Perfect Dawn (Knoydart – Part 4)

SOMEWHERE to the east of Knoydart the sun rises from dark glens and turns the mountaintops gold. Barrisdale is still deep in shadow and the air is cold. Deer graze in the grasslands behind the bothy as I warm my hands around the flames of a petrol stove and sip hot tea from a pan.

In the tent next to mine is a man who looks like Orson Wells. He sits in the open doorway, wrapped up in thermal gear, wearing a leather Stetson and smoking a curly hawthorn pipe. Rich, fruity tobacco smoke hangs in the air – one of those old-fashioned tobaccos that is heavy with the scents of chocolate and apple wood and is very, very pleasant.

It reminds me of my childhood, of my grandfather and Saturday afternoons watching the wrestling – the comforting voice of Kent Walton and the football results. Funny how these things come dancing back through several decades of time and space – triggered by something as slight and insignificant as a whiff of tobacco in a mountain dawn.

The man nods and I nod back. And we sit there watching the sun paint the slopes of Luinne Bheinn and the sky turn from white to pale blue, him with his pipe and me with my tea.

Not all the world is at peace, though. There is unrest in the bothy.

The chap from Oxford I met on the summit of Ladhar Bheinn yesterday is cooking his breakfast as I wander inside for a fresh pan of water. He’s bouncing.

In the early hours, shortly after midnight, a party of backpackers emerged from the darkness of Loch Hourn and encircled his tent. Not only did they clump about pitching their own tents with no regard for other campers, two of them – a teenage girl and boy – had a noisy argument about each other’s deficiencies. This continued sporadically for more than an hour.

I recall waking up and hearing a commotion, then falling asleep again. Now the newcomers are all snoring in their sleeping bags, and the chap from Oxford is not in the best of humours.

I say my farewells, pack my tent, nod again at the man with the hawthorn pipe, shoulder my pack and take the rough track along the shore to the roadhead eight miles away at Kinloch Hourn.

Knoydart, eh? A land within a land. Distant peaks, hidden glens, noble crags, crystal clear lochs, fragrant air. And Knoydart nights of almost total blackness, with only the stars to punctuate perfection. Cool winds stealing off the loch and rustling the grass as the night birds call and a dog barks at a distant farm.

And there is so much I have yet to see – Inverie; the rugged headlands in the Sound of Sleat; the Second World War mica mine on the heights of Sgurr Corie nan Gobhar that someone told me about years and years ago.

I stop on the path high above Loch Hourn and cast a final glance at the Knoydart peninsula and the slopes of Ladhar Bheinn.

Oh yes. The mountains. Somewhere up there in the sunshine west of Loch Arkaig there are more of them. All waiting to be climbed. Got a feeling I’ll be back.

Mar sin leibh.

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About McFadzean

Alen McFadzean, journalist, formerly of the Northern Echo, in Darlington, and the North-West Evening Mail, Barrow. Former shipyard electrician. Former quarryman and tunneller. Climbs mountains and runs long distances to make life harder. Gravitates to the left in politics just to make life harder still. Now lives in Orgiva, Spain.
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