April 2005

Knoydart is simply an enchanting place, I've been there three times now, and each time, Knoydart and uncontrollable laughter seem inseparable, and one of those times I was on my own! It is unique in the sense that it is the only part of the road system on the British Isles, that is disconnected from the main network. The road runs out at Kinloch Hourn and doesn't appear again for fifteen miles at Inverie, where you will find a road of sorts, nine miles in length, that connects Inverie to Airor, a tiny settlement on the north of the peninsular. The entire population of the knoydart peninsular is about eighty people, most of those are huddled together at Inverie the principle township, nestled in a sheltered bay, on the south side of the peninsular. The hubbub of Knoydart life centres around 'The Old Forge' as we were about to find out, which is incidentally, according to the Guiness Book of records, the remotest pub in Britain.

Right from the word go I felt like somebody was trying to tell me that this expedition was going to be inundated with humour. I got to Toms earlier than planned due to not being able to sleep, I arrived at 4:00am instead of 5:00am .Thankfully they were up but trying to attract their attention was hard work. The sturdy gate was locked which incidentally was smothered in barbed wire! I tried pipping, shouting, waving my arms in the air but all to no avail. I only had one option left, scale the gate! I carefully navigated the summit ridge but got my foot taffled up in the barbed wire, tripped, fell the full distance and landed in a heap on the floor. To my chagrin there was a creaking noise as the gate slowly opened! Laurel and Hardy couldn't have done it better.

Once on the premises, the next step was to reach the front door without disturbing the 'German Shepherd' . I crept along cautiously but in so doing somehow managed to boot the dog bowl about twenty foot into the air, its a wonder it didn't wake up half the village, it did however alert Tom and Guy to my presence, who were relieved to see me and not some prowler. We were on the road earlier than expected, Guy was quite happy to do the driving. I said a prayer to help us to drive safely, ironically when I got to the bit about recognizing the respect for life Guy ran over two blackbirds! I did wonder if he had his eyes shut! This seemed to set the tone for the whole trip, three humorous incidents and we weren't even yet out of Lincoln!

With a musical diet of anything between King Crimsons 'Larks Tongues in Aspic' to Dvorak's 8th symphony the miles seem to roll by. When we stopped for some chips at Fort William I reminded the lads that there are some unscrupulous Scots who, as they put it in their own vernacular ''rip off George'' George being the collective pronoun for English people, in other words they bite the hand that feeds them. I cautioned the lads to hand over the right money if possible, but if not make sure you check your change. After we had enjoyed our chips Tom took a cursory glance at his change and exclaimed " I don't believe it they've ripped me off! " To him that has ears listen!

You couldn't wish to find a more wild and isolated spot as Kinloch Hourn, just the odd croft or two and a farm house at the roads end, flanked by mountain and loch on either side. Ironically Loch Quiche and the surrounding area boasts the unenviable record of the highest annual rainfall in Britain, a mammoth 140 inches a year! Today though it seemed like 'rain' was a foreign word in these parts, it had a kind of Mediterranean feel to it, you knew the next day, and the one after that were going to be a continuation of wall to wall sunshine, guaranteed. We met up with Sue and Oz, after a warm greeting cameras were out, adjectives fail me, it was just so beautiful. After posing for a couple of group shots, Oz hid his car keys under the third rock from the left of a dilapidated sheep pen, we hoisted on our massive cumbersome kits and we were on our way to Barrisdale.

The end of the road, kinlochhourn

Sue, Tom, Guy and the Ozfather

Guy, Me, Oz and Sue

Few walks in Britain are as scenically breathtaking as the 15 mile trek from Kinloch Hourn to Inverie. I had done this walk a couple of years previous, on that occasion it was the 'land of mountain and flood' the antithesis of today. Must admit I had totally underestimated its continuation of ups and downs, woe to anybody who ever sells it as a flat walk. We had to stop several times for a breather, sometimes this was combined with the many photographic opportunities. I was staggered by the mussel beds along 'Caolas Mor' . The view from 'Leic an Aiseag' along Loch Hourn can only be described as special. The abundance of Scottish wild primroses added a touch of spring to a wild but beautiful landscape.

