There are 282 Munro’s in total in Scotland, and yesterday I set out to conquer my first, Ben Lomond, before breakfast. I’ve been gagging to give my new trail shoes a run out so I set my alarm early to beat the rain. I headed off at about 8am; the air was thick and cool from the evaporated moisture coming off the Loch and, in the morning light, the most distant mountains looked fast asleep and greyish blue. It was an enchanting view.
I set off at an easy, steady pace, getting the blood flowing through my legs and feeling really chuffed that I’d got out so early. It wasn’t long though before the incline proved too demanding to maintain said pace, and so I opted to lunge, potter and wheeze my way up the majority of the track, higher and higher, until I was in the clouds. There’s something brilliantly otherworldly about walking through clouds. You can’t see where you’re headed or where you came from or anything in between; it’s like the world’s buffering and you’ve somehow managed to remain reactive within the white static of the ‘load programme’. Or something. It’s weirdly comforting too, being cocooned in whiteness. Not everyone’s idea of a good time I’m sure but I have to say, I find it really relaxing.
After nearly 2 hours I approached what I thought might be the Peak, when two figures appeared out of the mist, 30 yards (ish) ahead of me. I thought they were coming down at first, but as I got closer I could see they were making the final push to the summit too. They were the only people I’d seen that morning and I was pretty sure I was the first they’d seen, going by how startled the poor lady was as I passed her and cheerily ‘good morning’-ed her.
I thought I’d reached the top about 5 minutes later, and as I stood victorious on what I thought was the very highest point, the violent wind lashing me to and fro, the couple caught me up and pointed towards a section of the trail I hadn’t seen. Slightly embarrassed, I joined them in completing the final stretch. As we reached the top I spotted the cairn, and as if someone had flicked a switch, the wind died off entirely. It became so deathly quiet all of a sudden, and with nothing to see but the ground beneath my feet and the infinite white void all around us, it felt like we’d entered a portal to another universe. It was epic.
“I have to kiss the cairn”, said Muriel as she bounded purposefully towards the monument. Her and her husband, Eric, were noticeably emotional as they set their bags down, and in what was clearly a huge moment for them, I asked them why. They told me that reaching the summit of Ben Lomond marked the completion of their goal to conquer all of Scotland’s 282 Munro’s, a formidable feat that has taken them 19 years to achieve. I was totally flabbergasted. And as Eric pulled out a bottle of (top notch) champagne from his bag, I started to think about the unlikeliness of all of this; the three of us reaching the top of this mountain, at exactly the same time, and with it being my first Munro and it also being their last… I felt like they were passing the baton on to me, and I became giddy and excited and probably quite annoying. We stood at the cairn, Muriel, Eric and I, talking, laughing and drinking champagne for 15 minutes or so, before I decided to leave them to it. They deserved to enjoy the moment they’d been dreaming of for 19 years without having to put up with some beardy, excitable southerner there, trying to crack jokes and poncing all their champers.
And as I began to run down the mountain (which was the part of the morning I’d been most looking forward to), I felt warm inside. It could have been the champers or my body temperature beginning to rise of course, but with a smile on my face and a story to tell I just felt incredibly happy, and fortunate, that my journey had taken me there, that morning.
Congratulations Muriel and Eric, an inspiring tale and an unbelievable achievement. I’m so happy I was there to share that moment with you.