There is nothing worse on a train journey than finding yourself sitting next to the drunk; even the amiable, hopelessly grinning, variety. The disappointment on finding yourself in such a position after what has been a most pleasant evening in the city is nigh on overwhelming. One quick glance down the aisle is all it takes to pick up on the looks of smug pity from your fellow passengers who are by now near ecstatic at having been passed over by their decidedly unsteady fellow traveller. Your happiness quotient plummets alarmingly at the realisation that your glorious day is now petering out to a dismal end. But what can you do about it?
I was a bit puzzled when the woman I had sat down beside suddenly shot up out of her window seat and leapt off down the train like a scalded cat and dived into another some 5m away. Odd, I thought. It had been a most enjoyable “Stag-do” and I had managed to stay relatively sober (imho) – a relative state achieved by leaving a good few hours before the others. I felt as the groom’s father I should uphold as much dignity as possible under such testing circumstances. Ah yes…father of the groom. At long last my erstwhile hillwalking companion, “Cap’n Jack” of the “Fatdog” days was to marry Fiona, his partner of some 12(?) years.
As I snuggled into the now handily vacant window seat I burped happily and, as I stared out into the dark passing night, my mind drifted back to the previous October – the last time Cap’n Jack and I were to take on one of Scotland’s iconic mountains…Ben Lomond.
To say the proposed October ascent of Ben Lomond was a foolhardy and ill-prepared operation would probably come under the umbrella of gross understatement. I had not been on a hill since the spring of the year and we both struggled to recall when Cap’n Jack had last done so. This was to have consequences both foreseen and otherwise. I would not go as far as to say that this was, for me, the last throw of the hill walking dice but I was very aware that my sciatic niggles had increased to the point where my participation in this type of walk was probably nearing its end. I was however determined that I would take “the pups” (at this point 2 years old) up at least one Munro before I quit. Ben Lomond was the obvious target – it had been mine and The Fatdog’s first Munro and if today I was to end my Munro journey well, it would seem the most appropriate hill on which to finish.
The walk began with the pups rampaging down a small beach at the Rowardennan car park into the chilly water of Loch Lomond, a quick cool down before the 6km and 900m ascent. Cap’n Jack and I opted to stay on shore. This may have been the only wise decision of the day…a bad decision being, e.g., continuing with the walk.
The ascent went fairly well all things considered. On the initial section of the climb Mabel and Lottie were, as anticipated, horrendous on the long leads but eventually settled to a steadier pace once past the tree line. I was pleasantly surprised that, as the ascent went on, my legs were prepared to cooperate. Sadly, the same could not be said for Cap’n Jack although his problem was more apparel orientated. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that the Cap’n has…eh…changed shape a wee bit since our escapades of a few years ago resulting in the unforeseen consequence referred to earlier. His (what had been) comfortably fitting walking trousers had now more in common with skin-tight denims. There was also a waist button crisis to contend with. I, on the other hand, was some 6kg lighter than the hillwalking days and, as a result, some 6kg smugger. My comeuppance was to be a mere two hours away.
Once the “pups” settled progress went remarkably well. Ben Lomond is an easy hill walk with a fairly steady gradient for most of the journey. In fact so well did the walk go I was busy pondering over our next potential target as we ambled along the summit ridge to the hilltop high point.
Then came the descent; the longest I have made in the six years I have walked the Scottish mountains.
Sciatica is a funny thing the way it affects the various muscle groups. I had hardly felt a thing on the way up but the whole gamut of possible effects reared their heads on the way down. Lower back legs/feet/knees – it appeared that every muscle group present was being “twanged” by offended nerves. It took between 3-4 hours to reach the car. Cap’n Jack had to take both dogs as I needed both walking poles for balance as I gingerly stepped down the trail from the top all the way to the bottom.
Half way down we stopped for a short break. In the distance we could see the Arrochar Alps where Cap’n Jack had claimed Ben Ime as his first Munro. There was a definite feeling that our big mountain days had finally come to an end.
As the slow train from Glasgow to Larbert plodded its way past Lenzie and Croy the carriage gradually emptied so I felt I could burp a little bit louder than before. Don’t think I’ll take up serious drinking as a hobby… although it would appear that it improves your chances of a window seat. While I sat and pondered over the fact that the great hill days were probably behind me I consoled myself in the knowledge that I had another activity to occupy my time these days, one that was unexpected to say the least. After 60 years of showing zero talent for the subject I found myself having paintings in an exhibition.
Yes, I have become…an artist!