Stay at home
Scotland is under national lockdown. People are asked to stay at home except for essential purposes.
Click for details
Golden Eagles and Old glint-eye!
by calicairns » Fri Sep 18, 2015 2:10 am
Route description: Beinn Alligin
Munros included on this walk: Sgurr Mor (Beinn Alligin), Tom na Gruagaich (Beinn Alligin)
Date walked: 09/09/2015
Time taken: 6 hours
Distance: 10 km
Ascent: 1110m7 people think this report is great. Register or Login free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).
My night’s sleep had been ruined by a dorm of orchestral snorers, who in various obscene pitches and keys, had played all night long with no intervals.
When one virtuoso finally faded out or choked himself awake, another would begin a rendition of their own, whereby the others would pause, listen and then join in, building into a crescendo of wind, strings, brass, percussion and voice, improvised by the many whistles, bellows, snorts, grunts and horse-neighs which served to rub against the very fibres of my being.
I hadn’t intended to stay in the hostel. To speak truth, I hadn’t even known it existed until the evening before. There was a tent in the boot of my car, but the long day previously had rendered me somewhat tired and delirious. I am someone who likes a good eight hour sleep. And sometimes more than that. I’d had less than six hours in two days.
I was all packed for the drive back to Edinburgh when I got into a very brief conversation with a gentleman in the dining area. He was middle-aged and wiry-fit, with a worldly glint in his blue eyes. He sipped a spoonful of milk from his cereal bowl and said, “You can’t leave today.”
At first I thought he was referring to the weather, it being currently fourteen degrees of sunshine with no cloud and predicted to get hotter as the day went on. But then I realised he was talking with power. I felt a change inside me. A slowing down where all thoughts evaporated like the morning mist on the loch which I was now staring at through the window.
Old glint-eye was right.
I immediately went into the quiet room where I knew there to be a book which would aid me. I opened it and had a look at Beinn Alligin. I took some pictures of the route and summary notes and then headed for the small cark park as detailed by the guide:
I parked beside a tiny micro car, crammed to the roof with stuff and resembling the room of a hoarder. Two women came out of the vehicle. They were in their early forties and of corpulent body mass. They wore nets on their heads to protect them from midges. Their voices were loud and with a harsh Glaswegian tone not suited to charm or eloquence of any kind, certainly not the kind of voice you’d want to tell you a bedtime story. And utterly out of place in the peaceful surroundings.
I think they may have been arguing about something or other.
“Um jest goney git go-wan, ok?” the dark haired one said to the other. And without waiting for an answer, she left her companion to lock up the car as she made for the trees.
Her haste might well have been due to the midges. They were attacking hard.
The other woman offered me a quick look at her map which I stored in my photographic memory. It seemed simple enough. And the good thing was, the route finished where it started. That sealed the deal for me.
I got changed as the other woman put on sunglasses before marching off with silly looking ski poles and a large rucksack. I’d be travelling light. Power told me all would be well.
With the witches gone, the midges had only one source of food. In whispered screams, I slapped my hands over any exposed area of skin as I packed my day sack. Itchy, itchy, itchy! Oh god! Help me. Please god, make it stop! With haste, I packed water, rations, spare socks and a rain jacket, just in case.
I slammed the door of the car and ran into the same forest where the two women had disappeared.
But what was this?
The dark haired one was coming back.
“Wah-turr bote-el’s leak-un!” she said.
Oh dear. How awful. What a shame...
The tiny winged highland air force had called in masses of reinforcements and was harassing her a good deal. I could hear her cursing like a sailor as I continued upwards with a smile, crossing a fence into an altitude that midges seemed not to care for. I looked down and took a picture or two of Loch Torridon. Nice. The weather was perfect sunshine as expected:
I followed the route up beside the waterfall. I checked my memory banks and realised I still had quite a climb to go. It was getting hot so I stopped for water and washed my feet here:
I wet my head too. Then I ate some fruit and nuts, tied my laces and cracked on up the slope. My t-shirt was ringing with sweat.
Too hot for a Highlander.
It was now an idea came to me that might well change the nature of walking on hot days. I tucked the bottom of my shorts into my jockey underpants. This might not seem like much but it allows any sort of wind, even the type of air displacement caused by natural movement, to cool the very tops of one’s thighs and a bit more besides. What a trick! I was enjoying the feeling for a good fifty feet or so when I thought I heard a voice.
I immediately pulled my shorts out and scanned 360 degrees around me.
I looked down for the witches but could see no movement, silhouettes, shape or shine or any of those things that might give away a human in the hills.
I imagined the witches were still down there; squabbling and forever faffing about in the lower planes of leaky water bottles and midge-ridden car parks.
