construction about one and half metres high by one and half metres wide. It reminds me more of something that you would see in the movie `Colditz` a small tunnel built as a way of escape but this is no means of escape, for us today, just a means to help us on our way safely. I would assume that it was constructed for the Shepard’s use to move their flock under the railway avoiding the track in days gone bye but now it looks as if it is used by walkers only going by the amount of trees, long grass and fencing that surround it. I wouldn’t like to use the creep carrying the full load that I have seen some other walkers carrying, and again I think of the Texas Ranger, there is no way that guy will get through this unless he crawls on his hands and knees, or goes over the track and that I wouldn’t recommend.

As we come out the other side we have a small step up to the old road at Carmyle Cottage. Turning right we walk for about fifty yards where again we step downwards after climbing the stile to cross the A82 trunk road by means of another tunnel. This is I believe to be an Aluminum structure almost round except for the flat concrete walking surface. About three metres in diameter and the length of the road above it does make a good place for respite when the weather is heartless like today. Probably built specifically for walkers crossing the busy A82 you immediately start a climb directly uphill for about one hundred yards to join the old military road that now runs parallel to the A82 towards Crianlarich.

 Johnny and Kenny have walked away from me before the start of the climb and wait for me to join them at the top of the steps coming out the tunnel. This is the first testing climb of the day but the good news is the rain has now stopped. In fact it is turning quite bright. I think if this had happened earlier maybe it would have given George a bit of hope and he would still be with us, but the weather was not George’s issue, it was physical, years of being kicked up and down a football pitch playing junior football.

 From this vantage point above the road we can see for quite a bit around us. Ahead there is a farm, Keilator Farm according to my map and between us and that I see lots of cows, loads of them, around thirty in total and in our way as well. Although I cannot see the top of it I know that Beinn Dhubhchraig is high up to our left and to the northeast I can see the start of Breadalbane, the wilderness that stretches to Perthshire and Badenoch in the north. We are now on a military road that continues along the hillside and it will take us towards Crianlarich, passing above Keilator Farm, following the drystane dyke for part of the way that keeps us apart from the rough grazing land on the hillside that feed the cattle that are now in our way.

As we approach the herd of cows I think to myself how did they get there? They didn’t jump over the dykes. I know that cows don’t do such things, well not a whole heard anyway. They could have only been herded into this position, maybe towards the farm, but if that was the case why leave them here and not take them all the way into the farmyard. We are now about ten yards away and I notice ahead that the way changes from the rocky military road to a smoother dirt surface. Good I think as walking on the military roads is like walking on cobles with a pointed finish, sore on the feet.

As we walk on the new surface we all quickly realise that this is still the same rocky surface we have been on with the difference being this part has about six inches of cow shit sitting on top off it. As we placed our feet onto it, this broke the surface and a smell that can only be described as cows shit quickly filled our lungs. Now if you are a country lad like my self you will know what cow shit smells like, but if you are a townie you can only imagine what the worst smell in the world can be. If Carlsberg made the worst smell in the world… well they would probably make cow shit smells.

The language was now very blue, not only had we to suffer this smell we had also to skelp the cows, hitting their backsides, literally pushing them out our way to get passed them over the next fifty yards, back to the relative safety or cleanliness of the military road without the shit on it. It’s a bit like squeezing out of a sixty thousand plus crowd at Celtic park; when your team has just lost to Rangers, get me out of this, pushing to gain ground and away from the atrocity that has just happened.

 Now being raised in Calderbank, I know one or two things about cows. I know this is not quite the same as chasing cows up and down the cow’s park behind my paternal home in Park Road, playing cowboys and hitting their backsides with big bits of tree. One thing I know they are more scared of me than I am of them, and secondly they are basically stupid animals and can expect to do things at random, like sudden movements. So I knew that were we where there is a danger, that one of us could get crushed. So the important thing here is not to spook them but gently move and push them aside. The last thing we want to do is startle them cause a stampede causing some major damage to ourselves in such a confined space.

“Don’t startle them now, take it easy” The others look at me if I am daft with the `they are just bloody coo`s` look on their faces.

“Makes you feel right at home this Johnny boy,” I say as Johnny pushes another one to the side.

“Not my cup of tea, I’d feel a bit more at home if they where sheep”

“Ah don’t believe it”

One of my bovine partners for this part of the walk has just shit all down my left side, stay calm, don’t startle the beast. Get me out of here. I kick one then another, (what about startling them)?  I am not making an impact.

“Aye you two bastards have a good old laugh”.  

“Always in the shit Wullie boy, always in the shit” Johnny says laughing.

Jam side down again I think.

“I heard from all of your work buddies Wullie that you where a bit of a cowboy, so this should be no problem to you” Kenny says

“Pot calling the Kettle black comes to mind” I reply.

There is probably only one good thing about a cow shitting on you, and that is if you could call anyone or anything shitting on you as good, is the fact that it dose not stick to you. I have learned something today, that when shit on by a cow it slides off. I had only ever encountered cow shit this close before, as a boy playing in a park that was shared with cows. A sliding tackle at football was only for the brave, and if you made contact with the cow pat as well as the ball the pat did stick, as it would have been lying for a while before the surface was broke. This was also my theory as to why Calderbank never produced a first class goalkeeper and no one ever headed the ball because the ball would have certainly been in the shit. However it does leave a mark, nothing that Daz cannot take care of anyway, and it also leaves a hell of a smell. We make it through. As Johnny `shoos` the last one away I am told that shitty luck is good luck, so here’s hoping, I am now a potential lottery winner. At the first opportunity we stop away from the cows and remove as much of the shit from our boots as we can, rubbing it off on the heather, sliding our boots from left to right, back to front, instep and out step and walk about in the first available puddle.  I wonder how I am going to get the cows skid marks off my waterproofs as I remove the worst of it off with tuffs of grass and dirt taking great care not to get it on my hands.

Once past Keilator the track joins a forest road. At this point we have a decision to make. To go into Crianlarich we have to leave the way and travel about one mile or just short of it, down the hill into the village and then about the same again to meet back up with the way on returning. Now this was a major breach of rule number one, no walking back, or adding to the walk. After the start we had this morning up to Derrydaroch and then fighting the mad cows at Keiltar I was in no mood to add another two miles onto our journey today. Two miles is two too many. With six miles to go I didn’t want to turn this into eight. I new we had arranged to meet James and George in the café at Crianlarich station, but I thought was a plate of soup that important that I would walk two miles for it. I thought not. I suggested to Johnny and Kenny that lunch wasn’t important today and I would rather carry on walking. We could arrange to meet James and George further up the road. Both Kenny and Johnny agreed and both said that they where also quite keen to get on with it, make hay while the sun is shining.

Kenny pulled out the map and noted that the best place would be at the road end at Strath Fillan, where the way crosses the A82 for the second time after Crianlarich. Johnny phoned the other two guys and gave them the info that was required and arranged the next meeting point. George informed him that they had already had their tea, George a steak pie and of course James had fish, and that they would be glad to get on their way, a bit more anyway. Why does that not surprise any us. We once again got on our way. Still feeling cold and very damp I wanted to get this day over with as soon as possible, plus I didn’t smell to clever, although I was at the stage where I did not notice it.