Look at those mussels!

looking back to Loch Hourn

one of the finest walks in Scotland

Tom taking it all in. Bhein Sgrithiol in the background.

Scottish primroses in abundance

There was still plenty of daylight left when we reached 'Barrisdale' where we pitched up for the night, a good approach point to knock off 'Ladhar Bheinn' a mountain at this point I was calling Ladder Ben, it's actually pronounced Larven. When we eventually turned in for the night there appeared to be several lumps and bumps under the tent which we knew fine well weren't there when we put it up. These were immediately recognized as rocks, and we had a good idea who the culprit was, but proving it was another matter. By sheer quirk of coincidence, no detective work was necessary . Whilst observing a photograph of Guy and Sue posing in front of Sue's tent, our attention was inadvertently directed to something of particular interest in the background, Oz up to mischief! Prior to turning in we even managed to have a camp fire, the purpose of this was twofold 1. It was great fun and 2. Due to some whiskey inspired antics Guy got his boots soaked giving us piggy backs through the stream! The fire dried out his boots quite adequately.

never mind Sue and Guy, what's Oz up to!

He's a fine lad!

whiskey inspired antics!

Guy drying out his boots

I have noticed as my own children have grown older, how they wont let you get away with anything. Oz seemed to think that a crushed tin would decompose under a boulder, I thought ' yes it maybe will in about two thousand years' but kept my thoughts to myself, Tom didn't, " that wont decompose!" he said not just emphatically but with a touch of ridicule and irony in his voice. That was it, this was used as joke material for the rest of the trip and is still alluded to, to this very day. Oz also had views on Camelbacks and a theory of the orbits within the solar system that were overturned by Tom, when Oz realized he was cornered by irrefutable logic on every side he gave way to a Cheshire cat grin, which belied a good relationship between the two. On the return walk we were ahead of Sue and Oz and out of our good nature we wrote Oz's name in stones and left some boiled sweets in the middle of the letter 'O', but he never found them... they must have decomposed!

Notice sweets in the letter 'o'. They must have decomposed!

The Cheshire Cat grin!

Due to public demand for more blogs, this by necessity is a retro blog, beggars belief but this was nearly six years ago, back in those days, our back packs used to weigh a ton, so to speak, it wasn't unusual on a good hike, to tip the scales in excess of 56lb! You live and learn and an obvious area of improvement was to refine our kit, trimming down the big bulky items in favour of lighter alternatives. Because our next camp was penciled in for Inverie beach top, we had to do the whole of ' Laddhar Bheinn' with full 56lb kit! As the first traces of dawn tinged the Knoydart skyline, I happened to overhear a conversation between Sue and Oz and a couple of walkers, at the Barrisdale camp site, they were shocked that we weren't doing the hill with day sacks and even more scornful when we (I had now joined the conversation), got the map out and outlined our route . With snide facial gestures, they gave us their parting shot, " you'll never do it ", " Thanks" I thought, that's just the mental fuel we need to do it, and we did do it!

Barrisdale camp site. Tinges of dawn on Laddhar Bheinn.

notice the sharks fin

Sue carried on the walk to Inverie on her own, while us four lads, Tom, Guy, Oz and myself pressed on ahead, up the Chearcail Corrie. The plan was to be reunited with Sue at 5:00 at the 'Old Forge'. As the suns illustrious rays evaporated the early morning mist, I was clearly perspiring, but when we were in shadow it was literally freezing, consequently I accumulated a vast amount of tiny beads of frozen sweat on my bald head, much to the amusement and amazement of the lads, to the extent that they had me stood motionless while they all took close up photographs of this natural phenomena.

natural phenomena!

