I have had the unpleasant feeling for years now, that I regret doing the things in life that are sensible and rational, just to live up to the “expectations of society”, rather than to follow my heart. As much as I like working with my colleagues, and as much as I appreciate my company boosting my career over and over again, I still feel as my life is being led, and I am not in control. A year ago, my company sent me on a training in Les Fontaines (France) called Emerging Leadership Programme, and I still am grateful for that opportunity. Because there I realized, I needed to change! On that same training (with great colleagues), I met a Scottish colleague, Ian Williamson, with a similar vision of life. Right there we made an appointment: He wanted to become a mountain guide, and I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, so he’ll guide me on a trip trough the wilderness and I’ll share my pictures for his website. And last month, we went for that hike! Check my other two posts about Edinburgh and North Berwick too!
The initial trek was planned over the mountains near Ben Nevis, however, at first the weather conditions did not seem too well. While the weather got better as the weekend of the hike got closer, Ian still was in doubt which direction to go and told me: “Listen, you are the client, and I am happy to climb the Ben Nevis, but we won’t be taking any pony tracks that the tourist take, and it is a serious hike. As this your the first time out in the wilderness, it makes more sense not to go for the most difficult hike and consider your safety.”. As much as I wanted to climb the Ben Nevis, his advise was sound. So we went out walked along the Mighty Ben, passing Glen Nevis and heading down a Glen between the Ben Nevis, the Mamores and the Grey Corries. This was going to be a serious hike anyway.
While descending over the rocks down to the Glen and the Steall Falls, Ian proved to be a true guide as near cliffs he put him between me and the danger zone, a second time he showed he cared about the safety of his client. In the mean time, he pointed out little rock formations and showed how the river, raging down the rocks, shaped the landscape. Our plan was to find a little bothy for the night, called Meanach, but as Ian told me to always have a back-up plan, we also brought a tent.
After about three miles we left the tourists behind us. Ahead was nothing but the Glen, mountains, hills, waterfalls, and little rivers. The scenery got completely quiet, and all I could hear was the wind, the Water of Ben Nevis, and my feet on the rocks, and later on the wet peat. Hiking moorlands and peat was heavy, every step was a wet step (luckily I have great water proof boots), and every now and then I sank into the wet ground with mud up to my knees. However, I enjoyed it and needed to suffer a little, to get my mind of the “daily life”.
I was very talkative at the beginning of the morning. And Ian showed me how to read the map and use a compass. He even told me to blow my whistle (which I brought for safety) six times when in need of help, than stop for a while, and blow it six times again. And that, if I am not able to continue walking, I should sit on my backpack to stay dry, and warm myself with a thermal blanket. As even during the summer, hypothermia could be a serious threat up in the hills.
Those of you who have been to the Highlands know about the little critters called midges. Small mosquito-like bugs the size of a fruit-fly, and what makes them so annoying is that they attack by many, it is not a normal one-on-one battle. Only the females bite, and it feels like a mosquito bite, so not dangerous, but annoying! Thankfully we had a windy hike, and because these little bugs are so small, the wind blows them away easily. Ian told me there are three other ways to beat the midges: a product called “Smidge”, a skin moisturizer for the ladies called “Skin So Soft”, or simply to stay inside.
We left the Ben Nevis behind us and walked past the Grey Corries and Mamores while Ian told me about the geology of the mountain ranges we were walking. Honestly, he mentioned the names of many mountains, but remembering all the strange Gaelic sounds is hard.
About halfway through the day I almost ran out of water. So before running completely out of water, we stopped at one of the many waterfalls you can find in that area. Here I had an amazing experience. I drank from the waterfall and refilled my bottle. While this doesn’t sound anything abnormal, I really felt close to nature, and drinking from a stream in The Netherlands will absolutely get you sick (there is no running water, only still water where I life). I felt so free! No people, no cars or sounds of aircrafts around, only the cold fresh water and a wide view over the hills and Glen. What a moment! I also ate something new that day: Pork Pie, a delicious English cold meat pie. I was lucky to taste one from Melton Mowbray, the home of Pork Pies.
This break gave me new energy. But the rough ground started to pay it’s toll. Sinking into the peat, not being used to walking in the hills, recovering from an injury, I had to admit to myself I wasn’t in the best shape of my life. Like said, I was chatty in the morning, however as the day passed, I got more quiet. I was now focussing on the steps I took. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot… One hill after another. Until we finally reached a bothy called Meanach.
Noting but hills and the river in the near surroundings. What a place to spend the night!
The bothy was empty, so we could spend the night there. This little shed is nothing fancy. Four walls, a roof, a place to make fire for the cold days or to dry your clothes, and a few planks to put your sleeping bag on. But nothing fancy is exactly what I want, as I realized, I am more happy being free but sober, than to spend my time working and having all the luxurious items I want. There was one item I had that I was happy to bring: A small flask that I filled with a 12 year old Highland Park. What a joy to drink out there!
While Ian prepared a brew, I rested my legs, and tried to sit outside. Unfortunately the wind had died down and the midges were back, and in great numbers! We hid inside the shed, until we had to go out one more to before sleep. I wore a net over my head, to prevent the bastards from biting my face, the only uncovered skin were my hands. And they were completely black, as thousands (or millions?) of midges found the uncovered skin!
The next morning we hiked back, and along the hike Ian picked up trash, a habit I decided to adopt. Optimistic he said: “It takes a serious effort to get here, so I don’t believe people trash this place on purpose. Must have fallen from their backpack.“. Later that day we arrived in Fort William. Fish and chips are a great meal after a hike like that, and what a feeling to have a shower and proper bed again!
Thanks mate, it was an amazing experience! Hope to see you in Snowdonia some day. You are a great guide, and if anyone wants the same experience, book this guy!
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