One of the things I’m thinking about right now is distillation. If you do words for work, you get used to hiving things off – talk about specifics, separating strands, concentrating on 1 subject at a time. Actually, that's disingenuous - this is just being an adult. Most of all of us do separation for a living, more or less. But I wonder about all this distillation. Life just isn’t that tidy. Specialisation maybe functional, but is it true?
The girls were battling, with sleep patterns, growing pains. There’s no fathoming it, sometimes I gaze on blank and powerless at their shared frustration. My deadlines met at least for now, I suggested we make the best of the weather and take a trip together. We land in Arrochar with all the greens turned up to eleven, humid save the salty breeze off Loch Long. Am Bodach looked on in the pay and display, wooden and implacable, which seemed appropriate to this old man at least. Arrochar is where the Viking long ships landed, to be portaged over the isthmus to Tarbet in order to raid the settlements on Loch Lomond. I appreciate an efficient maraud. Nowadays it isn’t a place for passing through unless you own a Harley. Most folk here come up from the south, and only leave in a wooden box. At least that’s what the guy in the village hall told me.
Self powered travel with a baby? Forget about lightweight. T carries the bairn: probably about 15kg’s including the carrier itself, I take the remainder, well over 20kg… just for an overnight camp. Blankets, a cool bag containing actual, already hydrated fruit and milk, a ‘real’ tent (both inner and fly)… god only knows what else. We inch our way forward past JCB’s and mounds of aggregate on the track into Inverchorachen, aided by tangerines and Gruffalo recitals. The Fyne Ales brewery have a festival planned – there’s a walkers bar, but no other walkers, and no beer in the beer tent, yet. Shame. We pass the stalker’s cottage, the damned dam access roads thin out, we enter hazel and birch woods fenced off from the grazers, a breeze in the tops, shadow dappled erratics wearing moss trilby’s long since at home on the side of the track. At the abandoned cottage, our gaze is focused down the glen, a primordial gunsight targeting the evening gold on the slopes of Ben Lui.
Finding a pitch is tricky amongst the tussock. N is shy of the river at first, how it flows inbetween the rocks we perch on after tea, but soon gains confidence. There’s so much to see and do, even more to point at. It stays light late, and she fights against sleep.
By mid morning, we’re level with the new track, freshly bulldozed on the opposite side of the burn. Tons of gravel has spilled off and choked a tributary: Any water that runs at all, runs grey and silty in the glen below. As we reach the meadow flats, it's apparent that the track comes right round under the ridge. All the better to siphon off water and starve the regeneration below. Good work, team. Nicely butchered.
Beinn Bhuide - the yellow hill - is a high value Munro, an outlier that takes some effort to get to: Especially with a sleepy monkey on my back. There’s a steep, loose gully climb before the last of the ridge. I may come back in winter, there’s good camping and some engaging, low in the grade mountaineering to practice with here. I'll bring a bike next time though.
On the top, N is eager to get out and get some exercise. Views are huge, hot and bleached. A few snatched moments of connectedness, as I realise I can name some names – The Arrochar Alps, the Cruachan range, Ben More, Stob Bennein, Nevis - then the less familiar Black Mount and Rannoch. Good to be able to join a few dots in the territory, not just on the map. Good to be able to share it too, this time.
We descend, slowly, carefully, my guess at an eta out by 3 or 4 hours. The decision to use the burn path on the way down instead of the way up is probably the wrong one. It’s a beautiful way on or off the hill, but my load is restless, I’m tired and dehydrated and it’s a long way down over loose, rough ground. There’s a brief and exposed scramble to negotiate too. T guides my feet to easy holds that would usually be just fun, but there are a few moments of genuine panic as I swing around the overhang with a 15month old hanging off my back. ‘What happens if?’ I doubt this part features in the pamphlets they hand out to groggy parents in supermarkets. Call the cops.
N walks the first part of the way out, a slightly fried parent either side, leading by example down the grass centred track. She’s so adaptable. I guess we’re learning too. As we reach the head of the glen, footsore and thirsty, the smell of cheap burgers and the sound of cheaper 12-bar-blues wafts our way. We pass a young couple in clean clothes and Hunter wellies carrying a pop up tent. She looks at us, smirks and says to her partner ‘leaving already’. He responds ‘probably’.