 We head up the tiny Bogle Glen (Glen of Ghosts, Gleann nam Bòcan.) through the forest above Crianlarich. We head northwest climbing for about half a mile through thick forest. I say to Johnny surely this is the day that I will see a reindeer. This is their environment and has been in the past as the signs are all around us here according to our Akeala, trees with their branches eaten up to seven feet up its trunk from the base and the one side only.

 We reach an opening and are now in brilliant sunlight and feeling very warm. This is something that has to be seen and experienced to be believed. From freezing rain to brilliant sunshine in no time at all, only in Scotland. I look at the skies and know that this is only temporary. It is warm enough for me to consider taking off all my waterproofs but I decide not to as I know that rain will never be far away and after the earlier soakings I’ll play safe. Crianlarich village stands at a junction of glens and this vantage point within the forest gives us some great views. Although we cannot see the village itself from here as it is out of view, hidden by the forest sitting above it, we have a great view to the northeast where the River Fillan runs along Glen Dochart (Dochard, Rough Glen) towards Loch Tay and the twins of Ben More (A’ Bheinn Mhòr, The Big Mountain) and Stob Binnien (Pinnacled Peak), the highest Munroe’s in Scotland south of the Tay /Clyde line, stand immediately to the right and are a grand sight to be seen. To the left, running northwest is Strath Fillan our planned destination to meet George and James. As we look down over Strath Fillan we see the Glenbraur Viaduct rail bridge over the river and above it is the perfect rainbow, I don’t think I have ever looked down on a rainbow, not ever and consider this something special. I can see its start and its end and I now know that the myth might not be true. I’ll have to get a picture of this, as this is probably something that no one would believe.

Crianlarich comes from the Gaelic name for a 'low pass' and is the village closest to the halfway point on the WHW, it feels really good to have reached this point, a major milestone for us all and for the first time in the past two days I now have the will and the spirit to carry this on. In the mid 1700s two military roads linking the Central and Western Highlands were built to meet at the village and today’s main roads follow their layout.

We start to climb down from our vantage point of about twelve hundred feet and as quick as we said life is beautiful, it starts to rain, and then hail stones. Yes it was another change of seasons in the Western Highlands. I am sure we have had all four seasons today now. There is only one thing to do. Sing.

“ Hail, Hail the Celts are here”. Now there is a cue for song as there ever was one. Of course Johnny choose not to join in, and Kenny was not much of a backing vocal but I gave it all I had.

“No wonder you can never see a Deer, singing songs like that scares them all off”, Thanks Johnny, 

We cross the Herive burn and again another short seasonal change had occurred. Welcome back summer. Come on God; keep the sunshine with us the rest of the day or at least until we get home tonight. The route heads northwards for several hundred yards before picking up a grassy track, and then a forest road which runs down to the Oban railway close by the A82 road bridge over the line. The way goes along the fence above the railway, drops under through a creep, and follows the road for a short distance before crossing it. The route then takes us down a path below the road and into a field used for equestrian training towards the River Fillan. We then cross the river by what looks like a new bridge. Sturdy and made of wood it will take a heavy load as it also supports the access to Kikton Farm. The view here up and down the river is good especially downstream towards Ben More and Stob Binnien and if we hadn’t to meet the two Sherpas I would like to have waited a while and savoured the picture post card moment. With permits available at Crianlarich this river is reputed for Salmon along with Brown Trout and Perch. Although the waters are shallow at this part I don’t notice any pools or fisherman.

Once across the bridge the farm is in view and the field in front of it is full of sheep and lambs. On seeing us the ones nearest scarper and I am sure again it is the funny look the Lesmahagow lad is giving them.

“Just as well they’re fenced in Johnny” Kenny points out” There is no knowing what could happen “

Beside the farm there is an old graveyard and to its immediate left is the ruins of St Fillans Priory, now just a few fallen dry stone walls surrounded by trees. Robert the Bruce in 1318, promoted the church of St. Fillan to the status of a Priory. He did this to show thanks for the victory at Bannockburn in 1314 and probably because the monks had helped Bruce after an earlier battle at Dalrigh just over a mile away. St Fillan (means little wolf) was a follower of St. Columba, who founded the abbey in Iona. Fillan brought Christianity to the Picts in the north and Celts who lived in the South Western Highlands and West Central lowlands of Scotland. His mother was St Kentigerna who founded a religious community on one of Loch Lomond's islands Inchcailloch that we had passed on our second day, where St. Fillan died in 734.  

The graveyard its self is worth a visit and can be entered by walking around the back of it. Dates are noticeable as early as the 1700s and you can imagine being sited alongside one of Scotland’s earliest Christian settlements one can believe that it would certainly have a lot of history attached to it.

At Kirkton farm the way turns left, to run along the drover’s road with green pasture at either side. A half a mile on it reaches Auchtertyre, another farm that appears to do a sideline in camping and wigwams. As we just walked past not entering or stopping, the Sherpas informed us later about the shop and its varied inventory that includes Wild Boar, Ostrich meat, rare breed Pork and a wide selection of Red Indian memorabilia, yes in Scotland. I suppose its something to do with the wigwam accommodation as I have yet to meet anyone by the name of Tonto MacGregor in these parts, and if he did live in these parts he would blend in here in what resembles a Wild West trading post sitting in the middle of a farm. The Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) use here and Kirkton Farm as a hill and mountain research centre and invite walkers to use many other woodland paths and sheep trails. It is also a good access point for the high tops of Ben Challum, Bein Odhair, Ben Chaorach and Cam Chreag.   

From here we are walking on a tar road surface and we cross the bridge at Auchtertyre farm leaving the café and campsite and head towards the A82 where we have planned to meet George and James for our first rest break since Derrydaroch this morning. There is no sign of them at the Auchtertyre road end and its junction with the A82.

Now I would have thought that no way the two of them could have not understood the instruction. George was there now to support James, not get lost along with him. Its sad that we have already forgot about his sore knees and thinking selfishly on why he cannot support us when we want him too. It has been one of those days, a day that makes you think the worst in every situation. Sending boys to do a mans job, it makes you wonder. `Get us at the road end at Auchtertyre Farm in Strath Fillan where the way crosses the A82 for the second time coming out of Crianlarich`. Straight forward was the instruction. George and James are looking at the exact same map as I am, along with Johnny and Kenny. Now they may be sitting looking at their map in a café somewhere, and having a fish tea for the second time today and filling their bellies with coffee and scones while us poor souls are soaking wet, frozen and desperate for a cup of tea and sandwich.

“Ah know where they ir” Johnny informs us.” Look”.

 He points to the road sign that faces oncoming A82 traffic both north and south bound. It is advertising, Café, B+Bs, camping facilities and wigwams. Large enough for a blind driver to see its colorful portraits of hot food and place of rest is very enticing to any driver and walker who would notice it and its only about four hundred yards down the road we have just walked. Could we have walked right past them?

“But I never noticed the van” Kenny says

“We where not looking for it” Johnny says

“Aye true enough, Ah never really noticed anything, my head was down, battering on”

“Phone them,” I say. Johnny quickly takes out the phone. First he phones George. No answer. Then he phones James. No answer.

“Ah don’t believe it” Johnny now sounds frustrated.” Two bloody phones and ah bet the two of them have left them in the van and they are both in that café and having their second fish tea of the day.”

