A Night on Slioch

© Sarah Jane Douglas

The last weekend of May was stinking hot. From Incheril it had taken Paul and me a good fifty minutes to walk the path which eventually brought us to the fringes of Loch Maree. Splitting right, we climbed towards Gleann Biannasdail. The going was slow, heavy packs combined with the heat, the birthday boy's hangover and lack of hill fitness, but we were in no hurry.

A popular rock to rest on in Coire na Sleaghaich  © Sarah Jane Douglas
A popular rock to rest on in Coire na Sleaghaich
© Sarah Jane Douglas

We paused briefly for Paul to splash his face in a pool by a small waterfall.  The sound of the running water was instantly soothing. Just over two hours into the walk we reached the col to the west of Meall Each and, a little further on, once we'd rounded the base of Sgurr Dubh, we took five at a big rock to enjoy the silence and trade snacks.

Our journey continued into the grassy bowl, then cut diagonally up the corrie wall. On the ridge we stopped at the nearest of two large lochans beneath towering crags. A couple of newts lay still under the water – until Paul poked his finger in and disturbed them. Another steep climb – and it was – up over eroded threads of zig-zagging trail. Ahead, I waited for Paul who finally appeared over the rise. Just within earshot the most heartfelt, 'Fucken Nora!' you ever heard escaped Paul's usually quiet and uncomplaining mouth. It was immensely hard to stifle laughter at his despair when he'd seen there was yet more ascent to come. (That'll teach him for getting hammered before a big walk.)

Loch Maree from the summit  © Sarah Jane Douglas
Loch Maree from the summit
© Sarah Jane Douglas

Still, four hours after setting out we reached the summit of Slioch. On the way up views over Torridon had been terrific, but I'd forgotten how sensational views north into Fisherfield were from here.

Absorbed by looking over striking ridgelines and dazzling lochans I almost didn't notice Paul who'd arrived, offloaded his pack and was on his knees (both literally and metaphorically). I shook my head then cast an admiring gaze along loch Maree, hoping we'd be on the water the following afternoon. He didn't know it yet, but I'd got him a kayak, all gift wrapped in the boot of the car. He was a fairly broken man, but from what I gathered it was just his legs that felt like lead. This was good, I told myself, since you only really need arms to paddle.

Beinn Airigh Charr and the sea at sunset  © Sarah Jane Douglas
Beinn Airigh Charr and the sea at sunset
© Sarah Jane Douglas

We found an excellent flat pitch close to the summit cairn. Feeling pleased to check in to our million star hotel, imagine my surprise when I heard voices. At this hour I'd not expected to see anyone, especially two figures emerging from this mountain fortress's western side. It turned out to be John Fleetwood and Richard Hartfield, who had just completed a humongous 34-hour circuit over the Torridonian giants.

The visitors left, then Paul and I set about savaging dinner. A table for two at the summit, there were even flowers. And what views! Food never tastes so good as it does on a mountain – in fact, an appreciation of everything in life is heightened.

Slioch casts a big shadow into the east  © Sarah Jane Douglas
Slioch casts a big shadow into the east
© Sarah Jane Douglas

I forgot about the mammogram appointment hanging over my head, and the pain of my fractured ribs. We chilled till the sun began to lower, casting Slioch's imposing shadow over hilly ground to the east. The magic show had begun – that wondrous time before sundown when warm colours bathe the landscape in alpenglow and you can almost pick out every fine detail in the complex mountain architecture. Then, as the sun dipped below the horizon we each sipped hot chocolate. 'It's all so beautiful it makes me want to cry,' I told Paul.

Evening over Fisherfield...  © Sarah Jane Douglas
Evening over Fisherfield...
© Sarah Jane Douglas

...turns to night  © Sarah Jane Douglas
...turns to night
© Sarah Jane Douglas

After sundown Paul turned in, but I went for a ramble about the top. I came across a memorial stone tucked discreetly out of sight for someone called Jim Cooper. I sat down next to it deciding to keep him company for a while, and I wondered if the flowers at the cairn had been left there in his memory. In quiet contemplation I looked over to A'Maighdean, the final resting place of another Jim – my son's papa.

There can be no escaping from life's hardships and sorrows but, for me, there is something so spiritual about these high places it reaches right inside and touches my very soul, making everything feel alright. I stayed in my spot till the mountains became silhouetted and a faint star appeared. Round and round the sun we go, spinning through space and time. Another pinprick of light appeared and so, feeling humbled and grounded by an awareness of the larger forces at play, I too turned in.

Home for the night  © Sarah Jane Douglas
Home for the night
© Sarah Jane Douglas

22 Jul, 2021

Lovely moving piece - thanks for sharing.

15 Aug, 2021

Nice article. Good to meet you Sarah Jane. We had a great camp opposite you - https://johnfleetwood.smugmug.com/Landscape/2021/Letterewe/

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