ONE of the great joys of walking at night in the mountains is the feeling of solitude.
You are totally alone with your thoughts, no one around to disturb you as the cares of the day are massaged away.
Not that I don’t enjoy having company. Meeting like-minded souls on the hills and engaging in casual conversation is great and all part of the day.
But there’s always one to spoil the party. Like the chap I met during a recent solo jaunt round the central Cairngorms peaks.
I had arrived over the shoulder of Braeriach, climbed The Angel’s Peak and was sitting at the top of Cairn Toul having a bite of lunch when I heard voices from below. Well, just one voice actually.
Four guys were on their way up the ridge but one was talking incessantly, his voice cutting through the air of peace at the top of the mountain. The other three looked relieved when they crested the ridge and spotted me as their pal switched targets without taking a breath.
First, it was a brief resume of his photographic skills as a prelude to asking if I would like him to take my picture.
“You won’t get a better one,” he said modestly.
I thanked him but politely declined. I only wanted to have my lunch in peace.
But seconds later it was: “You doing the Munros then? How many is that now?”
I started to tell him that this was number 164 but before I was able to finish my sentence he jumped in. “Ach well, you’ll get there one day. Just have to keep plugging away.”
“Well, this actually is my third time round,” I finally managed to finish.
If it wasn’t the answer he was expecting he hid it well then ploughed on.
“You’ll need to move on to the Corbetts then.”
“I completed them a few years ago.”
This did actually seem to stun him momentarily. His attempts to land a one-upmanship punch were failing and his mates’ sniggering dissipated as he turned his verbal guns back on them. I decided to mumble a quick goodbye and move on while the vocal predator was temporarily distracted.
But a couple of hours later as I came back round over the summit of Braeriach, I could hear a familiar machine-gun voice in the distance.
By the time I reached them he was extolling the virtues of certain types of sandwich fillings to his mates. They looked beaten men, desperate for any kind of respite, ready to snap.
I don’t think he was taking into account that he was standing at the top of the one of biggest cliff faces in Scotland, just one short shove from permanent silence.
I had planned a five-minute break here before heading north down the ridge into the forest but I feared we were about to move into Father Ted territory: next he would be asking everyone to name their favourite humming sound.
I had to move. My notice of farewell was greeted with a desperate look in the eyes of his companions: Don’t leave us alone with him. Please.
Sorry lads, it was every man for himself, and I was off down the ridge at a rate of knots. Even then, half a mile away, I imagined I could still hear him speaking.
The need for solitude had disappeared. Survival of the ears was all that mattered.
(First published Daily Record, July 11, 2013)