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  • ben--taylor0


Updated: Jun 6, 2021

Farewell Argyll.

It's been quite a strange, surreal, and unexpectedly incredible five-and-a-half weeks.

It feels like much longer.

I have only just left the wildly spacious sort of archipelago that is the Firth of Lorn.

Having now stepped across the lip of the big fat gaping mouth of Loch Linnhe, I decided to sit here in a dry bit amidst the slimy rocks.

Linnhe's breath is cold, bracing, and it smells charmingly of rotten seaweed. Between these wafts of juicy fermenting sea plants, are subtle hints of fresh rainfall mixed with a salty air.

A mixture of wayward pollen and mown grass complicates the odor further, while a heady scent of bog asphodel carried from the hills leads to a refreshingly enjoyable finish, that lingers in the back of the throat; leading it to feeling, I imagine, a bit like the bright lichen you usually get on wet rocks after a good dose of rain.

These simple lifeforms, like me, take time, regular watering and largely unlimited amounts of fresh air to grow into the fragile, messy, lively shapes that seem to bring a bit of colour and life to an otherwise fairly grey rocky shore.

Across the loch are the battle-scarred, craggy, no-nonsense hills of Ardgour.

They bask in the sun, contentedly sleeping, but clearly awaiting the next opportunity to unleash their ferocious war cries, for which they are no doubt famous for.

While, in the south-west, Morvern sits there, propped up against a dark corner of the bar, judging me violently; with eyes that probably view headbutting as a form of casual greeting.

Its glare makes me feel uncomfortable, and has that curious effect, I sometimes find when I know I'm being watched, of making me forget how to perform basic motor functions; like how my hands are supposed to work, or what the step-by-step instructions are of picking up a drink, and knowing the exact location of my own mouth.

At the head of Loch Linnhe lies An Gearasdan, The Garrison.

More widely known as Fort William.

Some refer to it as the adventure capital of Scotland, and maybe also the UK, or something like that.

Originally though, from what I know, it was essentially just another land-lubbing British-English military base, which played a major role in taking powers away from the clans.

This led rapidly to the stripping away of the Scots-Gaelic language, it's lands, it's rights, and then, eventually be-felling the indigenous way of life of the people here, and almost entirely replacing it with sheep.

And then further replacing it, with 'sporting' estates.

I'm still astounded that I never learnt about the clearances at school.

It was never mentioned by anyone.

I was even more astounded though, when I discovered that it has never really been taught in Scottish schools either.

And that it has been largely avoided, as a talking topic, ever since the events came to a climax in the 19th century.

Talk about burying the past...

Standard British education is quite happy telling us all about the artefacts they nicked from the Egyptian tombs, dating back 4000 years, from a civilization on another continent.

Or, going as far as telling us about the after-effects of the Clearances, and the Enclosures in England, when those who were evicted were given a grim choice of staying in squalor, or heading across the Atlantic to the 'promised lands', on yet another continent.

A voyage that would eventually take away those people's lands, rights and way of life there. Except, we were often reminded, it was kind of okay, because we weren't quite as bad as France or Spain were at that time.

(Actually we were just as bad. Some historians could easily argue that we were worse. But what is the point of making comparisons like this, when it was really the fierce competition between powerful nations that brought the world into the mess we currently find ourselves in today?)

I guess we're all living in this pathetic little world where comparisons are supposed to be really important.

Anyway, but, they couldn't face telling us about what happened 200 years ago in our own country.

Even in places where it was such a horrific change of events for almost the entire population, like in Sutherland, Wester Ross and Caithness, or, moreover, right across the West Highlands, and, of course, throughout the Hebrides.

The effects of tearing away the deep roots of a people and culture like this and leaving it with nothing other than that feeling of accusation, that it's really just their own fault, leaves them with a painful and terrible void of alienation, displacement and worthlessness that needs to be filled.

