IT felt like a step back in time, the kind of journey that had become habit for 15 years.
This was a focussed trip to climb a solitary mountain, one of the eight strays needing to be climbed to complete my Munro list for the third time.
I left the house at midnight for the 400-mile round trip to Mallaig, catch the first ferry to Knoydart, do a circuit of Meall Buidhe and then be down for the last ferry back.
The drive from east to west during the hours of darkness brought the memories of so many expeditions flooding back; the deserted roads, the moonlight on the water, the black outlines of the hills standing against the night sky.
There was a smattering of late revellers as I brushed the outskirts and street lights of Fort William, and then it was back into the dark on the Road to the Isles. Here I nearly came to grief. The woods along the sides of the road were teeming with red deer, their yellow eyes reflecting back into the lights.
Every so often a few would dart out - deer playing chicken. Most of the time I had enough notice to avoid them. But as I rounded a corner at Glenfinnan, a stag stepped out, a classic case of a deer caught in the headlights. He was massive. I was already going slow. I managed to slam on the brakes but there was no way to avoid him. I bumped into his rear end and his back legs buckled, but he was up almost immediately and disappeared at speed into the trees.
A quick inspection revealed a lucky escape for both of us. A deer that size could total the car but there was hardly a scratch or dent to be seen and everything was still in working order. Excitement over, I pulled into Mallaig and napped for a couple of hours. Eigg and Rum were dark specks far off in the struggling light. They were still there shining in the early sun when I headed off for the ferry.
It seems strange you can now nick over to Knoydart and get back in a day. This remote peninsula used to entail a full expedition lasting for days and that is still the best way to do it. But if time is limited it is nice to be able to pay a visit, however brief.
The small ferries were busy with backpackers, most heading off to begin The Great Outdoors Challenge, an epic cross-country yomp due to end on the east coast seven days later.
The sky was brilliant blue as the boat cut through the calm waters to the pier at Inverie where we all disembarked. The number of walkers thinned and then the remainder vanished completely as I headed off on a side path to Gleann Meadail.
Meall Buidhe is one of three Munros in Knoydart and is usually climbed along with its neighbour Luinne Bheinn. But it’s a long hill and time restrictions meant I was happy to do a circuit from the head of the col, coming down the west ridge. Besides, I had never scaled the mountain from this direction.
The first time I climbed Meall Buidhe there were no views. The second, although clearer, was awash with grey. This was different, blue skies and snow-streaked summits in every direction. You could even see Rum on the western horizon.
I got down in time to have a quick pint at The Old Forge. Time seems suspended for a short while when you sit outside the remotest pub on the mainland in blazing sunshine waiting for the boat to take you home.
Unfortunately it doesn’t actually stand still and all too soon you are watching this magnificent mountain landscape shrink rapidly on the skyline as you head back for sunset and a rerun of the deer dodgems on the way home.