I tucked my shorts back into my jockeys and strove on up the corrie with renewed vigour until I came to a plateaux covered with large flat stones. Interesting. It was as if some sort of giant spaceship had landed and melted rocks into fried eggs with its fusion-powered thruster rockets.
I dropped my rucksack to save time and skipped a westerly course to find pleasing views of the sea and Skye:
Running back for my bag, I proceeded to Tom na Gruagaich.
Approaching the summit was akin to having the curtains of the world drawn back and now I was thrown into Lord of the Rings!
I could hear King Theoden leading the charge of Rohan into the valley below.
The Horns of AIligin were calling me.
“Mountains, Gandalf! Mountains!”
They came sheer out of the ground into pointed peaks with thin ridges and crags, and deep scars running down the sides.
The air I breathed felt like a purer form of oxygen.
I was in a world of mountains, as far as I could see and in every direction.
Green and brown were Sgurr Mor and The Horns of Alligin but deep blue were the mountains in the distance, merging with the summer haze on the horizon.
Liathach was a dark silhouette in front of the morning sun:
The book said Beinn Alligin translated as The Mountain of Beauty.
Yes, there was a serenity about this place and about how the cool wind caressed my hair and skin in a way I remembered it had done years before at the top of Tibidabo in Barcelona.
Just like there, a feminine energy prevailed, and I became quite still.
I closed my eyes and focused on breathing.
I thought of my mum and family and considered the possibility of renting a helicopter to transport us up here, so we might all see this together one day. I made some intentions and what might be called prayers.
I moved to the edge and gazed with half closed eyes, turning my head in increments from left to right, scanning and bringing everything in.
I want this image burned into my consciousness.
I closed my eyes as the wind danced around me.
My heart was magnetic.
A part of me knew this place already.
It had never left.
I took some photos and made a vow to die here one day as an old man.
Saying thanks to power for keeping me in Torridon, I made my way down the path, taking time to lean over a promontory and scout some ledges where I considered whether or not it might be possible to make a wingsuit base jump.
No, not quite sheer enough.
Probably best to have a bit more height to get away from the mountain too.
I walked along the trail.
Next stop was here:
There was a mischievous energy about this ledge which made little thoughts come into my head and ask innocent questions like, “What would happen if you just fell and started to roll? Would you stop? Would it be fatal or just painful?”
Voices above me. Two men were working on the paths, chipping away with tools and laying nets. I’d heard them before now, of course. I’d even watched them a long way off through the lens of my Opticron monocular.
It has a large field of view and excellent image quality.
I got it as a birthday present earlier in the year for this exact purpose. Peeping.
One of the men was in his mid thirties with narrow shoulders and thick glasses. He had a scraggy, juvenile beard and a half-hearted demeanour.
The other was of average height, about forty years old and wearing shorts with boots, same as me. He was clean shaven and had muscular legs suited for the highlands.
I listened to the scraggy one talking about his job. He had a welsh accent and wasn’t too loud. The shorts-wearing one preferred to be slightly above and away from his workmate. He didn’t reply often, and when he did, it was but with an “Ah,” or polite, “Uhu.”
The Welsh one was not put off and seemed to be of the philosophy, ‘why should waiting for a reply stop a good conversation?’
I walked up with the confident stride of someone who has every right to be wherever they are. I gave the customary nod and said, “Hello there!”
“Oh, hello,” said the scraggy, Welsh one.
“Hey,” said the shorts-wearing one, in a broad Scots voice. I could tell he’d seen a bit of the world. His skin was the tanned nutty brown of the sailor or outdoors man and there was a quiet look in his eyes that suggested adventure and indomitable will.
“Do you both do this sort of thing for a living?” I asked.
“I do this for a living,” said the Scottish one, with a humorous lift of his eyebrows.
“I’m thinking of a career change,” I said. “Do you know how I might get into this line of employment?”
The Welsh one loved talking and explained that he worked for a company who were contracted to maintain paths throughout the highlands. His workmate with the shorts was a private contractor but somehow they’d been pitted together.
I perceived the Scottish one would have been content to do his work alone. The Welsh one was quite close to the precipice and I thought, with a little push, the Scottish man could easily work the rest of the day by himself.
Having satisfied my curiosity, I thanked them for their time, and proceeded to the summit of Sgurr Mor, observing the steep, daunting path down to the Horns and what seemed like quite a narrow ridge over them.
I knelt down to get my flask and when I stood up a man appeared from Berwick upon Tweed. He had kind blue eyes the colour of the sky above us, with not too many lives behind them.
His name was Neil, and he had a genuine nature that I warmed to instantly.
Neil said he’d just come over the Horns and was pretty sure he’d done the hard bit. We talked about life and jobs and my new possibility of employment as a path fixer which he thought was karmically good as it was doing something for people. I hadn’t thought of it like that. I just wanted to be away from irritating clients and on my own up the hills like the quiet Scottish one. But damn! What if I got paired with a conversation lover like he had? I’d make a point of requesting solo work.
