The first two days on the trail have been pleasantly scenic but today we keep saying ‘wow’ as we walk along and look around us.
It’s a day of many firsts, in fact: first fall in the boggy terrain (me, though that’s just a technicality since Jeff’s leg disappeared up to the knee); first proper ascent – a steep, rocky climb up to the Mam na Selig pass at 500m. And first taste of wildness in the starkly beautiful Glen Loyne, which – as if it wasn’t impressive enough – adorns itself with a gigantic rainbow for our arrival.
Glen Loyne was once part of the native Caledonian Forest that covered 6000 square miles of the Scottish Highlands – only one per cent of it remains, including some of the ancient, gnarled trees that stand on this barren hillside against a backdrop of triangular peaks.
We breathe ‘wow,’ and find a stream to sit beside where we brew coffee and eat our snacks surrounded by nothing but wilderness.
Then there’s another first: a river crossing. The CWT is riddled with them, and with Scotland’s heavy rainfall, they can throw a big spanner in the works. (We read about one guy who had to camp for five days waiting for a river he needed to cross to abate so he could get back from the Cape.)
The River Loyne is fairly wide and fast flowing, but only calf deep where we’ve met it. Jeff just sloshes right across, Morris under his arm, but I’m a bit more hesitant, using my virgin walking poles to test water depth, strength of current and slipperiness of rocks.
On the other side, more rocky, boggy terrain unfolds – and another lung-busting climb back up to 400m. But this one emerges on to a 4 x 4 track, which, we know from the map, is going to meet the road after 6km – next to The Cluanie Inn!
I’m not sure if it’s the excellent surface underfoot or the prospect of a toasty pub serving hot meals, but we seem to pick up the pace quite markedly. Jeff even thinks he can smell pub food, despite the fact that we’re still more than a mile away. I start worrying that we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment: it might be shut for the season; it might have closed down; it might have stopped serving food – or be fully booked…
Thankfully it is none of the above, and soon we are clinking glasses and tucking into hearty meals, only slightly self-conscious about our unwashed and bedraggled appearance. It’s dark when we come out, which makes pitching the tent a bit tricky – but we’re too full of beer and sticky toffee pudding to let it bother us.