"I always knew that thing was a dud. It didn't work when Andy used it either. It had us fighting our way out of a maze of barbed wire, hemmed in by a herd of cattle. Then it took us through a spiky forest so I was picking bits of trees out of my arse for a week. It's bloody useless!"
I munch my way through the last of the Jelly Babies, glowering at the map, considering our plight. "So, if we are where that f***ing thing says we are, it needn't be all that bad."
Phil stares back, incredulously.
"We're in the middle of sod-all, in the pissing rain. We're cold, knackered and fed up and on the wrong bloody hill and it's not all that bad? Are you out of your mind?"
The modern man in me senses that Phil is not happy. The last time he behaved like this was in 2001. Funnily enough that was on the Challenge as well. We were also on the wrong hill then, but a lovely German girl, who for modesty's sake, we'll call "Heike," happened to be on the right hill, and came bowling down hers and over to ours, assuming that us chaps must be in the right place. Phil explained that that was the exact same reason the Luftwaffe lost the Battle of Britain.
But back to our wrong hill. It turns out to be a jolly good wrong hill to have alighted upon. I recall from my LEJOG of 2007 that just over there I sheltered in a concrete explosives hut, not one mile from where the SatMuppet has us placed at this very moment! It was absolutely pissing down that day as well, so much so, that by the time I arrived at Cougie I could wring my knickers out.
In fact, being on the Wrong Hill places us closer to the hut than being on the Right Hill would have. It is all quite fortuitous, really...
We negotiate the mile of swamp that lay inconveniently between us and the hut, climb the near vertical running mud cliff face that the track had been laid upon, and collapse, weeping joyously in the glorious embrace of the concrete hut.
We need now to examine our position. The map will help us with that.
|CLICK TO ENLARGE|
It was now 3:15pm. It had taken us over seven hours to walk six and a half miles. Our afternoon's route was another five miles or so. The weather forecast for tomorrow was every bit as bad as today, and tomorrow's walk was similar in character to that of today's.
"Phil. I think we should go to Tomich."
"There's a hotel at Tomich. They have beds. They have beer. And they have beds. And baths. And beds. And warm fluffy white towels. And beds"
Once more there follows frantic rummaging in the bowels of Phil's rucksack, this time producing a tiny little telephone. He clambers up onto the roof of the explosives hut, dials a mysterious wizard, and is connected to the Tomich Hotel.
(To be read out loud in an imperious English Accent)
"Hello. May I book two rooms for tonight please?
Yes. I'll hold.
Oh. How about a twin room?
Oh. A double?
Oh. I see.
Yes, all those walkers.
Yes, the Challenge.
"Well, okay Phil, we'll get a drink at Tomich on our way to the campsite at Cannich. There's a pub there as well."
The promise of two pubs does the trick and soon we are bowling northwards at a lick. As we near Guisachan Forest it actually brightens up. Our spirits rise, only to be cruelly smashed as we make our way down the long zig-zags in the trees to Tomich; The heavens open.
Someone up there has pulled the plug from Heaven's Swimming Pool and it comes sluicing down. I'm eating fruit cake sat on a log. The rain moistens the cake into cake soup. The rain is bouncing a foot and a half up from the forestry track in huge muddy bounces. There is nothing below our knees apart from a mist of mud fog.
At last, we fall into the lobby of the hotel's bar, dump our sacks and poles in a dark corner and stagger into the bar. A cheer goes up. I can't see who the voices belong to as my glasses fog immediately in the hot fug.
We have fallen in with bad company. Judith is camping in the hotel's garden.
I am now sitting in a comfy chair, in a puddle made by my sopping clothes. At the next table Jezza is choosing a couple of bottles from the wine list, whilst sharing his wisdom with Craig and Vicky from the USA. In a Very Loud Voice: "The trouble with the Americans..." he starts.. I tap him on the shoulder to try and halt the inevitable.
Phil, Judith and I are sharing a table with Amanda, a lovely lady having a holiday up here with a hire car, which Phil thinks is the proper way of doing holidays in Scotland. In fact, her car is parked right outside, and Cannich is not too far out of her way. What a wonderful woman!
Downing our second pint rapidly, we grab our rucksacks, dive outside and the beautiful Amanda drives us down to the campsite. It's an easy cab-ride back in the morning to start where we left off. On our journey down, we pause to chat to the Banfields who are on their way to the same smart B&B where Amanda's staying. We are eyed quizzically by Martin, which we studiously ignore, and I grab a snog from Sue.
We pay our fees at Cannich camp site and select a spot far enough away from the rabble but close enough not to be accused of being anti-social. Perfick.
|CANNICH: "ALL THE GEAR AND NO IDEA." I DO HOPE THIS IS NOT A CHALLENGER'S TENT. CLICK TO ENLARGE|
As Phil is rolling out his Akto and I'm unpacking Trinnie & Oook I realise there is a problem.
"Phil, have you got your trekking poles?"
"Bugger! No. They're in the hotel bar's lobby in Tomich! Ah. I see the problem. Tee Hee!"
There is indeed a problem. I need my poles to erect Trinnie Trailstar.
"Leave it with me Sir!" Another rucksack rummage and then he wanders off, talking imperiously into his telephone. "Fuck!" I think, but not out loud.
Phil comes back from his wanders having made three or four telephone calls.
"Al. It's all sorted. We're in a hotel tonight! Drumnadrochit. I've arranged the hotel, a taxi there and a taxi back again to Tomich in the morning."
This is a man who could sort out the Middle East!
And not only that, but we have time for a swift couple in the Slaters' in Cannich, where the taxi will pick us up!
So at three minutes to ten that night, after a few pints in the Slater's, a lift from a lovely Scottish taxi-lady, who had dropped everything to fetch us out of our predicament, and all our washing festooning a hotel bedroom, we're in Drum's pizza joint, and the staff are more than willing to stay open past their opening hours to serve us the most delicious pizza I've tasted so far on the crossing!
We're minus our poles, of course, but we'll collect them in the morning. And Phil gets his bed, his warm fluffy towels, his bed, his beer, his bath and his bed.
Laden down with our rucksacks, as we check out of the hotel in Drumnadrochit in the morning, the lady asks "And where are you off wandering today?" We explain we're going to Tomich and walking back to Drumnadrochit.
She remains silent, shaking her head.