When we got to the corrie headwall, our initial response was you'll never get us up there in a month of sundays, but a glance to the left and right revealed that we only had two options, do it or turn back! Tom went up to have a closer look and came back really positive, the closer you got to it, the more feasible it became. In reality it was a superb scramble with considerable exposure, but on firm solid holds. In a few minutes we were on the 'Stob' and the real grandeur of the mountain was unveiled, soaring ridges, stunning panoramic views, spectacular dips and hollows and in the distance a curious triangle of rock, resembling a Sharks Finn that seemed to be the constant feature no matter where you were on the mountain, but it seemed to be gradually getting nearer.

sharks fin gets nearer

You'll never do it!...

We did it!

It was a slog though with a monster of a full kit!

superlative view of Laddhar Bheinn.

Onward from 'the Stob', a pleasant section of ridge lead us to the summit of 'Aonach Sgoilte', from there a few dips and re-ascents followed and the 'Sharks Fin' was now within reach. Once upon the 'Sharks Fin' we could see the summit cairn, which was about five minutes walk away down the ridge. It was a very graceful and sweeping ridge, kind of curved out towards the western horizon, we walked right the way along to the final tip, An Diollaid, where there is a small rain filled lochan, from that point we headed off the hill, felt a sense of relief to be in the safe grassy confines of Coirre Garbh.

sweeping ridges

One thing I can positively forgive myself for, was not packing suntan lotion. Who would have thought that on the highest peak in Knoydart, in the wettest part of the country, in early April, you would be nursing sunburn! I couldn't believe it, but there we were in a little dip on the summit ridge, sunbathing. We must have been zoned out for a good ten minutes, when the peace was disturbed by a loud shriek from me, in his peaceful slumber Guy knocked his stove over and soaked me with his luke warm 'hot dog' water! That was all Guy seemed to live on, I think his philosophy was Lucosade tablets are the answer to all of lifes problems and 'Liddl's Hot Dogs' are a hill walkers staple diet. We had a good laugh over the label, it gave a serving suggestion, I've never quite seen the point in those things, it showed a pile of 'Hot Dogs' with a sprig of parsley. A sprig of parsley! What good is that? Imagine the scenario, Guy gets home from a hard days work, collapses in the chair, his mum bellows through from the kitchen, "Guy, what do you want for tea?" " Oh, I just fancy a plate full of 'Hot Dogs' please mum" "Do you want anything with them Guy?" " oh, yes they'd just go down well with a sprig of parsley!" As we looked down at his 'Hot Dogs' strewn all over the rough tussocky grass, we thought that would have made a good serving suggestion!

Guy thought Hot Dogs were the answer to all of life's problems!

Master Chef!

serving suggestion!

two minutes later Hot Dogs he knocks Hot Dogs in my direction!

Can't believe it's the first week in April!

For me 'Laddhar Bheinn' is a mountain of contrasts, as I've just mentioned here I was struggling to protect my delicate bald head from the ravages of the sun, a year later we were holidaying in Knoydart, Oz, Sue and myself were walking on the path towards Invergusseran, keeping an eye on Laddhar Bheinn and all its superlatives, when it was suddenly engulfed in cloud, whence the cloud had passed, the green and brown hues were replaced by a glorious mantle of brilliant white snow, it was an absolute jewel. We unanimously decided to climb Laddhar Bheinn the following day, which turned out to be a year to the day of the time mentioned in this blog! Who would have thought that the docile, sleepy, grassy ridges where we were slumbering, without a care in the world, would precisely one year later become ice glazed, replete with snowy cornices, providing a major test of winter mountaineering skills.

unbelievable contrasts

Heading down the grassy corrie, we were all pretty tired and the heat was becoming oppressive. Tom, Guy and myself were visibly slowing down, the heavy kits were accelerating our loss of energy and stamina, but Oz left us standing, he got that far in front we didn't have the will to catch him up. Actually I think he was just anxious about meeting up with Sue, not a problem, there is a Land Rover track from 'Folach' to the back of Inverie school, a distance of some five or six miles, only problem was though, due to our tired physical and mental state, there was no way in the world we were going to make it to the 'Old Forge' anywhere near the estimated time. As we plodded up this track, hope and energy seemed to drain from us like water in an almost empty boiling kettle, when to our surprise a Land Rover was at our behest! A very affable gentleman jumped out, "can I offer you guys a lift?" he said, we gratefully accepted, that meant we might be just half an hour late instead of three hours late!. As we alighted our three faces all focused on a very familiar face to all of us... Oz!

