Sunday, May 31, 2009


It's a British expression, usually used by a footballer when asked what it feels like to be on the losing side. I'd never thought much about what it meant, but now I know: it's feeling emptied, as though something integral to your being has been ripped bodily away. In short, we bailed the trip on the second day. It started well...
In fact it started with hilarity. That's the tourist information sign in the middle of Dornoch, on the east coast (click for bigger, you have to read it). The drive up took far less time than we expected, so we did some sightseeing. Dornoch is a nice place, in several senses of the word 'nice': it's
neatly built and extremely tidy, has one of everything including a fine bookshop and a bijou cathedral with... 'nice' doesn't do it justice: fabulous glass. Late 19th and 20th century panels, stunningly beautiful stained glass in rich colours. The sign was a bonus. We stood looking at it, trying not to laugh out loud (that wouldn't have been nice), and wondering what determined the order of the list.

Then we went to Lairg, where we had a good night at Park House and, at 1215 the next morning, Walter the Postbus took us to Lochinver. It had rained on us as we waited in Lairg, short sharp showers borne on a gusting westerly; in Lochinver the westerly was still strong, but the clouds were higher and the sun shone brightly as we set off up the Glen Canisp road at 1355.
That's the view looking back the way we'd come. Lochinver is behind the hills, but you can see the sea. Ahead looked promising too:
The hills are Suilven on the right, Canisp on the left. The yellow flowering bushes are gorse, which smells strongly of coconut in the warm sunlight. When the wind died enough for the scent to gather!

We could only find one reasonable spot to set up camp. I worried a bit that the valley would funnel the wind onto the tent, but after walking nearly halfway down the lake at the foot of Suilven we couldn't find anything more level or drier, and the pegs were solid in the soil here.
That's the tent with the tarp porch, Suilven in the background. We'd planned to walk up before dinner, but the wind was now strong enough that we thought the ridge would be dangerous, and we didn't want to take a chance on wrecking a knee so early in the trip. There were teeny tiny people up on the ridge apparently trying for the summits, but they gave up and we saw them (full-size) limp onto the path for Lochinver at about 2000.

The night was highly unpleasant. From about 2000 the wind rose and gusted more strongly. The tent rattled and shook, battered from side to side by an invisible hand that would occasionally nearly flatten it. It doesn't get fully dark in the summer; we lay in our sleeping bags with enough light to see each other wide awake, watching the tent and listening to the next gust howling up the valley. By about 0100 I'd worked out that the tent was not going to blow away, and managed to get some sleep; he didn't. By 0430 it was fully light and there was no point in sitting in the tent any longer; there'd been intermittent showers in the night, but the tent was dry at that point, so it seemed best to get it down and packed before the next rain hit. We got everything packed and the raincovers on the packs just in time, then stood eating breakfast bars and discussing our options. He declared flatly he didn't want another night like that, which seemed fair enough, but perhaps the next campsite would be more sheltered? At 0500 we set off on the next leg, and the rain grew heavier.
Suilven from the east, just before the rain got serious.

By the time the path by Lochan Fada grew indistinct, it was persistenting down. We set off up the hillside for the shoulder of Canisp at roughly 2070 1670, just west of a stream, headed up that stream, then due west for the Bealach na Suileig. The westerly had dropped a bit, but was still driving the rain into our backs, and the cloud was lower on the hills ahead of us. He looked shattered. We agreed to head for the Inchnadamph road at the bridge north of Loch Awe and consider our next step. We arrived at the parking lot at 0900 (I wish I knew if we'd made good time from Suilven, considering our packs with full bladders were c. 17kg and 21kg). His soaking feet would blister badly on the roadside walk to Inchnadamph, where our route headed west into the hills... somehow, without a lot of discussion, we'd flagged the postbus and were headed back to Lairg. I couldn't quite believe it. We spent the next night at Kylescu Hotel, a sort of consolation prize, where even the locals agreed that had been a rough night, then drove south. Into the sun and warmth that was heading north to Scotland. The weather was supposed to improve, I'd known that. Damn, damn, DAMN... we didn't say much on that drive, or on the first day back.

But on the second day, sitting in the garden, we talked about how we felt. 'Gutted' about covered it for both of us. So why had we bailed? Turns out we each thought the other had had enough, but didn't want to ask for fear of embarrassment. Can you believe it? Neither of us wanted to stop. It's almost funny, but I can't laugh. Instead we're planning another go in a month or so, and this time we've agreed to discuss any decision without fear of hurting anyone's feelings. Because being gutted hurts just as much.


Lynn said...

Oh, dear, I'm sorry. I think I would have made the same non-decision, though; this was supposed to be fun and it definitely sounds as though it wasn't.

SueJ said...

Oh no! I was actually thinking about you this weekend -thinking that you would be striding out! Having sat/laid down hanging onto a tent as big winds boomed down the mountains both in the Highlands & on the Islands I can empathise -infact I can remember thinking 'but we would have to get a ferry back to Skye to buy a new tent!' Hope you do better next month. Your pictures are lovely.

Joanne said...

Hopefully the second try will be better. My professor and I have had many situations where one (or both) of us were near collapse and we called it a day. Actually, more than one time one of us just about blew a gasket before the other was ready to call it a day. (we don't spare each other the emotional explosion, either) In your case, perhaps it was just better to go home and --well-- relationship building? Now you know to talk it out next time! In our case, we generally gauge that one of us is close to losing it and that's a good moment to catch. My professor can walk miles and miles; I get a bit cranky somewhere between mile 5-8 when we're on vacation. It is, after all, supposed to be fun, a rest, and ...uhh..time off of work. More than 8 miles a day seems like work to me!