Scotland Farce: Camping and Hiking in the Scottish Summer (Part II)
(continued from Part I)
We drove north to an extremely popular walk at a series of stone monoliths and mounts called Storr. Hundreds of people were making the walk, old and young and all-sorts, making it feel a little less audacious than I might have liked to imagine. We went the wrong way as we approached the eroded pinnacle called the Old Man of Storr, and suddenly found ourselves scrambling across a slightly scary patch of rock as the wind built to gale-force. Wary of going back the way we had come, we instead followed a trail where a sign read: “It is recommended you do not continue beyond this point.”
We climbed a fence, then we were on our way in our attempt to complete a circuit of Storr. The trail trailed down towards a cliff. I could see the cliff side-on. It was a big cliff. It led to a trail that went above an even bigger cliff. I do not like cliffs. I called to Tash to come back. “Does it get better?” I asked. “No, much worse.” And that was the end of that walk. We sat and ate some peanuts high on a Scottish hill.
The next step was camping—the daily travail to find a piece of flatish ground that wasn’t mud or bog or surrounded by drug-fucked hooligans. We drove for hours, finally settling on a little patch of grass in a slipway off a road. The best spot we had camped to that point. The wind kept the midges away. The next morning it was onto a ferry that took us to the Isle of Harris, or the Isle of Lewis. I don’t recall a bridge, though I do recall a lot of sheep. Particularly stout and ballsy sheep. It is the outer Hebrides. Viking stock.
We drove north to a hastily booked hotel, the only accommodation available at short notice. We needed respite from camping. Respite from spending hours just looking for a camping spot.
The next morning we resumed our planned itinerary, which meant driving south for over an hour, past where the ferry let us off, to the beach at Luskentyre. It was the nicest spot we had or would visit on our trip, a broad stretch of white sand that arched around a point and became a tidal bay. Pretty. How a beach should be. Naturally, the water was freezing and it was blowing a gale, which is to say, a typical Scottish summer’s day.
It would have been nice to camp there, but that wasn’t possible. I’d already booked the ferry tickets for that afternoon. All up, we had two hours—from 11 am to 1pm—at Luskentyre then had to drive north, past the ferry, to the town we stayed the night before. It was agreed that I am a very dumb man and should not be allowed to plan anything on my own ever again. I am to planning as Tash is to directing piss in the wind.
Not a/n un/reasonable man
The ferry took us to Ullapool. We drove north, having seen evidence of a beach on a map. The road became a single track lane. A car gunned it behind me and was soon right on my tail. They were driving like lunatics, and before long were flashing their lights and honking, as they wanted me to pull over and let them pass. I should have done exactly that, even though they were a danger to selves and other road users, including in that category the sheep who obviously had right of way. I was tired and annoyed and not entirely pleased with my few encounters with the Scottish to that point. I didn’t give way, though I should have.
So they followed me down to the beach, where I promptly pulled to and drove over the lip of road into a ditch, bottoming out the car. Fuck.
The man exited his vehicle and came over and we discussed our respective driving decisions during an enthusiastic conversation. His wife approached and said her share, at one point mocking we chest-puffed fools: “Oh, look at you macho men.” In her lilting Scotch brogue it seemed more like wisdom than castigation, and I immediately forgave them both, though I don’t think the other chap felt the same. Nor did Tash.
She was in the car, on the verge of tears, upset that I should have done something “so male”.
“But you know I am, right? And, really, what this incident shows is the relative infrequency of my acts of overt maleness, which is to say, you should be looking upon this is a great positive, don’t you think?”
I’m fairly certain Tash completely agreed with me, as she had nothing more to say.
Some men helped us push the car out of the drain. Tash later said she was disappointed that I did not lift the car out by myself. It hadn’t even occurred to me to try. We both knew I would have insisted on doing so even just a few years back. I don’t know what it means, but we both felt an acute disappointment.