It was very kind of this man to pick us up, he'd evidently gave Oz the same opportunity, and there was no room in the back, there were at least eight of us, all packed in like sardines. We were all that close together, you just had to look down, if you looked up you were accidentally giving some stranger the deep eyeball penetration treatment! There was one woman, sat in the corner, who clearly wasn't impressed with the benevolence of the driver, in picking up four impromptu guests, which was made evident by her permanent knitted furrows and pursed lips for the whole journey, a situation that had me fighting the giggles. There was one girl who stood out in the crowd, a petite French bimbo, who Guy and Tom, both being single at the time, connived to sit next to, realizing what was going on, I turfed them out and filled the vacant slot myself, to make sure no funny business was going on. Oz later revealed he was very anxious in the back of the Land Rover in case he got the cramps (see blog no.5). This would have meant shouting and screaming at the top of his voice and kicking, writhing and screaming on the floor like a dog in excruciating agony! Thankfully the cramps didn't come on, but man one can't help but think, what a spectacle it would have been if they had!

Sue had a very enjoyable and leisurely walk from Barrisdale to Inverie but found the 'Old Forge' to be a bit like the wild west, the instant she walked through the door, time stood still as all eyes focused on the ' new kid in town' ! When we reached the pub, only half an hour late instead of the projected two and a half, Sue was sat outside looking a bit disgruntled, you could tell what she was thinking by the lines on her face, "where the heck are they?" She wouldn't have given the Land Rover a second thought as it pulled up outside the front door, but gave way to spontaneous hysterical laughter when four old men were bundled out the back as the Land Rover sped off. Life is full of surprises.

Tom very kindly bought us all a pint of lager and a packet of Doritos, which were revitalizing, and we were chilling nicely in the warm spring evening sun. Oz was explaining to us his movements on the last leg of the walk, going into great detail of how he left a 'crisp packet' secured by four small stones, on the track, hopefully for us to see and conclude that this was the way that he had walked. We couldn't quite grasp the significance of this S.A.S style tintack and plied Oz with several questions. As the conversation moved on in other directions Oz couldn't get rid of the 'bit' it kept coming back to "the crisp packet" "did you see the crisp packet?" " but if you saw the crisp packet". At this perfect juncture, Guy finished his pint and popped off to the loo, but prior to going placed his empty pint glass on top of the Doritos packet and said "I'm off to the loo, but I'll leave this crisp packet, just to remind you, this is where I was!" A cascade of similar jokes followed, for example 'How do they know George Mallory was the first to conquer Everest? Due to global warming, they found his crisp packet on the summit!' I honestly don't remember ever laughing with such gusto, the patrons of the 'Old Forge' must have thought we were on something. In honour of being such a great sport, a year later, at the never to be repeated Knoydart '06 holiday, Oz was presented with the prestigious 'framed crisp packet award'.

Oz receives the Crisp packet award

One thing we couldn't overlook in the 'Old Forge', was the inordinate amount of bad language, now we could handle this in two ways, 1 get a 'miff' on about it and let it cast a black cloud over the weekend or 2, handle it with humour. We chose the latter. I related a true life account about a very intellectual man, who was so cocooned in his knowledge of Greek words, Latin verbs and exhaustive concordances, that he hadn't heard even the most rudimentary vulgar language in his mother tongue. I then proceeded to relate a song that had been composed about the aforesaid individual [citation needed] . This was welcomed with the obligatory bouts of hilarity. I even considered bursting into the 'Forge' and reprimanding them with a stern warning that if the bad language didn't abate this individual would be sent right into their midst, only problem, he's been dead ten years!