“My thoughts too Johnny” I add “The cafes number is on the billboard advert, phone it and ask them if they are sitting in there”

Johnny phones the number on the billboard.

“Hello, can you tell me if there are two grey haired gentlemen sitting in there blethering and drinking coffee,” He asks. He then explains himself a bit better and why he is asking the question.

“Well can you tell the two of them to stop drinking coffee and get out here to the road end because there is three guys waiting on them starving, frozen and very wet… Thanks” he hangs up the phone.

“Aye, the pair of bastards are sitting in their drinking tea and eating scones, ah new it, I don’t know how we never saw the van”

“They must be parked off the road where they cannot be seen” Kenny points out.

I walk to the crash barrier at the side of the road bridge over the Fillan and sit down on it. Johnny and Kenny join me and once again there is not much being said. I never realised how fast cars actually traveled on this road. Watching them go past, all types forty-foot trucks, buses, vans and caravans. They are all here, speeding trying to catch up the time they have lost on the narrow roads to the north over Rannoch Moor or to the to the south at Loch Lomond. This road is one of the most dangerous in the country and I understand the driver’s frustration. Doing around forty-five thousand miles a year myself behind the wheel of the car through my work I am well aware of the annoyance that can be found while driving through rural Scotland. I try not to let the slow moving caravan or tractor annoy me, I do realise that a bit of patience is a lot better than a lot of despair for ones family. But it is always the other guy that is the worry. You cannot drive their car or make their decisions. You are in the palm of their hands so many times and can only be saved by your extra vigilance. I hate speed cameras, well the static camera and the ones that jump out behind hedges in the hand of the Police. I am sure they cause more accidents than they prevent as the driver spots them slams on the brake and then speeds up to a silly speed to make up the lost time, to get their that little bit quicker. Taxation by stealth that is all they provide.

“That’s A funny set-up, that there”

Johnny points out three guys walking across the main road from where we are sitting. Obviously three WHW walkers in full walking attire now walking ahead of us as they come out past the Auchtertyre road end past us. One of the guys is about six feet four inches in height but not carrying any kit. His smaller mates both about five feet eight inches tall are each carrying the giant’s kit between them. One is obviously carrying the big boys bags as he has his own on his back and another being carried on his chest like a Lambegh drum. Now the giant looks as if he could carry all the bags and his two mates at the one time all the way to Fort William, obviously he has some sort of problem disabling him from carrying anything or we have come across our first WHW bully.

“Looks as if he needs a pair of drum sticks to go with that outfit” Johnny adds pointing to the wee guy carrying the two bags.

They all walk on, not talking either. I am sure they have personal issues as we have had; all the signs are there. Two guys walking on, one now trails behind, the giant one not carrying anything.

The van is now in sight. As it turns the corner we can only think `What are they two gits sitting in there smiling about`.

“They’ve obviously had their tea then” Kenny decides as the van draws up beside us on the edge of the slip road onto the A82. James and George jump out of the van to pelters of abuse, they’re getting it hard from all angles.

“Where have you been”

“I suppose you’ve had your fish and chips for the second time today”

“Nice and cosy in the café”

“Where are your mobiles”?

“Don’t rush boys we have all week to do this, in your own time”

“Shut the fuck up” George brings all the moaning to a halt. “ You must have walked past us back there”

“You must have camouflaged the bloody van so we couldn’t see it” I replied.

“Not to worry, we are all here now, whit do you want for tea” James brings it all back into line as he opens the doors at the back of the van.

“Whits the smell” George looks at me.

“Don’t ask “I reply” It will put you off your tea”

“It will no put these two off their tea, they’ve already had it” Kenny says.

In no time our faithful Sherpa has sandwiches ready, rolls and cold ham and its obvious he has been taking the hints about the size of the rations as this roll has about four ounces of cold meat on it, “Very tasty” I say, “Compliments to the cooker”

“Do you want me to make up some hot coffee for you” James asks.

“No time Sherpa bi`ooy” Johnny tells him “We have to hit the trail. Looks like more rain is a come`min`”

“That’s the worst impersonation I’ve ever heard of Captain Birds Eye,” I say

“It’s no Captain Birds Eye, It’s John Wayne, yi smart bastard. Whit the hell am ah want to do an impersonation of Captain Birds Eye in the middle of the Scottish Highlands fur”

“It sounds more like Captain Birds Eye then” I continue.

“That’s it Johnny, you’ll hiv to stay in the night and practice your John Wayne impersonations” Kenny informs him.

“No don’t bother John Boy, just tell everybody its Captain Birds Eye, makes life easier”

Before leaving I give George the details of the campsite we are booked onto tonight. George suggests that he asks the campsite if they have any caravans available for a one-night rental. We all agree that this is a good shout and start to pray that this can happen, if anyone can make it happen I am sure George will. We move off to the tooting of the vans horn as James and George take the short drive up to Tyndrum. Our walk will be slightly longer but not much, about two and half miles to go. It doesn’t seem a lot when saying it but having walked twelve miles already and not an easy walk at that, it did seem we had still a bit to do. However we where now a good bit passed the half way marker for the entire walk, things can only get better.

We now cross the busy A82 road following the River Fillan along the narrow path surrounded by trees pressed between the river and a field, the site of the battle of Dalrigh that was fought in 1306. We turn right at the point I believe the River Cononish joins the River Fillan (I find it difficult to decide where as my map is not to specific) entering Tyndrum Community Wood. Now this is a small jewel, a cracker of a walk. The local community owns the wood and as well as the WHW passing through there are many other small walks on offer. It is also home to one of Scotland’s rarest birds the Black Grouse and though I have still to see any form of wild animal, I begin to think that all this talk of Scotland’s wild inhabitants is a bit of myth. The narrow path joins a track just after the stone road bridge over the River Cononish (or is it the Fillan at this point) that takes us into the wood proper where we follow the Crom Allt burn crossing a sleeper bridge for a hundred yards or so on the rough narrow paths laid as part of the community wood over the many kames to a small Lochan. In this Lochan legend says that Robert the Bruce flung his entire heavy armory and his own sword prior to being captured by McDougall of Lorne after the battle of Dalrigh. The Bruce later escaped killing many McDougalls in doing so and the rest is history as they say. The path follows through the kames (small hillocks, remnants of glacier movements) and young forestry plantings up to a mature pinewood below Tyndrum. Tyndrum comes from the Gaelic `Tigh an Druim` meaning the house on the ridge.

 Five miles north of Crianlarich, Tyndrum is by far one the busiest villages in the highlands due to its situation on the crossroads for traffic heading for Oban and Fort William from the central belt. In the past it had been a major road meetings for drovers and the drover’s road would lay the path for today’s main road to follow making it probably one of Scotlands oldest villages. It was a lead mining village during the nineteenth century and a monument to its lead mining past can be found on the WHW as we enter Tyndrum at the edge of the community wood before joining the pinewood. At this time someone at Cononishand near Tyndrum struck gold and it led to a mini gold rush in the area and locals would have you believe that gold can be found in the Cononish even now. I don’t know about that but I reckon that if this was the case every tracksuit and Burberry hatted `Ned` in Glasgow would be up here with the colander from their maws kitchen panning for gold,` nae bother ya dobber, this gold pannin`s a dawdle`.