We camped in a bay, which was actually quite nice, and drank a good Scotch whisky. The wind dropped, it was becoming a lovely evening, and so of course the midges came out in force. We ran for the tent. In minutes there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of midges covering our tent, just waiting for us to exit. They didn’t even bother buzzing about, looking for a way in. They just sat there, quiet psychopaths biding their time with an in-insect-like patience.
We soon realised a few dozen had managed to sneak into the tent with us. We spent half an hour committing mass murder. From outside, had anyone been watching, it would have looked like a cat in a sock.
In the morning the midges had not moved. Thousands swarmed me when I exited and started to pack up. Innumerable bites upon my existing bites. Extremely itchy. Very unpleasant. Ruinous of hopes and dreams and holidays.
Gormless in Cairngorms
The next morning we drove to the Cairngorms National Park, thinking that if we got away from the western highlands we might get away from the midges, and the bog, and find somewhere to camp. After a long search we did find somewhere to camp on a river, a fine little spot, grassed and pretty and the exact thing one thinks of when thinking of camping.
Which is exactly what the midges thought, also on holiday, also camping. So, as I sat in the car, Tash braved the midges and cooked some food. She cut her finger. I ate the food. We fled to our hammocks, trapped.
Either it’s horrible weather and you can’t go outside for fear of being drenched or blown away, or it’s nice weather and you can’t enjoy it for a second as the midges are psychotic and will kill you. I itched the night away in misery, having reached a critical point of midge bites. They had started to become sores.
The next morning we set out on a walk to Loch Nagar. It was raining. The walk was through a track flanked by bog, not a tree in sight. Not pretty. One might say ugly. Well, two. We both did. We were hateful.
It rained harder. The path was a small stream. We climbed up towards the mounts, and Tash’s back started to play up. It rained upon the rain. Mist descended. The wind was strong and chill. We climbed at snail’s pace. We came to the point where Loch Nagar sits beyond the lip of rock, encircled by a partial corrie. You climb up a very steep path and the views are apparently amazing. But there were no views—not so much as a hint of the lake—for the mist completely filled the bowl in which the lake sat, and we did not climb up, for Tash was nearly in tears, her back hurting, her legs drenched, shivers running up her body. I, of course, was quite cheery by that stage, a state of being no doubt brought upon by Tash’s misery (not that I was enjoying her misery, but I think happiness should always be balanced by misery, and while normally it is Tash’s happiness balanced by my misery, that day I bore the burden and exalted in the horribleness).
On the way down we saw two women in the bramble on the other side of a quaint stream we had earlier crossed. Only, the stream was now a raging torrent, and they were seeking a better crossing. It turns out that rock hopping is one of my few skills, so I was not daunted. It was dicey, but a few leaps and I made it across. With a helping hand, Tash even made it across with only a single soaked boot. The women watching us decided that what they’d seen was fucked in the head, so they turned back. They were right. Going walking or camping in Scotland is fucked in the head.
The Highland athletics carnival
We drove on to the coast and looked at Dunnottar Castle. It was windy and rainy and neither of us were capable of giving a shit. Tash was cold and in pain, and miserable. I was not cold, nor in pain. I did want to be miserable, but Tash was being quite selfish that way.
We arrived in Crieff where we camped at a dam. That’s how hard it is to find a grassed camping spot in Scotland. Of course, there were a thousand or so midges waiting for us outside the tent in the morning. By that stage I couldn’t help but think, what’s a few dozen more bites? My legs looked leprous. I suppose I should mention that Tash had no evidence of bites. It may be that she didn’t get a single bite on the entire trip. She has me to thank. My scent and taste has always been irresistible to flying insects that bite. Tash didn’t need Avon Skin So Soft, not whilst she had Avan whose skin was so soft (though leprous).
In Crieff we went to their Highland Games. We’d been looking forward to what would surely be a series of strange feats of strength and stupidity. What it was was an athletics carnival. Shot-put, hammer throw, running races. Not what we had in mind. They did throw a pole, but even that wasn’t as stupid as I had hoped. When I approached an official and asked if I could compete, he looked at me like I should fuck off whence I came. I did.