a different world

On the way to the Beach Top, we had a chance encounter with one of lifes very special characters . For a laugh Tom thumbed a lift, not expecting any response, but this is Knoydart and people are friendly here, the Land Rover ground to a halt, and out jumped 'Dangerous Dave'! He addressed Tom in the most unintelligable, short clipped, 100m.p.h scottish accent imaginable. His flow of speech and his cadences reminded me of when you blow a balloon up and let it go before tying it,"pardon" said Tom, another balloon was let loose, " sorry I didn't quite catch that" replied Tom apologetically " dy ye wunt e laft tay da cemp sate?" said Dangerous Dave at snail pace, articulating every word, so we might stand half a chance of hearing what he said. I was overcome with laughter and had to walk to one side and pretend to be looking at a flower, it must have been a very funny flower! Sue and Oz took D.D up on his offer of a lift. Just after they committed, we found out why his name is prefixed with the word 'Dangerous', his brakes didn't work, the exhaust was hanging off, the windscreen was cracked and all the doors and boot were held together by a bit of string! Apart from that it was in pretty good nick! Us lads decided we would enjoy the walk! The following year, we tried to make contact with D.D but unfourtunately he'd moved on, however he left his Land Rover which is on display in Inverie, where Sue posed for a picture, notice the rock under the back wheel.

Dangerous Dave's Land Rover. Sue's Blog comments are interesting

We popped our tents up on the Beach top and headed back to the 'Forge' for a meal. When we were sat outside the pub on our laughing marathon I couldn't help but notice how drunk this man was, and still intent on drinking more beer! You could tell by his physique he was a hardened drinker, he didn't have one of those disgusting distended tummy's that hung down to his knees but rather looked like he had a basketball shoved up his jumper! I took note of his gait as he meandered from the bar to a seat outside, it was like somebody doing an impression of a drunk man but going way over the top, only thing was this guy wasn't acting! Anyway on our walk back to the forge who should be driving towards us? This totally sozzled man! I suppose he reasoned to himself, I'm too drunk to walk so I'll have to drive!

As we were enjoying a meal, Sue revealed that she had a dream 'in the space between the heavens and the corner of some foreign field, Sue had a dream' sorry about that, the dream was, that I got beaten up whilst in Knoydart! What was probably on her mind was an experience I had a couple of years previous, while hiking in knoydart and dining in the Forge. Let me relate. Knowing about the 'ripping off George' thing, that I mentioned earlier, I thought I would put on a Scottish accent, and see what happened, I would never have had the nerve to go through this if I was with anybody, I would just have ended up laughing. I ordered my meal and had a brief chat in Scottish and all went well. I thought great that was it, done and dusted, but no, the kitchen staff kept pestering me about anything from my meal to the weather, other bar staff were on my case even other patrons were trying to make light hearted conversation! This meant keeping the accent going for the whole duration and I was struggling, the accent was gravitating from Scottish to Irish to Cornish then back to broad Glaswegian! I think I kept the job up pretty well really, but for all I know, the kitchen staff were making up any excuse to go and here this guy putting on a Scottish accent. Whatever, point being, the Barman knocked a fiver off my meal! However when I'd finished my drink and been to the loo, on my exit I, without thinking and true to my dilitary form, spoke in my normal Lincolnshire accent! I complimented the Barman on the quality of the meal, who at the time had his head in his hands resting on the bar, talking to another man, but the double take he gave me was amazing! The situation was now unrepeatable, here I was walking towards the Youth Hostel, in torrential rain, doubled up laughing and on my own! I did stop laughing though, when I realized I'd left my phone in the pub! Now I had a dilemna, I obviously had to go back and get it but was I going to be Scottish or English? I walked back in sheepishly, the Barman was still engaged in conversation and still in the same posture, I just pointed to my phone, retrieved it and absconded, laughing all the way back to my digs. Well in case you've forgotten, I think that's why Sue had her dream, its a good job we don't believe in fate.

