[a tale of a bar in Fort William, a nasty storm, and some frightened sheep]
Anyone who hikes in all weather can tell you the sinking feeling you get when you feel the rain drops sliding off your pack cover, onto the back of your calves, and then down into your socks. That feeling is the realization that despite your rain gear, your boots are turning into puddles. You can almost feel your feet starting to shrivel.
When we walked into Fort William in search of Achintee Farm, this had been going on with me for over an hour. We had just hiked the last 20 miles of the West Highland Way and I was ready to take a break, dry out, and have a drink. A package full of food for the next leg of our journey was waiting for us at the farm, and while Zach went to collect it and see about a night’s accommodation, I popped into the Ben Nevis Inn to wait for him with that beer.
The place was packed. There were tables reserved for parties and then a list of even more people waiting for spots in between. I grabbed a drink from the bar and headed upstairs for a place to wait.
It didn’t take long for Zach to come back. He had our package but reported that the only accommodation available at the farm tonight was the £90 bed and breakfast suite. We had been hoping for a spot in the £20 bunk house. I said, let’s check online to see if there’s anything else.
Literally, the entire town was booked out.
From the quaint B&Bs to the Best Western on the edge of town, everything was booked out. I’ve never seen anything like it. Zach ran back down to Achintee to take the farm up on their offer…
Someone had taken the room 10 minutes after he had picked up the package.
Meanwhile, the storm outside was starting to blow at full force. Wind and rain rattled the windows of the Inn. We were already damp from hiking, our packs dripping just in and off to the side of the entrance to the bar, much to the dismay of the staff.
What are we going to do?
I don’t know, but first, I’m going to have a whisky.
It was slowly sinking in that the only thing we could do was go out into that mess of Scottish weather and set up our tent.
We settled up, shouldered our packs, gritted our teeth, and opened the door to the storm.
Wet and wind whipped, it didn’t take long for me to start shaking as we walked down the road back towards the path. First, we tried to set up the tent just down the path on the side of the road. The wind ripped fiercely at the tent material in our hands. Frustrated and exhausted, we started snapping at each other about what to do.
Eventually we conceded that there was no way we could pitch the tent in such an exposed spot. We’d be blown away. So we started to look for the path that would take us down the hill to the little river with some tree cover beside it. It seemed like our best bet.
Except we couldn’t find the path again. Our heads were ducked against the gale, rain drops smacking our eyes and faces, and we must have missed it. When it became clear we must have gone too far, Zach hopped over the fence into the pasture between us and the river.
What are you doing?!
I quickly followed with the light as he began to disappear into the darkness.
Did I mention were doing all this with one headlamp?
There were quite a few startled sheep in Fort William that night as we barreled down the hill through the tall grass. It’s a miracle we didn’t step in soft ground and break our ankles.
An ancient stone fence marked the bottom of the pasture and we quickly scaled it, making a beeline for the river. Once we found a flat spot under some trees we set about the business of pitching the now soaking tent and setting up our beds. We pulled our packs in, dried the inside as best as we could, stripped out of our wet clothes, and then Zach began to laugh.
“Remember that time we stampeded through a herd of sheep in the middle of a rainstorm in Fort William?”
I laughed. “Why, yes, it’s all still very clear to me somehow.”
That’s about the time I asked Zach where he had put the little green stuff sack I had been using to carry our cash, IDs, phone, and passports.
“I thought you had it.”
“I asked YOU to grab it on the way out!”
No. No. No. No. No.
Zach started pulling his wet clothes on again and handed me the light. He climbed out of our small, dry haven and back into the storm to go retrieve our vital documents. It was colder in the tent without him and I couldn’t relax. I kept shining the meager light of the headlamp out of the tent flap, like a lighthouse trying to bring him back.
I kept picturing him somewhere in the pasture with a twisted ankle, inundated by rain and sheep.
At length, I heard wet feet slapping the leaves. As he crawled back into the tent, I zipped the night and the storm out behind him.
At last, we were warm, our sleeping bags were mercifully still dry, and we were together.
That’s all you can really ask for at the end of it all.