The Journey Part 4 – Oban to Glasgow
I peered down onto the dusty ground looking for the culprit that had caused me to stumble. My eyes widened, my forehead creased and a puff of air escaped from my lips. Beneath my foot was a gun cartridge and bullet, but not of the Hollywood variety, this looked like a mini rocket with tails. I scrutinised it without touching anything, to check that I wasn’t imagining things. As if on cue, gunfire rattled through the hills as I nervously glanced at my tent pitched five metres away.
Anywhere else and I might well have freaked out. But not here, I was on Ministry of Defence land. Yet I was still surprised to find ammunition beyond the danger area marked on the Ordnance Survey map. My mind raced to a sign I had seen earlier: ‘Beware of troops training’ and I looked over at a previously used campfire, having thought it had been made by other hikers on a long-distance trail. Now I presumed it had been used by soldiers who had camped out. I suddenly became self-conscious and hoped they weren’t watching. I had just been for a wee.
My camp for the night had been determined by two things: dehydration and pain. There was a nearly clean burn (little stream) and my body couldn’t walk any more. Earlier in the day I’d felt a crack in my knee. I shuddered. It hit again.
I was well aware of the dodgy knee family tree. “Your granddad had a knee replacement; your uncle had one. It’s in the family,” my mum had warned as I conjured up images of the Knee Grim Reaper watching me, biding his time. He had struck without warning when I was in the hills, three days from Glasgow. I began to obsess with what I could get rid of next. My unworn gaiters had gone, as had my unused GPS, a jacket (to be collected in winter), my sleeping bag liner (my Rab Neutrino 800 will just have to smell a bit) along with other items thrown away or posted back.
I had spent the past nine nights wild camping my way from Oban to north of Garelochhead. The route had consisted of ancient paths marked on the map which were not even visible. Two-metre ferns covered the hillside and I imagined I was in an Indiana Jones film, expecting to trip over the skeleton of a long-forgotten hiker (still clad in his leather boots). The track was aptly named the Coffin Route. I took in hills, glens, Loch Awe, beautifully deserted forest tracks, quaint villages, scarecrow competitions, a heatwave, mist, rain and plenty of history.
Being in the Outer Hebrides on the previous leg of my trip, feeling hot was something rather alien. My legs were suddenly melting, I was blasting through water and a true Scotsman looked at my red face and said, “Och, you’ve picked the wrong day for hiking!” Was he kidding? I’d had horizontal rain for nearly three weeks on the islands, this was heaven!
I visited Lismore island and its few Bronze Age burial mounds, Kilmartin boasting more Bronze Age history than a third position medal winner and Achnabreck which has the largest slab of rock art in Europe. I took in three long-distance trails, five river washes and an ever-growing amount of midge bites. It was absolutely glorious!
I saw no other hikers for eight days, and when I did, they were everywhere! I had avoided the awfully commercial West Highland Way but our paths crossed at one place and I had to stop muttering to myself. I was now in danger of being caught. Again.
I started to become giddy at the thought of arriving in Glasgow, which wasn’t even on my original agenda. Shops, people, eclectic food, more museums than I could remember the names of – and I was nearly there.
Crack. Ow. I plodded on, putting weight on my poles and realised the muscle all down the side of my thighs was super tight. My kneecaps ached. I knew I had to get the weight off my back somehow. But not just yet.
I arrived in Glasgow to a fabulous reception of 12 free Krispy Kreme donughts. I devoured them in under 16 hours. I was constantly hungry. I stayed with a fellow traveller who I’d met in Lismore, then Airbnb’d for a few days. Still the knees weren’t right. On my days off I walked. And walked. And walked some more around the city. I pulled in five to six miles just wandering per day. And I wondered why the knees ached. I Googled my problem, found exercises and taped my knee up. Then I set out for Edinburgh where I promised myself physio help and magic wheels for my bag.
Otherwise my hike would terminate in the Scottish capital. And I certainly wasn’t ready for that.
Jane Batchelor is currently hiking 2,500 miles through Britain, looking at the history of the country. For more photos, follow her Facebook and Instagram pages. To find out more about her journey, click here.
The Journey Part 1 – Shetland
The Journey Part 2 – Orkney to Ullapool
The Journey Part 3 – The Outer Hebrides