The phone beeps, a message, its Tom Sinclair’s song for today. The guys have got into the habit of waiting to see what it is as it usually signals the start of a singsong, but I don’t think it will do it today. `Two steps behind`. Well it does sound appropriate, especially for me but I don’t recognise it, neither does Kenny or Johnny. Oh well `Faldi re Faldi ra` it will have to be today. The others walk on they’re not in to the substitute song. I’m on my own at the singing for the second time today.

“I love to go a wandering around the mountain side…”

We arrive at the monument to lead mining at Tyndrum as the way runs through this outdoor exhibition to the industry that no longer survives here. As we study the information boards the phone rings. It’s George. We all stop reading the pictorials on the information boards and I answer the phone as Johnny and Kenny listen in.

“Good news and bad news, ok, good news first” I listen and immediately pass on the conversation to Johnny and Kenny.

“He has got two wigwams for hire, the campsite is closed due to being waterlogged, he took both wigwams at twelve pound a night each it seems good value for money,”

Johnny and Kenny both nod their heads in agreement and look a lot more cheerful than I have saw them over the past few days, the thought of another dry warm night.

“Aye not a problem, get them” Kenny says

“So what’s the bad news?” I ask George.

He asks me if I remember the family who they where talking to on Conic Hill, and I said yes, `the not the full shilling family` who decided to go up the hill although it was closed.

“That’s right,” he agreed with me and proceeded with the bad news.

Kenny and Johnny are starring at me now wanting to know what the bad news is. I say cheerio to George and pass it on.

 “George out of the kindest in his heart decided to give `the not the full shilling family` who we met on Conic Hill, do you remember them”

“Aye the man, woman, wee boy and wee lassie” Johnny agrees.

I continue

”One of our wigwams as he was there when the park owner informed the father and the wee lassie, that all the space on the campsite was now taken. And George feeling sorry for the man and the wee lassie offered them one of our gaffs for the night”.

“We can all squeeze into one,” he told the father and at the agreement of the camp owner the deal was done.

“Ah we will be fine all in the one” Kenny said.

I couldn’t help but mention that I saw the sizes of the wigwams at Beinglas Farm and only hoped that these wigwams at Tyndrum could sleep five big hairy arsed men.

Knowing that we are almost there Johnny notices that Kenny has once again stepped up the pace and left us behind. This is something that I have noticed and now Johnny has mentioned it too. “It must be a toilet thing, “ he says.

The body knows that it’s almost home, told by the mind so it asks you to hurry up or there will be a major accident in the trousers and pants department. I sense a similar feeling and say to Johnny that it might be advisable if I hurried up as well.

We entered Tyndrum from the pinewoods to the south of the village along the riverbank past the wooden bridge that was out of bounds due to its unsafe condition. If we could have crossed the bridge it would have taken us into a campsite. I couldn’t see the name of the site so I decided along with Johnny to walk on. We where looking for the `By The Way` campsite, a quite appropriate name I thought to get the attention of the walkers, as it had done it for me when I booked it, now that name could win prizes in a name the campsite competition. It wasn’t long before we found it. As the name suggests it sits on the edge of the WHW.

 It’s large sign welcomes us and we enter; I am feeling glad that once again we have reached the sanctuary of our campsite in one piece although very damp but no major harm done (excluding George). Our clothes are still soaking; the lack of rain during the last two hours has not managed to dry out our outer clothing one bit. My boots are soaking but my feet are still dry. Johnny looks the same, not wind swept, more weather beaten to say the least. I thank God again for bringing me this far, fifty-three miles and now feeling good.

I think to myself as we walk in, who would have thought that I would have done this, even got this far. Some of my colleagues at work scoffed at me when I asked them for sponsor money to support the Hospice. Not for giving money to our chosen charity but scoffed at my ability to walk almost one hundred miles through the Western Highlands of Scotland. I was even given funny looks by members of my own family. It was these people who made me more determined; I am embarrassed to say that they became part of my motivation as well as the personal reasons and the noble cause we set out to support. 

We notice the van. No sign of James or George and we already can guess where Kenny has gone. The campsite is not very big. As we enter it the first thing that stands out is the row of wigwams that run across the site from right to left. Well four huts and one small wigwam, one deep and ending at a white one story building with roughcast walls and corrugated sheet roofing, separated by a six by six foot wooden hut. To our left there is a wooden chalet and about ten static caravans. To the right is another wooden chalet, camping grounds and a white brick building that may well be the owners house as well as the campsite reception.

The huts look good, quite big except for the tiny wigwam right at the end next to the white building. I think to myself, `I can see how this is going to pan out`. With the exception of the small wigwam the rest are good sizes with separate sitting area from the sleeping area. The sitting area has a small stove and a couple of chairs. Basically a small wooden cabin about six feet by twelve feet and enough height for the average guy to stand up in, including a shower. Some would say a glorified garden hut but at this time I would say sheer luxury. However the small wigwam at the end looked more like a wooden four man tent. Insufficient height for the average man to stand up in but enough room to lay four sleeping bags on the floor, no more I would guess. I know that will be ours, it’s in my water as we say, I just know it.

I notice the giant and his two pals are sitting in the kitchen area of the wigwam, third from the end. We acknowledge each other with a slight nod of the head, a nod of the head more than what we had given them or they gave us earlier as the way crossed the A82 passed Auchtertyre.

“They look a right happy bunch that lot” Johnny shares with me in a whisper.

George comes out the door at the side of the white building to meet us. I feel let down just a little bit here. A man of habit I am, not being greeted by James as he has done so at the end of the past three days walk. Already George has taken over some of the Sherpas duties. Maybe James is inside making the dinner.

“Well, how is the knees,” I ask

“Sore, very sore. They seem to have got worse since I stopped walking”

“You should see a doctor,” I suggest

“I’ve already been on the phone, I’ve to go on Thursday so I am going to stay the night and James will take me home in the morning when he goes down to pick up Peter”

“Aye, probably the right thing to do”.

 I could see the disappointment in Georges face. I do believe it pains him more to go home than to give up the walk but I know it is the right choice he has made. What’s the point in doing damage to yourself especially when so many others need you? After all what we do will not prevent or stop life threatening scenarios or change the world and make it better. What we do is play a small part in the big picture, and if the small parts break the big picture cannot be made. So if we look after the small bits we can ensure that we will always be able to do more. The work of the Hospice will carry on as long as there is someone like us. Like there have been in the past, but let us make sure we stay fit, in one piece to continue it in the future.

“That’s our digs there,” Yes George points to the dog kennel at the end of the run. I knew it.

“So what did you give up to the `no the full shilling family?” I ask

“Wan of them” he points to the larger room and kitchen huts.

I remind George that it’s sore knees he has and not a broken conscience.

“Ah couldnae say no to that wee lassie, she looked as if she was ready to greet”

“George, I’m ready to greet, my feet are sore, my legs are sore and I’m covered in shit and we have all suffered greeting wains in the past and still do.” and here he is doing the Good Samaritan. I’m sounding pretty selfish here; my excuse is I’m knackered, weary and smelly.

“Ah, not to worry, it’s dry, and we don’t have to put a tent up and you would have done the same yourself” Johnny chips in.

