Dispatch from the Razor's Edge, the Blog of Michael Stephen Fuchs
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2008.09.11 : West Highland Way
Day 7 : 13 Miles from Bridge of Orchy to Kingshouse
Part i : The Only Part! A Single Instalment!
"A common danger, purpose or way of life can very nearly destroy differences of intellect and class; then you get the angels of Mon and the miracles at a shrine."
- Graham Greene, Journey Without Maps

We enjoyed a lovely breakfast in the well-appointed, if slim, West Highland Way Sleeper dining room. The morning train went by outside.

Rather nicer than the usual station cafe Just noticed this is the 'Caledonian Sleeper' service – that gets you from London to Glasgow, overnight, in a bed, for about the same price as sitting in a seat during the day All aboard for tea

Very Convenient Transport Links

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    This was actually the view straight out the door from our room. You've got to love that. What we didn't have to love, however, was when we stepped out in the morning – and were immediately swarmed by midges. But when midgies attack – attack back:

Sce–REW You, Midgies!

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The trip was going fine – but I had to confess to getting sick of packing up that bag every morning. Gets old for some reason. As I scribbled that thought down, I also had cause to recognise (and lament) what had to be the bone-head buying decision of the trip: a Sainsbury's basic notebook made out of recycled paper. For a trip outdoors in Scotland (i.e. in the rain). The thing was basically auto-composting in my hands.

That's the fire station on the left The setting for last night's drinks and dinner (the only setting available) The eponymous Bridge of Orchy
The climb out of "town"     Big climb to start, naturally. But it was pleasantly cool and overcast, with no rain. (The instant I wrote that down it started misting.) Our Bridge of Orchy exit soundtrack: Iron Maiden's "Invaders". (Seemingly inexplicable, but perhaps to do with the medieval village feel of the place.) Get the Flash Player to see this player.

And perhaps the aggressive music accounted for my starkly anti-social behaviour (see opening video above).

This tiny side-climb up to a hilltop cairn provided the single best cost-benefit value detour of the trip.

Lake on one side… …mountains on the other

The Hilltop Panorama

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Lonely tree. <a class="weblink" target="_new" href="http://timcorrigan.com/index.php/2008/09/12/tree-hugging/">Awww!</a>

After this bit of climb, we descended, via an old drovers road, onto the vast expanse of Rannoch Moor. And it was pretty much going to be this, and nothing but, for 10 miles. We did have the views of the mountains in the distance – but, as I was discovering, the camera just did not want to show remotely how huge they were.

Tiny / Huge Mountains

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It really was uncanny how they were these gargantuan giants in real life – reduced to tiny lumps in the viewfinder. I guessed I'd better just enjoy them.

Drovers must have been tough old bastards… …with tougher knees than we had

Okay, scratch that! It was along here that I figured out the trick: rather than pulling back and putting the whole mountain in the frame, with no point of reference . . . the trick was actually to zoom in, with the sheer rise of the mountain taking up the whole background, and some tiny human figures in front to give it scale. See? → This trick was to stand me in good stead, particularly as I got better at it.

Walky, walky, walky A little marsh to break up your moor Timmay! Some call him… Walky, walky, walky, walky, walky I thought this moss was boss

We did a bit of a lunch stop on one of the stone bridges. We ended up chatting with what I took to be an Ozzie from his accent – he was middle-aged, very fit, with huge calves. Sometimes there's only one dry place to stop and sit, and people congregate. Here we were also caught up by a man I dubbed the Quiet Cockney. We saw him off and on. He walked alone – and talked a lot.

The Quiet Cockney

While we all sat, and Tim listened and nodded, I practiced my big-mountain-making trick:

He looks more Cockney here
Um – wow
    We caught – along with our breath – our first rather mind-blowing glimpse of the Kingshouse Hotel. →
Me: I hope that's it. Because there's nothing else here.

Along here it was that we also encountered The Canadian. I was initially enamoured of him due to his wonderfully traditional – and in the context of serious trail-walking, eccentric – outfit. As you can kind of see here, he was wearing a linen jacket, Panama hat, leather boots – and carrying a wooden walking stick and a cloth knapsack (without a trace of weight management). But, as Tim sagely noted:

Tim: If we're still doing this in 30 years, we'll be wearing the same clothes as now and we won't care. All the young kids will be like, They're wearing Gore-Tex!
Me: And heavier-than-air backpacks.

    Initially, I dropped off (occasionally running a quarter mile out into the moor) to get these cool shots of them as scale-giving figurants in front of my mountains. But then I stayed off for good, when I realised we'd met . . . the Quiet Canadian.

When he found out Tim worked in IT, and I sometimes worked in IT, he was instantly off to the races about SAS and reporting systems and database tables and data extraction and PL/SQL and stuff about which I do not give a fuck at the best, the most appropriate, of times, even when I'm being paid a lot of money to care about them, but for Christ's sake, not here.

In fairness, the Quiet Canadian also talked about other things as well, but I really didn't want to hear about those things either. I took shameless advantage of Tim's Englishness by leaving him alone with the guy – knowing full well that Tim would be neither able to tell the guy to shut up, nor to extricate himself. I assuaged my conscience by thinking that, if he really wanted, Tim was fully empowered to do what I'd done – and just walk off. It was his choice, really. (Except that he's English. So he really had no such choice. But that's hardly my fault.) Anyway, he'd be saved eventually by Kingshouse.

