For the next couple of months I'm an east Highlander, living in a tiny cottage in Abernethy Forest, plying my ecological trade for the RSPB once again. I have no TV, no mobile reception, no internet, just got a pile of classic novels, an ipod and as many scots pines as you could ever want to hug.
Week one of work went really well, lots of time 'in the field', as it's infuriatingly known, lots of new plants to learn, birds to spy on and endless vistas (copyright: V. Scott) to appreciate. Thursday took me along to the verdant, if imposing, Huntly's Cave, where I met Jones for some post work pulling down. We started on Cave Route (Hard Severe***), a splendid, airy line weaving through some steep ground, then I did Hanging Groove (E1 5c*), a bit of a two move wonder through a roof, and we finished up Right Hand Groove (VDiff*). All this was set to the babbling backdrop of the brook and the squabbling of young jackdaws, stowed in a dark crevice near the top of Double Overhang. A most pleasant evening, with barely a midge to swat at.
Steev following The Musketeer, Reiff
But, what if I try? I havn't even tried yet? What if I fail? What's more terrifying, taking the fall, or not even trying? Sweat continues to pour down me. Chalking my hands has no effect, it just creates a paste, like powder paint in school art classes.
"Okay, watch me Steev". Tiptoes, finger-locks. "Watch me, buddy". Shit. Is this what I really want? Swap feet. And then my memory switches off.
Safely belayed at the top I look out to sea, across from my perch above The Musketeer to a distant Lewis and feel contented. It's mid-sunday afternoon, and we're at Reiff, the North-West haven of sandstone by the sea. It's been the kind of weekend that makes you smug. Yesterday Steev and I climbed Original Route on the Old Man of Stoer, along with Sam and Katie. Afterwards we sat and watched as paradise unfurled before us: the Inverpolly Forest; Stac Pollaidh, Cul Mor, Cul Beag, Cannisp. Sky larks and fulmars, bog-cotton and orchids. And not another person in sight. We camped in a wooded cove and watched otters and terns, lit a fire and drank beer cooled by the stream. On a good day, is there anywhere better?
Inverpolly Forest: one of the best views in the world
Now we're at the Pinnacle area at Reiff, soaking up the sun and friendly atmosphere. I've wobbled my way up Westering Home (E1 5b***), and Steev has despatched Hy Brasil (VS 4c**) next door. After the steep jug haul of Puckered Wall (VS 4b*), I fancy something else, and find The Musketeer (E2 5b*) round at the The Point, described as thin cracks and ripples up a steep slab. It's the nearest starred E2 that doesn't involve overhanging jamming, so we step to.
It's almost home-time, so meeting Sam and Katie, we strip down and hurl ourselves into the blue Atlantic. Pale skin, picking it's way across the barnacle clad rocks. Childish freedom unleashed as we whoop and holler at the sky, cold water erupts with bodies.
As we drive south the clouds close above us and the drizzle begins. The tropical North-West was our little secret.
The Old Man of Stoer
9.5 for elegance, 0.5 for pants. Steev drew the short/long straw and got to do the swim across to the base of the stack to set up the Tyrollean Traverse.
Steev on the misty traverse
Two happy teams on the top