Tuesday, October 16, 2007

West Highland Way (Part Twelve).

One of the worst things is packing up all my stuff on a dirty wet morning which is what I woke too this morning. After putting on my waterproof trousers, coat, inner boots and gaiters which is an ordeal in itself I then set about packing the rest of my belongings, hopefully without getting them wet, this is very important as the only clothes I have are the ones I stand up in and I have no way of drying anything. When you wake to a wet morning at home its an inconvenience at worst, when out on a long walk as I was a wet day takes on a whole new meaning and one that has to be taken far more seriously. For this reason my sleeping bag and anything else that needs to be kept absolutely dry I have a waterproof liner into which they all go never having left the tent even though it is quite a struggle trying to pack things up in such a small tent, its better than getting them wet. Once they are safe everything else has to take pot luck.
Today is my last day on the West Highland Way and it started almost at once with a steep climb up a slippery slope to rejoin the way proper. This sort of start to the day comes hard, especially as it was quite mild and I was having to wear cumbersome waterproofs. At the top I paused for to catch my breath and take a look at the view back to Kinlochleven.
Looking back to Kinlochleven (81.5 miles).
It was now 10:45am and I was standing on a good track at the eighty one and a half mile mark. I had just thirteen miles to go. looking at my map I saw three miles on there was a building called Tigh-Na-Sleubhaich and then another one mile beyond that called Lairigmor. Both were in the middle of nowhere, as I made my way towards them I wondered to myself if they would be intact or just another ruin. I was secretly hoping that at least one of them would offer me some shelter from the rain whilst I eat my lunch. The track was a good one winding its way through the hills.
The track to Tigh Na Sleubhaich (83.5 miles-11:02am).

I was at Tigh-Na-Sleubhaich by 11:40am, it was derelict but it was a bit too early to make a stop for lunch anyway. I scouted around the place just out of curiosity. There was evidence that at some time in the past the place had been on fire, I wondered if it were this that had driven out the occupier or had the fire happened afterwards. There was obviously a tale to be told in there somewhere. I’ve heard it said that walls have ears, whenever I’m in the midst of a ruin I wish they had mouths was well. As ruins go I would say that Tigh-Na-Sleubhaich had been vacated fairly recently. In what was left of an out building there was still a 4x4 parked up which on closer inspection looked to be in a similar contition to the rest of the place. Scattered around were other pieces of farm machinery, all of it quite dated and of little use except to a scrap yard.
During the mile to Lairigmor I mused over what I’d just seen. At sometime in the past someone had used and manipulated nature to suit their own ends. Now they are gone and as sure as god makes little green apples nature will reclaim what is rightly hers. Like you and I the farm machinery and the rest of the debris will be consumed by the earth, and judging by the progress so far I think we will be devoured long before the remains of Tigh-Na-Sleubhaich.

Looking back to Tigh Na Sleubhaich (85 miles).

On arrival I could see that Lairigmor was in a far more advanced state of reclamation by nature. The only evidence of man here was the skeleton of what was once the homestead. I stood for a while gazing out through a paneless window at the wilderness. I tried to imagine what it must have been like to live and forage for a living in such a place as this. As a child I can remember playing on the stone slabs of the kitchen floor. I remember my mum filling the paraffin lamps, I remember having no bathroom, proper toilet or even hot water from a tap. These might seem like hardships in this day and age but I’m sure the people who lived at Lairigmor and other such places had it even harder than I did when I was growing up. I stood there until I was perished but really I still don’t think I had a clue as to what life was really like in such a place. The trivialities of a modern world had lowered my sense of adversity to such an extent that I could be stood there to this day and still have not a clue of the reality.

Before leaving Lairigmor I stole a glance back up the track, I could see several walkers and wondered if it were the action men. I stopped for lunch at 12:20pm at eighty seven miles. I sort the shelter of a rocky outcrop above and overlooking the track. Before long the walkers I’d seen in the distance passed by. I made no attempt to conceal my presence yet they passed by unseeing. I sat there and marvelled, watching them until they were out of sight. How could they not see me? Would I have seen me if I’d been them? What else had they not seen along the way? To them I would never exist! In days of old they would have been easy prey to the ruthless highway man, they were yet another victim of the modern world because for sure they would have had their wits about them more in days past.
The same could be said for the next two to pass, this time though I was up standing about to move off. I stood watching and wondering, wondering if something had occurred to cause me to become invisible, maybe I had been consumed by the spirits I’d spent time with at Lairigmor. It was only the scrape of my boots as I landed on the stone track just a few yards behind them that alerted them to my presence in this world. Once they overcame the shock we introduced ourselves. One was a middle aged man called Martin and the other was called Sean and looked to be in his twenties. Both were from Congleton in Cheshire and this was their first long distance walk. I hit it off with these two straight away, I got the feeling they were glad of my company. I walked with them for the remaining eight miles to Fort William. I’d never walked this far with strangers before and I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed it, just for a change. Although I think its fair to say that I didn’t get as much out of the actual walk. I can see how the group of walkers passed me by without seeing me earlier. You become so engrossed in conversation that your little group becomes detached from the surroundings. I remember very little of my surrounding during that last eight miles. What I do recall is more in relation to the group rather than what is happening outside it. For instance when I was on my own in the morning the thoughts of the conditions were always close to my thoughts yet in the afternoon I don’t recall is raining but I know it was because I recall Sean had problems wearing the hood of his coat over his cap. The afternoon was made up of individual memories because I can’t recall enough of what happened in between to be able to string them together.


Blogger Jeanette said...

Hi Bob, I have enjoyed every step of your the hike, the scenery.
I think it would have been nice for you to have company on your last 8 miles..Look forward to your next adventure, plus photo's of your holiday....take care...Jen

12:29 PM  
Blogger Merle said...

Hi Bob ~~ Sounds like it's not so much fun when it's wet weather. Glad you enjoyed the company of the two walkers.
I hope you and Vicki had a great holiday. Take care, Bob, Best wishes, Merle.

1:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just so you know..I was the last inhabitant of Sleubhaich. My wife, daughter and I lived there until 1980. The cottage was burnt down after we left. Some say by hikers others say the roof tax caused a bit of estate high jinx. It a terrible beauty as they say. A harsh life in many ways but unlike anything else before or since.

1:10 AM  
Blogger UKBob said...

I would like to thank anonymous for taking the trouble for the comment they made about Sleubhaich, I'm so pleased that you contacted me and would love to hear more about the place and your life there. My visit to the place was no more than few minutes on a wet miserable day but it had such a big effect on me that even to this day I can still remember it with clarity and feeling. If you want to say more you can either in the form of a comment or directly to my email address which is rob@communique4u.fsnet.co.uk all the best Bob.

12:56 PM  
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3:54 PM  

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