Walking Into Kingshouse

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We had to pass over a motorway – and then by the three or four houses that, other than the hotel, actually did constitute Kingshouse.

A rare experience of tarmac The road into "town" Tiny neighbourhood afore; huge stonking mountain behind

And allow me to say this about the Kingshouse Hotel: The Kingshouse Hotel!!!

The winning alpine exterior The delightful lobby Our room! Our freakin' beautiful, clean, private room! With real beds!
Me: I've taken the liberty of putting your muddy boots in the wardrobe – where we can forget about them or that we ever walked anywhere or ever have to walk anywhere ever again.

It's pretty amazing how quickly and how drastically one's standards of luxury plummet. I don't think either of us would have been too impressed with this hotel at the beginning of the trip – a scant six days ago – or, in fact, ever before. It would have seemed like a modest, slightly down-at-the-heel old country inn. Now it was the lap of luxury. Just a clean, comfy, private room – Fluffy fluffy!

Me: – with fluffy towels! That actually absorb something!
Tim: Those travel towels don't, really, do they?
Me: No! Of course they're quick-drying. Anything's quick-drying when it's not wet.
Tim: You do just use them to wipe the water off of you.
Fluffy pillows! An end table!

While I was gooping my hair, post-shower, at the lovely in-room sink and mirror, I went off on another related tangent.

Me: I guess another one of the great things about a trip like this is it stops you worrying about all the silly crap you normally worry about day to day.
Tim: Like what?
Me: [sculpting hair in mirror, seemingly oblivious to irony] Like having a bad hair day. Here, it's, Do I have enough food to get through the day? Will we have a place to sleep tonight? Will my knees hold out a little longer?

While Tim did, erm, whatever it was Tim does, I went off for an eager recce of the hotel. That's gotta hurt Results (as I excitedly related on my return): There was totally free net access on an old machine, the barman gave me a free token for the washing machine – and also invited me to start using it before the mandated 6pm opening time, there was a classy, well-appointed lounge with a fire and views of both mountains out the windows, Talk about mountain views there was a hotel guests bar that was pretty nice and the dinner menu looked good – and the Climber's Bar smelled bad and had scary people in it and could only be reached by going outside and around the building where the midgies were waiting to ravage you as they just had me.

I also determined that this was really another one of those the-gang's-all-here kind of places, that you occasionally all pile into on the trail (when there's only one place to pile into for miles and miles and miles). I'd just seen Caroline and Natasha (remember them? from the first day?) going out to brave the midgies for a fag; and I must have done too good a job of cutting the Quiet Canadian as he failed to acknowledge me despite that I passed him four times in the halls.

    I put the wash in; and we repaired to the lounge to read and lounge and enjoy the mountain views and do the lounging and basically wait to dry the laundry.

Loungers Lounging in The Lounge

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Later we drank in the hotel bar with the guy with the big calves I earlier would have sworn from his accent was an Ozzie, who maybe had lived in the UK for a long time, but still, but was actually from Cambridgeshire, and his wife, and also the Quiet Cockney (who was actually called Dave). And the Faux Ozzie was riotous and bluff and told these riotous off-colour stories about antics on the trail:

Like the one about the pale-skinned, ginger-haired lad who was at Beinglass Farm at the wrong time of year and night and ended up pretty much literally covered with midgie bites, very little white anywhere on him "except his arse and his chappie" – and who went to the toilet at high speed just trying to keep those areas clear.

Or his tick story, about how he woke up camping, with them crawling up his arms, millions of them all over his gear, and so he went screaming out and jumped in the lake – but, "too bad, mate, we just lie flat and like water" and so he gathered up his gear and ran to the hotel, where they told him they were full up, though he couldn't see a single person in there, so he tried the hostel where he admitted straight away, "I'm covered in deer ticks" and so they let him in this caravan out back where he found a stiff brush and took it to himself – "doo, doot, doo" – but was still finding the blighting things on him for weeks afterwards.

Dusk at Kingshouse

Later, Tim saw huge animals out in the mountain night.



Next : The Devil's Staircase


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about
close photo of Michael Stephen Fuchs

Fuchs is the author of the novels The Manuscript and Pandora's Sisters, both published worldwide by Macmillan in hardback, paperback and all e-book formats (and in translation); the D-Boys series of high-tech, high-concept, spec-ops military adventure novels – D-Boys, Counter-Assault, and Close Quarters Battle (coming in 2016); and is co-author, with Glynn James, of the bestselling Arisen series of special-operations military ZA novels. The second nicest thing anyone has ever said about his work was: "Fuchs seems to operate on the narrative principle of 'when in doubt put in a firefight'." (Kirkus Reviews, more here.)

Fuchs was born in New York; schooled in Virginia (UVa); and later emigrated to the San Francisco Bay Area, where he lived through the dot-com boom. Subsequently he decamped for an extended period of tramping before finally rocking up in London, where he now makes his home. He does a lot of travel blogging, most recently of some very  long  walks around the British Isles. He's been writing and developing for the web since 1994 and shows no particularly hopeful signs of stopping.

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ARISEN : Odyseey, by Michael Stephen Fuchs
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