Scotland 1998

This time last year the Great North Eastern Railway had to set me off on a trip to Heathrow and Nepal.  Now it took me north, seeking the September sun in the Scottish glens.  I was to meet my pal of fifteen years, big Dave, and we hoped to spend a week hill-walking in Glens Lyon and Dochart.
We originally met in Northallerton, a market town in North Yorkshire.  I was in my first consultancy and he was a “Wensleydale Linesman”.  He repaired telephone cables up the dales (the nickname comes from “the sixties” pop song hit “The Wichita Linesman” by the Beegees).  We discovered several common interests over a post rugby pint, one of which was a love of J.B. Priestley’s high lonely places.  I moved on to a second consultancy in the W. Riding and Dave moved to Edinburgh.  We kept in touch and vowed to have a week a year up in the hills somewhere.
We are both tall guys, but Dave is simply bigger all round.  Overweight possibly, but there’s plenty of muscle.  He casts a massive shadow.  Dave is big on doing things.  He still repairs cables, working long overtime hours.  There’s the music and the squash, the ten-pin bowling and the caravan, and then there’s the eating and the drinking and the walking.
Working life began at Grimethorpe Colliery and an apprenticeship to the bass tuba with the colliery band.  Then the Junior Leaders in the army and a position in the “Scots Guards” band.  Trips all over the world.  Tours of duty in far- off places.  He collected hobbies for a hobby.
He met his wife, Joan, in Edinburgh where she was training to be a nurse.  A farmer’s daughter from Dent, she broke the mould.  All her sisters and brothers joined the family firm.  They were married in Dent Church with an honour guard of bear-skins.
When Dave was posted to Catterick, he left the army for the telephone company.  Joan took a post as children’s nurse in the local hospital in Northallerton and eventually made the grade of ward sister.  Teaching was her way of making career progress, so back to Edinburgh with Dave in tow.  The letters after Joan’s name now no longer fit on one line of a business card.
The Glasgow shuttle had left Linlithgow station when big Dave pulled up in his new Volvo estate.  Big Dave, big smile, big handshake and big bearhug.  I haven’t quite got used to the hug yet, but I’m working on it.  Joan was cleaning the staircase when we reached their three bedroomed detached.  Its easier to hug Joan and there’s lots to hug.
“I thought we’d try that new place – Platform 3,” suggested Dave.  We often slipped out for a pint, especially before dinner and especially after just getting there.  But there’s no “local”.
“I suppose I’ll have to drive you”, replied Joan.
“Well maybe we can walk back”.
“The food will be overdone by then”.
“We won’t go then”.
“Oh, come on.  Phone when you’re ready and no ordering another when you ring”.
The car journey was quiet.  Joan manoeuvred the big car well enough.
“I’ll go down here.”
“What for?  You can do a full turn just over there”.
“I’ve got traffic all around.  Oh, OK”.  We got out and Joan drove home.
“Platform 3” was a cheerful room at the beginning of the Linlithgo high street.  There were two or so men with whiskies and chasers leaning against the bar and a loud football match was on the television above the entrance door.
“Two pints of eighty shilling please”.  A young attractive barmaid obliged.
We sat comfortably and Dave began.
“Well, you can see for yourself, can’t you?  Joan’s all wound up.  She’s forever doing things.  I put it down to her mother.  Joan’s always trying too hard.”  Dave fidgeted, restless.  There was lots more and I listened and nodded.  After ten minutes or so he began to recall memories of our previous trips.
“It used to take you three days to speak.  It took that time for you to become you, the guy from the rugby club.  I often wished I lived nearer.”
I suddenly had a vivid recollection of a windy Friday in September, maybe 1989 or so.  I’d been at a conference or course in York for a couple of days.  A grey evening, 6 o’clock York traffic.  Instead of straight on to the A64, it was right to Thirsk, in a little white mini automatic I’d inherited from my wife’s uncle.  I always kept a half-brick on the floor.  I don’t know why, but it became my trade-mark for a while.  Eventually reverse went on it.  Who was this half-wit who had to push his car backwards?  I tried to do it discretely by opening the driver’s door and pushing forward with my foot on the road.  It was discrete apart from the cursing as I barked my shin against the door frame.  My leg was bruised for months, until I changed it, the car I mean.  And it rattled.  You could barely have a conversation over thirty miles an hour.
Anyway that right turn signalled a week’s break up at the top of Swaledale.  The light disappeared and the wind increased as I approached Catterick from Leyburn and the drop down to the Reeth road.  Swaying trees in the headlights, debris in the road and a car on the blink.  It was quite exciting really.  I had no thought other than meeting big Dave in fith Farmer’s Arms at Muker.  And there he was, occupying in two seats at the side of the smoky wood fire, and then getting the beer in.  This was my idea of heaven.  Why couldn’t the rest of my life be like this?  And yet here I was, ten years later in Linlithgo, hearing a different story, admittedly for the second or third time.
Another pint of eighty shilling and then we pop in “The Four Marys”.  This was Dave’s watering hole when they first moved to Scotland.  It was a real ale pub then with a bit of food and Anita, a very sexy barmaid.  Unsurprisingly it was always full.  Today it was empty, except for the restaurant which had appeared at the back, Anita had left some time ago and the beer was off.  We were no longer part of the marketing strategy, so we called Joan.
Joan and Dave’s house is full of treasure and a dog.  The hi-fi alone would break most people’s wallet.  Very little space left on the walls and nearly all original Yorkshire watercolours.  The rest are original something else.  A garage which doubled as a more than acceptable wine-cellar containing more than acceptable wines.  I could go on.  It was a good place to be.  They’d had dogs in Northallerton, Afghans.  Now it was “Ulah”, a rescue Wiemerama bitch.  It was their second of this particular breed.  The first was “Duke” who was lost off Striding Edge, walking up to Helvellyn in The Lakes.  Suddenly he wasn’t there.  Dave searched the valley bottom, but found no trace.  We’d heard Joan and Dave’s anguish, much as they might have imagined hearing Duke’s.  We’d sat with their tears, and we’d shared their grief.  “Ulah” now gets “Dukes” love and more.
There was a curry and tins of “Boddies”  on the table.  We caught up on news and made plans for the holiday.  Dave asked after the kids.
“Our Andrew’s fine.  Been in college two weeks now and enjoying it.  Taking a course in textile design.  Chris is well.  Played a lot of cricket this time.  Took him to t’test match and he played in the Barnsley knockouts.  ÅLouise’s job’s hard work and she’s started driving lessons.”
And then a quiet spell.  I’d made a threadbare and undistinguished summary of three young people, who in their different ways, good and bad, had profoundly influenced all our lives.  Words were spoken, but no-one was listening?
“I’m off work tomorrow, so we’ll do the shopping before you go,”  Joan ever practical, siding the plates.  “I’ve cooked a beef in beer, and a chilli.  We’ll get some bacon, pork chops, eggs and a few bits from the supermarket.  You don’t want to be shopping when you’ve had a hard day’s walk.”
