My limbs still ache when I stand from my chair. There’s a satisfying sharpness to the twinge running down the front of my thighs. I’ve been out in the hills.
Rewind to Friday night, sitting in the terrace of he Castle Tavern in Inverness. Under the covered part of the terrace a screen broadcasts a green and white image. Eyes all round are fixed on the screen as the sound of a rhythmic dry thock repeats. It’s Andy Murray’s semi final at Wimbeldon. Next to me friends chatter. As the match wears on late evening sunlight cuts through the trees, catching potted flowers, pin pointing columns of smoke rising from cigarettes. From the chatter a plan has emerged. Tomorrow we will go to the Cairngorms.
Saturday morning, the sun has regained its power. We step out of the juddery car at Cairngorm car park. A hot wind blows around us. We redistribute cans of beer in our packs and load them on to our backs. The journey begins.
For the first hour, we trudge up the dry tracks of a ski centre. We pass a man and his son using a tractor to punch fence posts into the ground. Soon we veer to the right, away from the human interruption on the landscape and towards a rocky ridge. As we near the top the gusts of winds become stronger. The sky above us is blue, with a few high, white clouds. To the right a large grey cloud sits above the Lairig Ghru glen like a beached whale. I watch the shade patch beneath it, expecting it to reach us soon, but I think the wind must be holding it back. The gusts gather and grow. A rustle on the other side of the ridge is a clue to a force that soon knocks me sideways from the path. All I can do is stop, face into the wind and cling to a rock. I berate myself for not trudging on. I look up the hill expecting to see the others making their way up; instead I see a three pairs of suntanned arms, each clinging to a boulder and each facing the wind like me. Between the gusts it is possible to make headway but frequent stops to weather out each gust allow plenty of time to take in the view. On one of my stops my stomach suddenly lurches. I feel the fear of travelling too fast, as if I am on a roller coaster or freewheeling down a steep hill on a craft I can’t control. My knuckles are white against the rough rock. I tell myself I am still, it is the air that is moving. It’s a strange sensation.
We walk on, over one hill, down to a loch and up to another. By nightfall the wind is a little less, but hill fog threatens to the West. A gull plays in the wind rushing up the valley our tents look out on.
By Sunday morning the fog is gone, and the wind too. I stumble out of the hot tent to be greeted by a still loch, blue sky and a few snow patches uncovered by last night’s fog.
After breakfast I took a swim in the loch. The water is so clear, when I stand still and look down I can see my red toenails against the soft grey algae of the loch’s bottom. The gull’s white head pokes up from the grass to the side of the loch, he looks at me with one eye.
We walked up Ben Macdui then, and followed the path back down to the car. Today I feel so good. Perhaps it was the escape, maybe just the fresh air and exercise, but I wouldn’t change my aching limbs for anything.