17/03/12 The Big Hill

My map reading is legendary in its er…subjectivity…the big joke being that as long as I keep the sea to my right, I can’t get lost – another little foible is that my reading of contour lines could, at best, be described as optimistic.

“You’ll have to watch out for ’ Big Hill’ – a gnarly Scotsman in his 60’s warned me as he pressed £5 into my hand – “..that’s a direct translation from the Gaelic,” he smiled.

I looked at my map with the same comprehension that a sheep might observe Shakespeare, “hmm,” I said wisely as I watched him bound, gazelle like, onto the roof of the nearby shop/ post office…

It’s ok – he’s not some would-be Santa, he was mending the tiles…

So alive! In the short time we’d spoken he’d told me about the ’ Black House’ his mother had grown up in.

Her home had one big room – she and her several siblings slept in cots around one edge – in the middle of the room was a fire that warmed the house and cooked the food. There was a hole in the roof to let the smoke out.

At the other end of the room – well that’s where the animals, the cow and the sheep, lived. Apparently they provided heat.

“I read a human gives off the same heat as a one-bar electric fire…I’m not exactly sure where I read it…” I trailed off…I was doing my best to join in.

These houses had no windows.

“Is that why they’re called black houses?”

“No – it was because of the soot,” obviously.

I went into the shop to find the proprietor was from Guildford –
“That’s where my brother lives,” I laughed….

We chatted as I collected sundry sugary drinks…

“No charge,” she smiled at me. She’d been a head of a primary school down the way – she’d decided to go up north in search of a different pace, a different way of life.

I thanked her effusively and began my journey to Big Hill.

There’s a saying in Scotland, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 20 minutes…”

I was astonished at the variety of climates I walked through in the next couple of hours – there was a balmy warmth – mist – gales – sleet – locusts…

As I sat at the top of the very recently named, “Not very big Hill” (I’ll be in touch with ordnance survey soon) a car came to a halt.

It was Gareth – he of tent pole fame from the hotel – and his partner, Maria.
“We thought we might see you today – so I packed a little extra,” he thrust an apple and a cereal bar into my hand, “…we’ll probably see you on the way back…”

“Big Hill” I think I said – and we all nodded wisely.

I followed the stunning coastline of Gruinard bay – looking out onto the island of the same name – with Priest and Bottle islands in the distance….
And there it was – the dreaded hill – still 2 miles away – an unimaginative road straight up into the hills.

Big Hill.

By the time I’d got to the bottom of the incline I’d fully bought into the legend.
It wasn’t quite fear of fear – but I’m sure I’ve managed similar hills who hadn’t indulged themselves with such ostentatious names.

Perhaps if I’d renamed it ‘little mound’ me, Hubert and Darth II would have bounded up with little effort.

I got to the top making some decidedly non-human noises, collapsing in a histrionic heap (not before securing Hubert to ensure he didn’t go trundling back off down the hill.) next to the road.
20 minutes later I was up and walking – and there were Gareth and Maria again. I was delighted that they’d missed my near-death grunting and groaning.

How wonderfully British of me. How wonderfully complicated – I overplayed a hill in my mind on my journey up to and up it and then, when I had the chance to discuss it with folk I said the hill walking equivalent of,”What, this old thing? I found it at the back of the wardrobe/ bought it in a sale….”

The mystery continues.

Walk a mile

Chris

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