But we did.  On our trips, we talked about food a lot, what we’d buy and how we’d cook it.  And then we might talk about it again.  A couple of old women I guess. I hadn’t the heart to say anything and Dave stayed silent.  We dutifully helped with the washing-up.
Coffeee and chat before bed.  “I’m a little ôworried about my foot,” I confessed.
Joan shared her foot troubles.  She’d had a limp and several falls following a bout of backache.  Thankfully settled now, but some pain still.
“Have you some insoles?”
“I”ve tried them but they haven’t worked.”
“Maybe a pair of those sandals might help?  They sell them at the outdoor shop in Killin.”
“Yes, that’s a possibility.  The guide in Nepal last year was testing a pair for the “Country Walking” magazine.  They looked comfortable enough.  I’m actually thinking of getting a doctor’s note to get in at the podiatry centre at the university.”
“My athlete’s foot is really serious.”  Dave was not to be left out.  I’d seen his feet and he wasn’t exaggerating.  We’d all got something, as you do.
After cups of coffee next morning, some toast and cereal for Dave, Joan and I went shopping in the village.  Dave took Ulah for a walk.  For a small place Linlithgo is a busy spot.  A Scottish grey stone high street.  Shops, banks, pubs, market cross.  The modern structures are awful in comparison, and thankfully around a corner, away from an initial view.  The doctor’s surgery is light green stucco on a three storied box, with the odd window.  Gross when viewed against  Linlithgo Palace and the loch.  The butcher’s is all tiles, a prize-winner with a long queue.  There’s a seat for the weary.  Three men serve on, smart in collars and ties, neat hair and aprons.  Polite too.  They danced round each other in the confined space behind the counter.  Joan normally called first thing to avoid the crowds and we were behind her time.  Yet I sensed timelessness.  A play about some old values. We each had small roles, mine to observe, no need to rush – stand and watch, take it all in.  Eventually, inevitably, I incurred a burden of meat, pork sausage and chops, cumberland sausage and bacon.  Would we manage to eat it all?  The supermarket could have been anywhere, though I got some strange looks at the cheese counter when I asked for their most mature vintage Cheddar.  When I was particular about the piece I wanted, the assistant went on a gormless go-slow.  Had I stirred the ancient antipathy to the English?  Dave and I were later to listen to audio tapes about the battle of Cullodon and I now realise where the problem began.  At the time however, I took my punishment with a smile and hoped she felt guilty.  Joan supervised the rest of the buy, and I bit my tongue, though I did 1replace a few items, politely and deferentially – especially the pizzas!
“How have you got on up at the van?  Has it been worth it?”  Dave and Joan had sited their van at the beginning of the season and commuted regularly at weekends.  “Its only been useful if we’ve gone for three nights.  I haven’t felt the benefit otherwise,”  replied Joan.  “The weather’s been poor though.”
Ready to go.  Packed, or so we thought, toiletted, radox clean, fresh clothes, hair neatly combed and in Dave’s case parted, with enough food for four people for a fortnight.  Joan had done all she could.  It was now up to us.
The route went around Stirling and away up to Callander.  We’d last been here twelve months ago.  My wife and the two boys brought the caravan up to Beecraigs, on the hill overlooking Linlithgo.  We’d had a day trip to Loch Katrine and a trip on the steamer.  A very sunny day and extensive views up and down the loch.  A taped commentary on Rob Roy and the vast excavations needed to build the water supply lines down to Glasgow.  Today was different, overcast and just us two men.  Callendar was still busy though.  We turned north away from Loch Katrine, Ben Ledi to our left.  I remember finally turning off to Killin, but most of the journey was a luxury of being driven through those hills and valleys chatting quietly of this and that, wondering what we might do.  I’d a particular problem that was worrying – a painful foot, so far resistant to patented shoe inserts.  I was well stocked with pain-killers, but whether I could stand the five to seven hours of walking per day that Dave envisaged was another matter.
Through Killin, the Aberfoyle road, a gradual climb and here we are, left, into the trees.  A small caravan site and two terraces of wooden chalets.  Separate concerns with a common entrance.  One had toilets and showers and the other didn’t.  A sign on the road hinted otherwise.
“The site advertises loos and showers, Dave.” I said hopefully.
“I’ve never noticed that.  We can ask.”  And I did.
“We’re not the caravan site.  If you were short, we wouldn’t stop you.”  Replied a harrassed chalet manager.
We had the short straw.  For the next six days Dave and I were to live, wash and go to the loo, all in the space of the average kitchen.
The site was shadowed by dense woodland.  Brown leaves on the trees and more on the ground.  Wet grass leaving shallow footprints.  A handful of fellow caravanners.  And Dougie, the warden.  A man who lived most of the year in Spain.
A man with a toupe.  He had a large motorised van which always, night and day, had the curtains drawn.
“Does he have any family, Dave?”
“Yes. I think so.”
“I wonder what they do all day in the dark?”  Dave had no answer.
Dave payed and Dougie switched on our electrics.  We put all the pipes and tubes in place, filled the water bottles, turned on the gas, got the chemiloo stuff organised and put down the awning groundsheets.  I’d lugged up an sleeping compartment to fit in the awning.  Dave was to use the bed in the caravan.
A stream of very uncomplimentary language suddenly came from within the van – too strong to put in print.  Dave was roundly cursing himself.  H’ed forgotten to pack the inflatable lilo which would have gone in my small bedroom.
“I’ll have to drive back down home later and get it.”
“Lets wait and see.”  I suggested.
Dave carried on with all those little jobs that somehow need doing.  The jobs that turn the basics into comfort.  Bin liners in litter bins.  Towels on rails, a bath mat.
Fruit in a bowl.  That sort of thing.  Then a tutorial on how to use the loo.
“Put some loo roll down first  ………..”  He did tell me why, but its best left to the imagination.
“I’m mafted, man,”  is one of Dave’s stock phrases.  It refers to his core temperature.  He was now dripping wet following his exertions in setting up camp.  “I’ll just phone Joan.”  Dave had his work’s mobile and he wandered away looking for a signal.  I’d done what I could to help.
“We’ve left the water filter as well, Joan says.  She says to put a blanket down and fold it over these big cushions.”  We gave it a try and it looked comfortable enough.  I fussed over my rucsac and clothes for a few minutes.   I tried to give those little personal touches to the six by three feet sleeping compartment .  T-shirts in one pile, pullovers in another.  Pyjama trousers neatly folded on the sleeping bag.  It was a tad sparse.
By the time we were settled it was mid afternoon, time only for a glimpse at something.
“Lets go up onto the water board road along from the visitors’ centre at Ben Lawers”.
The sun had appeared since lunch.  The car park was at fifteen hundred feet and crowded.  The water board road was good enough for a jeep but somewhat rough for trainers and a poorly foot.  I worried again about more serious walking.
“We’ll go on here before we start the Tarmachen ridge.”  Dave was about to start one of his route lessons.