Neil and I ate lunch together. I had tuna pasta. He had a roll and cheese.
“I saw a Golden Eagle yesterday,” he said. “I did Liathach and it was flying round the ridge.”
I put down my fork. “I was thinking of golden eagles yesterday when I was up there! I don’t know why but images of them flying kept coming into my mind.”
“You never know,” he said, “one could’ve flown behind and you picked up on it.”
I thought of myself as a golden eagle living in Torridon. Hunting. Living in a sheltered nest on the mountain side. Surviving and rearing chicks in this epic place.
Neil said he’d gone up Liathach the day before at 9am when cloud still covered the peaks.
This was two hours before me.
He showed me photos of what he called cloud inversion.
It reminded me of flying:
We finished eating.
My drenched t-shirt was starting to chill on the whip of a Sou’ westerly which urged us on.
We swapped emails, shook hands and parted company.
As I walked away a sadness overcame me.
Whether it was leaving this spot, or Neil, I couldn’t say. Maybe we’d known each other in a previous life? Or maybe I realised the walk was half way done. The highest points had been reached.
I asked for Neil to have safe passage home and then kicked a stone which tumbled, rolled, and took off, plummeting hundreds of feet down the mountainside where it merged into the browns of a billion fellow rocks never to be seen again.
This cheered me and brought me back to my nature. I love watching things fall from great heights. I love falling from great heights too. That’s why I like wingsuits. Although technically, in a decent sized wingsuit, one is gliding.
The Path down wasn’t as steep as it looked. Or it didn’t feel like it anyway.
Two men were approaching with silly looking walking poles and hats. It was Old glint-eye.
“You’re the lad I spoke to in the youth hostel today!” he said, walking straight up to me.
“You put the seed of staying in my mind,” I replied. “I’m glad I did.”
“I’ll bet,” he said, with a smile. Those eyes told me he knew a bit more about this stuff than I did.
Glint-eye’s companion was younger. Early twenties, I’d say. Shy and polite. He only said hello. A good companion.
Glint-eye sat down like a chief amongst his clansman. He paused, took some water and then said they’d been here since Saturday. It was now Wednesday, unless the powers of the three mountains had changed something.
You feel they could if they wanted. Time didn’t exist. The angle of the sun was what decided things here.
“You don’t get many days like this up here,” he said.
I heard the solitary call of the bird of prey. That part of me which was gliding at higher altitude had endured many storms and rains and days where you couldn't see anything but the colour grey.
“And you’ve still got the best part to come,” said Old glint-eye, looking to the horns and lifting his chin rather than pointing.
We said goodbye and good luck. The eye glinted once more and the shy one smiled.
Onwards and upwards, Frodo my lad!
The Horns of Alligin were upon me.
I was a kid again, running, climbing and having an adventure all by myself.
I decided to go straight over, humming childish songs and talking to myself about the right bits to put my feet onto or celebrating on finding good grips.
I suppose if one was to fall at the wrong place, one could theoretically roll and roll and roll all the way down.
But in the hot sun, and having an affinity with this type of wind, and with the power of the mountains pulsing under my feet, it just felt like fun.
And what’s life without a little bit of fun?
I looked back to Sgurr Mor.
This was to be a great day still.
Going up the next Horn, I saw a man in shorts and t-shirt. I was lower down and to his left. Sometimes I like to hide and see if people spot me. I pressed my chest into the grassy slope and kept quite still as he passed to the side without noticing. I pushed up but didn’t see his walking partner until she wandered right into my path. She seemed surprised in a happy way. Like when you find a ten pound note in those trousers you haven’t worn in a while.
We exchanged pleasantries. She was from England and her voice was soft and sincere. She was empathic and curious. Almost medical but still human. She seemed to have all the time in the world to speak. She asked about my day. I said I’d taken the West to East approach to this walk.
“The view of the Horns of Alligin from the first Munro that I don’t know the name of is truly worth waiting for.”
“Yes,” she said, “I suppose I haven’t really seen them because we’ve been climbing on them.”
I wished her a safe journey.
As soon as she was out of sight, my stomach started to bulge from breakfast and yesterday’s dinner. I crouched behind a rock and reduced my body weight by about 2 pounds. I buried, cleaned and continued.
I completed the Horns of Alligin, taking time to meditate in a good spot.
I’d heard the call a couple of times and seen myself from above, sitting cross legged on a precipice. I picked up few choice stones for certain members of my family who appreciate such things and prepared for the final leg.
Thank god the descent wasn’t as steep as coming down from Liathach. I’d twisted my knee the day before and it was giving a noticeable twinge. I now wished I had those silly looking ski poles. It was better when I could lower myself from the big rocks using only my arms.
I followed the stream and decided to change socks.
