Before we left on Friday, this is what the forecast looked like for Glen Coe.
We (or at least I) I was running on serious faith that the weather in Scotland really does change every 24.9 minutes and that there was no way it could possibly be rubbish all weekend.
I got a lift from Graeme and after we left an intermittently sunny Edinburgh around quarter to 8, the rain started and then didn’t quit the entire drive. We wound through wooded roads and around lochs and eventually through massive mountains without seeing much of it. We had the music on my phone (Foo Fighters and Movits! followed by Radiohead for extra weather-matching atmosphere) the sound of the wind running through the roof racks, and the pounding rain for company on what would normally be an incredibly scenic drive. But it was great! And about 10 minutes from the campsite, we passed this waterfall which was roaring so impressively that Graeme turned around to pull over in the deluge and take a photo of it.
We pulled up to the campsite around 10.30 to find Dimitris, Nick, and Nelly putting up their tents with Rupert and Andrew’s help. I borrowed/inherited a tent from Kristina, which looks like it wouldn’t be up to much, but this sucker took everything Scottish nature could throw at it over the weekend and I stayed dry and not-blown-away when I was in it. And it went up in the rain in about 5 minutes flat. I have to confess I didn’t so much of the pitching because I took stuff out of the bag and helped thread one pole in, then I blinked about twice and Rupert and Graeme had finished the job. Total experts. After a bit of a group challenge to finish getting Nick’s tent up, we escaped to the Clachaig Inn for a drink and a warmer, drier planning place for the next day.
We were booted out an hour later to face the wild Scottish weather overnight. I don’t sleep well in unfamiliar situations, and I’m far too fidgety to be the ideal sleeping bag occupant, so I knew I wasn’t going to get much rest. But if that first night didn’t put me off camping, it’s a testament to my sheer excitement for the weekend as a whole. And probably the wonder tent. It was freezing, and I chose the wrong side of the tent to claim as the dry side (all my wet stuff was on the slightly higher ground and my head ended up in the lowest corner) but the wind and rain did not get in, and my strategic taking of benadryl knocked me out for at least 3 hours of strange, frantic dreams of Rupert running through our wee tent city yelling ‘GET UP, THE WATER’S COMING!’ (We were camped next to the pretty rapidly rising river.)
In any case, we all survived the night. Any plans of and early start or breakfast at the campsite were scuppered by the weather, and we missed breakfast at the Clachaig, so we ended up at the Glencoe Cafe where I had the best damn breakfast roll I have ever had. Fried egg and black pudding. I could have eaten three of them. After suiting up, we checked our stock of snacks and water and drove out to one of the parking areas at the side of the road and headed into the hills.
We were just doing a walk up one of the valleys, but because of the high water in all the streams from the rain the night before, we couldn’t stick to the fairly easy looking path. So for the first hour or so, we trudged straight through boggy hillside in high wind and sometimes needle-like, sideways rain. I’m fairly sure at that point most of us were thinking ‘WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK ARE WE DOING, THIS IS PAINFUL AND INSANE AND THE WORD ‘WATERPROOF’ IS A BOLD-FACED LIE (well, unless you’re Katie and spent £57 on fancy waterproof cycling trousers), WHY ARE WE NOT IN THE WARM DRY PUB LIKE SENSIBLE PEOPLE.’
We persevered. There was more bog. There were various stream crossings. One where I totally missed the rock I was jumping for and got properly (and effortlessly) saved by Rupert, who grabbed me from certain death. There was a full on river crossing where, because we decided going all the way down to the road to cross was just too much to fathom, we found the least frightening looking spot and went in up to our knees while Rupert and Andrew helped us across, because we were already completely soaked anyway.
And then. THEN. On the way back up the hill to the next valley, squelching in our boots, we turned around to see the sun breaking over Glen Etive and the weather started to pull back and give us a very well deserved break.
And that’s when I really started thinking, a la Vonnegut, if this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.
Because how lovely to be with a group of people who will suck it up and trudge through the hellish weather this country is capable of simply because they all believe that this weekend away is going to be awesome, and if nature doesn’t feel that, we will keep going til it believes us. And incredibly enough, from the moment that sun busted out, it all just got better and better.
Three of the boys broke away to go up some actual Munros while the rest of us had a very pleasant walk out down the valley. The sun eventually got so strong that I was passing around the sunscreen I was ridiculed for including in my bag that morning. By the end of the day my sunglasses were on. By the time we got back to the cars, the only things still wet were our feet.
We got a big newspaper on the way back to the Clachaig so we could stuff our boots and put them in the drying room (two words which are the sweetest music ever when you’re starting to fear trench foot) and ate a massive dinner in our socks. The proper hill walkers were only about an hour or so behind us and made it in plenty of time for food. Then we rounded out the night by hatching a plan for a massive skills exchange (Sewing storm trooper costumes! Miniature gardening! Chainsaw hedge-sculpting! We do more than just swing dance, you see.), playing a game of spoons using MASSIVE playing cards, and finally retreating to the back bar to dance around to the live music til closing time.
I didn’t sleep much the second night either, but it rained a lot less. And Sunday morning we went back to the cafe for breakfast where I had some seriously heavenly porridge that I’d been jealous of the morning before. The sun was already hanging around and we set off for a much easier walk up to the hidden valley. (I observed that we were seeing TONS of people on Sunday’s walk, where on Saturday we saw no one once the road was out of sight.) We crossed a river again, but this time we took our shoes and socks off to do it because our feet were still gloriously dry.
When we got up to the valley, we climbed a massive rock for a group picture (well, I didn’t make it very far up, but whatever, I got off the ground) and then the sun REALLY came out and we all took a nap in the grass. Then we threw a golf ball around and contributed some rock art to the place with Graeme’s natural building skills.
I spent the whole time thinking, well, not that I ever had any doubt, but this is a country well worth becoming a citizen of. Beautiful is an understatement.
We took a pretty boulder-y route down the hill, which for me was terrifying as I do not have the mountain goat tendencies some of the others do, but Fiona and Rupert started in on a stellar rendition of ‘Hakuna Matata’ followed by various other tunes which calmed me way down and took my mind off the fact that my footing and balance is the worst in the land. And everyone helped each other down the difficult bits and we played leapfrog on the last bridge out where Andrew and Cicely played an epic game of Pooh Sticks and the day was just so ridiculously perfect.
The drive home was gorgeous and STILL sunny and I got to see all the things that had been obscured by the rain on the way up. We stopped for fish and chips on the way and all wondered aloud when the next trip would be.
I think between my compulsion to organise things and everyone’s sheer, unadulterated joy about the weekend, I can guarantee it will be very, very soon.