“Ben so-and-so sits just in there.  We go away over to so-and-so and around, climb the ridge and then come off at so-and-so.”  I tried to nod intelligently but I hadn’t a clue what he was on about.  Dave was endeavouring to be helpful and informative.  I was worried whether I could do it or not.
The sights, sounds and smells of Loch Tay were too strong for me to be totally preoccupied.
“We’ve had very few days like this.” said Dave.  The weather forecast for the week was excellent.  Were we going to be lucky where previously Dave and Joan had been so unlucky?
We got back to the car with me vowing not to wear trainers on these hills again and we drove into Killin.  Dave wanted to visit the Outdoor Shop.
“Its quite good actually for a small place.”  I wondered about the walking sandals we’d talked about.  They started at £50 or so and went up.  I stopped browsing in that section.  The sleeping mats were cheaˇp.  Worth a further look if I couldn’t manage on my makeshift mattress.  I settled for an OS. map of Loch Tay.  Dave in the meantime had been talking with with the man serving on.  I began to realise he’d had been in here several times before.  The weather and various routes were being covered as well as the benefits of bits of kit.  Dave bought a walking shirt of breathable fabric – around £40, for a shirt?
Back at the van and the new shirt duly hung in the awning. A couple of beers and Joan’s chilli.  My salad, but no wine vinegar.  We need to shop tomorrow.
“We’ll go to Glen Lochay tomorrow.”  Dave described the route.  It meant nothing to me, but I nodded.  I looked at his book on “Monros’ but I still couldn’t make head nor tail of it.  I’d know soon enough what it was like.  We listened to Bill Bryson’s audio tape of ‘The Appalachian Trail’ otherwise known as ‘The AT’ with a glass of whisky apiece.  I needed to be careful with spirits.  Another accompaniment of getting older.  It didn’t seem to bother Dave.  The owls were very loud, actually screetching.  It was time to try the sleeping arrangements.  I was just dropping off when the caravan door opened.
“Did you lift the toilet seat?”  Dave sounded annoyed.
“Er, yes, no, I don’t know.”  I obviously hadn’t learned how to use the toilet properly yet.
“Well I’ve got a wet bum,” and the door closed, followed by the bangs and crashes of the double bed being set up.
“Shit.”  This is a good start to the holiday.
I don’t sleep through after an evening drink and I wake at 6.30 to 7.00 am. regardless.  Tip-toe into the van and put the kettle on.  Use the loo and discover it has got two seats, just like normal ones.  Dave occupies half the van, the double bed is full of him.  Quick wash, dress and read a book.  The van trembles and groans.  I realise its Dave groaning.  He never sleeps well the first night away.  I make him a coffee.
“I never sleep well the first night away.  God my neck.  You’ve got all my comfy cushions.”  I sat on his bed as he came round.  I don’t think he really fitted on the bed at all.  Somehow we get onto choirs.
“Our members are a little conservative you know.  We could do a lot more.  How many concerts do you have?”
I was not the least musical, but I managed to stay mostly on the baritone line of a village male voice choir near Holmfirth.  Dave was deeply musical and sang bass in a serious Scottish choral society.  We sang Welsh hymns and Lloyd-Weber.  They sang Rutter and Taverner.  Our idea of a gig was a few sets of three and then down the pub.  They did Foret’s Requiem in a big Edinburgh church.
“We do one a month,” I boasted and then added ,”compared with you though we’re barber-shop.  We do have some very talented singers.  The concert up in Kirby Lonsdale was great.  We put the van in the rugby club car park.  After the concert we had a party at the club and all we had to do was pour ourselves across twenty yards or so to bed.  You and Joan must come up next year.  First Friday in September.  Brett was the master of ceremonies and got a lot of the choir to do turns.  They were brilliant.  I learned how musical I was for sure – not much.”
“We could do more.  Our musical director is keen on technical excellence, but I’m not sure how passionate we come over.”
We needed to get going.  I started buttering bread for sandwiches.  Dave got himself up and collected.
“What Joan and I do is fill these flasks, one with coffee and the other with hot water.  When we get back to the car we make up cup-a-soups.  Have you got the chocolate bars?”  I had and I noticed the new flasks were similar to some I’d seen in the window at the outdoor shop.
We put our sacs and boots into the car.  I spied two pairs of ski-poles.  I was very skeptical about the use of poles.  They were a designer accessory despite the advertised benefits to knees.  I could understand that balance might be helped, but I wasn’t sure how 15% relief of weight bearing occurred.  Perhaps it was through the better balance.  I suspected a lot of people chose to be seen with a pair.  I knew the outdoor shop sold them.
“You can use Joan’s if you want.”
“Thanks, but maybe not.”
The September sun was out beautifully as we drove away from under the trees and onto the road to Glen Lochay.  Fifteen minutes drive and Dave parked up before a gate.  No entry except on water board business..  It was Saturday and we were not alone.  We had to walk two miles or so before taking to the hill.
“You can’t get to them easily.” Dave informed me.  Roads and even paths only went so far.  “You have to take a back pack with you for some of them, like Ben Alder.  The roads are helpful.  Water board people built them to get to the reservoirs.  Can you see that pipe?”  A straight line came down the mountain side.  “There’s a little dam at the top of that.  The pipe takes the water direct to the power station.”  We’d passed a hydro-electric plant on the way up.  “They’re all over the place.”
After a while we parted company with our fellow car parkers and turned off left.  “They’ll be goiZng up to do Ben so-and-so.”  I glazed over as Dave described four or five of their possible routes.  The bulk of our walk followed a track which a jeep could get up and then Dave led over rough ground.  It was hot and sweaty work.
“You’re managing this well.”  I’m fitter than Dave and my walking rhythm is faster.
I liked to carry a water bottle in my hand, an old metal gas canister actually.  My local walking shop sold them for 50p.  We’d filled two more plastic water bottles with diluted blackberry cordial, but Dave was carrying them on his back.  We soon finished mine and refilled it from a cold fast-flowing stream.
“I don’t suppose there are any dead sheep higher up?”  wondered Dave.
“Its pretty clear.  I want to keep drinking.  I read an article in a walking mag recently about mineral waters.  It was really an ad for some quite expensive stuff.  Anyway it said that thirst was a poor guide to whether you need water or not.  Best to drink little and often right from the start.  So I do.  I’ve noticed its delays my tiredness.”
As we left the track a cold wind blew.  I had on a running vest and wool check shirt but I needed a fleece.  Dave continued in his breathable fabric, but this one was green.  The blue one from yesterday’s trip to the outdoor shop still hung in the awning.  The going was rough but by no means impossible and we mlade our first summit by about 1.00 in the afternoon – Beinn Cheathaich at 937 metres.  By now I was wearing a balaclava and gloves and even Dave was in a fleece.  Quick coffee and a bite.
“You’re good at sandwiches.”
“Mm, thanks, Dave.  Yes I am good at sandwiches.”  I was pleased.
Walking across to Meall Glas at 957 metres, we were overtaken by somebody running, in boots, jogpants and T-shirt.  A lone woman was coming the other way.