“It’s only for sleeping in anyway” George adds,” wait to you see what other facilities there are in here”. I cannot see any signs of the multi-plex or bowling alley.

George leads us in through the side door of the white building. It’s a kitchen, a communal kitchen by the looks of it, one that we will share with all the other campers. As there are no other campers and the other residents are all in room and kitchen wigwams I guess that we will have a free run of this facility. I was impressed with what was available. Cookers, washing machines, dryers, microwave, kettle and various pots and pans as well as fridge and freezer. Already George and James have got the soup on the gas stove, James is in charge of stirring at this time and tells us it will be ready as soon as we sit down. I must admit at this point I was beginning to think that I got it wrong with the camping idea and should have went for wigwams instead. But the reason this never happened was I didn’t know that this option was available, ignorance. There is no sign of Kenny and James leaves the soup to its own means to show us around the kitchen. He points out the dryer.

“Get the waterproofs off and this will dry them out great for tomorrow.” I am instructed.

“I’ll need to wash them first” 

“No bother, big sink there, get them washed and we will fling them in the dryer,”

Along with all the cooking and washing facilities I was told that there was a toilet block next door with loos and showers. The only issue being that all-electrical appliances are metered and require fifty pence pieces in the metre before they operate.  I think great, first things first. Get the smelly clothes off and washed, then to the loo and then to the shower. Life is looking up. At that point Kenny returns and Johnny asks if it is safe to go into the toilet now. Kenny says there will be no issues up here it’s the folk at the bottom of the Glen that will have all the problems.

I go to the van for the wet fleece that was removed earlier at Derryvarroch. On returning to the kitchen I place it in the drier along with my waterproof jacket and then I remove my boots doing the usual toe stretches to get the blood running all around my feet again. Removing my waterproof trousers they are flung into the deep sink and I fill it with hot water while adding some washing up liquid that had been left by a previous tenant. As the sink fills Johnny sits down in the chairs at the tables provided and pulls off his boots.

 Like a cartoon character that has just swallowed a stick of dynamite with the fuse lit, the TNT explodes leaving nothing but the smoldering boots. The hot air rushes out, like a chimney pouting out smoke it rises above his boots into the cool air of the kitchen. Johnny does not have the smoldering blackened face of “Yosemitey Sam”, more the pale look of Casper. That man needs a good plate of soup I think to get some colour back into him and his feet must be boiling hot and soaking wet for that to happen a sure sign that blisters are on there way. He needs to get them boots thoroughly dried before the morning.

I give the waterproof trousers a good rinse and ask George to help me dry them a bit before placing in the drier. Like two kids at the public baths drying our wet towels we both turn the trousers clockwise, squeezing as much of the hot soapy water we can from them. As I have missed the first load I fling them on top of the drier asking someone to place them in the drier for me once it has been emptied. I am off to the toilet block.

Current situation.

1.        Five guys sleeping in a large dog kennel tonight, no room to swing a cat. Good points are it should be dry and warm, bad points are five guys and all the body odours and noises in a confined space that it cannot escape as in a tent.

2.        George is going home tomorrow. James will take him home when picking up Peter. Good points Sherpa count now at two, bad points losing George.

3.        It’s waterlogged down here, and the next task the Sherpas have to complete is to build the tent at Kings House. Good points, I can’t think of any, bad points, Kings House is in one of the remotest and most exposed areas to the elements in Western Europe.

The issues at The King House Hotel are wild campers are not allowed to use the hotels facilities and also the effect the weather can have on you in such a remote area. You cannot use the facilities in the hotel except if you are sitting having a beer, then you are allowed to use their loos. Very kind of them I thought (not). Drink our beer all night, spend your money in our hostelry and sleep in our back yard, the bleakest and remotest back yard in the world, but don’t dare try to wash in our loos, or get your wet clothes and boots dried. I thought at the time of planning that this would be ok, but I was not expecting and had not planned for such bad weather. If we cannot build tents here at Tyndrum due to waterlogged surfaces we will have no chance at Kings House. I know I cannot wait and make decisions when we get there tomorrow; something needs to be put in place now. I know El Presidente Peter is joining us tomorrow and that will ensure a two man Sherpa team, but I cannot guarantee them getting the tents up and if this does not transpire I cannot see them coming up with other options as there is no obvious solutions. I need to get something organised now, it’s five o’clock, and what’s it going to be.

The shower is anything but good, it’s wet, but just, trickling out the shower nozzle and it’s not warm, it’s bloody freezing. The sign on the wall reads;

The campsite is supported by its own water supply
But it is small and in short supply.
Please use water sparingly

You have to laugh, here we are in the wettest place on the planet and the guy that owns this place is telling us to be thrifty with the water, only in Scotland. As I get ready for the shower why do I think of the words, tight and miserable, they seem to be the only words that come to mind right now, I wonder why. The water trickles out of the tap. I stand here naked now praying for some water to wash my weary, cow shit smelly body in a bare brick cubicle no more than three feet by three feet and a concrete floor. Even boiling hot oils would be welcome right now; I need heat before I freeze to death. It’s not going to happen. I can hear the other guys in the kitchen, only a brick wall, one course thick separates us. I can hear the tap running, wasting water running away down the plughole. It’s water I need. It’s not hard to work this out what needs to be done.

“James” I yell at the top of my voice. Considering he is only about twelve feet away from me I cannot believe he cannot hear me.

“James” I try again, “Turn that water off in there, I’m trying to take a shower and you’re using all the hot water.

Still no reply, but I hear the tap being turned off. Good as this happens the showerhead perks up and starts to spray water at me. I quickly adjust my taps to get the temperature I want. Good, this is actually quite nice. It’s like taking a hot shower outside. With all the breezes coming at you from every angle and being able to see daylight through the gaps in the roof, I was quite invigor…

“Ya shower of Bastards” I roar out. “Turn that water aff”.

 I jump back from the shower spray it is now cold, freezing cold again. I can hear the gets next door sniggering and laughing as they turn on the hot water to take it away from me, leaving me with stone cold mountain water. So childish (but I have to laugh). This is the worst shower I have ever had to take. To add to my horrors the corrugated roof is now getting pelted with hail stones. I am inside a tin of dried peas, being shaken in the primary school band. From nowhere the hail hits the roof so unexpected. I could hardly hear myself think. No use shouting at them next door as I know they will not hear me over this din. I say to hell with this I will try again in the morning.

On returning to the kitchen after failing at what I had to do in the toilet and shower block. I enter giving my walking colleagues a bit of mouthful using words like frozen, heart attack and daft bastards. It did not have any effect other than bring smiles to their faces. I was asked by the Sherpa to place my boots and any other clothing I required to be dried by the morning into the garden hut between the kitchen and our dog kennel. Thanks to the drier I will only have to get my boots dried off but I will place them in the drying hut last thing tonight as I have no intention of wearing the gutties ever again, well not this week anyway.

George has been busy; as has James in making us a feast that was certainly by far the best meal of the week so far, after the hotel in Ardlui the night before obviously. They have finally used the pasta and managed to get a sauce as well. I believe its macaroni and cheese on a bed of fried bacon, superb, preceded with more Cup-O-Soups and followed with what must be the last of the Tunnocks Caramel Wafers. I say to the guys well done and to myself that I thought the portions could have been a bit bigger considering the amount of pasta that was brought along, but beggars cannot be choosers, maybe there will be a fish supper later on tonight. I do notice once again that James and now George is not eating with us, do they know something about the food that we don’t, or once again is it too many fish teas during the day. I want to believe the latter excuse, well here’s hoping.

