The Scotland Adventure - Part 2
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilised people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity” - John Muir
After the fabulous day out on Liathach, I spent time in the valley with Ewan and his family for a few days of Rest & Relaxation, away from the hustle and bustle of London-life.
But, Christmas was approaching and they had to head south to their extended families while I, being me, decided to head north...
A Wild Christmas
Bidding farewell to old friends is always tough, especially those that live in distant lands, but the goodbyes are as inevitable as the hellos and move on we must...
Ewan and family headed south for Christmas and I... Well... I didn't...
Using the North Coast 500 route as a loose plan of direction, I was on my way back to one of my favourite places in The UK - Assynt. And, as an added bonus, it was winter, so I practically had the place to myself (plus a few locals, and sheep, and deer, and cows)
I still hadn't decided where I was going to spend my night on Christmas eve and realised that "if I didn't know where I was going to be, then how would santa!?"
Finally coming to accept that santa would not be delivering anything to me this year, I continued on my aimless merry way further and further north.
I'd elected for isolation over Christmas. A time to chill out and reflect on what had been an incredibly hectic, but amazing year of adventure. I therefore decided to head to a bothy for some peace and quiet.
I had intended to visit the far north-west coast, but with the rivers in spate (and a lifetime reluctance to retrace my steps to an easier route) I couldn't get over the torrent of water so I pressed on, around the north coast, to Kyle of Tongue and views of mountains and sea that are simply breathtaking.
I packed a small bag with the essentials for a couple of nights in a bothy - sleeping bag and wine (and mince pies - it was Christmas, after all) and I made my way across the boggy landscape to my home for Christmas.
Arriving at 2pm, I collected wood and fed the fire to warm up this isolated stone hut, then happily boiled water for tea and dinner, started on a book that I had been meaning to read all year (did I mention how busy I'd been in 2018?) and simply relaxed into my environment.
By 4:30pm there is no more light offered by the sun and the darkness comes alive with it's stillness. Standing outside in pure silence and pure darkness shuts down your sight and opens all your other senses - the smell of the fresh air, the sound of your breath and the feel of your heart beating. It was good to be alive.
By 8pm, I relaxed even further... For once, I had the entire place to myself! Pure bliss! Tired and weary, I decided to call it a night (yes, I felt like a 90-yr old going to bed so early). I dampened the fire, switch off the head torch, crawled into my sleeping bag and drifted off into a deep sleep...
Then, suddenly, there was a loud noise and light passing the window! I woke instantly... Where am I? What time is it? What the hell is going on?
What happened next was blurry but excruciating... It was 10:30pm and a family of 5 had decided that they wanted to have a "Wild Christmas" and, as [bad] luck would have it, they chose MY bothy to spend their time this Christmas!
If you have never spent a night in a bothy, I'll explain the thought process as you approach and settle in to the hut:
1. On approach - 'I hope no one else is there'
2. Upon seeing the bothy - 'I can't see smoke and I can't see anyone. It's looking good'
3. Upon reaching the bothy - creep inside and search the entire hut for signs of other people
4. In the bothy - 'I hope no one else turns up'
5. Going to bed - 'Yes! we have it to ourselves!'
Remember, this was Christmas eve. Other than me, who else would turn up to a bothy so late on the day before Christmas!
Clearly, this loud family of 5 would...
Did they see me sleeping? - Yes
Did I acknowledge them? - No (This was my biggest mistake!)
Having woken up suddenly and after an afternoon of calm relaxation, I didn't really want to converse with anyone (note: to anyone joining a City Mountaineering trip, it's best not to approach me until I've had my first coffee :)
My thoughts were that they had arrived late and would therefore head straight to bed, readying themselves for Christmas the next day.
I was wrong.
Did they quietly move into the other room, so not to disturb the sleeper? - No, no they did not!
I had spent all afternoon warming the room that I was in, why would they move into the larger, colder room?
But, it was nearly 11pm, surely they will just go to sleep and enjoy their glorious surroundings in the morning! - Nope!
The entire group went upstairs, changed into their pyjamas and returned to my room, cans of beer were opened and the fire was stoked. The conversation got louder and louder, discussing the same thing over and over and over again...
I can, even now, recite what each of them had carried in, what they were looking forward to for Christmas dinner and what they had forgotten to pick up (they were all really looking forward to the cheese, by the way)
A Sweaty Christmas
I think I should add, at this point, that the sleeping bag I used for the Scotland trip was my expedition, high altitude bag. I didn't have space for options, and was fully expecting a bitterly cold winter and hoped to wild camp for most of it. This sleeping bag is rated to -30 degrees...
By 2am, a couple of them had gone to bed, while the others continued to chat merrily, with no regard to the sleeper in the corner (I wasn't sleeping, but time had gone too far for me to just get up and walk out).
They continued to stoke the fire to proportions that could only be compared to the temperature of the sun!
Why didn't I just acknowledge them when they arrived and simply moved to the colder room?
By this time I had probably lost half of my body weight in sweat and was hoping that I would soon go unconscious from either dehydration or hyperthermia - if only to save me from the chat!
At 3am, the final family members decided to call it a night and went to bed. I jumped out of bed, downed 2-litres of water and wafted my sleeping bag to cool myself down. I then dampened the fire before crawling back into my soaking wet sleeping bag and finally drifted off, back to sleep.
My solo bothy night of rest and relaxation was ruined.
In the morning I heard the family start moving around upstairs. I felt like I'd already outstayed my welcome and didn't fancy Christmas small talk, so I packed my bag and left in silence.
Onwards, I hiked, to a mountain that I'd never climbed, but had been in my sights for many, many years.