“Was he running?”
“Er, yes.” we laughed.  I guess we were all thinking the same sort of thing – barmy sod, must be fit, e’ll be a ‘Monro-bagger’, never stops to look at anything, and other envious trivia.  I also hoped she would be safe.
Climbing up the last section we met the runner on his way down.  Up from Glasgow for the day, and yes, fit and yes, bagging Monros.  He and Dave were nearly related by the time we carried on an‚d I was nearly frozen.  At the summit a bearded man in sixties walking gear, dated anyway, came up from the other side, touched the cairn with a ski-pole and walked on past us, in silence.  In the space of ten minutes, right on the tops, we’d met all the people we were going to for that day.
We didn’t linger up there,and Dave missed the way we’d come up.  There was a very angry thirty minutes sliding on squelching peat and falling awkwardly between large grassy tussolks.  “F…….. h…. , Dave,” I’d lost my calm and charm.
He laughed.  “Where’s your sense of adventure?”  If I broke my leg I’d bloody tell him where it was.  We got to the track safely, dripping wet, still in fleeces, and took time to cool and gather ourselves for the steep and repetitive return to the car.
“It’d be nice to do a round trip, rather than up and down.” I grumbled.Dave agreed, “You can do it from Glen Dochart, like the lad from Glasgow, but its a long way.”
“You’re right, thanks.”  I’d taken ›my one of my pills at the van and two with coffee.  I’d been pain free so far, but I was becoming aware of discomfort.  We plodded on.  It was a grand autumn afternoon when we got back to the water board road, tired, but satisfied.  More people were around now, just enjoying.
 I needed a pint, but I made do with soup.  I’d not eaten all my sandwiches on the walk, so I did now.
“You’ve eaten the butties?”  Dave accused.  They were technically mine.  Why did I feel guilty?  I didn’t feel it for long.  My foot had become very uncomfortable.
“I’ve gone about a mile too far.”  I said.  The water board road, stony and uneven had hurt.  I would need to take two pills tomorrow first thing.
Quick visit to the supermarket for wine vinegar, carefully steering Dave away from the outdoor shop.  A welcome couple of beers and a shower back at the van. Barbequeue set up for Cumberland and pork sausage.  Dave supervised the meat.  I did the spuds and salad.  The van Úhad everything.  Place mats, cocktail cabinet, small waste bin for spent matches, a ‘hoover’, tins of peas and beans, separate shelves for tapes and books, tupperware for salt, pepper, herbs, you name it.  Joan would still need all these things back in Linlithgo.  We were living in a clone.  We were actually luxuriating in a clone.
We sat out in fleeces, the light fading as the meat cooked.  Talked about the walk and what we might do tomorrow.  Dave now drank gin and tonic.  I stayed on some lager from the supermarket.  It must have been around half seven when we ate.  Dave had brought several bottles from his cellar and we cracked one each night.
Dave phoned Joan every night between 7.00 and 8.00.
“For God’s sakes.  There’s two off from work and they’re expecting Joan just to fill in.”
“Joan wasn’t happy about this week off.”  I said nothing.  I’d spoken and planned with Joan several times on the phone and I wasn’t aware of this.  Dave did not elaborate.
We were diligent with the washing up, but it was still quite late when we settled down to listen to the tapes.  We both fell asleep.
Dave woke.  “We’ve eaten too late.  I can’t be doing with it.  Lets be earlier tomorrow.  I’ll never sleep tonight.”  So we were in bed by 9.30 pm.
We woke around the same time.  I made coffee, but went and read rather than talked.  I left him to his neck ache that I assumed he would have.  I didn’t want to hear the groans.  We’d arranged to do a late bacon and egg breakfast.  I got on with it when I was feeling more sociable and Dave fetched the papers.
“Yours was on offer, only 25p.”
“Put the change in the kitty.”  I replied.  We hadn’t got one, but Dave put it somewhere.
No need for butties today, but I filled the flasks.
“Did you warm them with hot water first?”  No I hadn’t.  Knickers.  There was a lot to learn.  I’d remembered my pills.
It was the Tarmachen ridge today.  Stunning, beautiful, challenging are only a few of the words that come to mind.  The only problem was the popularity.  It was Sunday after all.  There were two sections of concern.
I’d just grumbled hello to the umpteenth guy coming the other way.  Dave entered into a relationship with him and I got well in front.  When he caught up he said, “Stop at the next corner, it’s a little exposed after.  You can go round the back.”
I’d time to think and wonder whether to take the easier option.
“How long is it?”  I enquired.
“About a hundred yards.”
I decided to be brave, but I wasn’t really.  There was sheer drop away to the right, but I hardly noticed.  I concentrated on the small skills of walking, one foot in front of the other, eyes on the path.  I got to the other end, no fear but no buzz either, well a slight one.  I had done it after all, and I did have just one little peak at the view.
“Well done,” said Dave.
I was then out in front again when there was quite a pointy bit.
When Dave caught up he asked,”How did you get on with that last bit?”
I confessed.  “I skirted it.  Thought I’d done well enough.”
˚ “You see that rock over there.”  he pointed across to where the ridge did a switchback to the last peak.  The rock was half way up.
“We have to climb that.”
“Oh, shit.”
Dave led.  “Get your hand here.  There’s a foothold just there.  Push.  Try it this way.”  We were up, I hadn’t had time to wobble.
“How was that?”
“I though it would have been longer.” a bit cocky.  “Thanks Dave, it was good.”
We sat for a few minutes on Meall nan Tarmachan – 1043 metres.  We’d had coffee earlier.  “This coffee’s hot,” I’d said into the wind.
It was a shadowy, warm, deeply coloured evening as we came off the ridge.  There was one further event to occur, something for which I was prepared.  As we left the awning that morning, the new blue shirt still hanging, as yet unworn, I spied some kitchen paper-roll.
“You never know,” as I tucked a few sheets into the side pocket of my sac.  I’d rushed into the bracken on the slopes of Helvellyn and hidden behind rocks coming off Fairfield Horseshoe before now.  In fact you can’t be too careful.  That day on Fairfield I was just about to drop my pants when I turned and saw a couple about twenty yards away, having lunch.  What if I hadn’t turned round?  It doesn’t bare thinking about.
My guts gave me plenty of warning today, but I had to go eventually.  No worries about other people at this late hour, and I wouldn’t need to use that cassette caravan loo for a day or so.
I hardly noticed my foot as we got to the car.
“Lets go down to the Ben Lawers Hotel.”  Beauti
ful setting, but not open on Sunday evening.  Down to Killin.  I hope Dave is OK with all this driving.  Two further hotels and no luck.  Then “The Coachouse” across from the larger of the two Killin caravan sites.  Actually the bar was a cave round the back.  It was made of stone, and no windows.  All the lights were on and it was still dark.
“I noticed your name was Shuttleworth,”  Dave had read the sign over the door as we came in.  Mr. Shuttleworth could have been Amish, except he wasn’t wearing a hat.  He was polite and informative.  Keg beer, drinkable.