As we sat drinking our after dinner coffee and discussing plans for later on tonight, the pub being the preferred option to sitting in the dog kennel we got onto the subject of Friday night in Fort William. The original plan was to have a night on the town and stay overnight preferably in a hotel or B+B. The general feeling and concensus now was to get home on Friday night. I don’t know if everyone was now really beaten by the walk and desperate to get back home as quickly as possible, or the added costs of staying in the hotel at Ardlui and now the cost of wigwams, was cutting into the budget that was planned for a good night out on Friday night.

 James said that he would not be staying on Friday night and that he would travel home on Friday in the van. I was going to ask James to do that anyway as Peter, although not here yet had to work on Saturday morning, but he did say he would go home by train if James wanted to stay. So that’s that problem sorted. Kenny was in two minds also as he would like to get home to go to Ayr races. It’s Scottish Grand National day on Saturday and this is a day that Kenny has not missed in probably the last ten years that I can remember with his mates. George is going home tomorrow, Wednesday. So this left Johnny Park and myself to attend the office party on our own. Better company I could not have asked for. But to be truthful I wanted to go home on Friday as well, I was tired and weary and wanted to get to my own bed as soon as the walk was over. I suggested to Johnny that since the majority was not going to be there we should all head home on Friday together. There was an aye from us all, unanimous, verdict carried.

 As we had just finished our council one of the wee guys who was walking with the giant came in to the kitchen. We all start blethering away to him talking about the walk and how they and ourselves are coping. He tells us that they are from Coatbridge (is this the Buckfast drinkers that left the empty at Rowardenan?) and that so far things have not been going to well and that they are thinking of packing it in and going home tomorrow. Now to a certain point I felt quite good at this statement. Here was a young man, middle twenties, fit looking as where his two mates and here he was saying to us old guys all over forty, an average age of about forty seven that they where all knackered, and cannot take anymore. This actually gave me a bit of hope. I had a spring in my step once again.

Their main problem, as well as the weather, is the giant. He managed to hurt his back along the way (probably carrying a case of Buckfast) and is incapable of carrying any gear. This explains why he was not carrying anything when we saw them earlier at Strath Fillan. Their tent was too heavy to carry so they decided to ditch it and use wigwams along the way instead. I thought that tent could have become a home for one of their neighbours back home. This itself led to the problem of where they where going to be staying tomorrow night as there was no more wigwams or hostels after Bridge of Orchy (about six miles further up the way) for twenty two miles at Kinlochleven. This would have meant they would have to walk about thirty miles tomorrow to get dry accommodation at an affordable price. Along with money running out due to the added cost they had been living on bread and beer (and Buckfast) only for the past two days. They never hid the fact that they where up until two in the morning each night drinking also so all this added together is going to turn into one botched up campaign.

We try and help them as much as we can. George immediately offered them two packets of our finest pasta along with a packet of sauce. You would have thought George had offered the Coatbridge guy a million pounds, he was so grateful. We where then joined by the other wee guy, still no sign of the giant. Wee guy number two informed us that the big guy was out for the count having taken a substantial amount of pain killers, but there is no need to worry. We all look at each other in disbelief in what we have just heard. He also was very grateful for the pasta and seemed very keen to get to their room and kitchen wig wam to get the supper made.

 As well as food parcels for the needy, advice on dealing with the current problems was in abundance. `Send the giant home and you two carry on`. `Take the bus to Kinlochleven and have a rest day`. `Go home for a few days and rest up, then come back and finish the walk`.  Too much advice I thought. As the guys spoke away with the Coatbridge two, mainly about what lay ahead now, Rannoch Moor, The Devils staircase and the climb in and out of Kinlochleven I noticed on the notice board on the kitchen wall lots of information provided for walkers. My thoughts now wandered towards that.

There was information on where to order carryout food, Chine’es and Indian. Local taxis, bus timetables and train timetables. The usual emergency numbers and addresses; local doctors, dentists and police. There was one in particular that I took an extra interest in. The Scottish Tourist Board had provided a leaflet listing all the hostels along the way as well as all of the Western Highlands. It provided information regarding prices, type of accommodation and tele phone numbers as well as addresses I looked at what was available along the way. Thinking about the current situation how we cannot get tents pitched due to the amount of rain that has fallen I realised that hostels may well be our saviour. But can we get them to tie in with our itinerary.

¨       Tonight Tuesday, ok wigwams

¨       Wednesday, tents Kings House, no chance

¨       Thursday, tents Kinlochleven, slim chance

¨       Friday, home, superb

So Thursday in Kinlochleven how can that be fixed? I check the list of hostels. We had planned to camp at the Blackwater Hostel in Kinlochleven and I noticed that The Blackwater was listed here and was offering a room with en suite bathroom for twelve pounds a night. I could not believe it. We were paying the same money for a dog kennel here in Tyndrum. I thought I have to book that. We where planning to pay five pounds each to camp there so another seven pounds should not break the kitty for all the home comforts a hostel has to offer.

I then think of Wednesday’s dilemma, Kings House. I new this would be a problem before we started. Being totally dependent on the weather and not having any facilities available for campers. Brain wave. I look at the maps and see how far Kings House is from Kinlochleven by road. By the WHW it is only eight miles our shortest walk, but by car it is fifteen miles. Plan A; book the Blackwater Hostel at Kinlochleven for Wednesday and Thursday night. Have James pick us up at Kings House tomorrow when he returns with the President to take us to Kinlochleven for the night then drive us back out to Kings House on Thursday morning to pick up the walk where we left it the night before. No walking back, not breaking rule number one and not comprising the walk in any way. Then walk to Kinlochleven as planned on Thursday. Superb.

  I move away from the conversation the guys are having with the Coatbridge two. Having punched the Blackwater Hostel phone number into my phone I call it. An Irish man answers the phone. They’re everywhere I think. I ask him if he has space for five on Wednesday and Thursday nights. I hear him flicking through pages, I hear him say yes then no, dammit I think. Then he says,

“Och I’m sure I can get something organised. Aye that should be ok,” he informs me. I ask him to hold on just for a second.

I but in to the conversation with the Coatbridge two, they are all now half way up the Devils Staircase as Kenny and wee guy number two had already done the walk. The main discussion was how hard the Devils Staircase really was, one said it was extremely hard but the other said it’s not what its made up to be. I feel encouraged by the last comment.

“Do you fancy a room, en suite for Wednesday and Thursday night at only twelve pound a night?” I ask the Spikey Shoe boys ensuring the Coatbridge boys know they are not part of the package.

They nearly bit the face off me with their over eager” Aye, Aye” answer.

I tell my Irish friend that it’s a deal and we will see him tomorrow night. He informs me that we have to be there by seven in the evening or he may have to give the rooms up. To ensure that this does not happen I tell him that someone will be there tomorrow morning with all the monies and that we will arrive later tomorrow night as we are walking the way.

“Grand” he says

He asks me to give him my details and credit card number in case there is a no show and he has held onto the rooms. The deal is done we say our farewells and we both look forward to seeing each other tomorrow night.