This effect can be seen today right across the world, not just in Scotland, in the form of drug addiction, alcoholism, depression, crime, and of course, suicide.

(It can also be seen in a lot of young people, who find themselves seeking desperately for a deeper, or more spiritual, connection with the world in some way; any will do in some cases, no matter where it's roots stem from.)

I will touch on this topic a bit more at a later date; when I reach some of the more 'hard-hit yet hardly-talked-about' places.

Anyway, moving on to a less important subject.

By the time I reach Fort William I will have covered more than six hundred miles (about 1000km) on foot and by kayak.

The ratio of the two seems to be about 3:1 so far. For every mile I have paddled, I have walked about three.

Over the course of six weeks I feel I've been doing fairly well overall.

What with averaging about a hundred miles each week, and around fifteen miles each day, carrying this rucksack that doesn't seem to get any lighter, whilst picking up litter and carrying it about until I come across a bin that's usually already full, or in some cases, just dragging it way above the high tide line into a wind-proof pile.

It has all left me wanting some proper rest.

Luckily, however, Oban seems to be overflowing with lovely people who were willing to look after me, put up with me, spend time with me, and feed me well, despite my ramblings and serious lack of hygiene.

Unluckily, however, I simultaneously had caught a cold of some sort from somewhere.

So I've spent most of the last few days in and around Oban in a state of weary bleary confusion.

Or was it all just a dream?

It would probably fit well with the narratives of dreams recently.

That's if you could call them narratives.

These dreams generally seem to involve me being, initially, in a fairly fixed location; such as a bathtub that keeps almost overflowing, but whenever I try and reach for the tap, the whole bath, and, worryingly, my own legs, seem to stretch away from me far out of reach; or being in a bright room in a vast dark warehouse with a door at one end that doesn't seem to grasp the local laws of physics whatsoever; and then from here I would fall asleep from this dream into another dream and end up in some other baffling situation, or a situation that is freakishly, suspiciously, normal. I would then periodically end up back in the room, or the bathtub, or perhaps even leaning against that bridge in the woods again, before dozing off once more.

Sometimes I wake up and wonder where on earth I am. Thankfully though, I'm usually inside the tent, and it doesn't take me long to figure it out.

The kayak, for which I have no name for yet, it is simply, the kayak, has been the star of the journey so far.

It has enabled me to learn so much more about the coast then I would have done through walking.

I've also learned more about the interplay between wind and water, as well as wind, water and rock.

The differences in wave types, directions, velocities, frequencies, depths, pitches, angles, colours and overall levels of scariness, are beyond calculation.

There was a day about a week ago where I was paddling from the bottom of the Ardfern peninsula towards Loch Melfort, along the Sound of Jura.

The tide was incoming, the wind was a westerly (so mainly on my left) and the waves had many miles of gathering space to develop into undulations of several feet or so between crest and trough. But the wind wasn't too strong so as to create white caps and sharp edges that could break over me or topple me underwards.

They tended to roll excitedly, under and around me.

Then they would bounce off the hard steep rocks of the peninsula, and start coming at me from all directions.

The result of paddling in this for about four hours, became apparent when I had packed up and started walking.

I was following the main road at this point, and quickly realised that I was swaying quite uncontrollably, and visibly, whilst trying to walk in a straight line. This led me to having huge fits of laughter, which made me sway a lot more, all while I was attempting to avoid the incoming traffic.

Its the most fun I've had in a while.

I like to imagine that it was utterly hilarious to anyone driving past; I would have seemed totally and hopelessly drunk, yet probably cheerful enough so as to not require any immediate assistance.

Lastly, I want to mention that I'm heading up Ben Nevis on Saturday morning to do a litter pick.

If anyone wishes to join me, or knows anyone who might, they would be more than welcome to!

I'm setting off up the main tourist track from the Ben Nevis centr 9am, so if you wish to join please get there before then :)

It will be an all day thing, and the top still has some snow so please come prepared to look after yourself.

That is all thus far.

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