“We’re from Worksop.  Been here most summers in the van.  The boys finished college and couldn’t get jobs, we saw this, and moved up as a family, been here a year last February.  You don’t sound local.”
“I lÕive in Lithlithgo.  Originally from Barnsley.  E’s from Huddersfield.”  I  studiously read my OS. map as they gradually became related.
“Here’s one of my boys now.”  A twenty-five year old served some new drinkers as Mr Shuttleworth sat down to his tea.  Chips, peas and something resembling fish in batter.  A notice on the bar was reserving places not only for Hogmanay, but also for the day after.  There was a discount if you booked both days.  Over in a mirky corner, pinned to the seat, a sign read “Reserved for the Band”.  It was a long time till New Year.
Two big guys in a caravan don’t physically fit.  So we established a routine.  Dave’d get the meat organised or the barbequeue going.  I’d do the spuds and prepare the vinegret whilst Dave was in the shower.  I’d have my shower and then we’d sit with a drink prior to eating.  We needed potatoes and more salady things from the supermarket.  There was quite a basketful.
“I’ll get these.”  Dave aÕt the checkout.
“No.” I insisted.  “I haven’t paid for accomodation, so I’ll pick up the bills.”  I’d already paid for the Linlithgo shopping and petrol to date.
I always scraped too many spuds but there were never many left at the end of a meal.  Dave cooked ham on the barbequeue.  “I haven’t put enough charcoal on this.  I’ll have to shut the lid.”
We were about to sit to eat.  Dave was at the shower end, muttering to himself.
“For god’s sake, man.”  He was putting the bath mat over the shower door.  I’d left it on the floor.  I made a note where to put it tomorrow.
We’d eaten well and drunk a bottle of Dave’s fine wine.  I picked up the half-read Sunday paper, settling down.  The blinds were drawn.  Suddenly, Dave was up and about.
“I cannot be doing with midges.”  He had a paper hankerchief and was systematically squashing those he could catch against the van wall and depositing them in the little waste bin.  That bin came in for a number of things.Ù
“There’s one,” I shouted, “and another.  You’ve missed one.”  Dave twisting and turning, cursing and swatting, breaking sweat.  I stayed where I was, for safety reasons if nothing else.
We listened drowsily to ‘A Walk in the Woods’.
Dave had  a long day planned for Monday.  We were up and moving early despite his neck.  Sandwiches made, hot water in the flasks, pills taken, all in good time.
“Shall I throw the papers away?”
“I’ve hardly touched mine.”  I usually dipped into it throughout the week at home.  “I’d like to keep it.”  I wondered whether Dave had got beyond the sports page.
I was now onto my second walking shirt and third running vest.  Dave was still in his green breathable fabric.. His new blue one remained, hung in the awning.
“Don’t leave your money out, and bring your camera,” instructed Dave.  “Have you remembered your pills?”
“Yes, thanks.”
Dave always kept the car parcel shelf in use and anything valuable out of sight.
We retraced the route up Glen LoÊchay and then over to Glen Lyon, parking at a village half a mile or so below a dam.
“This village is for sale.  Its rarely used – only when the water board need it.  There are some holiday cottages.”  Quiet white painted cottages in a quiet valley, apart from running water, on a clear warm blue-skyed day.  A man could write his book here.
We started on the water board road up the fell side.  We were soon hot.  There was no breeze.  It was going to be a steamer.  I’d no barrier cream with me.  No-one would have packed it for September in Scotland, 1998.  I was now down to the running vest.  I would need to watch my neck, however you do that.
“Shall we go straight up Stuchd an Lochain or shall we do that one over there and make it into like a ridge?”  The ridge sounded fine to me, until we struck  out onto the moor without a path.  It was to be day without paths, but superb visibility.  A tough and thirsty day.  The first hill we subsequently found was called Creag Doire nan NathÏrach – 837 metres.  We saw small herds of deer across the glen.
“We might have to be careful.  They could be stalking.  We don’t want to trespass.”  I sensed some concern.
As I pulled away from Dave, I nearly bumped into another herd without noticing.  Almost impossible given how nervous they are.  I stood still, silent and got out the camera. Their faces turned as one, toward me.  Got the shot, animals on the hilltop, a clear blue backdrop.  I moved for a better view and they were gone.  I was a poor alternative stalker.
We were totally unprepared for the outlook from the top. The foreground was Gleann Daimh and behind it, Rannoch Moor and, away over to the left, the massive front of Rannoch Wall.  Straight ahead, “The Ben”.   To the right, the Cairngorms and Ben Alder.  Behind us, Tarmachen and Ben Lawers.  Impressive or what?
“You don’t get many of these in a pound,” was about all I could say.  I was lucky.  Joan had missed out
I’d ‘done’ Ben Nevis three years ago as part of the National Three Peaks challenge.  The highest mountains in England, Wales and Scotland within twenty-four hours.  I’d signed up to a charity and got my sponsors.  So had three thousand others.  The logistics of bussing everyone meant we’d not do the time.  We climbed Scafell at night .  Three thousand headlamps bobbing up and down the fell.
“Its to be hoped a Boeing 747 doesn’t come into land.”
We did ‘The Ben’ up the goat track – four thousand four hundred feet.  It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, to do it last of the three.  I was desperate for the loo all the way down.  No convenient rocky outcrops or bracken here and three thousand people watching.  I skipped over that wall at the bottom like a two year old.  Big smiley face.  Fort William and one of the first in the leisure centre showers.  Into the bar to watch England beat Spain on penalties in Euro-96.  I’d done it and I wasn’t going to do it again.
“The real way to do ‘The Ben’ is up the arrete,”  I nodded benignly as Dave give me another roÛute tutorial.  I suspected I wouldn’t.
“You see just there.  Rannoch Station sits in there.” I saw a clump of trees, but there could have been a station as well.  “Took some building, this railway, I can tell you.  And there, just in front of Rannoch Wall is ‘The West Highland Way’.  That was hard work.”  Dave and Joan had walked it, guided, some years before.  Long days.
“What’s the local history Dave?  Any Clan stories?  Did the clearances effect this district?  Dave wasn’t sure.
Foreground movement attracted our attention.  A large deer herd was climbing out of Glean Daimh, almost in single file.  Maybe two hundred animals slowly leaving north-west.  Were they migrating, following some ancient trail?  A somewhat misty and romantic notion I guess.  I was later to hear that most of the herds hereabouts were bred for shooting.
Around midday we’d come off the first hill and crossing a peat bog to the ridge proper when my innards lurched and gave me a familiar hasty message.  I can stop runaway trains and leap tall buildings when this happens.  Its easy to dig a pit in peat.  Stuchd an Lochain is 960 metres high, a steep ascent and stunning at the top, despite being previously sensitised by Creag Doire nan Nathrach.  Dave had never seen such good weather in Scotland before.