“That’s it lads, two nights in the Blackwater Hostel in Kinlochleven. What we will do is get James to pick us up at Kings House tomorrow on his way back up with Peter, take us to Kinlochleven where we will spend Wednesday night and then he can run us back out to Kings House on Thursday morning to take up the walk where we left it.”

“ Good idea Wullie boy” came the response from Johnny.

Kenny showed concern about how are we all going to get into the van, as it is `full to the gunnels` just now. George suggested that he would empty all the camping gear out into his garage on returning home tomorrow. I then asked James and George if they would drive all the clothes bags up to Kinlochleven and leave then there as our Irish friend would like payment before seven o’clock tomorrow night. As I knew tomorrow was the longest walk, twenty miles I thought it would be better if we got the digs paid early in case we did not make it to Kinlochleven by them. That will also leave more room for us all in the back of the van while we are being moved from Kings House to Kinlochleven and back. Don’t you just love a plan when it all comes together?

The Coatbridge boys leave us, again thanking us for the pasta. Johnny reminds them that there is a lot more of it if they want, and just to ask, I’m sure he is trying his best to ensure that pasta doesn’t appear again on our menu. I wonder if they will make some sort of Buckfast sauce to go with it, I’m sure there is some culinary genius in Coatbridge using it for cooking, as the Scottish media would have you believe that all the good people of Coatbridge drink nothing else from the cradle to the grave, Buckfast Tonic wine. Now I have nothing against Buckfast, being from the same district as Coatbridge people us Airdrie guys, well actually Calderbank are more than familiar with the sweet, sticky taste of the Monklands very own (adopted local) drink. It prepared me and my mates for many a nights dancing in the Winning Post, but if you saw some of the burds it got you tangled with I can see why the media and local politicians do all they want to get the sale of it banned in local markets and pubs. Made by monks in Devon it is believed that ninety per cent of all Buckfast sales are in the Monklands area of Scotland.

Its time to get the kennel ready for tonight. We’d better get it done now as organising sleeping bags in the dark in such a confined space would be dangerous as well as hard, especially after a few beers. We go to the van to get our sleeping bags. It looks as if it is going to turn out a very nice evening tonight. The sky is now clear, not a cloud to be seen, this is probably the first we have seen it this week. The hailstorm has managed to clear the skies; the only problem that brings at this time of year is cold. No cloud cover and the temperatures drop quite a bit through the night. Well we will all be squeezing into the dog kennel so the body heat its self should help keep us warm.

As the wigwam is so small it is best to leave the organising of it to one person. George takes this on board and lays out all the sleeping bags. I notice sticking my head in the door (I have to kneel down to do this) that there are four mattresses on the floor, nothing else. Well that is one good point I suppose, but no lighting at all. George finishes by lighting the small gas single ring stove. This he says should take the chill off the wigwam and I am sure if we leave it on from now it should generate some heat for us returning later as well as burn the bloody thing down.

We all head up to the pub and looking forward to it as well. I have made the conscious decision that I will not touch a drop tonight, well no more than two pints and definitely no whisky. After the starts I have had in the past three days I have now come to the conclusion that long distance walking first thing in the morning does not go hand in hand with doing in a bottle of whisky the night before with your mates. Tomorrow is the longest day, twenty miles and another one of my demons. Never before have I walked such a distance and with the added problem of the environment we are walking in and the elements, prudence with alcohol is today’s medication. I don’t know what tomorrows conditions will bring; I don’t know what tomorrows weather will bring. All I know is I am better starting with a clear head and a well hydrated body. So no booze. I know I am going to get some stick. 

We arrive at the local `The Invervey Inn`. It is very busy and there are no seats available at all in the bar. The lounge is checked and again nothing available. After walking all day you really want to have a seat, not stand about. Nights are about resting up, sitting as a group having a bit of craic and making plans. We cannot do this here.  The place is full of what looks like walkers, the majority are wearing walking attire including the boots, a vital sign. I wonder where have they all been today because I never saw any of them. Maybe they were all going north to south and not south to north as we where. Maybe they started earlier or farther up the way at Beinglas or Crianlarich, who knows. I see two of the Coatbridge three, the two wee guys. The giant must still be out for the count. They wave over and we wave back. There is a large group sitting in the middle of the bar all eating and very loud. They are talking about the walk, well talking in shouts at each other actually, all English, six guys and two dames. I don’t think the dames are part of the guys group.

 One thing for sure there is a lot of people out here walking the WHW. The suggestion is to move on, but we are not sure if there is another bar in the village so we decide to stay. Just as well as we never noticed around the pool table in the back there was ample seating plus we had the pool table to ourselves. On our way in I notice the `not the full shilling family` sitting scoffing a meal, no acknowledgment was given to George on the way past, not a thank you or a hello, or would you like a pint boys for giving up your beds for the night to accommodate us all. The telly was blaring away in the top corner facing the bar. There was football on tonight, I believe Chelsea are playing a European tie, I have no interest in that what so ever, but the Gers are playing at Ibrox tonight against Dundee United in the league, that’s more to the point. Now if the Rangers happen to loose three points here or two for that matter it will certainly make life very interesting, meaning Celtic can go top of the league if they beat Livingston tomorrow night at Almondvale.

The Sherpa shouts up the beers, two pints of lager, two pints of Guinness and a coke for himself. The first pint is always magic, tastes, bloody great. The problem with the first pint is it never lasts any time at all. It’s always guzzled down. Like a man who has never drank in his life and given his first pint with a raging thirst. The pint is dead, long live the pint.

“For God sake Wullie” James says, “Are you jist a wee bit thirsty”

“Aye, just a wee bit”

“Do you want another wan”?

“No, get me a coke, I only want two the night and I will get the other one later on”

“Ah coke, ah bloody coke, are you wantin` a shot on the swings as well son before it get too dark” Parks has started.” James take him oot side and gie him a shot on they swings before it gets too dark and then take him hame and make sure he goes right to his bed, and no bedtime stories either”     

Oh give me a break folks. Why is it that when you are out with a group not necessarily all guys, because the woman can be as bad as the men, that if you don’t want to drink everybody thinks you have got some sort of disease or there is something wrong with you. Its as if you spoil their fun by not joining in their games. I have actually thought about giving up alcohol all together. I don’t know when, but I have made the decision. Getting ready for the walk, and doing what we have done so far, has made me aware of how unfit I really am and I have had a good look at my self. My plan is to decide on a time, in the future and go for it. I will decide this after the summer holidays. 2020 seems a nice even number.

“Go on, take a drink, go on, go on, go on, go on” It will pass I know it will.

As normal the talk reverts to football, it’s really the only thing that we all have in common. We cannot all talk about selling beans, very boring anyway, or fixing motors, or vending machines, or selling beer and even doing he haw all day. The one subject that we can all talk about with no one having any more or a superior knowledge than the next man is association football. Aye, these gets would make you think different, that they are the supreme knowledge when it comes to all things football, but they’re not. There are very few Jock Steins or Matt Busby’s kicking around, especially in Tyndrum tonight. We discuss all the permutations if Rangers loose or win tonight if Celtic loose or win tomorrow night. After Celtic losing to Hearts a week earlier has made things a lot more interesting in the run in to the seasons end.

