I STOOD at the highest point on Iona watching the sun dip below the horizon. It seemed a fitting way to prepare for a three-day trek across Mull.
Dun I may only be some 100 metres high, but like everything else on this peaceful island quality trumps quantity at every turn.
There’s a reverence in Iona that seems unique to Scotland; everything and everyone softly spoken, a hushed politeness. Add in white sand beaches, gently lapping waters and the constant birdsong and it feels like a land of dreams.
I had arrived late afternoon with Michael Anderson, his daughter Fiona and daughter in law Nina, after meeting up at Oban and travelling by bus to Fionnphort at the western tip of Mull. We were camping overnight on Iona, the starting point for Michael’s Way, an epic 16-day journey scheduled to end at St Andrews in a bid to raise £15,000 for Deafblind Scotland.
For the next three days I would be helping the girls guide their blind, mostly deaf, 75-year-old dad across Mull. My duties finished when we reached Oban, where the next volunteers would take over.
In contrast to the daylight peacefulness of the island, however, the first night’s sleep was disturbed by the continuous cracking calls of corncrakes.
We shook off the results of a sharp overnight frost and set off for the first boat and the official start of the walk, a 57km eastern stride to the ferry port of Craignure. Our journey through the Ross of Mull was conducted in clear, dry weather, the wind keeping any midge menace at bay.
The first stop was the village of Bunessan, with its few houses clustered round the picture-perfect Loch na Lathaich, and a welcome intake of calories at the Bakehouse.
The route now led us along the shores of Loch Scridain and into Brolass and we picked a suitable wild camp spot for the night across the waters from Ben More with some 24km already under our belts.
Once again I watched in wonder as Michael set up his own tent, every move a marvel of geometry, precision and order. I had to keep reminding myself at times that he was sightless, his dexterity often making my own efforts seem clumsy.
Our night again fell victim to the birds, this time the peep-peeping of a pair of oystercatchers having a domestic, and at one point a greylag goose came in like a low-flying jet over my tent to provide a rude awakening. I was up at first light, standing on black, volcanic rock at the edge of the water, watching the dark screes of Ben More’s perfectly triangular face catch the first rays of the sun.
A few Highland cows provided some amusement as they frustrated oncoming vehicles, wandering up the narrow strip of tarmac, a typically Scottish mobile roadblock. We stopped at the store in Pennyghael to enjoy the hospitality of Joy and her cat Claude. This was the last refuelling stop before Craignure.
The rain was now blowing through and we started to climb up the pass, the landscape now bleaker, the wind chillier. We stayed ahead of any serious dampness as we walked off OS Map 48 and into 49.
All the time, we were providing a running commentary for Michael on the changing landscape, piquing his constant curiosity about the wildlife, the unseen colours, the cloud formations and the shadings of the sky.
It may sound strange, but these observations were equally beneficial to me. It felt as if I was truly drinking in every second of the walk, every slight change in the countryside, noticing the subtle moments I would normally have let pass by.
Inevitably, the rain moved in and it was a quick pitch before everything got soaked through. And inevitably, the birds ruled the roost again, a wet night spent listening to a vocal battle between a flock of geese and a peacock. We rose at 5am and got back on the road for the last few miles. The rain stopped as arrived at the ferry port and the sun was shining in Oban.
There were fond farewells and then Michael and Co. headed off for a well-earned rest before the start of the next leg of their epic journey east the following day. As the old saying goes: “Before you a judge a man, you must walk a mile in his shoes.“
Well, I walked a few miles with Michael and I can say that every single one was a privilege.