My soles were wrinkled and white, like when you’ve woken up shivering after having fallen asleep in the bath. I gave them a wash in the cool flowing water.
My old, semi-itchy walking socks felt good. They’re only itchy on the outside. I walked on in the hottest part of the day until the tiny stream became a narrow river and then a waterfall. I saw my opportunity, stripped myself of earthly bonds and jumped in!
Of all the joys in life! My sweltering body felt only relief at the fresh water which replenished and healed any aches and weariness. I let my golden locks be soaked and contemplated finishing the rest of the walk as a free man before laughing to myself and donning my sweaty shorts and t-shirt once more.
I was aware that I was walking out of the valley. Ready to leave. Almost. I just had to say goodbye to the mountains first. I raised my hands above my head and took one last look all around, saying thank you and, “I’ll return soon.”
The vibes were strong. Energy filled my body.
A pleasant walk through a little forest of tall trees and ferns changed the golden light to shade, offering a cool, green canopy from the sun. I stopped to listen and breathe in the invigorating aroma of woodland and plants.
The path brought me back to the car park. I thought I’d have farther to go, but no, here I was.
There were a lot more cars parked but no people in them. Most of the midges were gone too. I ate some food, drank some water and cleaned myself with baby wipes. I was ready to go back to where I lived.
But not necessarily back home.
Because now my dreams are filled with flying.
A part of me remains in this epic place.
I go between the peaks of Beinn Alligin with outstretched wings, and soar in circles, hundreds of feet above the Horns to dive for prey in the valley. Dancing in the wind at the top of Tom na Gruagaich, I pass by Old glint-eye, Neil, and the men working on the path. Gliding along the great ridge of Liathach, I call out to my kin and my voice echoes between the mountains.
by Avocetboy » Fri Sep 18, 2015 9:23 am
by BoyVertiginous » Fri Sep 18, 2015 9:49 am
I was looking forward to the reports from the others on the hill about the guy with his shorts tucked into his pants, talking to himself, playing hide-and-seek and who didn't notice the person lying but a few feet away while lightening your load ... then I remembered this is normal behaviour when alone in the hills
by ancancha » Fri Sep 18, 2015 10:36 am
Almost a poem illustrated with some fabulous photos
Still walking poles are cool however mad they may look
by grumpy old bagger » Fri Sep 18, 2015 10:44 am
.... good to know somebody else voices thanks to special places
by scottishkennyg » Fri Sep 18, 2015 1:30 pm
by grumpy old bagger » Fri Sep 18, 2015 4:25 pm
I still think your report is mostly great, but -
I think you were unnecessarily unkind to the two women. You seem like a spiritual sort of dude, in tune with the universe... and yet your tone there is somewhat elitist, as though you feel that only certain types of people should be allowed into the hills. Everyone who walks knows the peace of mind and contentment of body which come with a day on the mountain, and that feeling should not be denied to anybody who is willing to go out there responsibly.
I would hate to be browsing through this site, or another, and recognise myself in some unflattering, and indeed, downright rude, description... we can't all be mountain gazelles, and I for one would be unable to climb most of the stuff I do without stupid-looking poles.
Be kind. We're all different, and we're all entitled to be out there.
by Xena_Highlander » Sat Sep 19, 2015 10:05 am
I love this report! It's like reading a roald Dahl short story! Also for the comment above, I didn't find it offensive at all! I found it really funny! I often go up the hills and get stuck behind all sorts of people, some I like, some who just annoy me. That's part of what we all do! Why shouldn't we put it in a wee extract and laugh about it? The vibe I get off this walker is he's a story teller. And I loved his piece!
- Posts: 2
- Joined: Sep 19, 2015
by grumpy old bagger » Sun Sep 20, 2015 9:17 am
But my point is that it's not anonymous. Those two women are walkers, they may well be regular readers of this site.... which is used by loads of folk for info and entertainment and to feel part of the community.... and if they read this they'll recognise themselves, and might feel quite hurt.
It's great writing, yes... but I think in public forums we should try to avoid upsetting folk, and sometimes it's best to keep our opinions to ourselves! My only objection to the report is that it's quite possible its 'victims' will read it....
by Xena_Highlander » Tue Sep 22, 2015 5:44 pm
- Posts: 2
- Joined: Sep 19, 2015
by Sunset tripper » Tue Sep 22, 2015 6:24 pm
Xena_Highlander wrote:Who really knows what is made up and what is fact beyond the report of the path description? All I know is I enjoyed it.
I go along with xena on this one. Who knows what is fact and it doesn't really matter, but the characters described most people will recognize.
A very well written report.
- Posts: 2219
- Joined: Nov 3, 2013
- Location: Inverness
Walkhighlands community forum is advert free
Can you help support Walkhighlands and the online community by donating by direct debit?