I’m kind of pleased with myself. Not smug, more self assured – there’s a crucial difference, I think. On the one hand Sue and I seem to have had a charmed life so far on this adventure. We’ve driven about 700 miles on motorways, dual carriageways, secondary roads, and today, on roads that, as a gesture to the 21st century, have been bitumened but certainly not widened from that needed to allow a horse and rather narrow cart to squeeze along them. Not that that is a problem. It’s just that similar speed limits seem to apply on all types of roads here. Driving according to road conditions seems not to have caught on in a big way here. I thought driving on Italian mountain roads was challenging. After today I’m revising my opinion. Only one near miss so far, and that was because I didn’t notice the roundabout sign warning me that cars entering from a minor side street had right of way over those on what was a busy arterial road. Skillfully I avoided a collision by about 10 cm, but Sue’s finger nail indentations on the upholstery may take some removing.

On the other hand we have found ourselves in the midst of the western Highlands of Scotland, in Wester Ross to be more specific. The landscape is so breathtakingly, heartstoppingly impressive we are pinching ourselves. I don’t have adjectives worthy to describe this region so I am left with cliches. We have been here before, about eight years ago, and writing this I don’t know why we left it so long to return. A few rather poor images will need to show what I struggle to describe.

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So why am I feeling self assured?

Sue’s dream had been for us to repeat a hike that we had done last time we were here up into the “Lost” valley at Glencoe. I was not so keen. Last time we were with a small group and we had a guide. This time I (not Sue) have acquired some additional body weight that I am pretty sure is not toned muscle, and I am approaching my 60th birthday. Avoidance strategies were without effect however and we found ourselves early yesterday morning at the carpark at the start of the hike, checking gear, glancing up at the sky and the bulk of mountains surrounding us. The guide book wasn’t particularly encouraging, warning that fatalities had occured on this walk. Great! Determined to turn back at the first point of danger we set out tentatively on what was estimated by the guide book as a 3 to 3 1/2 hour return journey. You will be releved to learn there were no fatalities that day, and we were back at the car park in under 4 hours! A couple of rock scrambles and a traverse along an unsettlingly narrow path far above a happily gurgling stream were easily handled, as was a rock hop creek crossing (should that be a ‘burn’ crossing?). They were the only real challenges. That is if you discount the steam engine sound of my breathing as we neared the top of the climb. The reward was there though! We walked out of the gorge into a flat floored valley surrounded by forbidding slopes. It had the same effect on both of us that it had had years before – we felt we were in the presence of wild and lonely spirits. Legend has it that the MacDonald clan used this valley as a hiding place for cattle they had stolen (apologies to the MacDonalds if this is not true).
So the upshot of all this is not to brag. It’s just that attempting and finishing something you suspected you mightn’t be able to do, does wonders for your self assurance. Even if, maybe especially if, you are nearly sixty. Tonight it’s time to be thankful for a host of blessings.

This is an image of the “Hidden” Valley. A lost, wild, lonely and yet a place to affect the most cynical spirit:

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