But we still had a delight to come.  The last part of the ridge must cross an ancient deer path.  An old way of getting from glen to glen.  We spotted them from maybe a quarter of a mile away, and they knew we were there.  Hundreds of animals slowly climbing up from Glen Lyon, to skitter off once they’d made the pass and caught our scent.  We watched this procession for at least fifteen minutes before the last one ran off.
“Its amazing how fast they are.  On that sort of country you could break a leg going at that speed.”
And there it was, away to our right.  A herd of possibly five hundred deer, braying and whining, browsing and walking this way and that.  They were still nervous of us.
“Where were they going?  Will they join up with the herd we saw this morning?  Was there a big meet up north?  A gathering?”   I asked the questions. What we had witnessed could have been a random event, neither romantic nor inspiring.  I preferred the other, more whimsical explanations.
We cut away down back to the road, leaving the herd behind.  We’d run out of water – all three flasks were empty – and we were keen to make the stream lower down.  Both my neck and my foot were sore.  One from the sun, the other from the twisWting that grass hummocks does to ankles.  Neither of us complained too much.  We’d had a hell of a day.
We thought we’d try a different pub tonight.  The Killin Hotel was not in shadow and looked a good spot to sit out with a pint.  Killin is built into an east facing hill of 500 metres and most of it loses the sun in the afternoon.  A tall slim short skirted smiling girl in her early twenties served us.  Very pleasant.
“I’m doing two jobs today, the bar and reception.  I’m not being paid extra though.”
I wandered out front while Dave stayed chatting.  She was soon to be a hostess with Brittannia Airways.  I was sitting on a wooden garden-style table cum seat out towards the car park.  Dave stayed in an easy chair under the hotel’s glass canopy.  A couple in their sixties ordered tea from the hostess and sat with him.  Dave did not need to be introduced.
“Had a good day then,”
“Travelling mostly.”  The husband replied.  Well dressed and sun tanned.  Comfortably off.
“We’re up from Cornwall, golfing, meeting old friends,”  His wife lit up a cigarette as she spoke.  “And your day?”  Dave described our adventures.
“Do you know the way to Arran?  We’ve arranged to play there.”  Played right into Dave’s hands.  I switched off.  Something was inverting deep within me, a snob I think.  I came to as Dave was describing the local golf courses.
“You don’t sound as if you come from Cornwall.”  I felt guilty about saying nothing.
“We’re from Manchester originally,”
“I used to live in Saddleworth.” I offered.
“Where have I heard of that?”  asked the wife.
“Its up near Rochdale,” said the husband.
“Not quite the right side of Manchester.  Not Cheshire.”  I’d said it before I could stop myself.  A short sentence, but a long history.  It deserved and got a quizzical look.
I needed a fresh pint, but north country yob hadn’t quite finished.  Dave and the wife had moved onto restaurants.
  “We were staying close to so-and-so, so we booked in.”
“Yes, a-ha,” Dave knew it.
“It was within walking distance and we could have drink.  The food was wonderful.  The sauces were superb.  The sweets were out of this world.”  I guessed this was a fashionable and expensive place to eat which couldn’t possibly serve anything that was less than first class.
Her husband wasn’t as enthusiastic.  “I had lobster.  It was OK.”
“E’s be hard to please,” I thought.
The wife went onto the wine.  “We had a Merlot.  Would have cost us £6 at home.  They charged us £15.”
“I’d’ave wanted it gold-plated for that price.” I said in by broadest accent, and went into the hotel for another round.  I always bought wine on special offer from the supermarket.  Never costs me more than £3.
Dave’s Guiness was a short measure when I got back and it had settled.  “What kind of a mate is that?  Buys half a drink.”  It was really my line, but the husband had said it.  I laughed.  The hostess had now gone missing.  Neither of her jobs was being done.  I spied her on the phone and raised my glass.  She waved back.  It made no difference.  Dave’s Guiness remained inadequate.
“I’ve failed again.”
The couple were making tracks.  “Tha2nks for being so helpful.  Do you play golf?”
“Oh, yes, aye.”  Dave looked like a mild version of the Cheshire cat.
We finished up when they’d gone, the sun now behind the hill, getting cool.  I chuckled to myself.  I can’t resist taking the piss.  What they must think?
Both our shirts had salt stains down them.  I was still a bit damp and Dave was dry.
“You see,  the sweat is taken away.  I’m mostly dry all the time.  Away, man, you’ll have to get one.”  He had two.
Dave cooked pork chops in foil on the barbequeue.
Dave let me have his mobile after dinner.  Louise answered.
“Where are you dad?”  “I’m up in the middle of Scotland somewhere.  How are you.”  Louise had become very involved in work and poured out the next chapter in the saga.  Who’d been sacked, rude customers, how much she’d had to drink the nigt before.  A cheeky eighteen year old, living for today, she’d left home on her sixteenth birthday.  It had been unbearable.  Strangely we’d had the same conversation a year ago when I’d phoned home from Nepal.  Mum was out.  I’d phone again on Wednesday.
We listened to tapes of ‘Culloden’ by John Prebble.  I became engrossed in the detail of how the Scottish clans were organised, only to gradually sink at the subsequent description of the atrocity of civil war.  There were six tapes in all.  There would be no relief.
It was to be Ben Lawers today – Tuesday and our fifth day in the van.  The radio suggested there would be further good weather.  The news had been full of the debate on a child’s rights to not be smacked.  Something to do with The European Court.  Dave did not endorse the court’s view.
“How can you have discipline without smacking a child?  They’re talking a load of bollocks.”  I said nothing.  We would have agreed with him once, a long time ago.  Dave knew me and our story well and let it go.
The visitor centre was in mist.  Had the weather forecast man got it wrong?  We were due to climb to 1214 metres starting around the 430 mark.  It was likely to be tough going and the prospect of doing it all in mist was not Dave’s idea of going for a walk.
“We might not see anything.  This sort of cloud doesn’t usually clear out.  Bummer.”
Three days of rough walking had taken their toll.  I was tired and stiff.  Happy enough though, as we’d agreed to walk every day as long as the weather held.  Was today to be a mistake?  Walking in mist on ridges might protect me from exposure, those glimpses of the ground under my feet shearing away sharply into the glen.  All would be revealed possibly.
Dave chatted to a guy in the car park.  “My wife left her binoculars on the top.  I’m off up to see if I can get them.”  “Knickers to that.”  I said after he’d gone.
The hardest section was the first two thirds to the top of Beinn Glas.  After leaving the nature reserve the path became steep, rocky, sweaty and very breathless.  I’d a cotton shirt on with a collar to protect my neck.  The sweat clung to it.  Dave remained dry.  This was one mistake I’d made for sure.  I was hot and cold at the same time.  Dave became increasingly irritated.
“For God’s sake, man.”
“I’m mafted, man.”
It took us about two hours to make Beinn Glas where we met the man whose wife had lost her binoculars.
“You’ve another fifteen minutes.  The top is out of the clouds.”
“Did you find the bins?”
“No.”  Dave suggested the visitor centre.