Walking back to the Beach Top through the village was also a delight, we were talking and laughing, the birds were singing and twittering, the air was warm, the light was soft, a few boats were motionless in the bay and the scented woods were bedecked with wild Scottish primroses. Life was good. The words of an Ernest Dowson poem come to mind that evoke the spirit of the moment "A song of the setting sun, the sky is in the west is red and the day is all but done, while yonder up overhead, all too soon, there rises, so cold, the cynic moon". I did wish Deb was with me, it was something so good to share, but a year later she was and Knoydart 'worked its magic'on her then, as it did everybody else on that awesome crazy holiday! Apparently my head was asleep before it hit the pillow, Guy said I was half way through muttering something before I went unconscious, we'll never know what it was now. As is usually the case with me though when camping, even if I'm exceptionally tired, I only get two or three hours, then sleep just seems to flee from me.

dreamy Inverie

let Knoydart work it's magic on you!

I thought rather than lying here awake, listening to Tom and Guy snoring their heads off, I might as well be up doing something, so I decided to get up and have a walk around Inverie. As I stretched and limbered up I was aware of a pain in my cheekbones, a bit like neuralgia, but it also encompassed my jaw line, I realized this was due to excessive laughter, it was a nice pain. As I walked past the school my eyes focused on a discarded crisp packet just being uplifted and blown along by the early morning breeze, I thought "oh no, is Oz following me?! " I started audibly laughing. The hilarity that descended upon us outside the Forge was like a bug that wasn't quite going to leave the body. I was soon in fits of laughter, I think really I was laughing at myself laughing, laughing at the irony of the situation. What would I have done if someone had gone past walking the dog and said "excuse me, what appears to be the joke?" with tears rolling down my cheeks I would have to reply "well I was just laughing at that crisp packet!" The eternal crisp packet!

The time had now come for us to make the 15 mile slog back to Kinloch Hourn, a daunting prospect made more palatable by the superb conditions. As we walked past 'Loch- a -dubh Lochain' I was captivated by the mirror perfect reflections, it was as if you couldn't see the water, just the mirror image. It was on this very track a year later when Rachel and Victoria got the hire car stuck. We all thought they must be enjoying themselves, they'd been gone a long time, but the truth was, they had grounded the car, and had to wait for two strong burly walkers to give them a hand out. Just past the loch, on the way up to the big cairn, we had a chance encounter with the Deer Stalker on his quad bike, he swore a lot as well, but he was overflowing with friendliness and offered to take our sacks down to Barrisdale, an altruistic gesture that I showed my appreciation and generosity by giving him Guys whiskey!

reflections in Loch Hourn on a perfect day

chance meeting with the Deer Stalker

On the way home I was determined to do my share of the driving, Guy had driven all the way here and had driven the first stage of the journey back as well, Tom had not yet passed his test. After a short snooze in the back I was ready to grasp the nettle. Guy graciously flopped out in the back as I took up the slack, but no sooner had I started driving I could tell things weren't to good, obviously down to a touch of sunstroke, I think it was somewhere around Glencoe, I felt like I was on the top of a roller coaster, going down the hills gave me the awful feeling that I wasn't in control. Tom darted an awkward glance at me a couple of times as I clipped the kerb, hence, I thought I'm going to have to call it a day. I must have done about twenty miles! Guy made a remark as Tom roused him, that his rear end hadn't even got molded round the seat! I was continually reminding the lads there was no need to drive fast, but it came out later, when they had both confirmed I was asleep, the pedal was on the floor!

Yes Knoydart is a very special place, we've been to many secret corners of Scotland, but there's nowhere quite like Knoydart. It is unique not just because its cut off from the road system, but because its cut off from civilization! It is in effect a mainland island. 'Let Knoydart work its magic on you' was a phrase that was coined when we all holidayed there with our families a year later. Therefore if you feel a little glum, bored, fancy a change or just want to get out of your self, why not, get out there and let ' Knoydart work its magic on you!'