I really have planned this walk to within an inch of its life. And, so far most things have gone to plan. Every night’s accomodation was booked, arrival and departure times of every bus and train to bring companions to join me was noted, routes planned, and baggage booked into a company that transport luggage for West Highland Way walkers.
However the weak point was always going to be Day Five. We’d need to leave Glencoe ski centre for a traverse of the Aonach Eagach before the cafe opened at 9am and with no chance of a packed lunch.
Food planning is always quite high on the priorities. I had evening meals and packed lunches booked and we had ‘the snack stash’ a mountain of goodies a couple of feet high (and the main reason for needing to book the baggage transport in the first place.)
I have recently come to the conclusion that hill walking (once you have a basic fitness level) is mainly about the snacks and the psychology and not at all about fitness. Mountains seem designed to look far bigger and more menacing when you stand beneath them than they really are, they just can’t help it. Even a medium size boulder looks massive if you lie under it.
No. What you need, rather than hours in the gym and thrusting your bosom at Zumba, is grim determination and a pocket full of jelly babies. My snacks of choice this trip: nuts and dried fruit mix, my friend Katherine’s cranberry brownies, some Thornton’s caramel cake bars, and flapjacks. The only thing I wasn’t taking was Kendal mint cake, that personal insult to cakes, toothpaste flavour coagulated sugar. There was some consternation that Kendal mint cake didn’t make it into the snack stash, so, in the spirit of having something in the bag that was sure to remain as ’emergency rations’ even if I was trapped under a boulder overnight, I agreed to take the mint cake presentation selection I was generously given as a birthday present.
To bridge the Day Five lunch gap I packed a cheese, an orange rinded Fromage des Vosges. The plan was for it to travel along with us in the bags that the transport company was transferring from place to place. Our bags were picked up from Arrochar on Sunday morning and the next time we saw (smelled) them was on Tuesday at Crianlarich youth hostel. The cheese was unmistakably in the room. I wrapped it in an extra layer of plastic and put it back in the bag.
The next evening at stance cottage B&B in Bridge of Orchy, the bags were waiting for us in our lovely bedroom. The smell was unmissable. I took the cheese in its double bags and hung it out of the bedroom window. We’d been warned about the swarms of man-eating midgies in Bridge of Orchy, but we didn’t see any that night. Our host told us it was the heat and the wind. I think it was simply the cheese.
Next day was our big hill day – Black Mount from Victoria Bridge to Glencoe ski area. Our host at Stance Cottage gave us a lift the 4 miles down the road from Bridge of Orchy (that wasn’t cheating was it?) and we set off in fog and cloud with the promise of better weather to come.
We passed the Clashgour Hut, a tiny corrugated iron shed hardly long enough to lay down in. It is owned by the Glasgow University mountaineering Club, a place I had the joy of squeezing into a couple of times in my postgrad student days. A green sign outside the hut read ‘Respectez les Fleurs’.
As we climbed up into the corrie of Stob Gabhar the cloud started to clear and within seconds we went from deep fog into clear bright sunshine, a magical transformation as we suddenly looked down into the glen and saw how much height we had gained.
When we sat down to eat one of the sandwiches made by the B&B I had an awful realisation that my malodorous, four-days-in-a-backpack French cheese was still dangling from the window handle at Stance Cottage. I left a message on their answer phone to apologise and started to worry about what we’d have for lunch the following day.
‘I wouldn’t eat that cheese if it were in the last sandwich on earth’ said my companion.
We passed the rest of the day on top of the world. Once we reached the top of Stob Gabhar at 1090m we stayed on a high ridge and plateau until dipping down to less than 700m on a natural bridge that links the two mountains. Most people tackle the Munros on the Black Mount on two seperate days in order to have a circular walk. We were joining the two walks together and in doing so I had one of the very best days on the mountain I have ever had.
The views were amazing, looking back to see the peak of Cruach Ardrain in the very distance and knowing that we had stood on top of it 2 days before and walked (almost) all the way to where we were was very special. But the highlight for me was the family of five baby Ptarmigan and their mother that I saw on the steep ridge ascent to the final Munro of the day, Meal a’ Bhùiridh.
We saw not a soul between waving off our B&B host and walking, exhausted, and with the backs of out knees painfully sunburnt, into the Glencoe resort cafe.
When we eventually retrieved our rucksacs, I found that mine still smelt unmistakably of over ripe cheese. A forage through a pocket, as yet unnoticed, produced another identical packet of French cheese.
‘We won’t starve tomorrow! Hooray’ I exclaimed.
‘I am NOT EATING THAT CHEESE’ said my companion.