“I’ll try at the visitor centre.”  All that way for nothing.
We had a break for coffee and a bite.  I took my pills
“I’d’ve collected the insurance,”  said Dave.
I was cold and soaking wet.  The misty conditions were quite humid.  I needed more layers for the final bit.
We became aware of what was to come soon after.  The mist lifted, just for seconds, a glimpse of clear blue sky and Ben Lawers.  A pinnacle almost.  Just for a moment it had been framed by mist, an altar, a hill to aspire to, and then it had gone.  Minutes later we climbed out of the grey mirk and entered fairy-land.  Ben Lawers was two hundred or so metres above us and below us, cloud, a cotton-wool carpet to the edge of sight.  Only the tops o
f Ben More and Stob Binnein were visible.  We completed the climb, a brute, and settled down to take it all in.
A lad in his twenties came up behind us.  “This is the twelfth time this year, and its never been like this.”  I thought of Joan again.
“You’re fond.”
“This is my living.”  An older couple had now joined us.  He was mountain guide from Stirling.
I was looking toward Ben More.  “I wonder if there are people up that looking at us?”  I waved.
The cloud ebbed and flowed, some of the closer hills dipping in and out of view.  I felt unwell.  I needed to lie down and close my eyes.  I looked skywards and nearly threw up.  It was truly stunning and awful at the same time.  I tried to keep myself together.
“Come and take some photos.”  Dave wanted the automatic timer on my camera.  I crawled on all fours and put the camera on the cairn.  The snapshot shows Dave, intrepid explorer, and me, humping the floor.
“I could stay up here all day.”  Dave’s mood had improved suddenly.  I couldn’t, but how long could I last?  When could I give in?
“How does this compare with Nepal?” asked Dave.  I worried that my answer would be a put down.  “Well we’d actually be sat now at 10,000 feet rather than 3,800.  You see those wispy clouds over there?”  Conveniently they were in the shape of a pyramid rising way above the cloud base.  “Well they’d be the Himalayas going up another 15,000 feet.”  I’d got the sense of scale right.  Nobody spoke.  I worried a little longer and then stopped.
I had to move back into the mist.  “Really?” Dave wasn’t happy.  I’d now got a profound anxious feeling in the pit of my stomach – a double dose of butterflies.  I began to realise I’d overdosed on the pain-killers.  Not a commonly discussed side-effect, but known well enough to my friendly rheumatologist.  All I needed.
The mountain guide and Dave had already confirmed the safety of a stalkers track as a way down.  We wouldn’t have to punish ourselves reversing the steep, rocky ascent.  As I suspected, reclaiming the security of the mist was only a partial remedy.  However the path was pleasant, not exposed and the mist  periodically lifted, sufficient for us to admire some sort of a view.  Dave was pleased, ”This could be a very nice way up.  Joan and I could do this.”  Joan was unsure on uneven ground.  A bad dose of back ache had left her with a limp.  It had improved with treatment but uncertainty remained.
Suddenly something like a motor bike roared off behind me.  “Ptarmigan,” said Dave.
Dave had mentioned earlier that he was developing a groin rash.  It was now quite painful and getting worse with each step.  “I’ve never had this before.”
He’d led a charmed life.  “I’ve had it several times.  That’s why I now wear cycling shorts for walking.  Its a friction thing.  Big thighs rubbing together.  Cream is helpful – stops the chafing and takes the sting out of it.”  Useful advice half way up a mountain.
We made the car, Dave a bit on the stiff side.  I was tired.  “I won’t be walking tomorrow.  This is it.”  A little final I thought.  Maybe we’d had thˇe best of the weather anyway.  “I think you’ll find it will go quickly once you gey some cream on it.”  I’d little doubt the van would have cream.  It had everything else.
We wanted to try the Ben Lawers Hotel, have a drink overlooking the fine view of Loch Tay.  Ben Lawers was in mist but down here there was good visibility and something of a nice evening to enjoy.  We sat out, both of us hurt a bit less.
A group of walkers came up the road, sat, got drinks and generally rested and changed into more comfortable footwear.
“Been far?” asked Dave.  They’d done the whole Ben Lawers ridge with three Monros.  Out since seven this morning.  A bloody long way.  Dave exchanged facts and figures and routes before their minibus arrived.  At least they hadn’t to get back to where they’d left their car.
Dave was vexed about the hotel.  “They could do a bit more with it, you know.  Maybe charge walkers for parking their cars, redeemable at the bar.  There’s lots you could do here.  What about a steamer on the loch, serving meals?”  We had planned to eat here, but after a shower.  Dave stumbled and grumbled to the car.
I thought he’d improved after a shower and a sort out with his rash.  He was moving easier.
“I think we should go home.  I can’t walk and there’s not much else to do up here.”  Our previous trips had combined walking with reading, moseying around Dales villages and pubs, going to the pictures.  I’d seen the bens and glens and walked some of them, but there’d been no culture, apart from Cullodon’s pretty dour story.  My holiday was incomplete.
“I don’t want to go back yet.  I’d like to see a bit more.  Maybe Glen Coe, Oban, Fort William.  Are they far?  If we do stay, I’m concerned about you having to drive long distances.  The other thing that bothers me is returning to your routine at home.  Slipping back into jobs and losing the holiday feel.”  I wasn’t convinced that Dave had relaxed much.
“I wouldn’t go to choir practice.”  I was surprised.  I hadn’t thought of that.
“Oban’s a dump and Fort William is sixty miles away.  We could go to Pitlochrie.”  Good, we’d decided.
We ate, on our own, in the Ben Lawers Hotel dining room.  It was like a large front room in a house.  Simply furnished, wall prints, flowers.  Dave had a gammon steak which could have kept a door ajar.  He’d asked for two eggs and got one.  It was a hushed, calm hour, until the journey back, that is.  “They could have cut the ham in two.  It would have cooked better.  I should’ve had what you had.”  Steak pie and lots of meat.  I’d needed considerable teeth flossing.
Dave phoned home and kept Joan up to date with events.  I slipped down to the telephone kiosk, embarrassed at relying on Dave and guilty for not.  Chris answered.  Mum was out playing badminton.  At least I’d spoken to the children whilst I was away.
“Here’s the phone.”
“I’ve been to the public box at the bottom of the site.”
“What.  This phone’s free, man.”
“I didn’t realise it was free.  I did feel a bit guilty.”
I’d plenty of time to think about planning the following day.  Dave slept in until ten o’clock.  “Oh, sorry.  You should’ve woke me up, man.”  I’d been to the site office – where they keep all the leaflets.  Wild life parks, golf courses and distilleries. Killin had a folk centre, and just down the road a slide show on ‘The Changing Face of Ben Lawers’ was scheduled for eight o’clock that evening.
Our first stop was The Outdoor Centre.
“Get yourself a shirt, man.”  They were £35 or so with no collar.
“Wear a neckerchief, I do.”  This simple piece of common sense from the shop assistant silenced me.  Why didn’t I think of that.