“James what about getting us all something to eat” I ask

“Do you want crisps or nuts” James asks the present company.

“No, I  was thinking more of a fish tea or something, know how you two gets have had two dinners already, well a thought we might be in with a shout and get something more tonight”

“Did the pasta no fill you”

“In wan word, no”

“Ah could go something too” Kenny adds

“So could ah” Johnny throws in his support.

“No for me, I have been eating all day” George says.

“See what a mean, these two are traveling around the country, trying food at every café they come across, have you got a column in the Sunday Mail or something that you have to try them all out and then report your findings to the readers.”

“Oh shut up, I`ll see whit a can get yous”. James walks away, we all have a wee smirk. He pops right back;

“Don`t think you`ll be getting any supper the night then” and walks back out to the bar. You can only laugh, are we on a tight budget or what. Ten minutes later James returns with four plates of chips, excluding himself. I`ve yet to see him eat, all he dose is smoke fags, one after the other. If tobaco contained fat he would be like the side of a house.

  Placing his pool que on the pool table, Johnny starts lifting chips off the plate and placing them on the table.

“What are you doing” James asks

“I`m looking for the fish, where is it”

“Theres none, the kitchen was closed and that is all they could muster up, and guess whit?”


“They charged us twelve pounds for the four plates” James informs us.

“Four pounds for a plate of chips”

“No three pounds, four threes  are twelve, whit school did you go to”

“Even three pounds”I say, bloody robbery. “Enjoy boys, the dearest plate of chips in Scotland.

After a few games of pool we move back into the bar, I never played a game as the competition is way out of my league. George is a regular league player and never managed to loose a single game. Even Johnny, Kenny and James looked good at it, their mispent youth I`ll bet.

 All the earlier diners are away and there are now seats available where we can sit and watch the football if we cared about it tonights game that is.. None of us show any great interest. Chelsea is not our cup of tea, even the two Teddy Bears are showing a great lack of interest in them. I get up my second pint for the night and refuse all temptations to start on the whisky. I feel as if I am the party popper here. The rest of the guys excluding the Sherpa enjoy a few more beers and some shorts. The best news of the night has just arrived by phone text;

Rangers 0-1 Dundee Utd

“Ya boy yi”  James, Kenny and I say it all at once. Johnny and George only come back (with a sad face) is “Ah hope yis get fucked the morro wi Livi”. I  don`t want to say anymore and leave it alone.With a grin on my face for the rest of the night of course.

I notice the Corleonie boys coming in, they are a bit late I thought. They look a bit happier now than what I  had seen earlier at Derryvaroch. Keeping themselves to themselves they head for the corner of the bar and the talker orders up three pints of lager. I wish them well. Its ten thirty and I feel that it is way past my bed time and I am glad when George says home time and the rest of the guys agree and fall into place. After emptying all our tumblers we leave the bar, its emptying and getting quieter as well.

 Walking home we are below a big, bright well lit sky, I am overwhelmed as Kenny brings it to our attention. Dark as sin its depth is infinite, its ugliness, beaten to death, saved by the brightness of the Milky Way, the heavens are alight tonight, looking down on us, each star sends its own message to someone or something somewhere but they are all talking to us tonight, as one, saying look at us we are a wonderfull sight, you are the choosen few that are allowed to see us in all our glory. I had wished for a clear sky like this every morning so far on our walk and I finally get it four days late and at night. This is our first really big sky of the week, the first I have seen in Scotland in over a year, a sight that will never be seen in urban Scotland, allowing the selected few only to see. I thank God for giving us this opprtunity.

Tyndrum village being so isolated has virtually no light polloution so one can get a great view of the heavens above on a clear spring cold night such as this. This is one of the sights that I hoped would appear for us and tonight it has done and done so spectacuarly. Like a vision of wonder it reminds me of how small a part we play in Gods plan. This is a creation, not by man or science, but by someone much bigger. This beauty can can only be manufactured, naturally as part of some supreme beings plan. There is not a star that is hidden, nothing can hide tonight. Satalites are clearly seen moving across the sky on their way, heading to where their daily routines send them. Shooting stars can occassionally be seen as they come and visit us for a very short time on there never ending journey through Gods infinite expanse. All his heavenly wonders are our roof tonight. Walking home our heads are all bent sky wards, pointing out the formations and tracing the satalites lines across the sky. Kenny tells the boys the story of the Glasgow Science Centre and the exibition they once had explaining, the stars, the satalites and shooting stars, where they come from and where they go. Like boy scouts on a midnight ramble we all listen to our Akeala. I listen harder than the rest, because I know that the next time it happens questions will be asked. 

Back at the reservation I notice our wigwam is still standing. We burned more wood at Gartness on the first night than what makes up this abode. We all clamber inside our de-luxe size kennel after going to the loo and placing our walking boots in the drying shed, taking care, ensureing we don`t knock over the single ring gas stove that was left to warm this canine palace. Inside it is a bit better than what I had expected. The five of us could all lie down in our bags. Kenny and myself where at the back and imeadiatley at our feet lay Johnny, George and James. We where literaly side by side Kenny and myself so the three at the front must be assuming the spoons position. I advise them all to move with caution.

 It was a bit cold but not as bad as I had thought. The clear skies outside had brought the tempreatures plumiting and it did feel really cold walking down from the pub, but the one ring gas stove has managed to heat the place up for us. The general concensus was to keep it burning all night as it will keep the chill out of the air.

We all clambered into our bags. This time I  thought it better to keep all my clothes on due to the cold my body was still feeling from the walk down from the pub. All torch lights where extinqueshed and darknes fell over us like a death shroud. We talked briefly about  a starting time. As tomorrow is our big day, twenty miles we all agree that we should be walking by seven thirty, this will ensure we are away by eight. Its called Calderbank time management, So wake up time will be  shortly after six.

I lay thinking of the day that has just finished, about the climb away from Loch Lomond, it was hard, not the walk but what the elements had flung at us so early on in the day, as well as the changes it gave, from rain, hail, and sunshine we saw it all. Losing George to the walk at Derryvaroch was a bit of a blow to us all and I could see the effect that this has had on us. Morale was certainly at its lowest this morning but I think we have past the worst, as the walk by the end of the day did get better and seeing the misfortunes of the Coatbridge three and how they where coping seemed to spur us along as what we where experiencing was not as bad as them.  Tomorrow will be strange walking without George, I know that I will be left quite a bit on my own as Kenny and Johnny seemed to have a stonger step than me as they where always ahead.The Texas Ranger came to mind who we met walking through Glen Falloch, I hope he has made it to Tyndrum tonight or even to the safety of Crianlarich. I can still smell the cow shit from Keilator Farm so lets hope I can get into the shower first thing before they all start playing around with the hot water.

Tomorrow is a new day another day of the unexpected. Challenges that I can only guess at, the demons that are waiting for me tomorrow. Twenty miles up to Kings House, one major climb, the longest and biggest yet, out of Bridge of Orchy to Inveroran up and over Mam Carraigh and then the long incline through Rannoch Moor, one of the bleakest places in Western Europe to Kings House. Aye something to look forward to.

“James, whit are you making for the breakfast”

“Ham and Eggs”

“Do you have fifty pence pieces for the metre”


“Right, goodnight”

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