The Nog and I leave the pick-up at the hill gate. I prepare myself carefully – for facing the blizzard. Gaiters, overtrousers, fleece, zipped fleece, cammy jacket and then a choice of hat – green beany or balaclava covering most of my face. The balaclava wins out – so we set off into the storm. I resemble a whiskery green sperm – but who’s looking?
We climb slowly through a landscape that is apocalyptic in places after the summer’s hill fire that blighted 400 acres of vegetation. The blaze is vivid in my mind as I skirt the blackened margins where the firefighters from half a dozen stations stamped out restarts in the smouldering peat. The Nog and I are over the summit now above Loch Caoldair, heading round the west- facing promontaries where I conducted my Vision Quest a decade ago, fasting and flying in my mind fuelled on green tea and the occasional dram of Campbelltown malt.
The snow is deeper here as I overlook the high dark peat hags where I would expect the deer to be gathered but for the Pylons newly strung with cables running to the south. In spite of the intrusion, I find I’m smiling as usual settling into a slow rhythm for the uncertain footing, closer to shambling than striding. I’m keeping a weather eye on the west in case the cloud drives thicker storms wrapping me in white on the tops where I could lose my bearings
– and I see someone walking ahead of me.
I have never met anyone up here before – and in a blizzard? He is walking the same ridge line as me, a hundred yards ahead. He hasn’t seen me, so I follow. I know the Nog will catch up with him before long but I follow discreetly as long as I can, keeping an eye on the surroundings, watching the near horizon while keeping my focus on the target. He is walking at the same shambling pace as me, well- wrapped though in red and blue not brown and green- his choice to stand out, mine to blend in. He knows what he is doing- but he doesn’t know that I am here too.
The Nog finally catches up to him as he climbs the brae opposite, and announces himself.
I hear the yelp clearly
– and it’s not from the dog.
A rock provides shelter from the wind. I settle for a cup of sweet coffee while the Nog bounces backwards and forwards deliriously in the snow, dislodging some from the rock above my head. When my companion has moved out of sight – I hoist my pack-
-and set off homeward round the other side of the hill.