RAAAARRRGGHHH!! Then silence. RAAAARRRGGHHH!!
Back home in East Sussex, I’m occasionally kept awake by a vixen screaming – or woken early by pigeons cooing sweet nothings at each other on the windowsill – but I’ve never had my sleep interrupted by a beast as large as this one.
It’s a red deer, and, it being rutting season, he’s strutting his stuff along the high cliffs of the glen in which we’ve pitched our tent, his primal roar issuing forth at regular intervals. If you haven’t heard a stag roar, imagine a yawn combined with a deep bellow and you’ll be somewhat in the picture. I lie in the darkness and listen, enthralled by this living, breathing force of nature.
It’s a reminder that we’re back in the wild after the big city lights of Kinlochewe (population: 60). Our next brush with civilisation will be Ullapool, where our restock package – plus an outdoors shop and a supermarket – awaits.
We left Kinlochewe on easy, well-made tracks – but we knew from the guidebook that it wouldn’t be all be plain sailing. ‘Enjoy the steady going while it lasts,’ it advised. ‘It gets tougher from here.’ And it does.
We climb a hillside that rises to a plateau surrounded by peaks from which, in the distance, we can see Loch an Nid, which we need to walk the length of. Despite our relentless forward progress, the loch never seems to get any nearer. We’ve been on the move for eight hours by the time we reach its far end and by then the wind is blowing hard, ripping tears from my eyes.
We pitch the tent below the loch, where it drops down to a river, hoping for some shelter – but we still need to use every guy rope, and weigh the pegs down with rocks. And it takes ages to get the hot water to boil for dinner…
I wake early the next day and get up, hoping to catch a glimpse of the stag, whose roar is once again echoing around the glen. We’re not in any great hurry as we plan to spend the next night at the bothy at Shenavall, which is only six miles away. We’ve not managed a bothy stay yet, and this one is meant to be splendidly situated, beside a waterfall.
It’s a promising start as we make our way along the river, where an abundance of trees makes me realise that there’s been a distinct lack of them over the last few days – I’ve missed them.
But we can’t help also noticing an abundance of bright dots of colour on the path ahead and on converging tracks; the oranges and reds of waterproof jackets and rucksacks of other hikers. It’s Saturday, we realise – and Scotland has come out for a walk in the hills.
When we reach Shenavall, the bothy is already crowded and messy – people’s gear strewn around and food lying on the counter, just under the sign saying ‘Don’t leave food out, it attracts mice.’ Both the sleeping areas already have mats and sleeping bags in them. This isn’t the mountain bothy idyll we had in mind at all. We brew some tea outside in the sun and make the decision to carry on. Shortly after, we pass a contingent of young lads heading that way with a cargo of vodka, coke and bags of logs.
We make good progress on the trail before finding a particularly lovely riverbank on which to pitch the tent. The party at the bothy is probably only just getting started by the time we’ve eaten dinner beside our (very first) campfire and are thinking about going to bed to listen to our very own stag night.