It has been passing too fast, this gap “year” of mine and it seems I’ve now overrun my original 12-month deadline. Thirteen months and … well, who’s counting? Best not. I’ve been stretching it out, packing in adventures, travels, walking, sunshine, encounters and as much writing as I can before my nomadic lifestyle comes to an end and I have to work again.
The hills have been an enduring focus. Two of the most memorable were Beinn Chabhair and Ben Cruachan in Argyllshire; brutes of mountains which demanded long days and big effort. We started late after mornings of rain spent reading in the tents but Chabhair eventually rewarded the steady slog with evening sunshine and outstanding views. There was no desire to leave the summit so we dallied and gazed at the ranges of hills, trying to work out the names of different peaks, returning to camp too late and tired to cook. We pooled resources and shared beer, chocolate and yoghurt – a walker’s feast.
But Ben Cruachan was a different matter. It has been a target for a long time and it lulled me upwards, almost promising all day that the clouds on the summit would clear as I reached through them to the top.
But for once I wasn’t lucky. I’m a fair-weather walker so the last few hundred feet of navigating through mist over rock slabs was a disorientating experience which I’m not keen to repeat. I turned back once, only to meet a couple of serious climbers then follow them sheep-like to the summit. Finding a route back on my own was scary.
Then it was back up to Sutherland to climb Canisp, the elegant swirl of hill I admired from the summit of Suilven in the springtime. I could gaze all day at the wonder that is Suilven … But Sandwood Bay beckoned still further north across the moors.
What a day of late summer sunshine, the magnificence of Ben Stack, Foinaven and Arkle poking stark out of the expanse of Sutherland’s heather and moorland. I want to return to camp there, miles from roads and houses and people and take time to enjoy its peace. Next year.
I camped in the pine woods of the Cairngorms and on the coast in Fife; I spent three days in Stirling at the “Bloody Scotland” crime writing festival listening to successful writers discuss their books and making friends (and commiserating) with like-minded aspiring authors. One woman had written 18 novels and published them online to acclaim yet still can’t attract a publishing deal. What hope for the rest of us who’re still struggling to finish our first?
But despair in pointless (while procrastination is not) so I jumped on a cheap flight to Bordeaux to rewalk parts of last year’s Camino more slowly. And visit Pamplona, Estella, Bilbao and finally the lovely French town of Bayonne.
And now I’m going to stop and stay still for a while. I’ve arranged to rent a little cottage for the winter; it’s by a beach and it has a fireplace. I don’t need more. Hibernation suddenly feels like another exciting adventure. I’m going to enjoy the sound of the waves at the door, to walk in all weathers and finish my story.
And in the springtime? Time, I hope, will stretch.