I couldn’t justify the money.  “Thanks, but not this time.”
Dave was speaking with a girl in her late teens.  “How are you getting on with the poles?”  So Dave had bought them here.  “They’re great.”
We moved on.  “She’s the owner’s daughter, dyslexic.  Just started at college.  Quite a girl.”  I marvelled at how this business relationship had flowered.  They didn’t have to empty the toilet, get the bat˙hmat in the right place and pre-heat the flasks, their flasks, with boiling water.
The folk centre was light and fresh and informative and it felt a bit like getting in touch with Scottishness.  Outlawed McGregors, raping and pillaging Campbells and always the evil English.  I have an ‘Whitacre’ ancestor.  Its near to White –  a McGregor.  There’s also a Bailey somewhere, a steward of French origin, and common enough in Scotland, but not ‘affiliated’.  Our main family name is however firmly planted in West Riding industry, dissenting Methodism and Liberal politics.  Dave had traced himself to the Gun clan, highlanders from Scandinavia.  He’s splendid in a kilt and all the gear, but then he was in a Scottish regiment.  I never knew ‘Mc’ or ‘Mac’ meant ‘son of’.
We stopped at Kenmore on our way to Pitlochrie.  Its the ‘posher’ other end of Loch Tay from Killin.  Time shares and golf courses, large pleasure boats and older well-shod women taking coffee in expensive souvenir shops.  I bought a post cardÂ.
The first sight in Pitlochrie was Blair Atholl Distillery.  A must.  And just in time for the next tour.  I’d always wondered where and what Blair Atholl was since my train-spotting days.  It was the name of a steam loco sitting quietly in a bay at York Station.  Many of the locos had names that made you wonder.  Whilst we waited we wandered around reception reading wall posters – titbits of whisky history.  Amazing, Rabbie Burns was a customs and excise man.  Then the fermentation vats and distillation vessels and storage in sherry or bourbon casks for at least three years.  A lot evaporates – ‘The Angels’ share’.  We had a free nip – very nice, but a trifle dear to buy a whole bottle.  I made do with a jar of whisky marmalade.
Quick lunch in a pub full of young S. Africans and Australians and Dave wanted to see the salmon ladder.  It was next to an unattractive concrete hydroelectric plant which could have been special once.  There were no salmon.  The main street was a sm˛aller version of Callander, shops and more shops, sales of women’s woollies, little crafty places smelling of aromatherapy oil, large windowfuls of macho mountain men in designer walking gear.
It was a long way back to the van, but Dave didn’t seem to mind.  We’d both  enjoyed the distillery trip.
“Thanks for driving Dave.”
“Its OK.  Its not been too bad.”
The towel rail was loose in the toilet.  I’d noticed it for a few days and kind of assumed that’s how it was.  Unfortunately it had my hand towel on it.  Had I pulled off?
“Be careful with the towel rail, its coming off the wall.”   It could’ve been me but it didn’t seem to matter.  Good.
The last night was beef in beer, with spuds and salad and red wine.  We didn’t make the slide show.  I didn’t last too long with Cullodon either.
Packing up was a quiet and quick affair.  Grief was in the air.  Emptying the water bottles, the loo, switching off gas and electric, dismantling my bedroom, taking down Dave’s unworn blue breathable fabric˙ walking shirt, tucking away chairs and tables.  The ‘hundred and one things’ to leave it tidy for the next time.  Joan and Dave were soon returning for a week of their own.  God, I hoped the weather would brighten for them.  We’d had far too good a spell.
We were parking up in Callander just before nine o’clock.  Morning papers and a cafe with all-day breakfasts for three quid, marvellous.  A short look in the shop windows and back to Linlithgo, skirting Dunblane and Stirling.
Get ‘Eula’ around the loch.  Untroubled, drifting dialogue and a serious note.  Joan was in training as a counsellor.  She’d plenty on with her job as a nurse tutor an’all.
Dave was ever concerned for her.  “She’s very busy, you know.  Will it be any good?”
I could only speak for myself.  “Its a bit ‘holier-than-thou’ for me, sweet, sugary.  I come from the bottom of a rugby scrum.  Someone who is a willing listener sometimes can help as well as a qualified professional.  Not everyone with a problem benefits anyway.  But I guess there’s a small group of people in trouble who need and are genuinely helped by an experienced counsellor.  My style is quite brief and assumes people will manage the rest of their lives one way or another.  The key seems to be taking someone seriously and no moralising.  Those who are like that when they’re with me, get my vote.  Those that aren’t, I have to try and take seriously too.  But I’m human and I can choose to walk away.  Some people get right up my tits.”  My answer was about self-awareness, humility and choices.  I wasn’t sure how this applied to Joan, but I think Dave heard how it had applied to him.
And we were away to Westerhailes to see “Saving Private Ryan”.  These multiplex cinemas are crashingly expensive on food.  Nip into the market hall next door and sneak in with a tuna bagette.  Dave got a pie.
“I should’ve’ad what you had.”
“God, man, I was snivelling all the way through.  That will get all the oscars.”  Another Spielberg ‘white-knuckle ride’ of a film and the holiday was j¡ust about complete, though not quite.  Joan hadn’t come home from work yet.
We didn’t go to the pub.  Muffled voices from the kitchen and a glass or two of white wine.
Dave trying to entertain.  “Listen to this.”  Taverner on CD.  “What about this?”  A jazz compilation.
Dave bringing Joan up to date.  “We had salad every night.  And mountains of spuds.  All the meat’s gone.  The Ben Lawers Hotel was a bit of a bummer.”
“Time for the salad maker.”  I dutifully obliged.
And there we were, relaxing, feet up, leaning back into plush leather settees and chairs.  Joan was actually sitting.  We boys joshed, sharing moments again, embarrassment and triumph.  Joan laughed at the stories.  Dave and Joan smiled at each other, a lot.
My train was at eleven o’clock the next morning.  Time for leisurely coffees and a walk round the loch.
“We must try for The Dales again next year.  What about that flat at the Farmer’s?”
“It’d be a bit small for ˛us.  More for a married couple really.  What about Glen Shiel?”
“Well, we couldn’t take the van.  There’s plenty of cottages.  Joan, what about Glen Shiel?
“Glenelg would be nicer.  You’d need the cottage there. You know the one.  And May would be better.  No midges.”
A final drink in the village coffee shop and then the station platform.
“What can I say? Thanks Dave.”
“Thanks is enough.”  Big beam from Joan and we were hugging goodbye.
The holiday was now complete.
Work in emptying the loo filling water cans, showering without enough water – noises going off Dave jumping up.  Got him up anyway.
Fitness discussion first day  conversation to agree to walk as the weathe rheld
You don’t work for them again – angry  retirement 5% or so where work and life are the same.
Work in more guilt about Joan not being there
  Screetch owls
security conscious
Crapping on the hill
the new shirt stayed on the hook all holiday.
Saving Private Ryan  a walk round the loch twice
Smiley Dave and JoanZ